Cycling holidays always sound like a good idea. What could be better for family harmony than several days of hearty, sleep-inducing exercise in glorious fresh air, combined with a decent slug of sightseeing, and rounded off with plates of fine food.
There’s only one snag — hills.
Anyone who has ever cycled en famille will instantly recognise the moans and groans that greet the slightest incline. This is where electric bikes come in.
Relaxed: Ben hired a car in Avignon to reach sleepy Gordes (pictured) in the Luberon region
My partner Sarah, our 12-year-old son, Fred, and I were in the Luberon, that sumptuous slice of southern France that retains a sleepy charm personified in its hilltop ‘perched’ villages.
We based ourselves a few minutes’ walk from the spectacular, sleepy village of Gordes.
Our three-bedroom stone-built cottage, La Petite Gordes, contained everything we needed and more, including a cosy TV room, gorgeous pool and plenty of outdoor space.
This particular spot is no longer on the books of CV Villas but there are plenty of other options in the vicinity.
You’ll want to linger in Provence, which is why pain-free cycling is such a good idea. We hired a trio of machines from a helpful shop in the village of Coustellet and, after a brief tutorial, were off.
So what is an e-bike?
Effortless: Electric bikes take the hard work out of pedalling around Provence’s hills
Imagine a conventional bicycle — albeit one with a snazzy digital handlebar display and a twistable gear grip that’s actually a throttle.
Age restrictions apply in Britain (you need to be 14) but not in France. It’s powered by a small motor charged by plugging its mounted battery into a standard household socket.
You can pedal as normal but then choose a level of assistance from the motor. Our bikes gave a choice of five speeds.
Pedalling was straightforward but the temptation to turn on the afterburners soon became overwhelming. You initially feel a slight jolt forward and then suddenly pedalling becomes incredibly easy.
Turn the throttle up another notch and the power becomes more noticeable to the point where the machine is less bike, more moped.
Blooming lovely: Lavender fields at Sénanque Abbey, in Gordes, flower over the summer
Fred and I were soon touching speeds of nearly 20 mph. Sarah was more responsible.
There was a wonderfully preserved Roman bridge to enjoy — Pont Julien near Bonnieux — and the latent trainspotter in me loved the abandoned, but still stylish, SNCF railway station houses.
With vineyards to our left and right, it was time for the first big hill climb outside Menerbes.
As advertised, the eager bikes did the heavy lifting — allowing the three of us to glide up slopes that normally would have reduced us to a sweaty mess. If that sounds like cheating then, well, I plead guilty and the celebratory citron pressés at the summit tasted just as good.
Tour de France bores and fitness fanatics may disapprove, but for us, the e-bikes took the holiday yellow jersey.