Our cycling trip in Provence continued with the Vaucluse region, between Roman History and Cotes du Rhone wine tasting. After cycle touring the Provencal Drome and Enclave of the Popes through the stunning lavender fields of Provence (Oww, lavender…), we were invited by the Vaucluse Tourism Development Agency to experience a 3 days cycling itinerary through the Haut Vaucluse, from Villedieu to Avignon.
To give you an idea of where the Vaucluse region is exactly, here is a map. It’s bordered by the Rhone river on the West side, the Mount Ventoux in the East and the Luberon Natural Park in the south. It hosts the famous historic cities of Orange and Avignon.
As usual, our main focus in this cycle tour of France was France’s cultural heritage and traditions.
The Vaucluse is one of the best places to visit in France to do a wine tour and visit historical sites. Both the cities of Orange and Avignon are home to Unesco World Heritage Sites and as we visit everyone of them, this is good for us !
Here are our story and recommendations on what to see and where to stay in Provence to make the best of your South of France vacations !
Cycling in Provence : typical villages and Provence wine tasting
The Provencal villages of Villedieu and Cairanne
Our visit of the northern Vaucluse countryside started in the village of Villedieu after a relaxing night and filling French breakfast on the terrace of our B&B “Soleil et Ombre”.
The town centre of Villedieu is so quiet and adorably provencal it is a must do in Provence ! There you will be far from the tourist crowds of the French Riviera. Have a walk around, admire the houses and the local church, and enjoy a drink or lunch on the main square, under the plane trees.
A word of advice, the Cafe du Centre serves the best homemade French fries and the service is friendly. The food is simple but good, and still is the cheapest option on the main square. It’s a good Wifi café as the Wifi is strong and there are plenty of plugs for our fellow freedompreneurs.
The road from Villedieu to Cairanne offers one of the most beautiful panoramas we have seen so far. Definitely a cycling challenge (not so much for us since we had ebikes…) but worth doing ! The view you get on the village of Cairanne surrounded by vineyards took our breath away.
Rochegude, a 12th century Château and 4 stars Hotel with a gastronomic restaurant is probably the most enchanting setting for a romantic weekend. But no need to book a 170€ room to enjoy the castle. It’s worth taking a look into the courtyard and the luxurious living rooms inside.
You can even take a walk to its 10 hectares park where you will be sure to spot a group of deers. The courtyard of the restaurant is also lovely place to relax and enjoy a drink, if you can’t afford dinner there.
Cotes du Rhone Wine tasting in Provence at Rouge Bleu Domaine
Lost in vineyards with a view on the Mount Ventoux the Rouge Bleu domaine is small family-owned wine domaine producing Côtes du Rhône wines. The name comes from the warm sunset colours that enlighten the September sky over the Mount Ventoux.
Wine experts Caroline and Thomas produce extremely crafted and balanced wines, enjoyable for a good “apéro” or with white meat. Usually, Cotes du Rhone wines are heavy but Rouge Bleu wines are fresh and light, thanks to some grape variety they used like Carignan and a very original winemaking method of their own.
They follow biodynamic and organic winemaking techniques, even though their wines do not officially have the biodynamic label.
Located in the town of Sainte Cécile, Rouge Bleu domaine offers also beautifully decorated rooms with a stunning view on the surroundings and a relaxing garden and terrace, perfect for an apéro with rosé and tapenade after a swim in the pool.
Guesthouse in Uchaux : Les Violettes
After another busy day of exploration and adventure, we were happy to finally arrive in our bed & breakfast in Uchaux named… “Les Violettes”. How cool is that ? The whole area has “Violette” street names, there is probably a reason actually but I never asked…
Don’t let the old fashioned look of the house stop you, even though the decor might need a little refreshment, the owner is one of the nicest b&b host we had so far and will treat you like prince and princess.
Roman city of Orange
The next day, once our electric bikes were all charged up and ready to go, we cycled from the town of Uchaux to the Roman city of Orange. We met Rose, from the Orange Tourism Office, who showed us around her beautiful city, giving us insights only a local would know about.
Built by an associate of Garnier, who built the Paris Opera, the town Theatre is a great example of eclectic architecture. Check the outside board where you can still see the remains of the numbers of seats and persons.
Square of the Chanoine Sautel
Like many cities in Provence, Orange is a city of fountains. Most of the water comes from the Beausenque source.
The Roman forum wall can be seen from many points in the city. In the Impasse de la Cloche, you will spot an old Protestant Temple, turned into a Catholic convent. The Roman forum wall is attached to its right side.
The Roman Theatre of Orange is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its 103-meters long façade, one of the best preserved amongst Roman theatres in the World.
Its stage wall is 37 meters high and could host 8500 spectators, which was a rather small theatre for the Roman period.
The purpose of the stage wall was to amplify the sound and the canvas roof top was there to conduct the sound to the bleachers. The auditorium was covered by a colonnade. People were seated according to their social status, the Nobles and public figures were at the bottom and the slaves at the top.
The 3.55 meters high statue of the Emperor was found broken into pieces with no head. So many emperors succeeded one another that the body was sculpted with signs of the Emperor like the coat and eagle, but the head was always removable, so that it would make things easier when a new Emperor took power.
During Roman period, the theatre had to be spectacular and dramatic : the raw silk canvas was shining a golden light all over the stage and precious stones were thrown to reproduce the sound of rain.
During the 3rd and 4th century, things got a bit messy as the need for drama pushed the actors to enact real life actions like rape and murder. It is when Christianity became the first religion that theatres were destroyed because they were perverted.
Built during the reign of Augustus, the Triumphal Arch of Orange is one of the most stunning and well preserved examples of a provincial triumphal arch of the 1st century. The low reliefs decorating the arch are a commemoration of the Pax Romana.
Best time to see the UNSECO listed Triumphal Arch of Orange is definitely for sunset when the golden light enlightens it with shades of orange and yellow.
Saint Eutrope Hill
Overlooking the city of Orange from its 105-meters high, the Saint Eutrope Hill is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Home to ruins of a 12th-century castle, once the residence of the princes of Orange, Saint Eutrope Hill is the best spot to get breathtaking views of the city, the Roman theatre, Mont Ventoux and the Dentelles de Montmirail in the background.
Where to eat in Orange : Au Salon de Charlotte
One of the best places to eat in Orange is probably au Salon de Charlotte. Homemade healthy meals, fresh products, vegetarian and even vegan options in a beautifully decorated setting and a friendly service : this is what you will get ! Oh and did I say the prices are more than reasonable and that it is digital nomad friendly too ?
Where to sleep in Orange
Campanile Hotel in Orange is very close to the city centre, the rooms are well equipped and decorated and the staff is super friendly. We particularly enjoyed having a big desk in the room, makes it comfy for us to do some work on our laptops.
A Provencal village with Roman History : Caderousse
The provencal village of Caderousse used to be an island on the Rhone river. This is why what you think are the town walls, were actually a seawall. Built under Napoleon III, it’s 1736 meters long and can contain 15,000 meters cubed of water.
The actual town walls were built in the 15th century to protect the town against raids.
Called Avignon’s Little Sister, Caderousse is also called the Green Island because of all the plane trees around.
An amazing thing about Caderousse is that the town’s layout hasn’t changed since the Roman period. Caderousse is famous for its melons, some of the best in the South East of France !
Famous for its wine, but a town to discover
The wine lovers probably know the name “Châteauneuf-du-Pape”, the blockbuster Provence wine in the Rhone Valley. But Chateauneuf du Pape is also a beautiful town with a castle and a Roman history that is well worth a visit. Here are a few things to see in Chateauneuf du Pape.
The Medieval Chapel, dedicated to Saint Theodorite, holds some stunning 12th century frescos that were unveiled in the 18th century.
The roman church Notre Dame de l’Assomption hosts a beautiful organ inside. Notice also the arrow slits on its outside walls.
Enjoy the beautiful architecture of the city centre, and the many fountains you’ll find on your way.
Chateauneuf du Pape Castle
Following a Pope Jean 22 initiative, the Popes chose Chateauneuf du Pape to be their summer home in the beginning of the 14th century. At that time a part of the Papacy was based in Avignon. They lived there until 1377, when the Popes returned to Rome.
The Popes started growing vines on the rocky lands surrounding the castle in the 14th century. The wine production in Chateauneuf du Pape stayed private for a long time until 1929 when it was given the Chateauneuf du Pape wine appellation.
About Chateauneuf du Pape Wine
The Chateauneuf du Pape wine growing is the very first A.O.C. Wine Appellation (“Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée” = “Protected Designation of Origin”) in France, which was created in 1935.
Chateauneuf du Pape is the better known appellation of the region. The 300 winemakers in Chateauneuf du Pape produce only red and white (only 6% of the production is white), using manual harvest techniques and for a result of 35 hectolitres.
With its intense red fruit taste, it embodies what a Côte du Rhone should taste like. When thinking about Chateauneuf du Pape, we usually end up opening a red bottle… Well, the Chateauneuf du Pape white wines have been the biggest surprise of this trip : it’s delicious and complex. That’s a great surprise idea for a birthday present.
Where to go wine tasting in Chateauneuf du Pape ?
Created in 2000, Vinadea shop has around a hundred different wine domaine to choose from. There you can taste 2 or 3 different wines, from different domaines and buy bottles to the maximum prices of the domaines, so you will pay the same price as if you were buying them directly at the domaine.
What makes Vinadea interesting, appart from the lovely staff is that they created a simplified system for you to choose the wines and understand the difference between them. Don’t fear to be a wine tasting beginner there !
Brotte Wine Museum
Don’t get fooled by the name, even though it is called a wine museum, it is not only a museum, it is also a place to taste wines !
We found that visiting Brotte Museum was very interesting if you need some help understanding where the wine comes from, the difference between the regions and the techniques used.
The exhibition rooms are well arranged and educative, not boring ! I actually learned quite a lot.
At the end of your visit you will be able to taste some wines from the Brotte production, and especially this strange looking bottle on the right.
Where to sleep in Chateauneuf du Pape ?
Even though they probably are some great hotels in Chateauneuf du Pape, you might want to experience something a bit more unusual and bucolic : a tent on stilts.
What is a tent on stilts ? Well, it’s actually the first time we were sleeping in such an unusual place but it sure was a fun experience ! It is completely made out of wood, with a table and benches at the bottom and the sleeping area on top.
I was afraid it would be too hot inside but it was surprisingly quite well-ventilated. The mattresses were comfy enough for us and we only had to bring our own sleeping bags.
The Art de Vivre campsite in Chateauneuf du Pape is a quiet and relaxing place to spend a night or more. They have a bar & restaurant, which was quite animated the night we were there as there was a Euro Cup soccer match. And you can get breakfast there in the morning. The numerous trees keep you away from the rotting sun and the swimming pool is refreshing !
There you go : 3 days cycling around the Haut Vaucluse, visiting typical Provencal villages, learning about the Roman and Templar History, tasting local delicacies and wines.
It was such an intense cycling trip for us, visiting so many beautiful places and meeting so many friendly people (yes French people can be friendly !). But still, there are so many more things to discover and places to visit in Provence that await you ! Ready to go ?
Want more photos ? Here you go !