Nothing says south of France quite like fine wines, lavender fields and medieval chateaux, though quaint and bucolic as that may sound, there’s more to do than simply eating one’s own bodyweight in tartes au citron and flicking through Paris Match by the pool (not that we’ll stop you). The Coquillade Provence Resort & Spa, a soulful retreat in the heart of Luberon, is taking guests on a ride this summer, offering a more active, alternative way to explore this scenic part of the country.
You won’t have to ask us twice to hop on a bike and spend a day on two wheels. Ever since we were children, we’ve loved the sensation of high speed and the wind ruffling up our hair. Though having grown ever so slightly more sensible over the years – and paying for our haircuts with our own money now – we’ve slowed down quite a bit. Our new, more moderate pace lends itself perfectly to take in the surrounding sights and living la vie douce when on vacation at the just reopened and magnificent-looking Coquillade Provence.
The hotel, which oozes French sophistication, is giving guests the chance to pick the perfect bicycle for themselves at its designed, on-site cycling centre, with everything from state-of-the-art mountain bikes to e-bikes and even a few racing models available, should you want to stage your very own petit Tour de France (though, again, why rush past all the pretty views, right?). While visitors are free to pedal towards wherever the rural roads of Luberon take them, those looking for a curated and carefree experience will be glad to hear the Coquillade Provence has a few guided excursions up its five-starred sleeves.
There’s the ‘Discovery of Les Ocres’ journey, a tour around the ochre landscapes of the Les Ocres, a Provençal Colorado begging to be photographed, as well as a cultural mini-expedition around nearby villages – Bonnieux, Lacoste and Roussillon – to learn about local crafts and the Marquis de Sade’s centuries-old chateau, restored by none other than legendary fashion designer and OutThere man Pierre Cardin. Our favourite trip, however, gives guests exclusive access to the region’s top vineyards, including the Aureto estate, part of Coquillade Provence, while also inviting them to savour some of the most delectable treats in French cuisine at La Maison de la Truffe (you’ll need something solid with all that wine, and if you ask us, the marinated artichokes with truffles sound just fine).
All tours come with recommended, add-on spa treatments suited to complete the experience or reenergise tired muscles, though you’ll probably survive the leisurely excursions without having your calves kneaded through at night… not, that we’d ever turn down a massage, ourselves. That said, there are two expert-led journeys that would put anyone’s legs to work: the classic ascent of Provence’s highest peak, Mont Ventoux, as well as an epic 127 km tour guaranteed to wow Francophiles with spectacular panoramas of lesser-visited locales within this most picturesque of French territories.
It’s the latter expeditions that have struck us as the most remarkable. When down in the South of France, it’s all too tempting to proverbially live like God for a few days, and hardly anyone would blame you. But the historic chateaux and elegant hotels of the region have relied on luxe and leisure for so long, we think Provence has frankly slipped off the radar for more experience-driven holidaymakers. And anyone who’s visited will know that’s a shame: from its superb, cultural attractions to some of Europe’s finest vineyards and, of course, idyllic scenery, the region offers more than a few reasons to hop on a bike. The Coquillade Provence might just help this part of France regain some of the panache and lust for exploration it was once known for, while appealing to visitors on the lookout for immersion in something other than a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. Bespoke cycling trips are a fantastic first step and, if you hadn’t guessed, we’re very much up for the ride.