Driving the vans back to their winter homes these last two years, we decided to explore some small, out-of-the way roads. We were struck by the beautiful mountains, the tiny winding roads, the multitude of little known mountain passes, the stunning fall colors, not to mention the great weather this time of year. This inspired us to set up a somewhat new tour, appropriately named after the French départment of the same name. The eastern boundary of Alpes de Haute Provence is Italy, and is further surrounded by the departments of Alpes-Maritimes, Var, Vaucluse, Drôme and Hautes-Alpes. Geographically, the valley of the Durance river divides the department into two areas: The ‘Lower Alps’ consist of mountains of intermediate loft, dotted by tiny remote villages and valleys. The ‘High Alps’, sustained economically by mountain tourism, especially skiing during the winter, boasts mountain peaks 3000 meters above sea level, and mountain passes 2000 meters and above.
This region is well-known for local produce labeled with the AOC or IGP distinction, characterized by a close link between the geographical/weather environment and the knowledge and traditions of the local people. Be sure to try the locally-milled olive oil, Sisteron lamb, Banon cheese, and lavender honey from over 80,000 bee hives. Highly valued almonds grown on the Valensole plateau are found in nougats, pralines, macarons and other local treats. Don’t forget to sip some génépi, an aperitif made from the artemesia plant, or the pastis Henri Bardouin, which is made from over 50 species of spices and herbs of the region. The Haute Provence regions also boasts 80% of the national truffle production. And of course the Coteaux de Pierrevert AOC wines must be sampled at every opportunity.
We’ll ride hard, but rest, relax, eat and drink very well, as only we cyclists can! Most of you have done bits and pieces, if not huge parts of this tour, but our ‘Special Collection’ of routes and places will make for a great ride. We have included a few big, well known climbs like Gorges de Daluis, Mont Ventoux, Col de Noyer, and Col de Corovin.. But the best part will be the huge number of small, unknown passes, untraveled by most all of us, and of course the wonderful haven at the end of the day.
You can view our routes on ridewithgps.com by emailing your request us: firstname.lastname@example.org, These routes can then be uploaded to your navigation device if you have one.
SEPTEMBER 11 - VENCE
We’ll meet your flight at the Nice/Côte d’Azur airport and transport you to our hotel in Vence. This ancient walled village, only six miles from the beaches of the Côte d’Azur, is high enough in the hills to be free of the crush of beach cruising tourists that can ruin anyone’s vacation. We’ll all be busy assembling bikes, fighting fatigue, sightseeing, or just relaxing from our travels, so we offer several suggestions for a shakedown ride before our welcome dinner tonight. Most of this trip will be on small country roads and we will seldom be in dense tourist areas. Dinner will be at our hotel.
SEPTEMBER 12 - VALBERG 74 MILES, 8500 FEET OR 73 MILES, 8200 FEET
Leaving Vence, we climb high into the hills above the Cote d’Azur. However we soon drop down and cross the Esteron River, and immediately start climbing. The easier route traverses just above the river to Roquesteron, while the harder route climbs very high and traverses just below the ridge above. With Nice in the far distance the grand mountains give a good perspective of the ruggedness of the Maritime Alpes. The day’s pièce de résistance is the amazing Gorges du Cians. We climb 20 kilometers up through the deep gorges, where the stunning red rock cliffs are so high, that the sun only peeks in now and then. All in all, what a stunning first day.
SEPTEMBER 13 - VALBERG - LOOP RIDES 60 MILES, 6400 FEET
Today we will cycle one of our favorite loops in all the Alpes. What was yesterday’s final grind becomes todays beginning exhilaration. We retrace our route down the Gorges du Cians, certainly one of the more beautiful gorges we ever get to cycle. A short jaunt down the Var brings us to a beautiful, winding climb past a few small vineyards to the village of Villars followed by the mandatory descent. Today’s big challenge is the steep valley and gorge of the Vionene River. The road clings to the steep slopes with occasional small tunnels and cliff chiseled roads. A few small villages look down on us from thousands of feet above, later in the day providing us with a place for refreshments on our way to the top. All in all one of the best 4500 foot climbs you will ever have the pleasure of cycling.
SEPTEMBER 14 - DIGNES-LES-BAINS 55 MILES, 3300 FEET OR 83 MILES, 6100 FEET
After two of the most difficult days of the tour those of us with sore, tired legs will appreciate the first half of today’s route. The first 22 miles is a gentle downhill coast with a few slight bumps but includes the amazing Gorges de Daluis, absolutely stunning. We then have a gradual climb up into a high open valley with great views of the mountain peaks all around. Here the trees have all changed color to bright yellows and oranges, while the mountain brush will be dark red, drifting off into the distance. The big climb of the day is the Col de Corobin. This steep winding climb was also part of the route that Napoleon took on his way north through Digne and Sisteron. Our hotel is quite elegant but the beers should be enjoyed at one of the nearby outdoor bars. The central area is typically Provençal with the plane trees lining the boulevard, and many small restaurants and bars interspersed among the small shops that bring shoppers into town from all the outlying villages.
SEPTEMBER 15- TALLARD 53 MILES 3800 FEET, OR 72 MILES 5500 FEET, OR 78 MILES 6000 FEET
One of the inspirations for the Alpes de Haute Provence tour is highlighted by today’s route. Last fall while driving the vans back to their winter home we did a little exploring of this area. The trees were all bright red, very stunning, all the tourists had gone home, and along with great weather this time of year, it was a no-brainer. Our route is easy, with a few small passes, great gorges, and constant views of distant mountains. Tallard, our destination town is well known as the kingdom of air sports, especially parachuting and paragliding.
SEPTEMBER 16 - CHICHILIANNE 77 MILES, 7700 FEET OR 95 MILES, 9500 FEET
In the heart of the Haute Alpes, for which this tour is named, one would expect a great day of cycling. No one will be disappointed. First up is an easy warm up ride to Gap, but at the center of town things get steeper as we leave the broad valley behind and start our big climbing into the mountains. The first summit of the day is Col de Manse, but there is no descent, it is only a stepping stone to the real climb of the day and that would be the Col du Noyer. The climb is unrelenting and exposed, it can be a real grinder. Once you have crested, you enter a beautiful high valley. The narrow lane meanders downhill, following a small stream, soon the valley opens up and as you pick up speed, you notice the magnificent views to the west. This is one of the most beautiful and exhilarating descents of the tour. For the rest of the day you will cycle through huge valleys beneath huge mountains, finally arriving at our castle hotel, quite tired and thirsty.
SEPTEMBER 17- SERRES 54 MILES, 4700 FEET OR 64 MILES, 6000 FEET
All aspects of today’s ride are surprising. To begin with, most or all, of the route is totally new to all of us. But more importantly all of the route is surprisingly beautiful. Also this route is surprisingly fun. Right out of the hotel the first climb is easy and beautiful as the road winds through the forest to the small tunnel at the top, then the descent is again surprisingly fun, with nice switchbacks and amazing views. Next is a series of small cols, finally entering (surprise) an almost total 360 degree circular valley. This is the source of the Drome River as many small streams and rivers flow together, meeting at the village of Vaugelas. Of course the only way out is up and over another small col with a surprisingly fun descent to our hotel in Serres.
SEPTEMBER 18 - VAISON-LA-ROMAINE 50 MILES, 1200 FEET OR 62 MILES, 4700 FEET OR 70 MILES, 6100 FEET
We have another day of riding on new routes, with new views, new challenges and new experiences. Again there will be a number of small cols with fun descents, some winding through deep gorges. We are leaving the Haute Alpes and heading into the heart of Provence. The area that we will be cycling through is still quite remote with a few small villages and occasional farms dotting the hillsides. Even as we enter Provence, we will notice that many of the tourists that overwhelm Provence during the summer have gone home, and the pace of life has slowed.
SEPTEMBER 19 - VAISON-LA-ROMAINE REST DAY OR VARIOUS LOOP RIDES, INCLUDING MONT VENTOUX
After eight days of hard riding, a much needed rest day is most appropriate, especially since we are in Vaison, one of the great villages of Provence. We have two ‘easy” rides today, one is a loop around the Dentelles de Montmirail, lace-like mountains. Part of this loop is on the famous “Route du Vin” of the well-known Côte du Rhône wine producing region, which includes the villages of Seguret, Gigondas, Sablet, Vacqueras, and Baume de Venise. These towns are charming and beautiful, and deserve exploration on foot. The other ride is a fun loop on the north side of Mont Ventoux, including the village of Buis, a good spot for lunch. Trying to spend a day relaxing by the pool, it is hard to not be distracted by looming presence of Mont Ventoux. The only way to fix this problem is to climb Mont Ventoux today or possibly tomorrow. The standard approach for the ‘Tour’ is from the south; one of the hardest climbs in France. After a short ride we stop in Bedoin for coffee and pastries to fuel us for the upcoming climb. The constant 8 to 11% climbing with no relief is very difficult and will make the battles of the Tour de France even more impressive. The fast descent to Malaucene is a welcome relief, and visions of our wonderful hotel in old town Vaison push us to greater speeds. Another option is to take the beautiful route up the Gorges de la Nesque to Sault. From here one can climb Ventoux up the gradual eastern slope (59mi, 6300ft).
SEPTEMBER 20 - ORPIERRE 65 MILES, 5500 FEET, OR MT VENTOUX FOR 66 MILES, 8000 FEET
Today’s route has no big name cols, though lots of climbing, it has no tourist attractions, but still incredible scenery, there are no big cities, only small villages, all in all one of the best days of cycling in a tour of great days of cycling. Our route goes through one of the more remote areas of Provence, if not all of France. There are almost no restaurants so we have planned a nice picnic (long route only). There are even fewer hotels, so our wonderful little country hotel is quite a surprise. If you have still not climbed Mont Ventoux, this is an option but it will not be supported. After a swim in the pool, be sure to try the excellent craft beer and if we are lucky the owner will prepare homemade potato chips.
SEPTEMBER 21 - ORAISON 60 MILES, 4000 FEET
We start the day with three easy passes before descending back into Provence proper. Here we enter the lavender growing region. Lavender grows in many environments around the world, perhaps even in your own garden at hoe. But it produces a superior essence when grown under harsh conditions. At 2000 – 4000 feet, the high arid and sparsely populated Plateau de Vaucluse is just such an environment; cold and dry during winter, hot and dry during summer. The fields of lavender have long since bloomed but the cooking of the lavender and the distilling of its essence fills the air with a sweet smoke, while wild herbs growing by the side of the road produce their own heavenly medley of savory scents.
SEPTEMBER 22 - CASTELLANE 56 MILES, 4800 FEET OR 70 MILES, 6800 FEET
Continuing through the lavender growing region of Provence we arrive in Moustiers in time for lunch. Moustiers sits at the base of two sheer cliffs, whose summits serve as a springboard for many colorful parapenters. This village, designated one of the most beautiful in Provence, is well worth exploring, including the hike up to the small chapel on the cliffs above town. But with limited time we still have another big challenge, the spectacular ride along the Grand Canyon du Verdon. The 45 kilometers from Moustiers to Castellane is one of the most staggeringly beautiful rides you will ever have the pleasure to experience.
SEPTEMBER 23 - CASTELLANE 45 MILES, 4400 FEET, OR 70 MILES, 6100 FEET
The Grand Canyon du Verdon is one of the most impressive natural wonders of Europe, yet it was not discovered until 1905. Of course the locals knew it well, but its remoteness kept it hidden from the world. Agriculturally useless and almost inaccessible, the 13 mile canyon has sheer limestone cliffs 1000 to 3000 feet high and less than one-half mile apart. First we descend through the canyon with the vertical cliffs towering above us. Soon we climb out of the gorge and our views become huge. There are meny stunning viewpoints of the deep gorge and the Verdon River snaking its way westward. A few of our clients have stated that the ‘Grand Circuit’ is the single best day of riding on any of our tours.
SEPTEMBER 24 - VENCE 43 MILES, 2300 FEET OR 56 MILES, 3000 FEET OR 68 MILES 4800 FEET OR 69 MILES, 6000 FEET VIA COL DU VENCE
We’ll make the most of today, our last day of cycling through this infinitely varied and amazing part of France, and choosing a route is the hard part. The short route climbs three small cols and three alpine valleys before swooping down to the town of Gourdon, which is a must for lunch. Perched high on the cliffs of the Gorges du Loop, it has a most impressive view out to the Mediterranean and the Côte d’Azur. The longer route climbs high out of Castellane to the Col de St Barnabe, and we spend most of the day descending tiny back roads to Vence. The uplifted limestone slabs create a beautiful mountainous route with immense views for the entire day. Lunch will be at a small restaurant with the tables sitting is the street. The ride from here to Vence is one of the best of the trip, fitting for the final day. With either route, however, one has the feeling of reluctantly leaving the mountains, but eagerly anticipating the warmth and brilliance of the Mediterranean. Farewell dinner will be at our hotel’s outdoor patio overlooking Nice and the Mediterranean.
SEPTEMBER 25 - DEPARTURE
Transportation is provided to the Nice Airport for your flight home.