01 Apr Self-guided cycling tour in South of France
Drome in the Rhone-Alps region of SouthEast of France is postcard picturesque with vineyards, mountains, valleys, medieval towns and the breathtaking Provencal scenery. We have been to France a couple of times. Most of our trips were centred around Paris for the museums, The Mona Lisa, French fashion, and general lounging around in cafes to watch the Parisian way of life. In a nutshell, we did what most tourists do, nothing out of the box.
Then, an evening conversation with our friends in Toulouse got us excited over the possibility of a self-guided cycling holiday in the Southeast of France. Some intricate planning and a few months of preparation later, we found ourselves driving down from Toulouse towards the department of Drome for our exciting holiday.
En route, we stopped for a night at Montpellier to enjoy the beach and its lines of little shops with beautiful clothes and food joints. I picked up some classy swimwear and hats here and loved browsing the quaint art galleries with works of local artists. The evening was lovely to sit by the beach and enjoy ice creams and crepes filled with warm chocolate. We knew we were going to burn all those extra calories over the next 7 days, cycling.
Day 1: Saint Roman
We started from Montpellier early after breakfast, enjoying a beautiful drive with the cliffs of the Vercors looming large in front of us. We reached the small village of St. Roman by lunch and checked into the Chambre d’ hote, a guesthouse, where our rental bicycles were waiting for us.
The bikes came equipped with the entire tour itinerary, detailed local street maps and toolkits. There were baskets attached upfront, and we were glad that we wouldn’t need to load food in our backpacks, instead would have quick shopping stopovers and picnics.
We spent the rest of the evening walking around the pretty village with its few inhabitants, old buildings, city halls and post office.
This is where I fell in love with the brown tiled roofs. Seen from a first or second-floor window, these roofs against the vast green make for a photographers delight. I actually went on to buy a photograph of “the roofs” from a professional photographer based in Chatillion-en-Diois the next day.
The evening ended perfectly over wine, cheese, fresh tomato and mozzarella salad and delicious grilled chicken. The hostess was a lady from New Zealand who took great efforts to serve freshly picked and cooked food that she prepared herself in her charming kitchen. It was great that she could speak English. We all lounged around, talking and discussing life from the perspective of three different nationalities and still finding common ground.
Day 2: Chatillion-en-Diois
14.9 km. Level 2/5
The day started with exploring the countryside around the village of St Roman, getting used to the map, the traffic on main roads and balancing the bikes on tiny unpaved paths called chemins. The chemins wound and led from vineyard to vineyard dotted with cabanons, small stone huts that store tools and often serve as shelter for those working in the vineyards. They make for a pretty picture, and we would all get down to click photos, rest and just breathe the fragrance in the air.
The map finally lead to Chatillion-en-Diois, a medieval village, famous for its beautiful houses with french windows in blue and yellow, lining steep, narrow streets. It is the kind of village where every corner you turn is more beautiful than the first. The street-side shops offer interesting local crafts, paintings and photographs to carry back.
Cafes were limited there, so we chose to ride back along the bank of a stream and enjoyed a lazy picnic. It was good to take it easy for the first actual day of cycling. My suggestion is to enjoy the evenings in this beautiful countryside over the best french wines and food.
Day 3: Saint Roman to Die
14.5 km Level 3/5
Our second stop was the village of St Auban near Die.
The long route followed earth tracks through mountainous terrain and forests leading up to small tarmacked roads. The lavender fields and olive groves finally began to put in an appearance, and we stopped to rest near these, enjoying their beauty and setting our own pace to cover the distance.
On the way to Die, there were multiple spots where we could sit by the riverside, enjoy a picnic of melons and ham, drink wine and go for a dip in the stream. By this time the bike rides did get exhausting. We tried to take a break as often as possible. One has to remember that this trip is more about enjoying the journey than getting to the destination.
Die is a prominent town, where you can visit the museum of history and archaeology or just relax and have coffee in a pretty café.
Our guesthouse was located just off Die in the village of Ponet and St Auban. The day was a bit of a tough ride, but the stay in beautiful attic style rooms at Le vin de l’ete overlooking the lavender fields was refreshing. Our host for the evening was a vigneron. While he indulged us with some of his finest wines, we talked about his journey as a winemaker and the challenges faced by the vine-growers in France. There is always so much to learn with these one on one interactions.
Day 4: Ride around Die
19 km level 2/5
One could choose to do easy rides around the village of St Auban or go back to Die to visit museums and have lunch. We went for a 19 km ride out of town squeezing between gorges, passing by streams and villages, wishing to explore more of the beautiful landscape.
Day 5:Taxi transfer from Die to Saillans. Ride from Saillans to Chabrillan
26.6 km level 2/5
At Saillians we were lucky to hit market day. If you do chance upon this, it’s not to be missed. There were live bands and street dances where people gathered to watch and cheer, and the vibe was totally carefree. Many local craftsmen exhibited their products from handmade soaps to hats to olive wood platters.
Here you can pick up some meat, baguette and cheese for your next picnic by the river bank. There are many places along the way to stop and bathe or jump off cliffs into splash pools.
We passed by a tiny village Aouste, then the medieval city of Crest with its popularly photographed tower looming large in front of us and finally arrived at Auberge de la Pleine, our guesthouse for the night. It had the most beautiful rooms set around a central courtyard. It’s worth asking for a room on the first floor overlooking the pool and its surrounding fruit trees.
Day 6: Ride around Chabrillans
The ride from the auberge to Chabrillan is steep as the village is perched on a rocky spur, but it is totally worth it for the view. It was an ideal place to park the bikes, walk around, take pictures and talk to the locals. It was a lazy day, and we loved every bit of the rest in a great place.
Day 7: Taxi ride from Chabrillans to Luc en Diois. Bike ride to St Roman
15 km level 1/5
The taxi left us with our bikes at Luc en Diois where we made our way through little roads winding between walnut trees and vineyards to bring us back to the village of St Roman.
We were lucky to put up at the same Chambre d’ hote as before where we had struck a good friendship with the hostess. She went out of her way to prepare hot delicious meals for us, reminding us of the simple hospitable ways of village life.
Day 8: Departure back from St Roman to Toulouse
This is a tour for sports enthusiasts who like active holidays. This is also a great family holiday as it fosters a lot of bonding time over picnics and dips by the river bank. The vineyards, the many villes and villages one passes by, the lavender fields, the majesty of the Vercors in the backdrop offer a trip that one can craft at their own pace and live to remember.
Tips for packing
- Light track pants/ shorts
- Breezy t-shirts
- Swimwear for dips on the way
- Sun hat
- First aid
- Sports shoes
- 1-2 evening dresses
- Wine: Visit Cave de Die Jaillance for a selection of wines. I did try the Clairette de Die, and it is incredible.
- Hats, clothes, handmade soaps: Market days at Saillans
- Olive wood platters: These make for beautiful gifts to bring back home. Try finding in local markets or in Die.
- Cassoulet and canned Duck at any supermart. You just cannot get enough of this dish. Try buying this in Toulouse.
It is good to know a few commonly spoken words in French if you do decide to make a trip like this, especially to help with directions and maps.
Merci: Thank you
Where do I find: Ou se trouve
Chemin: small unpaved roads
A droite: To the right
A gauche: To the left
Chambre D ‘hote: guesthouse
Auberge: Place to stay with many rooms
Au revoir: goodbye
A bientot: See you soon
A plus tard: See you later
Quel es le prix: What is the price
This post aims at motivating the readers towards experiential travel. I hope you found it useful. Please feel free to connect for any details.