This half-day circuit takes you away from the bustle of the city and into the countryside, passing some historical landmarks along the way.
Starting our ride on the famous Cours Mirabeau in Aix-en-Provence, we head west and cycle past all the chic shops and pavement cafes to the Fontaine de la Rotonde. Navigate the sometimes busy traffic and continue along Avenue Napoleon Boneparte. At the second junction turn left onto Rue Irma Moreau and follow the road as it changes names a few times before becoming the D65 and passing through a quieter residential part of the city. You’ll soon come to a busy road called Avenue Jean Giono, where you turn left until you come to a junction with pedestrian crossings and traffic lights; turn right here to rejoin the D65.
On passing under a concrete bridge, keep to the right and stay on the Avenue du Club Hippique all the way to a large roundabout where you take the last exit and continue on in the direction of Les Milles.
The road becomes smaller and quieter from this point, keep following signs for D65 until you reach Les Milles. Crossing the river by Rue Marcel Roche will bring you to Place Aimé Gazel, where you turn right and then quickly left onto Cours Marcel Bremond. You’ll soon come to a cluster of shops and another junction where you turn right onto Avenue Roger Chaudon; carry on in the same direction until you see the railway track in front of you and the large red building of the Camp des Milles memorial site. This former tile factory was turned into an internment camp during WWII where thousands of Jewish prisoners were held. It is now a memorial site and open to the public.
Rather than take the first exit towards Camp des Milles, take the next turn-off onto Avenue Adrien Durbec, which soon transforms into the pastoral Chemin de la Valette with farmhouses, open fields and gnarled old trees to either side. When you reach the end of the Chemin de la Valette, turn right and cross the railway track to continue along the D65. Once you’ve cleared a few hundred metres the road quickly becomes rural again and turns into a quiet country road called the Route du Petit Moulin. Look out for a turn-off on your left that crosses back over the railway track; this pretty little road takes you through a peaceful farming community, past fields of grapevines and through the idyllic little village of La Merindolle.
On exiting the village turn left and follow the Route de la Tour d’Arbois back amongst the fields, keeping an eye out for a small road that turns off to the right. This off-road track meets up with the Canal de Marseille, which you can follow all the way up to the Aqueduc de Roquefavour. This impressive 19th century 3 tier structure is the largest stone aqueduct in the world, measuring 80m high and almost 400m long. It forms part of the Canal de Marseille which was constructed in the mid 1800’s to bring water from the River Durance down to the city of Marseille. From here you can either loop back round and return to Aix-en-Provence, or take the small detour to the nearby village of Ventabrun which is worth a visit if you are interested in ruined chateaux and the architecture of typical old Provencal villages.
Heading back to Aix from the aqueduct we ride east along the Route du Petit Moulin (D65), through a quiet residential area until we reach a shady tree-lined road that soon becomes more rural. You’ll see the River L’Arc running along to your left in places.
After about 3km you’ll come to a crossroads, take a sharp left and follow signs for the D543 towards Saint-Pons. Once you’ve passed through the village carry on along the same road until you come to Chemin de la Couronnade on your right, turn off here and keep an eye out for a little dirt road called Chemin des Tuilieres on your left. This lovely off-road track meanders through the fields and past old farmhouses to bring you to the D18, where you turn right and continue for a few hundred metres until you take the Chemin des Saints Peres on your left.
This quiet country road passes through open fields and is pleasantly remote. At the end of the road you turn left for a short stretch until you reach a junction. Turn right here and follow the D64 all the way back to the centre of Aix-en-Provence.
The ride in total is about 35km and reasonably flat, mostly meandering through pleasant scenery and skirting alongside rivers and canals. The route is fairly rural with the only big town being that of Aix-en-Provence. This circuit makes a pleasant half-day ride to explore the countryside around the town.
Watch out for
Some of the off-road diversions are on dirt roads which may not be suitable for the thin tyres found on road bikes; a touring bike would be best for this ride.
What to see
This ride incorporates three historical sites - Camp des Milles, Aqueduc de Roquefavour and the Canal de Marseilles. Camp des Milles has set visitor hours, so check in advance that it will be open if you with to visit.
Where to lunch
There aren't many options en route for lunch, there are a couple of little cafes and restaurants in Les Milles but nothing like the choice you'll find in Aix-en-Provence. We would advise taking some snacks for the ride and treating yourself to a slap-up lunch once you return!
Find where to hire a bike in Provence.