Vaucluse is a paradise for adventure cyclists offering something for all levels, from the gruelling ascent to the peak of Mont Ventoux (1,912m) which has been included in the Tour de France route, to a gentle excursion through the Luberon Regional Nature Park.
The Velo Loisir en Luberon cycling network gives sign posted scenic routes around the hills and valleys of the Luberon through pretty market villages and past ancient buildings and museums.
The 51km Routes de Ocres (also sign posted) travels picturesque roads suitable for every ability through the magical red and orange landscape of hills and ancient ochre quarries.
The loop includes Apt, Rustrel, Villars, Roussillon and Gargas and a shorter circuit has yellow-ochre signs. Cycle along trails through the Cotes du Rhone vineyards, perhaps stopping for a tasting along the way. For more information and maps, go to http://eng.veloloisirluberon.com
The limestone peaks of Les Dentelles de Montmirail are a favourite starting point for would-be rock-climbers. For information on courses contact the Tourist Office in Gigondas, tel: (00 33) 4 90 65 85 46.
Bedoin is also a favourite climbing area and the 200m compact grey limestone crag of Buoux, south of Apt, has be a major sport climbing area in the South of France since the 1980s. With routes graded from 4a - 8c, it caters for all levels although with 200 of over 450 routes being between 6a and 6c it is well known as a venue for mid-grade climbers.
The best routes like ‘La Rose de Sable’ are from 7a up. Climbing in this beautiful location is best from April - May and Sept - Nov although Easter can be crowded. Tel: (00 33) 4 90 04 80 55 for more information.
Cruise in a hot air balloon above the colourful tapestry of Vaucluse’s lavender fields, orchards and vineyards. Montgolfiere en Luberon in Gordes specialises in hot air ballooning in Provence. Tel: (00 33) 4 90 05 76 77.
For a more pro-active aerial view of Vaucluse, there are launching sites for para-sailers and hang-gliders at Mont Ventoux, Rustrel and Cabrieres d’Aigues.
The lavender of Provence is at its fragrant purple best from mid June to early August. These are the months to walk the stunning lavender fields of the Luberon plateau around Sault and Valreas - part of the Route de la Lavande covering the departments of Drome, Vaucluse and the Alpes de Haute Provence.
Those looking for mountain views can hike from Antibeau to Mourre Negre, the highest peak of the Luberon Mountains, or take one of 3 routes to the summit of Mont Ventoux (1,912m) from Brantes, Malancen or Bedoin.
Three GR (Grande Randonee) hiking trails are located around Ventoux and Gordes. The GR9 roughly crosses the Grand Luberon from Lourimarin and Buoux to Montfuron and Bastides-des-Jourdans in the east; and the GR6 passes through Avignon, Carpentras and the Luberon Regional Natural Park. Both these routes traverse ochre country.
Part of the GR4 Haute Provence route also crosses Vaucluse and there are trails around the Dentelles de Montmirail. Contact Tourist Offices for local details. The GR routes are signed in red and white and more details can be found in French TopoGuides.
Provencal markets are a delight to see, smell and taste. Expect to find locally grown fruit and vegetables, olive oil, wines and honey as well as lavender products, stunning flowers and local textiles.
The lively Saturday market in Apt dates back to the twelfth century and in 1996 received the prestigious ‘exceptional French market’ label. Musicians and comedians mix with tradesmen selling Provencal produce including delicious goat’s cheese and local candied fruits and jams. Apt’s farmers’ market is on Tuesday mornings.
The large Provencal market around the canals of L’Isle sur la Sorgue each Thursday and Sunday is listed as outstanding because of the quality of its produce and atmosphere. It’s the place to buy classic regional produce - black truffles, olive oil, scented herbs and tomatoes and local Cavaillon melons tasting of sunshine. As a bonus this ‘Little Venice’ of Provence also has a famous weekend antiques and second-hand market.
Besides these special venues, there will always be a market each morning somewhere in Vaucluse. Check with local Tourist Offices.
Everything you ever wanted to know about lavender from its history - introduced from the Canary Islands and Persia by the Romans - to its growth and products. Watch lavender films and buy lavender products. Open 7 days a week. Find out more on www.museedelalavande.com/uk
Provence is an important wine production area – some 140 million bottles a year. With its limestone/sandy soil and mild Mediterranean climate, its 500 or so vineyards produce a wide variety of wines.
Wine lovers will find plenty of opportunities for tasting the AOC produce of Vaucluse, from the delicate light fruity wines of Cotes du Luberon best drunk young and the bolder Cotes du Ventoux, to the more heady Cotes du Rhone wines. Most famous is the full-bodied red Chateauneuf-du-Pape from the place where fourteenth century Popes built their summer palace.
Large heat retaining stones are a distinctive feature of the Chateauneuf vineyards, warming the precious vines at night, increasing ripeness and reducing acidity. Up to 13 grape varieties can be used to produce this complex wine. La Bouteillerie wine cellar at the Papal Palace in Avignon has free entrance, tastings and sales.
La Maison des Vins in Chateauneuf-du-Pape offers tastings from a variety of domains (open daily June - Sept) and the Tourist Office has a full list of producers. Stalls with free tastings abound during the August wine festival.
Domaine de Saint Pons, Villars, can take you on a visit to the vines and a tour of its AOC Ventoux wine cellar including free tasting. Open daily 9am - 7pm but tel: (00 33) 4 90 75 55 84 in advance. Many of the places to sample Luberon wines are located in beautiful old settings, for example Chateau Saint-Pierre de Mejans, Puyvert, tel: (00 33) 4 90 08 40 51 and Chateau de Mille, Apt, tel: (00 33) 4 90 74 11 94.