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Tour-some; As the peloton arrives in Paris at the end of the big race, David Maddock cycles up mighty Mont Ventoux.

Byline: David Maddock

Provence. Pastis and Peter Mayle, right? Truffle-hunting pigs, and pig-hunting rustlers.

Beyond that painful stereotype, though, there's a rich landscape to explore by bike.

It's not just villages like Menerbes, where Mayle set up home as the advance party of an English invasion, it is a rich and diverse landscape made up of five departments with very individual identities.

One of those is Vaucluse, which has one foot in the historic region of Provence, but has a distinct character of its own, ranging from the imposing, regal city of Orange in the north, to the ordered agricultural charm of the vineyards that cling to the Rhone, through to the rugged beauty of Luberon's wild hills in the south.

Pulling these disparate lands together, like a deity looking down from above the clouds, is Le Geant de Provence, the mythical, angry god that is Mont Ventoux.

With the Tour de France reaching its climax on the Champs Elysees in Paris tomorrow, where better, to get a flavour of the region, than a true cycling landmark?

Mont Ventoux is a savage 6,273ft (1,912m) beauty that seems to glower down on everyone, given its position not within a range, but standing as a single peak, which adds an illusion of height and menace. That illusion is only enhanced on top (and yes, I did ride up there, though not quite as fast as the peloton did on Stage 15 in 2013!) where the mistral reaches a ferocious, icy blast even in early summer.

Which is why Chateau Unang, which nestles at the foot of the giant, is such a welcome relief after a climb to the top.

Run by British expats James and Joanna, the chateau produces fine wines that reflect the freshness of the winds, and the warmth of France's sunniest region.

Sipping their red La Croix 2009, it is easy to feel this place is heaven for a cyclist with a passion for wine. Or, as one companion said, a drinker with a cycling problem!

Vaucluse is promoting cyclotourism with an impressive range of mapped routes across the region, and what better way to enjoy it than by riding through the vineyards to a tasting?

At the cellars of Skalli, we were coached in the nuances of their wines, but if you want to know more about the delights of the vine, then how about winetasting school?

At the gite L'espace de L'Hers, which nestles in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape vineyards, I was schooled in the art of tasting by Laboratoire d'oenologie Mouriesse.

If my school had been more like this, I'd have learned more.

After wine school, a cookery demonstration. Jean-Michel has been at L'Hers for 33 years, and his culinary skills are sublime, as we discovered when the chicken and ham he demonstrated was served.

If all that indulgence makes the cycling seem daunting, then how about electric bikes? Riding from Domaine De Cabasse, where bullfrogs serenade the evening restaurant sitting, we ventured into the hills around Bonnieux on Sun-E-Bikes, which carry enough charge for a morning's ride, and are delivered to your hotel door.

It's not just about drinking and riding, of course. Orange boasts the best preserved Roman theatre in the world, with the astounding 120ft high wall still towering majestically over concerts in the arena.

It's a sophisticated city, but Vaucluse's charm lies in the beauty and diversity of its countryside, where lavender fields vie with vines to provide the most stunning backdrops.

At the distillery les Agnels, you can see how lavender oil is produced.

The riders of Le Tour may travel too fast to take in the views, but at a gentle pace cycling provides one of the best ways to enjoy this glorious region.

As they say at the roadside: allez, allez.

Get there

Rail Europe has return fares from London St Pancras International via Eurostar and TGV to Avignon from PS119pp. Cycle carriage must be booked in advance. voyagessncf.com 0844 848 4070.

Accommodation: rooms at La Garbure in Chateaneuf-du-Pape PS60pn high season la-garbure.com; Le Logis du Chateau in Vaison-la-Romaine PS100pn lelogisduchateau.com; La Bastide du Bois Breant in Maubec PS139pn hotelbastide-bois-breant.com.

Bike hire in Provence: location-velo-provence.com/en/, igoulen-location-velo.fr, sun-e-bike.com, luberonbiking.fr.

Tourist info: provenceguide. co.uk, provence-cycling.co.uk.

TIMEZONE UK +1hr

CURRENCY Euro PS1 = 1.23

BEST TIME TO GO Saddle up for le summer

CAPTION(S):

TOP MAN David at the summit

READY David at the start

CHALLENGE Vineyards and Ventoux
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Jul 26, 2014
Words:750
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