Van Gogh in Provence Tour

Picturesque, surprisingly flat, biking on mostly quiet roads through cypress forests, olive groves, tidy vineyards and scenic hills of colorful, fragrant Provence; visits to the Pont du Gard, an incredibly well preserved Roman aqueduct and bridge, the famous hospital St-Paul-de-Mausole where Vincent van Gogh resided for a year; wine tasting in the caves of Chateau Romanin; the open air-market in St. Remy; visits to Les Baux, one of the most beautiful villages in France and charming Isle-sur-la-Sorgue; visit to historic Arles, a Michelin Guide three starred “must see” with its blue and gold cafe depicted in Van Gogh’s famous “Night Cafe” and Roman monuments; visit to a private wild bull and horse farm in the Camargue; wonderful hotels, each one in the city center (a former cloister, now a luxury hotel with a small rooftop swimming pool in Avignon, a family run hotel in St. Remy and a small hotel with a pool in Arles); exquisite fresh ProvenÁal food.

Daily Itinerary

Day 1: Avignon – Isle de Barthelasse – warm-up ride
We’ll welcome you at the Avignon TGV station around 2:00 PM and then transfer you to our unique 4-star hotel (a superbly restored cloister) in the center of town. However we highly recommend coming a day early to see historical and beautiful Avignon! (In which case we meet you at the hotel around 2:30). Avignon, “city of art” was the center of Christianity in the 14th century and has been recently classified as one of Unesco’s World Heritage monuments. Here you’ll see the 12th century St-Benezet-Bridge of the famous children’s song “Sur le Pont d’Avignon”, the remarkable Palace des Papes, one of the largest buildings created in the Middle Ages, plus the beautiful town hall, impressive churches, city walls and intimate squares Avignon is known for. After a short orientation meeting and coffee in a nearby cafe we leave for our warm-up ride on Barthelasse, an island in the River RhÙne and recreation area for the inhabitants of Avignon. The island offers us delightfully flat and peaceful cycling. We’ll bike back to Avignon crossing the river over a bridge with great views on the Palais des Papes. On arrival at our hotel you’ll have some time to admire the courtyard, with massive, centuries old plane trees or to try the small swimming pool on the roof terrace before our first scrumptious ProvenÁal dinner in the excellent restaurant of our hotel.

Day 2: Avignon – Pont du Gard – Avignon
Today we’ll pedal to the Pont du Gard, a beautifully preserved aqueduct, one of the wonders of the Ancient World and a “must see” in Provence. We’ll leave Avignon in the direction of Villeneuve, crossing the River RhÙne, and soon will be biking through the surrounding vineyards with pleasant rural views. We’ll pass by the picturesque village Rochefort-du-Gard, with its steep little streets and small shaded squares before we continue on to medieval Saze, where time seems to stand still. Before lunch we’ll reach the River Gard (or Gardon) and the incredible 2000 year old bridge, part of a Roman aqueduct that long ago provided Nimes with water from a source in UzËs. We’ll climb up to the top for a superb view and some picture taking. After lunch we’ll spend some time in the brand new “Grande-Expo-du-Pont-du-Gard”, an extremely well-produced multimedia exposition. Tonight dinner is on your own, we recommend taking the time to walk around beautiful Avignon, making sure to leave time to visit the Palais des Papes, remembering the time long ago when the world was confused by the existence of two competing Popes!

Day 3: Avignon – Isle-sur-la-Sorgue – St-Remy-de-Provence
We’ll follow a quiet bicycle route from Avignon and soon will be out in the peaceful countryside on our way to Le Thor, a vegetable and tree growing center. Its bridge over the River Sorgue, church with clock tower and charming little square make Le Thor an interesting short visit. Next we’ll reach, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, another lovely town lined with dappled plane trees on the River Sorgue. All small streets and alleys in the old center lead to the Baroque 17th century Notre Dame des Anges Church, with its ornate gilded decorations definitely worth a visit. Interesting also are the myriad of fine antique shops and the old watermills in the river that once provided the town with all the energy for its paper industry. Through a green oasis of nurseries and apple orchards we leave this charming city and continue on to Caumont, where we cross the River Durance on our way to St-Remy-de-Provence. This immensely popular town with its charming squares, plane trees, fountains, galleries and shops seems to symbolize the essence of Provence. This evening we’ll sample more wonderful ProvenÁal cuisine in a terrific local restaurant and after dinner we’ll stroll through the old town center with its charming squares with plane trees, fountains, galleries and shops.

Day 4: St. Remy – Graveson – St-Michel-de-Frigolet – St. Remy
In the morning we’ll walk from our hotel to the Ancien MonastËre de St-Paul-de-Mausole, the 12th century monastery that was converted to a sanitarium where Vincent van Gogh voluntarily admitted himself for a year and created some of his most famous paintings including “Starry Night”. St-Paul-de-Mausole is still a sanitarium today and it is moving to visit the peaceful space where the great artist tried unsuccessfully to rid himself of his demons. Close by we’ll visit “Les Antiques” where we’ll find two extraordinary Roman monuments, the Triumphal Arch dating from 20 AD and the particularly well preserved funerary monument dating from 30-20 BC. It was constructed by the Julii (descendants of an important Roman family) in honor of their father and grandfather and has magnificently sculpted sides. Afterward you might decide to spend time in the Roman town of Glanum, still being excavated today, to visit the museum or the Roman ruins or roam around in St. Remy, rich in culture and history and definitely “chic”. Shopping opportunities abound here! In St. Remy you might also visit the well-conceived Centre d’Art in the beautiful 18th century mansion Hotel Estrine where an audiovisual display and thematic exhibitions illustrate Van Gogh’s work and the time he spent at St. Remy. After lunch we have planned an optional bike ride to the nearby attractive town of Graveson and then on to the Abbey de St-Michel-de-Frigolet, founded in the 10th century by monks of close by Montmajour. The abbey is in a lovely location, surrounded by cypresses, pines and olive trees. Although the cathedral was newly added in the 19th century, you can still visit the 11th century chapel decorated with nice Baroque paneling and the original plain monastery St. Michel Church. From here we’ll cruise back to St. Remy where dinner this evening is on your own in one of a number of very fine local restaurants.

Day 5: St. Remy – les Baux – Arles
We’ll leave St. Remy and slowly climb up into the Alpilles with terrific views on our surroundings. Almost on top we’ll be able to recognize Les Baux. This village, rightly classified as “one of the most beautiful villages in France”, is a bare rock spur with dramatic vertical cliffs and a ruined castle on top. Here in the Middle Ages, the lords of Baux, whose motto was “warriors all – vassals never”, ruled with an iron fist. You’ll learn more about their history when you visit the chateau on the upper level of the village, from where on a clear day the Mediterranean Sea is visible! In the village below we’ll find well preserved Renaissance houses, cobblestoned streets, delightful boutiques, shops and cafes. After lunch we’ll glide downhill on our way to Arles passing by the Abbey of Montmajour, founded by Benedictine monks in 948. In its exciting history the abbey has been used by soldiers and even though it is in poor condition today, it is listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site. From here we continue on to Arles where we’ll find our antique-filled, 4-star hotel on the Place du Forum inside the old city walls and across the square from Van Gogh’s famous “Night Cafe”. Van Gogh came to Arles in 1888 and rented a small house on the Place Lamartin that unfortunately has been destroyed. The ProvenÁal countryside and the peculiar light inspired Van Gogh and he painted here non-stop. Before dinner there is a guided walking tour in the exciting city center of Arles, important as a Roman capital in the time of Julius Caesar and as a major religious center in the Middle Ages. We will also visit many spots where Van Gogh himself sat and painted! We will visit the quite well preserved Roman Amphitheatre, dating from the end of the first century and the unfortunately more damaged Roman Theatre.

Day 6: Arles – Camarque – Arles
Today is a fascinating, optional bike riding day. In the morning we’ll bike to the Camarque, the unusual nature park, an original and totally unspoiled area in the RhÙne Delta where we’ll spy wild white horses and grazing black bulls. The Camarque is a Paradise for bird lovers (although the best bird watching is really very early in the morning) and if conditions are right we’ll see flocks of flamingos feeding in the shallow estuaries. Bring your small binoculars or opera glasses to get a better view! We’ll visit a ranch where we’ll have a chance to see the bulls and flamingoes up close and learn about the importance of the less brutal, ProvenÁal style of bull fighting in the southern part of France. In the early afternoon we’ll bike back to Arles for our farewell dinner and toast our cycling accomplishments and new friends with another wonderful glass of “Cotes du Rhone” vintage!

Day 7:
Individual departure after breakfast to catch a train back to Paris for your trip home or the next leg of your European vacation.

Getting There

We meet in the early afternoon in the TGV train station in Avignon. You can easily reach Avignon from Paris by TGV train (about three hours). For last minute train schedules visit the website of the French Railways, www.sncf.com. We’ll meet at the “Meeting Point” in the north side of the TGV station, just outside of Avignon. Exact meeting time follows in the final information letter.

Meals

You will enjoy daily breakfast and four dinners of superb three or four-courses. Lunch is not included in the price; most days we will dine in a local restaurant.

Prices and Dates

Check out our Tour Calendar under “Hotel Tours”

Tour Length

7 days/ 6 nights

Included
    • – 6 nights lodging in three and four-star hotels with private facilities
    • – 4 dinners and 6 breakfasts
    • – Entrance fee to the “Grande Expo-du-Pont-du-Gard”
    • – Entrance fee to the St Paul de Mausole Psychiatric Hospital
    • – Guided city tour in Arles to follow in Van Gogh’s footsteps
    • – Outstanding, personalized leadership by VGT’s owners
    • – Support van
    • – Daily route directions
    • – Baggage handling
    – All taxes and gratuities for the hotel and restaurant portions of the tour
Bicycles

24-speed hybrid Trek bikes are included on the tour. Bicycles come equipped with: grip shifters, handlebar bag, bell, cage and water bottle, optional toe clips, optional rear view mirror and rear pannier. It is also possible to replace our pedals with your own “clip on” pedals. Helmets are not included; please bring your own helmet! We do have a few helmets available for rent for $20 for the week. If you wish to rent one, please let us know ahead of time.

Level of Difficulty

Daily cycling distance is between 24-35 miles per day on rolling terrain with many level stretches. We rate this tour easy to moderate. Remember that the van is usually very close by and you can join the “lonely driver” if you need a break from riding!

Level of Difficulty

This tour is rated moderate to challenging. Daily cycling distance is between 25 and 46 miles per day on mostly flat terrain with light rolling terrain on day 2 and 3 and a steeper hill on day 5. Cycling experience is needed to deal with up and down hills and periodic car traffic. Remember that the van is usually very close by and you can join the “lonely driver” if you need a break from riding!

Excluded

– Airfare
– Alcoholic and bar beverages
– Two dinners
– 6 lunches
– Independent sightseeing
– Transportation other than scheduled VGT transfers
– Other items of a personal nature

Weather

This region is known for its mild climate. Average daytime temperature in spring and fall are 70 F.

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