The Drôme, Rhône-Alpes - A Cyclist's Guide

Teresa Harte has this guide to cycling holidays in Drôme department of the French Alps.

The Vercors in winter. Photo: Ma Gali

The Vercors in winter. Photo: Ma Gali

One of eight departments in the Rhône-Alpes, the Drome is named after the river which runs east-west across the centre. A largely undiscovered region, it offers the cyclist some of the most spectacular contrasting landscape within France; from the mountainous Alpine Vercors in the north to the low-lying lavender fields of the south. The low traffic levels, good road surfaces and generally courteous drivers makes it a great region for all age groups and all levels of cyclists – even in the peak summer months, the roads are quiet.

The Drôme has defined 18 cycling routes called ‘La  Drôme a Velo’ which are published on an IGN map, available online or from local tourist offices. La Veloroute Viarhona, meanwhile, is a 153km route along the Rhone river from Drome Provencal to the Ardeche.

There is signposting throughout the region, but to be more independent, bring a map or book a holiday with a specialist cycling company that will have done all the ground work for you.

When to cycle in the Drôme

There is a sharp contrast between the Alpine Vercors  and the Meditarenean climate in the southern Drôme Valley and Drôme Provençale. The Vercors, Drôme des Collines and Valence-sur-Isere generally have warm, sunny springs, hot summers, colourful autumns and cold winters with snow above 500m, but it can also snow much lower down the mountain. If there is no snow or frost, it's possible to cycle on the road all year round, however the season generally starts at the end of April when all the mountain passes have reopened and the snow has retreated. The season generally runs to the end of October, but it's possible to cycle all the way through to December depending on the weather.

Once you descend Col du Rousett or Col de Leoncel, heading south, the landscape and temperatures instantly become more Mediterranean. In the Drôme Valley and Drôme Provençale they enjoy warmer, earlier springs, much hotter summers and milder winters with generally no snow.

A baguette-inspired rest break in the Drome. Photo: Lionel Pascale/Drôme Tourisme

A baguette-inspired rest break in the Drome. Photo: Lionel Pascale/Drome Tourisme

The five regions of the Drôme department

The Drôme department is divided into five regions, each one with its own distinct landscape, which provides a magnificent choice of routes ranging from 10km to 160km and catering for novices, families and the elite racing cyclist.

Drôme des Collines and Valence-sur-Rhone: Drome des Collines is a gentle landscape of forests, orchards and vineyards. Valence-sur-Rhone is the riverside area around the main town of Valence and gateway to Royans-Vercors, which is a dramatic landscape of deep gorges, limestone cliff faces, grassy plateaux and spectacular caves.

The Drôme des Collines and Valence-sur-Rhone areas have a wonderful matrix of quiet, secondary roads meandering through pretty villages with their Romanesque churches, chapels, towers, chateaux and monuments. The landscape is full of apricot, pear and peach orchards which are particularly stunning during the springtime blossom. Walnut groves also abound and to the west is the town of Tain Hermitage, renowned for its vineyards producing ‘Crozes Hermitage’ and ‘Hermitage wines’.

The Vercors: The Vercors is an absolute hidden gem, a Parc Naturel Regional du Vercors (a National Park) and a paradise for cyclists. This range of mountains stretches from Valence in the East, Grenoble in the North and Die in the South and spreads across two departments: The Drôme and the Isere. The landscape is spectacular, featuring limestone cliffs, vast forests, deep gorges, rivers, caves and beautiful, impressive  roads – the most  vertiginous in the world. It covers 6,561 square kilomatres, has 22 cols (mountain climbs) with over 17,000kms of ascents, with the highest point called ‘Grand Veymont’ reaching 2341m. The highest surfaced road reaches 1600m. Many of the cols (mountain passes) have featured in the Tour de France throughout the years, including the Col de Madeleine and the gruelling 21km switchback, Col du Rousett. 
For more on this area, see our overview of the Vercors.

The Drôme Valley: Either snake down the Col du Rousset or via Leoncel, both superb bike routes, and you leave the Vercors and descend into the Drôme Valley, and a world that has a provencal feel. These fertile plains are dotted with fields of lavender that range in colour from pale lilac to rich purple. Huile essentielle de Lavande de Haute Provence is an AOC product grown across four adjoining departments – Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Hautes-Alpes, Vaucluse and Drome – and every summer visitors come from far and wide to see and photograph this visual nectar. There is a Lavender Routes booklet available at local tourist offices and it's possible to cycle to lavender-related attractions, from distilleries and to botanical gardens to wellbeing centres and gift shops.

The largest town is Die, dating back to the Renaissance; it's best known today for its vineyards which produce the sparkling and fruity AOC wine, Clairette de Die.

Small towns are dotted thoughout the Valley, such as Crest, which boasts the tallest tower in France, standing at 52m and dating from the 13th century. During the summer months, there's an annual Jazz Festival.

West of Crest is Cliousclat, reknowned for its pottery and craft industry; a little further south is the hill-top village of Mirmande – one of four that have been awarded Plus Beaux Villages de France (the most beautiful villages in France).

Drôme Provençale: South of Soyans and Bourdeaux, the Drome Valley blends into the hills of Drôme Provençale, which features three Plus Beaux Villages de France: Le Poet-Laval, La Garde-Adhemar and Montbrun-les Bains.

Drôme Provençale grows 35% of the total French production of aromatic and medicinal plants, sowherever you go in this scented land you'll find small shops selling essential oils, dried herbs, creams and soaps. Equally important is the old Mediaeval town of Nyons, famous for its olives and ‘first pressing’ festival in May.

Dieulefit, translating ‘God made it’ is now an important pottery centre and definitely worth a visit. The other must-see town is Grignan, primarily for its hill-top chateau which was built in the Middle Ages and transformed in the 16th century into one of the greatest Renaissance houses in south-east France.

Mountain biking in the Drome

There is a good network of signposted tracks with over 162 designated routes stretching 3,000km. La Grande Traversee du Vercors is a popular a series of tracks crossing the high plateaux of the Vercors, with tracks passing through forests and wild, open landscape designed to give you the chance to be at one with nature. En route there are a number of gîtes or bed and breakfast for stop-offs. Drome Tourism has information in English, or see the Parc naturel régional du Vercors site, Association des professionnels des GTV or Drome VTT if you can read French.

Cyclosportives

Sportives are mass organised events offering you the chance to cycle with lots of other people. The three in the Drome are well organised, with closed or well marshalled roads and attract in the region of 1000 cyclists. You can treat it as a race and be allocated a chip to record your personal time and finish place, or you can simply ride the route at your own pace. The three events are the Vercors Challenge in May, Vercors-Drome in August and La Dromois in September. Velo Vercors has packages to local cyclosportives. 

Bike shops

Cycles Besson: 10 Boulevard de la Liberation, 26100, Romans-sur-Isere
Cycle Salvoldi: La Glorietee, 38160 Chatte
Velo (in French): Place du Marché aux Fruits ?26600 Tain l'Hermitage
Veloland (in French):? Place Jacques Dominique Cassini?, 26000 Valence 
Velo Drome: 26150 Die

It is difficult to hire good quality bikes in the Rhône-Alpes, but Velo Vercors in St Jean-en-Royans have hybrid, road and children's bike hire. La Gelinotte has mountain bike hire in Vassieux-en-Vercors. See also our bike hire listings.

Useful maps

IGN 10  Vercors Parc Naturel regional, 1:60 000 (1cm=600m)
IGN 52 Grenoble Valence Carte de Promenade, 1:100 000 (1cm=1km)
IGN 157 Grenoble Montelimar Top 100 Tourisme et Decouverte, 1:100 000 (1cm=1km)

Getting to the Drome

By train: Eurostar from St Pancras in London you can take the TGV to Valence, changing at Lille or Paris (Lille is easier if you want to avoid changing stations in Paris). Bikes go free if they are packed in a bike bag. For more on travelling by train in France, see our bikes and trains page. Car hire, bus service is available.

By bus: The European Bike Express is a safe and reliable way to get you – and your bike – to the area. It has a drop-off point near the Valence TGV station.

By plane from the UK, easyJet flies to Grenoble and Lyon; Ryanair flies to Lyon. See our flights to France section for more options.

Where to stay in the Drome

A choice of hotels, chambre d’Hotes (B&B) and gites are dotted throughout the Drome with lists available from the following tourist offices: St Jean-en-Royans, St Martin-en-Vercors, Crest, Die, Nyons and Romans-sur-Isere. The regional tourist website has more general tourist information, including accommodation links. See also Gîtes de France Drôme and amivac.com

Search also our Where to stay section, or zoom in on the map below for links to cycling accommodation in the French Alps.

Local food and wine

France's top department for organic vegetables, fruit, fish and meat. It is renowned for its AOC walnuts ‘noix’, black olives, cheeses including ‘Bleu du Vercors Sassenage’ produced since the 14th century  and the famous ‘Picodon goats cheese. Not forgetting the honey, lavendar, trout, garlic, abricots, melons, nougat and the world reknowned ‘Valrhona’ chocolate. The list goes on making the region a food lovers delight.

The Rhone-Alps is renowned for its wines including Crozes Hermitage, St Joseph, Cotes de Rhone and its delicious AOC ‘Clairette de Die’ – a light, fruity, sparkling wine drunk as an aperitif or with desert.

Teresa has also written a guide to the Vercors.

Teresa Harte and her husband, Roger Dunne – an ex-International and GB rider – run Velo Vercors, the specialist cycling holiday base in St Jean-en-Royans. They are passionate about the Vercors and the surrounding region, and are active in encouraging cyclists of all abilities to discover the area by bike.

On the blog

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