North and east of Avignon and the landscape of Provence changes dramatically. The fertile plains of western Vaucluse, known as the Comtat Venaissin, give way to rising, forested hills and mountains. It is here that the South of France begins to lift itself into the first intimations of the Pre-Alpes.
Vineyards, olive groves and orchards spread across valley floors. Three wine growing areas contribute to the region’s prosperity. Both the Côtes du Ventoux and the Côtes du Lubéron produce delicate young wines, while several world-class Côte de Rhône vineyards are located within Vaucluse. The valleys and plains are also known for cherries, apricots, figs and melons, including the small, rich Cavaillon melons grown around their namesake town.
Wild boars prowl the oak and chestnut forests of the uplands where farmers gather prized black truffles. Locals who, like mushroom gatherers, keep their fields secret, call these rabasses. At least 75% of all the truffles sold in France come from the Vaucluse and more than 50% exchange hands in the Carpentras truffle market.
There are dense pine woods where cicadas, the symbol of Provence, sing, deep limestone canyons and foothills covered with fragrant herbs. The colorful, ochre-rich area is known as the Provençal Colorado because of the flaming colors of its soils. Ochre mining was once a traditional activity in this part of the Apt region. For many generations, it moulded both the landscape and the men who lived there.
Vaucluse is considered the center of Provence and provides some of the region’s most iconic images – from the rows of blooming lavender to the isolated summit of Mont Ventoux, scourge of cyclists and famous “killer” climb of many a Tour de France.
And while there are opportunities for hiking, climbing, canoeing, swimming, fishing, spelunking, hang-gliding, ballooning, skiing and snowshoeing, it is cycling for which Vaucluse is best loved by adventure travelers. Its rolling hills present cyclists at every level of experience with moderate to challenging ascents. The scenery – golden hamlets, proud perched villages, sweeping vistas – make for some of the best cycling in France.
There are also nearly 2,500 miles of well-marked hiking paths and three important climbing areas – Buoux, Bédoin and les Dentelles de Montmirail.
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