La Roque Sur Ceze is a beautiful hilltop village, northwest of Orange. Its perched vantage point and narrow cobbled streets make it a charming place to start our ride. Classified as one of the “Plus Beaux Villages de France” (most beautiful villages of France) it not only has breathtaking views but also ancient chapels, a chateau, and all the quirky little vaulted alleyways that you could wish for in a Provencal village.
Starting in La Roque Sur Ceze on the Grand Rue in front of the church, we head south out of the village and turn left onto the D166. When you reach a junction, look ahead and take the small Chemin des Cascades which will take you past the rushing waters of the Cascades du Sautadet. The path brings you back out onto further along the D166, near to a campsite. Continue south along this mostly tree-lined road to reach a junction where you turn right in the direction of Verfeuil along the D143.
This road offers shaded sections and opens out occasionally to present fields of grapevines on either side. We are in the heart of the Côtes du Rhône wine area, so look out for places to stop and sample the local produce if you have time.
On the approach to Verfeuil is a small junction, continue straight ahead to reach the town centre. There’s not much to get excited about but it’s a pleasant enough little place with some fine old buildings. If you carry on through the village you’ll come to a junction where you turn right onto the D143 towards Lussan. After about 3km you’ll see the village of Lussan perched above you to your right; to reach the village turn right at the end of the road and then right again, climbing upwards towards the looming stone walls of the old chateau. Lussan doesn’t have much of a village centre but there are a few little cafes and bistros tucked away amongst its narrow little streets and the views from the top are wonderful.
Coming back down the way we came, we turn right at the end of the road and continue west along the D406 until we come to a junction. Turn right in the direction of Barjac and cross the bridge; from here it’s plain sailing as far as route finding is concerned, we simply follow the D979 all the way to Barjac. The road takes us past vineyards and lavender fields, the occasional farmhouse and a couple of small hamlets that you would barely notice if it weren’t for the signposts advertising remote campsites and rural gites.
If you fancy a breather on the climb up to Barjac then the Belvedere de Tharaux is a small lay-by where you can pull over and take a moment to admire the view. Belvedere means “look-out point” and the Provencal scenery stretches out in all its glory in front of you. Just after the turn-off for Tharaux you’ll come to a little junction, take the right hand turn over a narrow vertiginous bridge that spans the River Ceze.
Continue straight on, past some farmhouses, looking out for a small road on your right called Chemin des Cantarelles. Don’t worry if you miss it as the D979 runs parallel and goes to the same place, but it’s a nice little alternative route if you like smaller quieter roads. As a side-note, cantarelle is a type of poison, apparently favoured by the Italian Borgia family - I’ve no idea why this seemingly pleasant road is named after it though.
Follow the dubiously-named road all the way to the village centre of Saint-Jean-de-Maruejols-et-Avejan; a quiet residential area with attractive stone buildings and a nice church but not a lot to see. Carry on out of the north end of the village past the church to pick the D979 back up again. On the approach to Barjac you’ll meet a roundabout, take the first exit marked “centre ville”. You’ll pass some shops and other buildings before you come to a square on your left that is sometimes used as a market place, turn left here and follow the signs for the tourist office to reach the town centre, where a number of lively little squares are lined with cafes and shops, many shaded by gnarled old trees. Once you’ve had a look around Barjac, head west out of the town to pick up the D901 heading southeast towards Laval St Roman.
About 10km after Barjac you’ll need to look out for a junction where the D901 takes a left hand turn; we carry straight on along the in the direction of Bagnols Sur Ceze. The road skirts along beside the River Cezes as we cruise downhill towards the small hamlet of Le Coureau where we carry straight on along the D901, ignoring the left hand turn towards St Andre de Roquepertuis. Likewise, stay on the main road as you pass through the towns of La Verune and Saint-Nabor, ignoring all turn-offs until we reach Saint-Laurent-de-Carnols and find a right hand turn onto the D166 signposted for La Roque Sur Ceze. Follow this peaceful road through fields of grapevines and you’ll be back where you started in little under 2km.
This route falls just short of 70km and has a few small ascents, totalling about 890m in all. The first climb up to Lussan is the toughest and the route undulates pleasantly after that, with the last 20km being almost all downhill. It is a great ride for experiencing the countryside of this beautiful region, with not too much time being spent navigating busy junctions or trying to find your way in and out of towns. You can even miss out the towns of Lussan and Barjac if you prefer, skirting round them instead.
Where to lunch
Barjac has a good range of restaurants and cafes tucked amongst its old stone walls. There are a few options on Place Charles Guynet in front of the tourist office, or head into the heart of the village and explore the little backstreets around the church and the town hall.
Find where to hire a bike in Provence.