Take your own Tour de France through Provence

The big race is drawing to a close, so if you're experiencing a sudden urge to cycle your way around France then now is the time.

Obviously, you can take the pain factor down a notch by making a few leisurely wine and cheese stops along the way. After all, there's no point whizzing past all that divine scenery without stopping to smell the roses…or the lavender, as the case may be.

Each year the Tour de France puts this exquisite country on show, allowing you to see beyond the major sights and into some tiny rural villages that might otherwise slip under the radar.

Provence is home to the gruelling mountain stage of the Tour, which takes riders up Mont Ventoux, France's highest peak between the Pyrenees and the Alps.

But for those of us not competing it can be a wonderful place to take a cycling tour, famous for its warm Mediterranean climate, fields of sunflowers, vineyards, the Impressionists and the Roman ruins.

Sisteron makes its Tour debut this year. This gem of Upper Provence sits in the narrow gap formed by the River Durance as it cut through a long mountain ridge.

This striking geographical feature is why Sisteron is often referred to as the Porte de la Provence, or, the gateway to Provence.
Boasting 300 days of sunshine a year, you cannot stop by Sisteron without sampling the tasty lamb and sweet apples for which it has become famous.
Take a stroll along its quaint, narrow streets, and climb up the impressive 12th century Citadel, which overlooks that town and the breathtaking surrounding countryside. Head out to the airfields at Vaumeilh, La Motte-du-Caire and Château-Arnoux-Saint-Auban and look up to see a sky dotted with gliders.
With a unique mix of culture and history, Sisteron is the ideal place to hop out of the saddle and straight into the laidback lifestyle to which its people are accustomed.

Mont Ventoux
The word venteux means windy in French, and the Giant of Provence certainly lives up to its name. At its 1912-metre summit, wind speeds have been recorded as high as 320 kilometres per hour, providing the Tour de France with some of its most gruelling and dramatic moments.

But once the race is over, Mont Ventoux goes back to being home to over 1000 plant varieties and more than 120 species of birds and large mammals, including wild boar, fox, Corsican mountain sheep, chamoism and red deer.
This unique biosphere led to it becoming a recognised UNESCO site in 1990.The  Réserve de Biosphère du MtVentoux protects an area of 81 square kilometres on and around the mountain.
For road bicycle racing enthusiasts, the mountain can be climbed by three routes: south from Bédoin, northwest from Malaucène and east from Sault. It is also popular with hikers and rock climbers.
When you're ready to relax you'll find many historical sites, small villages and markets to explore in the region.

When you picture a typical Provencal village in your mind, it is Bédoin that you are imagining. This delightful market town is nestled at the foot of Mont Ventoux and holds something for everyone - whether it's 50,000 spectators cheering the riders in the Tour de France or green-thumbs keen to catch a spy some of its 1200 plant species.
Popular activities include skiing, mini golf, walking, hiking and horse riding, but most people come for the cycling - which includes the famous sunrise summit of Mont Ventoux.
When approaching the town, one of the first things you'll notice is the huge, imposing church Saint-Antonin. Built in 1702 and restored in the 19th century, it has a Spanish-looking style that is not seen anywhere else in the Provence region.
Two third of the area is covered with forest, making it one of the largest communal forests in France. Like many other villages in region, Bédoin is surrounded by sunny vineyards and is also home to beautiful cherry orchards and olive groves.

Have you ever visited any of the towns featured in this year's Tour de France? Tell us about it in the comments section below. Then head to Twitter and Facebook to share your experiences with the growing Peregrine community.

Read more about Peregrine's self-guided cycling tours through France and start planning your next European trip.

Now is the perfect time to experience France, with 10% off Peregrine trips when you book by 31 July 2011*. Simply depart by 31 December 2011 to take advantage of this fantastic offer.

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