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  1. #1
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    Provence and Loire Valley - Group Tours of France?

    This is sort of a dream of mine. I used to live in France before I was a cyclist. When I was there, I saw many cyclists particularly in the countryside of Provence and the Loire Valley. They often seemed to be divided into two distinct groups - those who were sort of out of shape who huffed and puffed, not looking too happy who usually ended their days riding the comfort van to a hotel (I talked to many of these along the way) and others who were more sculpted who trained hard for the trip and rode hard through the hills who I could easily have mistaken for Lance Armstrong.

    I am just getting back to biking, but would love to have a carrot ahead of me and plan a trip in the spring or summer . . . group or solo, not sure, it would be my first. I am assuming there are groups you can sign up for depending on your cycling ability. I would probably go in a group, although I do speak French, so language wouldn't be a problem. I have also read about Trek tours where you stay in Chateaux along the way and eat four course dinners, but ride hard during the day.

    I would be interested to hear about any experiences riding with groups or alone through these areas of France. Favorite moments? Surprises along the way? I particularly love the countryside, but I also want to feel safe. Any suggestions on tour groups to join and training suggestions would also be welcome. And, did your bike go with you on the airplane? All new for me.

    Ride well,
    Sandy

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by SandySwimmer
    I would be interested to hear about any experiences riding with groups or alone through these areas of France. Favorite moments? Surprises along the way? I particularly love the countryside, but I also want to feel safe.
    I've always felt quite safe cycling in France, though I'm not sure what aspect of safety concerns you the most. If it's drivers and traffic, French drivers are generally quite mindful and respectful of cyclists. Since you lived in France, I'm sure you're aware of what a superb network of secondary roads exists there. Frankly, it's the best secondary road network I've seen anywhere in the world. With a good map and competent map reading skills, you should be able to pick out roads which have very low traffic volumes. This is especially true in the Loire valley, where there is very gentle terrain and even more minor roads than other parts of France. I particularly like IGN 1:100,000 scale maps, though Michelin 1:200,000 are certainly adequete.

    My experience has been with friends or alone. On the most recent trips, we stayed mainly in fairly inexpensive 2 star hotels. We typically paid a bit more per person for our dinners, which were consistently superb, than our rooms. Hotelkeepers have always been very welcoming and accomodating toward our bikes.

    Favorite moments? Well, one I recall took place many years ago while biking through the Loire river gorge (far south of the chateaux area, about a day's ride west of Lyon) with two German friends, both of whom are much taller than myself. The hotelkeeper asked us where we were from, and I answered and said my two friends were from Germany, but I was American. The hotelkeeper, who was no taller than me looked at me and said, "Toi, tu es americain? Non, c'est impossible. Tous les americains sont grands, mais toi, tu es tout petit!" (I didn't translate it because it loses most of its humor in english)

  3. #3
    Senior Member onbike 1939's Avatar
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    Sandy, I'm giving you a link which should suit your needs exactly. I've used this company some time ago and it was a superb holiday which can be graded to suit your riding ability. You can do it with a group of friends or join others when you get there.
    http://www.cycling-for-softies.co.uk/

  4. #4
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    axolotl - thanks for the story. It sounds like you had a great trip. That's the kind I am hoping to have

    onbike - thanks for the website. It's good to know there are places that can organize the trip.

    It's helping my training, having a trip to think about.
    Sandy

  5. #5
    Papa Wheelie Sigurdd50's Avatar
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    these folks put on a great tour (did the wisconsin ride, but spoke to riders who did the Europe rides)
    http://www.twobicycles.com/

  6. #6
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    Sigurdd - that group looks like it could work really well for me. My parents live in Madison. I like that they have the trips divided into difficulty. I would really like to work up to a "challenging" tour. I wonder if I could be ready by spring. I am in decent shape, but still working on building up the mileage on the bike.

    thanks

    Sandy

  7. #7
    Senior Member late's Avatar
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  8. #8
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    late - thanks for the websites of reviews of tour groups

    Sandy

  9. #9
    Senior Member cyclezealot's Avatar
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    I have toured Provence, Burgundy, Loire, and Normandy..I went with friends and the non-riding spouses doing sag and shopping/chateaux hopping while we were on our bikes. And some of the time I was solo..
    French touring is incredible...Limited French/ but in the country -side you can always find helpful sorts regardless of language..
    My wife teaches French and of course she is not a cyclists..The stories I could impart of the kindness' I experienced to make our ride easier by the locals.
    I like riding with a group. Particularily my group of cycling friends. Not needed but more fun..
    as to organized tours. I would do them..But rarely would you find an organized tour under $3,000 if that is a factor. Maybe I did not search hard enough..
    When touring my favorite vineyards/sunflower/lavender fields; who needs company..Being alone with your thoughts in such terrain is good for the soul. But, of course it did not take long to find a French riding companion to share your expereinces with..Those under 35, I suspect about 25% speak English..English is pretty widely tought in the schools.Just try speaking some French as a courtesy and soon they will be happy to speak English. At least in the country-side.

  10. #10
    Senior Member cyclezealot's Avatar
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    ps..You go solo there are plenty of good guide books for cyclists to prepare your route and arrange your travel plans.

  11. #11
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    cyclezealot - thanks for your descriptions. I am slowly beginning to plan.

    Sandy

  12. #12
    Senior Member cyclezealot's Avatar
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    Sandy..Happy planning..I love planning bike tours..My ideal vacation..If only my wife rode with me..
    But, an editorial comment..I loved all my rides in all regions of France..One fear..Normandy, Brittany.Might rain a lot.
    But to possibly help in your planning..Two bike tour guides I found helpful.."Cycling in France." by Ulysses Books..
    and my favorite.."cycling France" by Lonely Planet..
    I loved riding about Burgundy, in particular about Beaune. See chapter from Lonely Planet for an itenary there...great quaint villages...
    But, I think my favorite...The Vaucluse region and in particular the "Luberon" valley..We stayed in the town of Bonnieux..Absolutely majestic cycling..Highlights include villages of Gordes ( Hilltop towns.) Vaisson La Romaine, Orange, Cavillon and Mt. Ventoux. Just incredible..In July/August it can be very hot however.
    The easiest approach to Mt. Ventoux is from the lavender town of Sault. And we think Provencal food to be our favorite French food. Very healthy too.

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