Sunshine, wine, good food, and savoir vivre (knowing how to live) – these are just a few reasons why the Côte d’Azur and the Provence region of southern France are so captivating. But for motorcyclists, the real draw of this region near the western border of northern Italy are the roads threaded throughout the Maritime Alps. The Edelweiss Bike Travel Best of Southern France Tour gives motorcyclists a taste of the good life in this enchanting part of Europe.
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Day 1: Arrival
The tour begins and ends in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, a medieval village tucked into the mountains with views of the picturesque Mediterranean coast. The town is not far from iconic French Riviera cities like Cannes and Nice (which has the closest major airport), as well as the casinos and Formula 1 course in Monte Carlo, Monaco.
The tour covers approximately 1,300 miles over nine days, with a rest day in Mostuéjouls. A wide range of motorcycles are available for this tour, from small bikes like the BMW G 310 R to mid-sized bikes like the Honda NC750X and Ducati Monster 821 to liter-class bikes like the Suzuki V-Strom 1050XT, BMW R 1250 GS/RT, and Harley-Davidson Pan America. Prices start at $6,550 and vary based on choice of motorcycle and single vs. double room. Lodging and most meals are included as part of the tour price.
Like so many cities, towns, and villages in southern France, Saint-Paul-de-Vence is full of history and character. The picturesque walled city was initially a fortified medieval defense post and played a significant role in the French Revolution. For centuries it has been a lodestone for tourists, travelers, and artisans, as well as a significant center for the Impressionist and Expressionist art movements of the 20th century. Recently it was home to, and is the final resting place of, modern artist Marc Chagall, who bequeathed to the city some of his most significant works.
Part of what draws one here is the magical blend of tranquility and brilliance. For artists it’s the light, for others it’s the mild climate and rustic setting. For many it is simply the nearness and yet quiet respite from the hustle and bustle of France’s more famous Mediterranean cities.
Seven guests have arrived, coming from the United States, Brazil, and Germany, and all have chosen to ride adventure bikes: BMW R 1250 GSs and S 1000 XRs and a KTM 1290 Super Adventure. The bikes are parked next to the pool, ready to ride. For all but two of the tour participants, this is their first time in this region. For some, this is their first time in France. The evening before the tour we met for a briefing, followed by camaraderie over a delicious meal of good wine and poisson à la provençale. Marlene and Klaus, a couple from Germany, received a special recognition for having completed many Edelweiss tours already.
Day 2: Saint-Paul-de-Vence to Saint-Michel-l’Observatoire
Our day begins with a nip in the air and long shadows stretching across the lawn. There’s not a cloud in the sky, yet the sweltering heat of summer is behind us and it’s a pleasure to don some warmer riding gear for a picture-perfect autumn day. It’s in the mid-40s now, but by the afternoon it will be in the mid-60s. Our route takes us along the Gorges du Loup, to the medieval walled city of Gourdon, and ultimately the spectacular Gorges du Verdon – one of the most iconic canyon landscapes in Europe. Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is our last stop of the day, right at the foot of an ancient monastery, for a coffee before reaching our lodging for the night. This ancient town was first settled in the 5th century, and with its 12th-century Romanesque church, it is considered one of France’s plus belle ville de pays (most beautiful country towns).
After a full day of riding, the day ends with a respectful appreciation of the amazing scenery, stunning vistas, extensive history, and relaxed simplicity that is typical of Provence. Our group is getting into the swing of things as the cares of their lives back home begin melting away. Can it get any better?
Day 3: Saint-Michel-l’Observatoire to Avignon
We’re on our way to Avignon, and it’s a gorgeous day, with blue skies dotted with fluffy white clouds, creating the perfect backdrop for the charming villages we visit. After a short warm-up ride, we stop in the beautiful village of Roussillon for coffee. With its ancient buildings seeming to tumble down the mountainside, we find our lunch stop in Sault even more enchanting.
After lunch, we follow part of the famous Tour de France route over 6,263-foot Mont Ventoux, where the blue skies give way to thick, gray fog. We pause to allow a herd of sheep to pass and keep a keen eye out for bicyclists. They’re everywhere! We must be cautious, as some of the bicyclists descend the mountain faster than our motorcycles. We’re amazed, and the fearless cyclists command our respect.
Upon arriving in Avignon, we enjoy a little tailgate party with snacks and post-ride “boot” beers served from the back of the chase van. The night’s accommodations are in an old palace in the center of the city, and we’ve arrived early enough for a visit to the spa or to explore the beautiful city perched on the bank of the Rhône River, which is a veritable jewel of provincial culture and heritage. We’re rewarded with another delicious dinner, and afterward we all linger to chat about what we’ve seen and experienced so far. The anticipation of the next day’s ride is palpable.
Day 4: Avignon to Mostuéjouls
The Côtes du Rhône region is renowned for its red cuvée wines made from a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre grapes. We visit La Chartreuse-de-Valbonne, a monastery founded in 1203, where Carthusian monks first cultivated the grapes and fermented the juices to produce the wine that made this region world famous.
The day continues with a major highlight: a thrilling roller-coaster ride on narrow, heavily shaded forest roads, over a 3,000-foot pass, and into Grands Causses Regional Natural Park. Within the park is Gorges de la Jonte, a jagged, plunging canyon up to 1,500 feet deep where vultures can be seen circling in the thermic winds high above the rugged terrain. After another thrilling day of riding, we arrive in Mostuéjouls, where we spend the next two nights and a rest day at a first-class hotel with a pool.
Day 5: Rest Day in Mostuéjouls
This picturesque alpine village on the Tarn River is popular with climbers, kayakers, bicyclists, and motorcyclists. Some took the opportunity to squeeze in another day of riding on the fantastic local roads, while others explored or relaxed. One of the area’s highlights is located nearby in Cévennes National Park – an enormous limestone cave called Aven Armand that’s filled with intricate stalagmites and stalactites. Another is Viaduc de Millau, an 8,000-foot-long multi-span cable-stayed bridge that’s the tallest in the world, with a structural height of just over 1,100 feet.
Day 6: Mostuéjouls to Chabrillan
We continue our triangular, clockwise loop route, riding through the Gorges du Tarn and Gorges de l’Ardèche, where we stop at Pont d’Arc, an enormous natural stone bridge that was formed when the Ardèche River broke through a narrow escarpment of soft limestone. The arch is nearly 200 feet wide and more than 100 feet tall, and a nearby beach makes it popular with swimmers and sunbathers. It’s another beautiful day, and we take the opportunity to stop and enjoy the view down into canyons and across to distant mountains carpeted in rich green vegetation.
Day 7: Chabrillan to Chambéry
As we travel northeast, we’re making our way into the foothills of the French Alps. The scenery gets more rugged and the mountains soar higher. We summit Col de la Machine, a breathtaking 3,316-foot pass, followed by another gorge. We’ll spend the next two riding days at higher elevations, mostly above 6,000 feet. Days like this are why we go on alpine motorcycle tours. The vistas, the undulating pavement, and the surprises around every unfamiliar corner. This is riding heaven – we all know it and enjoy sharing it with each other.
Day 8: Chambéry to Arvieux
More alpine passes today. Col du Télégraphe (5,138 feet). Col du Galibier (8,668 feet). Col du Lautaret (6,752 feet). Col d’Izoard (7,743 feet). Each is legendary in its own right. They are rites of passage for bicyclists – challenges on the grueling Tour de France race. We are grateful for throttles!
Being high in the Alps made for an ideal location to enjoy one of Edelweiss’ famous picnic lunches. One of the tour guides bought a variety of local delicacies, and the chase van was stocked with tables, chairs, and everything needed for a nicely catered buffet. With the sun shining and beautiful mountain views, we relaxed and enjoyed having this little part of paradise all to ourselves.
Day 8: Arvieux to Jausiers
We wake up in Arvieux to cold rain and fog, our only inclement weather of the trip. After riding briefly into and out of Italy (ciao!), we ride back into France and find that a landslide on the route to Col de la Bonette has blocked our passage. With torrential rain and temperatures just above freezing, our hands are soaked and our spirits are numbed. We detour back to Vinadio, Italy, and assuage our disappointment with hot beverages and perhaps the best pizza we’ve ever eaten. We backtrack and follow a clear route to Jausiers, where we all welcome a hot shower, a warm dinner, and a soft, dry bed.
Day 9: Jausiers to Saint-Paul-de-Vence
Since we missed Col de la Bonette (8,907 feet) yesterday, on our last riding day we do an early-morning up-and-back ride to the monumental pass. We squeeze in more mountain riding on our way back to Saint-Paul-de-Vence, where we put down our kickstands for the last time.
Our international group shares a mix of elation and disappointment. We’ve had a wonderful tour and even faced a few challenges, and we don’t want it to end. Over our final dinner together, Edemar from Brazil says, “The end of a dream is the birth of new plans!”
We all were at a loss for words to describe how stunning the trip had been. Great food, amazing riding, impressive historical sites, exploration of new places, and a soul-warming group experience. A wonderful adventure that made us ready for more!
Edelweiss Bike Travel’s Best of Southern France tour is scheduled to run in June and September of 2022 and 2023. Prices start at $6,550. Visit edelweissbike.com for more details.