Tuscany, Provence and the French Riviera – June 2016

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Tuscany, Provence and the French Riviera – June 2016

by Jay Jacobson



Over the years we have had very enjoyable June bike vacations in Southern Europe.

As in past years this year’s June weather was near perfect for biking—very little rain and no extreme heat.  Because Europe’s schools were still in session and most Europeans take their vacations later in the summer, there were fewer crowds and less auto traffic.  Costs were somewhat lower in June  plus the relative strength of the US dollar, other economic factors (Brexit) and terrorism’s effect on travel.


I have had a series of over 30 outstanding bike tours organized and  operated by the Backroads Co. of Berkeley. Calif.


Having a special interest in Southern France and Italy (climate, languages, bike culture and cuisine) I selected two new Backroads offerings. The timing worked out so that the second of the two followed the first by 3 days.

I flew to Rome non stop from New York and then took a short train ride to the Tuscany town of Arezzo, where on the next day I met my tour leaders and eighteen  co-cyclists age 16 to their seventies from all over the U.S.  BTW the group demographics were similar on the subsequent French tour.

The tour took place in the Chianti region of Tuscany and included the Ambra Valley, the World Heritage landscape of Val d’Orda, Monteaperti, Castagnoli, Rada and Montefioralle.  It turned out that I already knew one of the tour leaders, Suzie Regul.  She led two of my tours operated by another company in 2000-2005 in Sardinia and Corsica.   We had much “catching up” to do and numerous common friends.  Her group leader partner, Jane was equally competent—fluent in Italian, bike mechanics, and regional wine and culinary matters(important because this bike tour emphasized regional cooking and wine appreciation!)

Cycling and Gourmet Activities

Each of the tours were 5 nights and six days.  On the first and last days of each, we cycled about 20 miles.  On the other days we averaged 30-35 miles.   Longer options  were available for ambitious group members.

In addition to the cycling, some of which included challenging climbs there were cooking  lessons, wine and olive oil tastings, shopping and cultural activities as well as down time.  The very comfortable accommodations included an agricultural estate, one 16th century villa and a 14th century manor house, all renovated with modern facilities including swimming pools.

From Italy to France

Backroads dropped me off  at the Florence stazione at noon Friday  and I took an epic 12 hour journey via Milan to Marseille, France.  Much of the trip was along the spectacular Mediterranean Riviera coasts of Italy and France.   I was happy to have a seat on the left side of the train so I could easily take in the gorgeous littoral scene.

Starting in Provence

I arrived In Marseille late Friday evening and caught a half hour train to Aix-en-Provence Saturday morning.  Aix, the home of artist Paul Cezanne and writer Emile Zola was to be the starting point of my second Backroads bike tour.  We cycled near Mont Sainte Victoire which was the subject of sixty of his paintings.  Our average cycling mileage was a bit higher than in Italy.

Some of the Provencal activities and scenes we encountered included  vineyards, olive groves,, cicada, lavender, sunflowers, limestone cliffs, fragrant pine trees, formal gardens, five mile climbs, picnic lunches with Provencal specialties,  and 4 and 5 star superb hotels

Forty thrilling and memorable cycling hours

On day four we dined at Bruno’s a famous restaurant which featured a three course truffle dinner. On day five we left Provence behind, pedaling southbound through the Massif des Maures and caught our first glimpse of the Mediterranean and the Cote D’Azur.  At St. Maxine we took a boat for St. Tropez.  After lunch, a second boat took us  across the French Riviera, past Cannes, to Juan-Les-Pins where we had a farewell dinner at the favorite restaurant of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

On the final morning we had a short bike ride to Antibes along its “Cap” with stunning views of marinas, seascapes, elegant hotels and homes.  Backroads then dropped us off at  the Nice Airport where I greeted my wife and NYCC member Joan who arrived from New York.  We then spent 10 relaxing and sunnyays in Cannes.

Perfect cycling weather and conditions

During the three weeks I was in France there was virtually no rain and hardly any clouds!  I could have packed my rain jacket and umbrella in the bottom of my valise.  In Italy there were a few showers, late in the day at the end of or after our ride.  We got all our cycling in.  The temps in Italy were slightly cool and in France were in the high 70’s or low 80’s.

The roads selected were mostly in good condition and lightly trafficked and the drivers were largely respectful towards cyclists.  The tour leaders in France,  Brian, Lulu and Veronica were just as competent and  professional as those we had in Italy.


For the first time in my Backroads cycling, group members were offered two innovations at no additional charge:  A few cyclists requested and were given rechargeable battery powered bikes and most of the the cyclists used Backroads’ Garmin navigational devices to navigate.  They expressed general satisfaction with these devices and I might be able to extend my bicycle touring career for an additional period of years when at some time in the future pedalling becomes too much for me.


The charge for the 6 day French Riviera Biking Tour is $5,000.  The Tuscany tour might be a bit less expensive because the hotels are more informal.  As a frequent customer I do receive discounts from Backroads.    Included from Backroads are the use of an excellent bike, most meals, drinks, snacks.  Not included is the cost of a private room, if desired, tips for the three guides and transportation to/from the start/end of the tour.

It might seem to be a bit pricey but in my opinion in light of the quality of all aspects of the tours, it is well worth it!

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