ExperiencePlus! Blog

What’s wrong with the South of France?

cathedral view in Narbonne

Each year ExperiencePlus! staff in the U.S. are gifted the amazing opportunity to join a tour of their choosing. Sometimes we can’t realize our dreams because no one has booked the tour we want to take, and so it gets canceled. One of my top picks has met this fate three years running.

We are drawn to tour destinations for different reasons. Some of us want pleasant pedaling down quiet, tree-dappled lanes. Others seek out coastal journeys across craggy islands. There are those who will scour every inch of a favorite country before pedaling anywhere else. And of course, there are folks keen to experience any destination, so long as it’s by bicycle.

I tend to fall into that last camp. I’m also persuaded by the experiences of my colleagues, the photos our customers take on tour, and even the memories I create of a place before I even go. I started making memories of the south of France two years ago during EP’s 50th anniversary year. To celebrate our history, we asked tour leaders to submit their favorite, all-time rides from any EP tours. The results, which we compiled into the Top 50 EP rides, included multiple nominations for Day 4, Day 6, and Day 9 from Bicycling the South of France Plus! How could I not be intrigued?

Scenes from the south of France

What is this south of France, I wondered? Any destination receiving that much tour leader love is always a destination I will want to experience. In truth, I have yet to bicycle in France and I’ve not made it a top priority — I think I’m overly intimidated by the language, or maybe I’ve just been drawn to warmer climes, or maybe I just haven’t lived long enough. But encouraged by the deep regard my colleagues felt for riding southern France, I quickly added this trip to my wish list.

But here is the sad reality: apart from a custom tour that ran from Nîmes to Girona in 2023, we have not run our 8 nor our 11-day tour since 2019. Barely a dribble of interest. Help me understand, fellow travelers, why is this so? Does the tour name say too little about where you bike? Have you already pedaled in Provence and perhaps assume that the rest of southern France is more of the same? Were you not aware we had more than one tour in southern France?

In early 2023, in the dark of night and with a digital slight of hand, we re-instated the tour’s former name – Bicycling from Provence to the Pyrenees Plus! – in the hopes that alliteration coupled with a sense of place might lure you back. Not one of you commented on the change and yes, the results are so far mediocre. So, my heart weighs heavy.

Not just because another year may go by without me getting to France, but because the aromatic flora, limestone gorges, seaside towns, castle-strewn foothills, and sprawling vineyards of the Occitaine-Languedoc region that hosts this bicycle tour between Provence and the Pyrenees deserves to be witnessed, tasted, explored, celebrated, and pedaled by people who appreciate what it means to get to know a place under the effort of their own power.

Because by turning away from this diverse and storied region, whether consciously or not, you will not experience exceptional riding on quiet roads through an ever-changing, exquisite natural world impacted by layers of fascinating human history. You will not get to know that languages other than French prevailed in these parts, and are still spoken. You will not taste fresh oysters. You will not explore Roman ruins. You will not relish the glorious descent into the captivating village of St. Guilhem le Desert. You will not pedal the Canal du Midi. I know. Your future sounds bleak.

And so I encourage you, dear reader, follow your curiosity. I can hear it whispering to you. Get to a map and trace your finger on the curve of the Mediterranean coast west of Marseille. Study our 8 and 11-day itineraries. Read other tales from the Languedoc. And, imagine what awaits.