Trek Notes - France

Cycling the Haute Provence 8 days

Cycling Through the Alpes du Sud

Provence is the most famous area of Mediterranean France. The air is scented by maquis and lavender, the wine crisp and cool, and the food rich in herbs. Our circular ride through the Alpes du Sud is best suited to seasoned bikers. The landscape has that special quality of light, that inspired the great painters and is a joy to travel through especially in the early spring and autumn. This is when the climate is usually perfect. The ride is punctuated by sleepy pantiled villages and pleasant market towns like Castellane and Moustiers, famous for its Faience pottery. There are Spa towns like Digne and Greoux, and medieval citadels like Manosque. Along with these, the natural attractions of the Verdon Gorge (France's Grand Canyon) and the spectacular lakes and mountains of Provence combine to make a holiday full of interest and diversity.

From the relatively bustling Manosque, your first day's cycling takes you to spa town of Digne-les-Bains. The ride from Manosque to Digne is along a pretty minor road along the banks of the river Ass with little ascent and ideal to ease your cycling muscles into action. From Digne-les-Bains there is an enjoyable but tougher days cycling involving some long climbs to the Col de Pierre (1035m), taking you to the delightful mountain village of St Andre les Alpes. On day 4 a spectacular ride along the shores of Lac de Castillon and through the market town of Castellane takes you to La Palud close to The Verdon Gorge. Two nights here give you the opportunity to cycle a loop on the minor roads above the canyon, park your bike for the day and take a walk through the whole or part of the canyon itself (a long but spectacular day) or take a day for some rest. A relatively gentle day follows from La Palud enabling you to spend some time and maybe a long lunch, in the narrow streets and pottery shops of the attractive town of Moustiers before continuing to Riez. You are now in Roman Provincia. You can admire the group of Roman columns at Riez, and wander the old town centre. The last ride brings you back to the orchards and lavender fields around Manosque, where an early arrival will give time to explore the medieval town centre.


  Day 1. Arrive Marseille or Aix and take bus/train to Manosque. Short taxi transfer to a comfortable 3*hotel with pool. Manosque has a medieval town centre that takes hours to explore fully. It is compact and densely populated, with very narrow streets and tall buildings. There are numerous irregularly shaped squares, notably Place St. Sauveur and Place de L'Hotel de Ville.

   Day 2. Manosque to Digne-les-Bains. This is a fairly long day as far as distance is concerned but the terrain is not too challenging and offers a good opportunity to get your cycling muscles in tune before heading into the hills. Digne-les- Bains is a tourist centre and is known in particular for its thermal baths. It is a large centre for fruit production and for the production of lavender. It is also a stopping place on ‘Napoleon's Route'.

   Day 3. Digne-les-Bains to St Andre-les-Alpes - 46km. Alpine scenery dominates the day's ride.

     Day 4. St Andre-les-Alpes to La Palud sur Verdon - 46km. A spectacular ride along the shores of Lac de Castillon then through the market town of Castellane. A remote town with echoes of Napoleon's march on Paris, as well as battles between maquisards and retreating German occupiers in 1944. From Castellane we follow an old Roman route which now links remote and picturesque hamlets high up on the north side of the Verdon valley. Reach the ancient village of La Palud sur Verdon on a scenic plateau in a bend of the river Verdon and close by The Verdon Gorge, Europe's Grand Canyon.

      Day 5. A free day in La Palud to relax, explore The Verdon Gorge on foot or cycle on the balcony route above the Canyon. Walking or cycling can be tailored to suite your requirements for the day.

   Day 6. La Palud sur Verdon to Riez -32km. A relatively gentle day today, which will enable you to spend some time in the attractive town of Moustiers, renowned for its pottery and its beautiful situation. The whole town is built straddling a ravine with waterfalls. You can walk up to the Hermitage and may well wish you could linger here for another day to explore the paths up the cliffs behind the town - or just to admire the view. Beyond Moustiers, the scenery abruptly changes; you are suddenly out of the Alps. The scarp and plateau landscape is like a more arid version of the Cotswolds or East Devon. You will pass farmhouses selling little bottles of lavender essence, which make nice presents or souvenirs, as does the local honey. Our next night is spent close to the historic town of Riez.

      Day 7. Riez to Manosque - 35km. You are now in Provence proper, the Roman Provincia. Having admired the group of Roman columns at Riez, you continue to St. Martin de Bromes and Greoux-les-Bains. Here there are fortifications associated with the medieval Knight Templars. Greoux lives off its thermal springs, used since Roman times, and by Napoleon's sister among others. The spa has had a recent facelift, and you may be tempted to try a soothing hot bath in naturally hot (37 C) water. Beyond Greoux you leave the hills behind and cross the Durance valley to Manosque.

       Day 8. End of Tour. The tour ends in Manosque from where you return by train via Aix-en-Provence to Marseille airport. There are limited trains back to Marseille. Depending on the time of your flight back from Marseille, you may have time on the last day to break your journey in Aix-en-Provence.


April to October (except during the August heat)

Level of Difficulty

This is a hilly region where cycling requires a degree of stamina. This trip is graded moderate (with strenuous options). On average you cycle about 45km per day over hilly terrain so a reasonable standard of fitness and stamina is required. It can be windy if the Mistral winds blow. The summer heat can be a problem, but by making early starts you can escape the hottest part of the day.

The Bikes

The normal specification is as follows: 21-gear hybrid with straight handlebars. There are front and rear panniers, a water bottle holder. A repair kit with re-placement inner tube, patches, tyre levers and pump is included. A cycle lock is provided. Cycle hire fee is included. Helmets are included but you can bring your own (no reduction). We aim to adhere to the above specification, but occasionally there may be variations.

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