Cycling Les Monts de Vaucluse

abbaye de senanque luberon


I’m not going to deny it, this is a tough ride. That is to say that if you’re not cycling fit you’re going to struggle, it’s 70kms and there are some long climbs which will challenge the quads. But if you’re up for it – or if you have an eBike – it totally repays the effort. Not only is the scenery fantastic and the views awesome, it will take to two of the Provençe’s most iconic locations; the Abbaye de Sénanque and the hilltop village of Gordes.

From Bédoin take the Route du Mont Ventoux (D974) and then the D19 to Flassan. In Flassan the D19 takes a sharp right turn – follow this and enjoy the 5km freewheel into Villes sur Auzon, Take the one-way system, ignore the right turn onto the D942 and take the next right (only about 10m on) called the Rue des Michouilles. It will end up in the same place as the D942 but takes you via one of the most hilarious hills in the region. You’ll see what I mean when you get there.

You will eventually come to the D14, turn left towards Méthamis. At Méthamis leave the D14 and take the sharp left into the village – this is the D5 and will be your route for the next 8kms or so, until you reach the junction of the D15. This is where you begin your climb up the Monts de Vaucluse. A series of spectacular horseshoe bends take you round the contours and the view north towards Mt Ventoux begins to reveal itself. At the D15 turn sharp right (up the hill). The next 4kms are quite steep but nothing too scary and eventually leads to a wooded plateau and reasonably easy  6km ride into the village of Murs. This is a good place to unpack your picnic.

REMINDER: One of the infuriating charms about France is that they continue to resist the attaractions of the 24/7/365. As such, particualrly in rural areas, everything shuts at 12.30 and doesn’t re-open until 3.00pm. As such it’s easy to be caught out by believing that you can always buy something on the way, only to find the shops firmly locked down. Of course the restaurants are open but Murs only has one which is expensive and is only open high season.  My advice therefore, is to make sure you have enough to eat and drink without having to rely on shopping.

Murs, Vaucluse

Murs is a pretty village
and a good place for your picnic lunch

Fot the next section take the D15 north west out of Murs and follow this for about 8kms to the wonderful hilltop village of Gordes. The first half is a little uphill but from about 4kms out, it’s downhill all the way.

Gordes is worth a stop, not least because it’s a major tourist destination and most of the shops and all the restaurants are open througout the day – at least in high season. If you missed lunch at Murs you can provision up here. In truth Gordes is a fine example of what Ruskin said about mountains; that they are best viewed from the valley. Arriving from Murs you won’t really see what all the fuss is about. However, leaving the village by the D15 you’ll need to keep going down the road for about 200m before you get to the look out point and all will be revealed. Once you’ve taken about 3000 pictures, along with the rest of the crowd, you can turn back up the hill and take the D177 (Route de Sénanque).

The stunning hilltop
village of Gordes

The D177 out of Gordes is probably the least attractive section of the ride and, by the time you’re on it it’s generally the hottest part of the day – so it can be a bit of a slog. But don’t worry, there’s a prize at the bottom of the hill worth the effort. However, be careful as you begin the descent, the road really should be one way but as making it so would involve a 20km detour, the best that can be done is to provide a series of passing places to enable cars to proceed without colliding and plunging into the valley.

As the road bottoms out, you’re at the iconic Abbaye de Sénanque – without which no calendar of Provençe is complete. It’s worth pausing for a moment and at least taking a walk past the lavender field to the building itself. There’s such a strong sense of history here and, as it’s still very much an active monastery, it’s quite easy for a thousand years to melt away and and imagine yourself back in the twelfth century. Until very recently one of it’s most beguiling features was it’s honey coloured stone – rarely seen outside the Cotswolds. However, when I passed this year (2023) it seems the Cistercians have been busy up a ladder with a bucket of brick acid as the walls are now a sunglasses-required, startling white.

abbaye de senanque luberon

The iconic
Abbaye de Sénanque

Back on the bike and you have the last climb of the day, about 3kms to the Col des Trois Thermes. Keep on the D177 and enjoy the ride downhill eventually passing though a steep sided gorge before meeting up with the D4. Turn left and continue on down the hill. After 3kms you have a choice. Students of history will want to take a left onto the D28 towards the ancient hilltop village of Venasque to visit The shrine of Notre-Dame de Vie with it’s origins back to the fourth century CE and the Eglise de Notre Dame on the same site. Those of you thinking more about a cool glass of beer and getting your feet up a long day in the saddle, can continue on down the D4 where, after another 3kms or so, you can turn off to the right onto the D77 towards Malmemort de Comtat. (The Venasque party can do the same after enjoying the steep descent down the D247).

Skirt round Malemort on the D77 and continue until you come to the junction of the D942. Turn right and then, at the next roundabout, turn left onto the D14 towards Mormoiron. The D14 takes you all the way back to Bédoin.