A typical day on a
 

ROAD BIKING TOUR

An American cyclist compares notes with a future French cyclist

The most interesting thing about a typical day on a bike tour is this: Much of the time, you're not biking at all.

Bikes are a great way to enjoy your holidays because you can stop when, and where, and for exactly as long, as you wish. A biking tour with a small group offers the camaraderie and social interaction of group travel, but with far more independence. To take advantage of this flexibility, most bike tours are set in locales that offer a variety of appealing stops.

This site is sponsored by Alyson Adventures, which offers biking holidays and other active vacations for gay men, lesbians, and friends. The typical day we describe here is from our popular Provencal route, in southern France. Other companies may operate differently.

This particular holiday begins in the ancient city of Avignon, in southern France, easily reached on the high-speed TGV train. We bike from Avignon to Arles, an even older town, where we spend two nights, with options to explore this fascinating site on foot, or to bike into the nearby Camargue. The next morning, we continue onward:

Cyclists on a tree-lined road in Provence

Wake up in a small, friendly family-owned hotel that was built before the USA was founded. Breakfast is included with the trip. A couple of early risers jog along the Rhone River; others make their first bleary-eyed appearance at 8:30. Your only deadline is to have luggage at the van by 9:30, so we can transport it to the next hotel for you.

Two guides accompany each trip. One drives the van, transporting luggage and helping any cyclists who encounter unexpected problems, or who today realize they should have skipped that last glass of wine last night. The other guide departs and 9:30 and bikes at a typical pace with anyone interested. Early in the week, that's often a majority of the group. As everyone gains confidence, it's common for groups of 2 to 6 people to bike out independently, some at a faster clip, so much more slowly.

Today we're biking from Arles, an ancient Roman capital whose sights we explored yesterday, to St.-Remy-de-Provence, the small and charming town where Van Gogh spent his final, troubled years. But there's much to see in between.

Daudet's Windmill in Provence, France

We leave Arles on a small rural road. The first couple miles include several turns, and the guide encourages everyone to stay together. But in fifteen minutes, we're in the countryside, on a quiet road with only occasional traffic. The route is easy to follow from here for those who want to bike at a faster or slower pace.

Just 45 minutes from Arles comes the first stop: Daudet's windmill, former home to one of France's best-loved writers. Nearby lie the crumbling remains of a double aqueduct that brought water to Arles in Roman times. It would be easy to bike right past the aqueduct ruins if you didn't know where to look, and we're the only visitors at this fascinating site. .

The highlight of the day, however, is yet to come. Set high on a spur of rock, the medieval fortress known as Les Baux offers dramatic overlooks -- but lies up a hill. A few riders have expressed concerns about that hill. It is, indeed, the steepest and longest one we've encountered. Half the group switches into low gear and bikes to the top; the rest walk their bikes part way. But even the walkers get to the top in ten or fifteen minutes: There was nothing to worry about, after all.

catapult reproduction at Les Baux, France

Les Baux has a rich and colorful history. It was first inhabited by medieval seigneurs who claimed descent from Balthazar, one of the Three Wise Men of the Bible. Once a court of love, then the stronghold of bloodthirsty warlords, Les Baux dominated much of southern France in medieval times. Cardinal Richelieu had Les Baux destroyed as he consolidated his power in 1632, but the centuries-old walls still stand, an evocative reminder of another era.

At Les Baux's lower level lies the "Living City," with shops, chapels, and restaurants. Shops at many tourist sites have little of interest except to the lovers of kitsch. Les Baux has its share of the tacky, but here you can also find crafts from some talented artisans. Then, proceed to the ruins above: A vast sprawl of walls and rooms open to the sky, a cemetery, and reproductions of weaponry such as the catapult.

The van driver stays at Les Baux long enough to transport any purchases, then heads for St. Remy, so that your luggage will be in your room by the time you arrive.

Cycling along the base of the Alpilles near St.-Remy-de-Provence, France

Departing Les Baux, you've got one of the options that are typical of our bike tours. Those looking for a shorter biking day can take a scenic route to St. Remy, twisting through the cliffs. Those who opt for this more direct route will bike a total of about 22 miles today -- less than 3 hours of biking, even at a fairly slow pace.

Those eager for more biking can take our Alpilles option. The Alpilles ("Little Alps") are a ragged range of hills running east from Les Baux. We'll follow a scenic country road along the south base of the Alpilles, through forest and farmland, to the tiny village of Eygalieres.

Here, the owner of the corner cafe is already ready to welcome us with a tray of cold panaches, a delicious if unlikely-sounding mix of lemonade and beer. Then, we return along the north base of the hills. This option doubles today's cycling distance. It's 6:30 when we reach the hotel, nine hours after they left Arles. But 45 minutes of that was at the windmill and aqueduct; 3 hours at Les Baux, another 45 at the cafe in Eygalieres -- even this group spent less than five hours in the saddle.

Holiday dinner in France

The day's not done! Dinner tonight is at Cafe des Arts, where we'll taste Provencal cooking at its finest. (The Cafe was featured, in fact, when a leading gourmet magazine wrote about the food of southern France.) And unlike most biking tour companies, we include wine with dinners.

After dinner, we disperse. A few people enjoy an after-dinner drink in front of the Cafe. Some head to bed. Others walk off dinner with a fifteen-minute moonlit stroll to Les Antiques, a well-preserved Mausoleum and Triumphal Arch built by the Romans two thousand years ago.

 

More on this site:

On related sites:

  • List of biking holidays offered by Alyson Adventures.
  • Our biking site offers useful background for less experienced hikers.
  • More about gay life in France, our most popular biking holiday.

Back to gay adventure travel home page

Request our full gay holiday catalog