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Hidden Gems of Provence, Cycling the Highlights of Provence

The Hidden Gems of Provence on Foot

Overview

Discover the hidden gems of Provence on foot staying at handpicked guesthouses, enjoying the Provencal cuisine and marvelling the beautiful landscapes of Southern France with open ridge walks along the two most beautiful mountain ranges in the region, Les Alpilles and Le Luberon. You start in Avignon former papal seat up to the 14th century (moved to the Vatican after that). Your route takes you to hilltop villages and through the countryside straight out of Van Gogh’s paintings. With each turn in your path, the Luberon Mountains offer a new discovery: 1000-year-old perched villages rising spectacularly from the valleys below, many of which are considered the most beautiful in France; open fields laden with poppies and wildflowers; centuries’ old stone huts that offer the most intimate of picnic spots; beautiful trails far from the beaten track. Beginning in the town of St Remy de Provence taking you through famed villages such as Gordes, Bonnieux, Saignon, the spectacular Aiguebrun valley and the well-hidden Auberge des Seguins finishing in the Colorado Provencal and some of the most beautiful walking paths to link it all together.

  • Discovering Provence’s most famous mountain ranges: Les Alpilles & Le Luberon
  • Following in the footsteps of the artist Vincent Van Gogh & stay in St Remy, the birthplace of Nostradamus
  • Walking along dry-stone walls and the “Plague wall”
  • Strolling through famous hilltop villages of the Luberon: Gordes, Lacoste, Bonnieux, Saignon

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Itinerary

Day 1: Avignon

Your trip begins in Avignon’s medieval town, set on the banks of the mighty Rhône River. Take time to stroll through its cobbled streets and discover Avignon’s hidden treasures: the Pope’s palace, the 12th-century bridge, the 14th-century ramparts still intact, and many museums and churches.

Day 2: St Remy and the Crest of the Alpilles | 10-18 km

Short transfer (~30 min) after breakfast to St Remy,  situated in the Alpilles hills, to start your walk. Take the time to explore the town, including its Roman ruins and former monastery where Van Gogh spent the last year of his life. Walk up the Van Gogh trail, lined with reproductions of his paintings facing the very scenes that inspired them. From there, you follow a winding botanical path up a gradual track and to the crest of the Alpilles mountains; a short but steep climb leads to the rock formation Rocher des Deux Trous, from where the views are outstanding. You then have two options: a leisurely stroll back down the mountain, or a sizeable detour on a breathtaking path along the rocky crest, adding a bit of adventure (followed by the same stroll back down the mountain). Note that the detour is a challenging hike on an otherwise easy walk, and you may not feel comfortable completing it unless you have walking experience on jagged and uneven paths. Though there are no cliff edges to contend with, there is some light scrambling involved and a bit of tricky orienteering to reach the crest.

Day 3: St Remy – Les Baux – Gordes | 19 km

You follow a trail along the ridge to awe-inspiring 360-degree views, leading to a fortified medieval village of Les Baux-de-Provence, set atop its rocky perch, voted one of the most beautiful villages of France. Enjoy spectacular views from the Chateau des Baux fortress dotted with the ruins of castle walls. You have the option to visit the exciting Carrières de Lumières museum, famed for its unique audio-visual shows. The walk continues to the charming village of Maussane. Don’t miss tasting some of the local olive oil. A one-hour afternoon transfer from Les Baux takes you to the Luberon Mountains and the village of Gordes, your home for the next two nights, another one of the most beautiful villages of France. Dinner on your own and overnight in Gordes.

  • Walking for the day: 19 km, 7 h ↑350 m ↓400 m / shorter alternative: 12 km, 4 h ↑270 m ↓100 m
  • Overnight in Gordes (Le Mas des Romarins or similar; no charming option available)

Day 4: Fontaine de Vaucluse – Gordes and optional Senanque Abbey Circular Walk | 13 km

A short transfer takes you to Fontaine de Vaucluse’s village, with its magical water source: a well that descends into infinity. Your path climbs through the pine and cedar forest on seldom-used trails and up to a plateau from where the panorama extends to far-reaching hilltop villages. You follow the 300-year-old Mur de la Peste, constructed when the plague hit Marseille in 1720, as a means to protect the Provence of the Popes (where you now stand) from the ravaging disease. Your journey ends at the magnificent village of Gordes, perched high above the Calavon valley. If you wish, you can add a loop walk to the Senanque Abbey. Atop a vast plateau, you cross through lavender and thyme-laden fields (lavender blooming in June) dotted with old stone huts, on your way to Sénanque Abbey – a jewel of 12th-century Romanesque architecture – You will have time to explore the abbey before returning to Gordes via a cobbled path.

  • Walking for the day: 13 km, 4.5 h ↑450 m ↓200 m / with a loop to Senaque Abbey: 23 km, 7.5 h ↑650 m ↓350 m
  • Overnight in Gordes (Le Mas des Romarins or similar; no charming option available)

Day 5: Lacoste – Bonnieux – Buoux – Auberge des Seguins | 17 km

Short morning transfer to the village of Lacoste with the nearby ruins of the Marquis de Sade’s castle. The village offers a stunning ensemble of old village gates and cobbled streets and is a great place to have a coffee or drink before you start your walk at the “Café de France”. You continue to Bonnieux, another gem of the Luberon, immortalized in Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence. Visit its beautiful town squares and the old cobbled steps leading to its 12th-century church. Beyond Bonnieux, you enter the Grand Luberon, following alongside a lavender field before reaching Buoux castle and the village of Buoux itself. Spectacular arrival at the Auberge des Seguins, in depths of the Aiguebrun gorge: a restored 17th-century goat farm, a real gem in an idyllic setting.

  • Walking for the day: 17 km, 5-6 h ↑450 m ↓350 m
  • Overnight in Auberge des Seguins outside Buoux (charming option: Le Clos de Buis or similar in Bonnieux with included transfer to/from the hotel)

Day 6: Buoux – Saignon – Apt | 14 km

Pick up your picnic at the Auberge for today’s walk (no shops along the trails). You walk along the base of the Aiguebrun canyon, the only permanent river of the Luberon mountains, admire its massive limestone walls and lush vegetation before reaching the hidden hamlet of Sivergues. Its stone wall terraces the only remains of the cultivated fields that once sprawled around the tightly packed handful of homes. Continue through the vast lavender fields and truffle oak plantations to the medieval village of Saignon and its three castles’ ruins. You then descend to Apt, the Provencal capital of candied fruits, “fruits confits”.

Day 7: Apt – Colorado Provencal – Isle sur la Sorgue | 12 km

Short transfer to Saignon to start your walk. You cross the Calavon valley before you reach the world’s largest ochre deposit: a rainbow of yellow, orange, and red sands. The maritime pine trees with their long and bright needles offer a beautiful contrast to the ochre soils. It’s an area called the “Colorado Provençal”, and you’ll get the chance to explore the heart of this unique landscape, covering kilometres right in the heart of Provence, the old and crimson cliffs worthy of the Far West display canyon-like quarries, a succession of earth pillars and valleys with amazing contours. Short transfer to Isle sur la Sorgue, also called the Provencal Venice, for an overnight.

Day 8: Departure

After breakfast end of the trip in Isle sur la Sorgue.

What to Expect

Accommodation

Accommodation is in 2 and 3-star hotels and guesthouses in private en-suite double/twin rooms. We have carefully hand-picked all places and regularly monitor their quality. We have tried to choose accommodations that offer friendly service, clean and comfortable rooms and local flavour. Some accommodations have a swimming pool. Optional hotel upgrade (charming hotels) is possible. Please note that an additional supplement may be applied in July during the Theatre Festival in Avignon and the Photo Festival in Arles.

Click to view default hotels

Hotel Boquier, Le Castellet des Alpilles, Le Mas des Romarins, Auberge des Seguins, Hotel L’Aptois, Les Terrasses by David et Louisa

NB! Auberge de Seguins is hidden at the base of the Aiguebrun gorge at the very end of the road. There is no TV, Wi-Fi or cell phone coverage available. Dinner is family-style, with home-cooked Provençal specialities – like lamb shoulder braised with olive purée – served in a large casserole for the whole table, near the huge roaring fireplace. Breakfast is also “communal”: eaten on large farm tables, with no bells and whistles but with the freshest bread and tasty homemade jams. If you think you can’t survive without Wi-Fi, the upgraded hotel in Bonnieux can be booked for you at a supplement (on request only).

Hotels are subject to availability. In case a particular hotel is fully booked for your desired dates, we will replace it with a hotel of equal value and quality level. We will provide exact accommodation details to you upon booking confirmation.

Click to view upgraded hotels

 Hotel Horloge, Hotel Sous les Figuiers, Le Mas de la Beaume, Le Mas de la Beaume, Le Clos de Buis,  Hotel Le Sainte Anne, Grand Hotel Henri 

Hotels are subject to availability. In case a particular hotel is fully booked for your desired dates, we will replace it with a hotel of equal value and quality level. We will provide exact accommodation details to you upon booking confirmation.

Meals

All breakfasts are included as well as 2 dinners and 1 picnic lunch. Lunch packs for the next day can be pre-ordered at each accommodation, or you can buy bread, cheeses and meats as well as fresh fruit and vegetables at local markets. For dinner (where not included), you can visit one of the restaurants in the villages or order from the a la carte menu in your accommodation.

Local Markets

  • Avignon: Les Halles indoor covered market every morning except Monday
  • Gordes: small market on Tuesday morning
  • St Remy: Wednesday morning big market and a small one on Saturday morning
  • Isle sur la Sorgue: Sunday morning big market and a small one on Thursday morning

Difficulty & terrain

This holiday is appropriate for walks with an average level of fitness, used to regular exercise and can handle walking uphill (slowly) for up to 2 hours at a time. Walks are generally 5.5 – 6 hours, on various types of terrain – though nothing technically difficult – with up to 600 m of climbing per day (read more about difficulty grades). We strongly advise you to follow only marked trails and never try to shorten the path through unknown and unmarked terrain. We will provide you with detailed road notes and maps, and you can call our 24/7 local assistance phone number anytime. More detailed info on route navigation will be included in your holiday information pack.

When to go

This trip is available on any date from the beginning of March until the end of June and from the last days of August until mid-November. The flexibility of self guided holidays means that there are no fixed dates, and you can start your trip on any date in the season – so please indicate desired beginning date when booking. From 1st June to 15th September, access may be restricted if the risk of forest fire is high, and any hikes might be cancelled within one-day notice. Any additional costs because of this (f.ex. additional transfers) will be at your own expense.

Getting there

FCO up-to-date travel advice

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By plane

Our recommended arrival airport for this holiday is Marseille. Alternative airports are Nice, Montpellier, Toulon, Nimes.

By train or bus
  • Train journey by TGV from Paris to Avignon is 3 hours, while a local train from the nearest international airport of Marseilles takes 2 hours to reach Avignon. Avignon is 5.5 hours by rail from London St Pancras (see details).

Inclusions

Included

  • 7 nights double occupancy with private facilities in countryside hotels and guesthouses
  • 7 breakfasts
  • 2 dinners on Days 1 & 5 (dinner on day 5 is included only if you overnight in Auberge des Seguins)
  • 1 picnic lunch on Day 6
  • All transfers during the walking days, as described in the itinerary
  • Luggage transfers Days 2 to 7 (1 piece up to 20 kg per person)
  • Travel kit with roadbook and integrated maps (1 set per room)
  • 24/7 phone assistance by our local office/representative

Excluded

  • Flights and airport transfers
  • Lunches and 5 dinners
  • Tourist tax, if due
  • Travel insurance (required – get a quote online)
  • Personal expenses such as snacks, drinks, phone calls, extra transfers, tips, etc.
  • Entrance fees for attractions and museums
  • Any items not specifically mentioned as ‘included’ in the programme

Options, extras & supplements

  • A supplement applies to members of a group who require a single room
  • This holiday is available for solo travellers; a supplement will be charged as accommodation and luggage transfer costs are not shared (we never mix and match – solo travellers will be accommodated in single rooms)
  • Extra nights
  • Upgraded charming hotels with a supplement

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