The Route Cézanne & Montagne Sainte-Victoire
Words and images by James Startt.
Provence has long been a favored stomping ground for cyclists in the South of France because its picturesque roads and ever-changing landscapes offer the perfect backdrop for great riding. But well before touring cyclists discovered Provence, it attracted many of the world’s greatest artists, including Vincent Van Gogh—who spent some of his most creative years here—Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall. Perhaps the one most celebrated for his work in Provence was the post-impressionist painter Paul Cézanne, who was born and raised in Aix-en-Provence. And what better way to discover Cézanne’s Provence than by bike?
While Cézanne painted landscapes all over the region, he had a special attachment to the Montagne Sainte-Victoire. This mountain peaks at only 1,011 meters (3,317 feet) above sea level, but its bold rock face towers over this corner of Provence. As for Cézanne, his key vantage point was just a few hundred meters up the road from his studio in Aix.
A big bonus for cyclists today is the Route Cézanne, a road that wraps around the mythic mountain and gets much closer to it than Cézanne did in his paintings. And it proved to be the perfect place for a great bike ride.
After spending two days riding along the Mediterranean coast our two Panaracer ambassadors, Louise and Sylvain, were thrilled to discover another side of Provence. And the Route Cézanne proved to be a perfect inland challenge.
Meeting in the village of Saint-Antonin-sur-Bayon at the Maison Sainte-Victoire, an old farmhouse transformed into a tourist office and museum in the shadows of the mountain, the two cyclists readied for their 60-kilometer loop. They were eager to discover some new roads in this quiet corner of Provence, but that didn’t stop Louise from first making friends with some local donkeys. Then they were off.
It was easy to pick up speed on the gently winding D17 back road and through the village of Puyloubier. “Today I really wanted to test out the Agilest Light tires,” said Sylvain. “Yesterday [on the coast] I did both rides on the Agilest Duro tires, which were great on such varied terrain. But I think the Lights will be great on this ride.”
Cruising easily, they rode past vineyards and olive groves through a constantly changing landscape with Sainte-Victoire never far from view. They turned left at Pourrières onto the narrow D23 that twisted uphill toward the north side of the mountain.
With the constantly rolling terrain, Louise was instantly at ease on the climbs. And her Agilest Lights proved to be the perfect choice. “This route is lost in nature,” Louise said. “There are barely any cars. It is simply beautiful!”
What goes up must come down, and Sylvain was equally impressed with how his tires handled on the steep descents. “As their name implies, they are really light,” Sylvain said. “But they are versatile, and stable on the descents as well. You know, it is easy to overlook descending when you are riding in the mountains, but your tire choice needs to be suited to both uphills and downhills, and the Agilest really is.”
After dropping into Aix-en-Provence, the two turned left and back along the D17 toward Le Tholonet on Sainte-Victoire’s southern side; but now they were climbing, making their way back toward the mountain. Fortunately, the summer sun was often blocked by the thick forests found on this corner of the Route Cézanne—good news for our cyclists as the temperatures rose in the heat of the day.
The two chatted easily as they made their way back to the car parked at the Maison Sainte-Victoire. “What an amazing ride!” Louise said. “It was so different from the dramatic views along the seaside, but equally spectacular. And our tires were a great match. They were both fast and fun!”
While Sylvain opted for the Panaracer Agilest Duro tire, a 28mm endurance clincher, on the coastal ride, he was eager to try the Agilest Light, a 25mm road tire that checks in at only 160 grams. And while Louise opted for Panaracer’s new Agilest TLR tubeless tires the previous day, she too opted for the Agilest Light on this ride around the Montagne Sainte-Victoire.
“Yesterday I rode the endurance tires,” Sylvain said. “But today the route wasn’t so technical, and the Agilest Lights were perfect for all of the climbing and descending.” Louise agreed: “Those tires are just plain fast!”