Le Tour du Luberon by bike
May 27-29, 2018.
1. The Luberon is a mountain massif in the French “départements” of les Alps-de-Haute-Provence and the Vaucluse and an east-west oriented spur of the Alps. The massif is about 60 km long and 5 km wide. And you can bike around it, “the Tour”!
2. According to the locals you write “Luberon” without an “é” and this means “sitting hare ” in the Provencal language.
3. There is a good French brochure with directions and other interesting things to be found on http://www.leluberonavelo.com or you can get a printed version at any “Office de Tourisme” in the region.
4. We started our Tour in Cavaillon and went anti-clockwise, thus recommended by the brochure when you use any other than racing bikes. Ascents are more gradual in this direction. So you follow the signs with an orange arrow.
5. We cycle on Koga Worldtraveller, 40 mm tubes and only back panniers. No tent, but we do carry a “bug bivy” from Outdoor Research to ensure bug free siestas! With picnic and 2 bottles of water about 10-12 kg packing. Magnificent bikes, by the way!
6. We used GPS but the road is well signposted! (See http://www.veloloisirprovence.com)
7. The total distance according to the brochure is 236 km of which 2968 m climbing. The brochure also has a height profile per stage. (The previous brochure had one for the whole route and so easier to plan the entire route, see picture). The highest point according to our Garmin was at 786 meters, just west of Vachères.
8. May is an ideal month for this ride: the lavender is not yet in bloom but the broom smells delicious and the cherries are ripening…
9. Below we indicated per stage “time in the saddle” and climbing and descending according to our Garmin. (Not the consumed Kcal because according to my bike’s speedometer we only spend half of what the Garmin calculates. So, not being sure which one is correct we do not indicate. But we tend to believe the Garmin as this allows for a dessert after dinner!)
Day 1: From Cavaillon to VAUGINES: 50 Km in 3h 34 min, 687m ascent, 401 m descent.
Via Cheval Blanc – Mérindol – Lauris – Puyvert – Lourmarin.
In Cavaillon we parked our car on the Place François Tourel, a free parking space in front of the rock, next to the Office de Tourisme. Note: on Monday mornings market is held on the paying parking Place, but not in front of the rock!
The route starts at the train station of Cavaillon. We ignored the blue arrow “Forcalquier via Apt”, instead we followed the orange “Manosque via Lourmarin” or “Lourmarin”.
You soon notice that you are skirting the massif closely to the South. After Mérindol the route becomes pleasant. Lauris is a pretty and cosy town impressively located. Go definitely to the “château” and visit its two gardens. And have a coffee or lunch at the eccentric “La Table de Margot “!
Between Puyvert and Lourmarin the road starts climbing and you start feeling like being really in the Provence now: thyme and poppies in bloom, the fragrance and yellow splendor of broom, lavender everywhere… on a background of vineyards and the rugged beauty of the Luberon mountains.
Lourmarin is rightfully called “One of the most beautiful villages of France”. But you better avoid it during weekends or holidays except if you can visit in the morning or – even better – stay overnight! The castle requires a visit and offers a nice view over the village. Even Albert Camus liked it! Lourmarin also has a Hugenotes church with remarkable fountains!
But as we had booked the night ahead already, we continued and climbed to Vaugines. We stayed at the Hostellerie du Luberon (a Logis de France, LdF) for 82 €, halfboard per person. Good.
Day 2: From Vaugines to FORCALQUIER: 84 km, 5h 36 min, 1273 m up, 1091 m down.
Via Cucuron, Vitrolles-en-Luberon, la-Bastide-de-Jourdans, Beaumont-de-Pertuis, Pierrevert, Manosque, Villeneuve, Volx, Forcalquier.
Take one last coffee on the “marketplace” of Cuceron! And from then on the route is indescribably beautiful! One of the most beautiful 50 km you can ever spend on a bike! Ending with a steep climb to Pierrevert (for this climb you are for once allowed to get off your bike!).
From Pierrevert to Volx/Villeneuve there are some annoying parts because you are passing a big city. (Not to do injustice to Manosque: we didn’t visit the old town!) The last 12 km from Villeneuve to Forcalquier are then again picturesque and almost flat!
We were completely finished when arriving in Forcalquier! We stayed in the “Grand Hotel “for 61 €, w/o bf. This is also a LdF run by a cute old couple. The hotel has perfectly cooled storage space for the bikes! Forcalquier is okay as a city. We had dinner in “Aigo Blanco”. Alternatives which seemed also attractive: Le Jam and La Maison Rouge.
Day 3: From Forcalquier to CAVAILLON: 110.7 km, 6h 42 min, 1391 meters ascent and 1803 m descent
First some more rolling work to St Michel l’Observatoire followed by a descent to Aubenas-les-Alps, then up to the highest point in the Tour. This ascent of 200m is not that hard as you are mentally prepared for it and as it comes gradually. As a reward, you get a wonderful descent to Reillanne!
We had picnic at the ruins of the old Church at the top of Reillanne. The place also offers great views over the valley! Don’t forget coffee in Café du Cours! And note the graffiti on the outside!
The descent thereafter remains pleasantly long with mouth-watering “bastides” dispersed in gorgeous scenery! And this all the way to Céreste. A “piste cyclable” just before Apt takes you past the city – where we didn’t stop!
The hard work for the day is still not finished then: after Apt a steep climb takes you to a road connecting the 4 gems of the Northern Luberon: Bonnieux, Lacoste, Ménerbes and Oppède-le-Vieux. Each of these is at a height so expect each time a snappy climb to get there! But no effort weighs up against so much beauty and charm!
Bonnieux: definitely go to the top of the village, to the old church! Lacoste: half of the village is occupied by SCAD (Savanah College for Art and Design) which thoroughly renovated the village; Ménerbes: look for Dora Maar’s house and l’impasse de Dora Maar; and the masterpiece of it all: Oppède-le-Vieux. This is what remains of an imposing village in an unlikely beautiful slope in the landscape! It is slowly being rebuilt and now also has 2 restaurants and a “chambres d’hôtes”.
We stayed in Cavaillon in l’Interhotel du Parc on the Place Tourel, a very good and cosy little hotel with delicious bf for 114 €. But Cavaillon is not direct a must…
Conclusion TOUR du LUBERON
1. Is unspeakably beautiful! So, needs no more elaborating.
2. The Tour is indeed recommended in the anticlockwise direction: climbing is then somewhat more gradual! And with longer “flatter” pieces.
3. Trekking bikes are the best option.
4. In a more relaxed way with time for sightseeing 4-5 days is ideal:
1. Cavaillon – Lourmarin: +/- 42 km allowing enough time to visit Lourmarin. There is a great choice of sleeping facilities and restaurants!
2. Lourmarin – Pierrevert: about 60 km (not much accommodation here! Better check. Alternative: Manosque)
3. Pierrevert – St Michel-l’Observatoire: +/- 48 Km (Idem re accommodation)
4. St Michel-l’Observatoire – Bonnieux (some hotels: “César”, “Clos de Buis” and the Chic “Domaine de Capelongue”) +/- 54 km
5. Bonnieux – Cavaillon: allowing enough time to visit the 4 gems.
5. If we do it again, we would avoid the “big” cities and start in Lourmarin
a. Day 1 to Pierrevert (La Bastide de Adrech),
b. Day 2 to Reillane (Auberge de Reillane) or Céreste (l’ Aiguebelle)
c. Day 3 to Oppède-le-Vieux
d. Day 4 back to Lourmarin
So, 4 days with enough time for sightseeing.
6. Note that there are also quite a few organizations that can bring your luggage to any destination.
7. Enjoy the ride!