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Beaucaire

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Overview

History & Attractions:

Beaucaire and Tarascon are interesting towns facing each other from opposite banks of the Rhone River. Tarascon, on the Provence side, has a nicely rebuilt 14th-century castle, a quaint old quarter, and a river cruise port. But Beaucaire, on the Occitanie side, has a particularly fascinating history.

As a rocky prominence surrounded by river lowlands, Beaucaire has attracted human inhabitants since pre-history. People had already been living in these hills since Cro-Magnon times when Hannibal and his army followed the mythical route of Heracles, crossing the river at Beaucaire with their elephants in 218BC on the way to attack Rome during the second Punic War.

The Romans later formalized this track as the Via Domitia, first road in Roman Gaul. You can see vestiges of this straight ancient route in Beaucaire, including mile-marker stones engraved with the names of the emperors who commissioned the work. The Roman village of Ugernum arose on this site, and is where the Gallic aristocracy met to elect Avitus as Emperor after the Vandals sacked Rome. An important ruin was discovered on the construction site of the new downtown quarter in 2019, and is undergoing excavation as of 2022.

Eremite Christian monks moved into the Abbaye Saint-Roman hills by the 5th century, carving chapels and eerie tombs into the bedrock and creating a rare troglodyte monastery. There is a mesh of fire roads and singletracks for good MTB riding in the compact hills surrounding the abbey, which lies a short pedal north from Beaucaire on the Voie Verte bike path. The Gorges of the Gardon River further along the path to the north are also good for mountain biking and mellow river boating under the iconic World Heritage site: the Pont du Gard. You can rent a kayak cheaply in Collias, which includes the return shuttle.

In the 11th-century, the Counts of Beaucaire and Toulouse built the Beaucaire castle atop a Roman ruin, then led the First Crusade to the Holy Land. Centuries later, they found themselves and their castle a target of the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathar heretics in the SW region. At the end of the Cathar extermination, King Louis IX (St. Louis) took possession and repaired the Beaucaire châteaux, staying there frequently, including on his way to the (disastrous) 7th and 8th crusades launched from Aigue-Mortes, a walled port city built by Louis in the Camargue marshes to the south. In other Crusader history, there are Knights Templar ruins in the nearby area, including a World Heritage 11th century church at the Templar port of St.-Gilles, and a Templar fort at the roman Pont-St.-Nicolas (again, on the Gardon River) that guarded the route for pilgrims and crusaders headed to Jerusalem.

Things were quiet in town for a bit. Then, at the end of the Hundred Years War, Charles VII declared the "Fair of the Madeleine" in Beaucaire. This trade fair ran for 6-weeks a year for over 200 years, doing more business volume than the city of Marseilles did all year. The great wealth accumulated by the international merchants went into building the town's famous golden stone "Hôtel particulier" mansions.

Predictable corruption led to merchants allowing a plague ship from Syria to dock their goods for the 1720 Fair, resulting in the deaths of half the population of Marseilles and a third of Provence. Napoleon Bonaparte finally revoked the Fair's tax exempt status: this and the arrival of railroads and canals put the nail in the coffin of the event, but in modern Beaucaire the fair survives in the form of summer festivals, bullfights and events.

In the 19th century, Beaucaire was linked to the rest of France when it became a port on the newly constructed Rhône-à-Sete canal, and a stop on the new railroad. With 34 trains a day, it's still a great under-the-radar hub for exploring the south of France.

Across the Rhône river lie two other massifs that offer good MTB riding: La Montagnette and Les Alpilles. Both have extensive networks of fire roads and hidden singletracks, lovely villages, historic sites and great vistas. The Frigolet Abbey and Boulbon in La Montagnette make a great, hilly loop ride. The much larger Les Alpilles massif also offers good, unpolished limestone climbing at several crags. The area was made famous by Van Gogh, who produced many of his most famous paintings here and in nearby Arles, spending time in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence's sanitorium after cutting off his own ear.

There is a great Via Ferrata in Cavaillon, and a small one in Russan. Travel up to Buis-Les-Barronies for more. While in that area, there's an unpaved route up the infamous Mont Ventoux for MTB, and the Fontaine-de-Vaucluse where the bottle-green Sorgue River emerges fully formed from a cave is definitely worth a visit.

Arles is a short ride south of Beaucaire on the marked Via Rhona bike route, which includes new and planned segments of Voie Verte paved bike path. The Via Rhôna continues south to the Camargue, a vast river delta with wild white horses and native black bulls, migratory birds (including lots of flamingos), and France's wildest Mediterranean beaches. Nîmes and Avignon are also within riding distance, on gravel paths and quiet country lanes.

Viticulture:

The red wines of the mapped area (mostly Costieres de Nîmes, some Côte du Rhône) are affordable, sun-soaked and rich, often more like big California reds in style. But it's the rosés that will blow your socks off. Forget your White Zinfandel trauma: these wines are highly varied, fresh and just lovely in color. Use the Hachette Guides to find good ones to taste, but the Vignerons Createurs wine cooperative in Jonquières-Saint-Vincent, or the rosé capitol of Tavel near mega-historic Uzès are good places to start. A local Beaucaire winery, Mas de Tourelles, is a fun detour: located on the site of an ancient Roman amphora factory, they still make wine with ancient techniques, using funky recipes from Pliny and Cato that are fascinating (if not delicious). Once a year, they even stomp the grapes by foot (just for show!).

Local Info

Most of the MTB riding you'll do in the south of France links together fire roads, canal paths, and haphazard singletrack segments with quiet country roads and paved bike paths. So, a lightweight hardtail with smooth tires works perfectly, while a gravel bike would regularly leave you under-biked. Real enduro riding can be found, typically on challenging hiking trails, but tends to happen on purpose-built trails at ski resorts in the summer. Finale Ligure, just over the border in Italy is a destination for this, as are the ski resorts of the Haute-Provence and the Mercantour Alps.

Beaucaire and Tarascon are interesting villages facing each other from opposite banks of the Rhone River. Tarascon has a nice castle and is a river cruise port, but Beaucaire has a particularly fascinating history.

As a rocky prominence surrounded by river lowlands, Beaucaire has attracted human inhabitants since pre-history. Hannibal and his army followed the mythical route of Heracles here, crossing the river with their elephants in 218BC on the way to attack Rome during the second Punic War. The Romans later formalized this track as the Via Domitia, first road in Roman Gaul. You can see vestiges of this straight ancient route in Beaucaire, including mile-marker stones engraved with the names of the emperors who commissioned the work.

Eremite Christian monks moved into the Abbaye Saint-Roman hills by the 5th century, carving chapels and eerie tombs into the bedrock. There is a mesh of fire roads and singletracks for good MTB riding in the hills surrounding the abbey, which lies a short pedal north from Beaucaire on the Voie Verte bike path.

In the Middle Ages, the Counts of Beaucaire and Toulouse built the Beaucaire castle atop a Roman ruin, and led the First Crusade to the Holy Land. Later, they found themselves and their castle a target of the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathar heretics in the region.

At the end of the Hundred Years War, Charles VII declared the "Fair of the Madeleine" in Beaucaire. This trade fair ran for 6-weeks a year for over 200 years, doing more business volume than the city of Marseilles did all year. The great wealth accumulated by the international merchants went into building the city's famous golden stone "Hôtel particulier" mansions. The fair survives today in the form of summer festivals, bullfights and events.

Across the river lie two other massifs that offer good MTB riding: La Montagnette and Les Alpilles. Both have extensive networks of fire roads and singletracks, lovely villages, historic sites and great vistas. Les Alpilles also offers good, unpolished limestone climbing at several crags. The area was made famous by Van Gogh, who produced many of his most famous paintings here and in nearby Arles, spending time in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence's sanitorium after cutting off his own ear. Arles is a short ride south of Beaucaire on the marked Via Rhona bike route, which continues south to the Camargue, a vast river delta with wild white horses and native black bulls, migratory birds (including lots of flamingos), and excellent, undeveloped Mediterranean beaches.

The red wines of the mapped area are affordable, sun-soaked and rich, often more like big California reds in style. But it's the rosés that will blow your socks off. Forget your "White Zinfandel" trauma: these wines are highly varied, fresh and just lovely in color. Use the Hachette Guides to find good ones to taste, but the Vignerons Createurs wine cooperative in Jonquières-Saint-Vincent, or the rosé capitol of Tavel are good places to start. A local Beaucaire winery, Mas de Tourelles, is a fun detour: located on the site of an ancient Roman amphora factory, they still make wine with ancient techniques, using funky recipes from Pliny and Cato that are fascinating (if not delicious).

Visiting Tips

Travel:

The closest major airport is Marseilles, a 90-minute drive away. But there are a number of regional airports in the area, including Nîmes, . The Rhône River corridor is transit rich, with major autoroutes from the north. Beaucaire and Tarascon have regular train service in and out of their respective stations, but if you need to talk to a person or buy a ticket, you'll have to wander across the bridge to the larger Tarascon station. The glorious high speed trains stop at Avignon and the new Nîmes-Pont du Gard station (which is near neither).

Pro tips for train travel:

1). The famous TGV high speed trains are great, but very expensive. Book a Ouigo high speed train instead and go from the south to Paris in 2.5-hours for only 10-20 Euros!

2). Be sure you get a ticket for your bike, too. It may not be necessary on the local (TER) trains, but bikes are limited on the long distance trains (Intercité, TGV), and you'll probably have to box it up.

2). Buying one-off tickets is often not the most economical way to go. For instance, if you are planning to commute to Montpellier for a week or more of language classes, get a weekly or monthly pass that is mega-cheaper. Also, look into buying rail passes before you leave if you'll be traveling in France or Europe.

Camping & Lodging

Accommodations:

Tarascon has a few cute, touristy Provençal hotels. There are a couple of somewhat grotty industrial hotels in and near Beaucaire, but nothing in the center: weirdly--given its astonishing history and perfect location--this is a real town, not a tourist attraction (yet?). You can find AirBnB's of course, or try St.-Remy about 10-miles away. There is, however, a lovely campground right in downtown Beaucaire, immediately north of the bull fighting arena and the elementary school: "Area di Sosta Camper - Aire Camping Car".

Recommended Routes in Beaucaire - 1

MTB Project is built by riders like you. Add Your Recommended Routes

Favorite First startling glimpse of the Abbaye Saint Michel de Frigolet
Difficult

Saint-Michel-de-Frigolet Loop

12.2 mi 19.7 km 1,098' Up 334.78 m Up 1,092' Down 332.81 m Down

Boulbon, FR

Beaucaire Biking

  • 26 Miles 41 Kilometers of Trail
  • 1 Recommended Route
  • 3 Easy Trails Easy Trails
  • 1 Intermediate Trail Intermediate Trails
  • 4 Difficult Trails Difficult Trails
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Trails in Beaucaire - 7

MTB Project is built by riders like you. Add Your Trails

1.5 mi 2.5 km #1Abbaye Saint-Michel de Frigolet Singletrack
Very Difficult
Boulbon, FR
Very Difficult
Boulbon, FR
0.9 mi 1.4 km #2Boulbon Singletrack
Difficult
Boulbon, FR
Difficult
Boulbon, FR
2.1 mi 3.3 km #3Beaucaire River Path
Intermediate
Beaucaire, FR
Intermediate
Beaucaire, FR
1.8 mi 2.9 km #4Beaucaire Bike Path
Easy
Beaucaire, FR
Easy
Beaucaire, FR
2.7 mi 4.3 km #5Tarascon-Les Alpilles Bike Path
Easy
Tarascon, FR
Easy
Tarascon, FR
4.4 mi 7.0 km #6Les Collines de Saint-Roman
Difficult
Comps, FR
Difficult
Comps, FR
0.2 mi 0.3 km #7Bonnet Mill
Easy
Boulbon, FR
Easy
Boulbon, FR

Photos of Beaucaire - 7

MTB Project is built by riders like you. Add Your Photos

First startling glimpse of the Abbaye Saint Michel de Frigolet
Mar 19, 2019 near Boulbon, FR
The restored Moulin Bonnet (Boulbon windmill), open on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month, and a worthy detour.
Mar 19, 2019 near Boulbon, FR
The new (2022) Voie Verte between Beaucaire and Bellegarde can be used to access trails and dirt roads.
Apr 11, 2022 near Beaucaire, FR
Watch for yellow trail markers, seldom this obvious.
Mar 19, 2019 near Boulbon, FR
Looking south at the crossroads, with the indistinct start of the singletrack leading to Boulbon on the right.
Mar 18, 2019 near Boulbon, FR
Looking north at the top of the singletrack section leading from the crest down to Boulbon (on left). It doesn't look very narrow at the top, but it quickly thins down.
Mar 18, 2019 near Boulbon, FR
Monk's tombs, carved into the bedrock of the Saint-Roman Abbey.
Mar 28, 2019 near Comps, FR