Planning France Trip
My wife and I are planning a cycling tour in France this summer. We're looking for any recommendations/resources that anyone might have. Right now we're open and flexible in terms of mileage, location, tour vs solo, etc and are looking for someone to point us to good resources, share experiences or make recommendations of tours, locations, etc.
Any help is appreciated!
Some more information would be helpful before I answer in any detail. How much time will you have? Do you have any terrain preferences? Do you have any specific interests or desires you hope to meet (e.g. visiting chateaux, art, cuisine, wine, mountain scenery,...)? What type of accommodations?
I'll go ahead and try and discuss one part of your query, tour vs. solo. Most group tours cost a LOT more than doing it on your own. You also lose flexibility. You gain the possibility of camaraderie and new friendships, but at the risk of also spending time with a few people who may annoy you. Personally, I much prefer the freedom of doing it on my own, and making my own decisions, not to mention the much cheaper cost.
Do either you or your wife speak any French?
What month(s) will you be there?
pan y agua
Backroads.com I've you go the group route, they are very good. Even if you don't looking at their tours may give you some ideas.
Check out this site http://www.mikebikes.org/ very interesting reading about France.
My wife and I are going through France this spring http://www.geocities.com/xillios/index.html and we are doing it alone.
I would go alone, I rode last year from Holland to Greece alone and had a ball, I met many people and a lot of couples young and old cycling alone.
Hope it helps some cheers
Lonely Planet publishes an excellent cycling guide to France that includes a fair bit of information about cycle touring in general.
You could get a lot more information on this (or any) forum if you would tell us a little about how much time you have, what kind of terrain you like to cycle on, etc., etc.
Thanks everyone! Here's some specifics.
Early July but flexible because my wifes a teacher
Solo with bags shipped somehow?
My wife is interested in group options but I prefer self guided with some form of support or moving equipment. If someone can point us in etiher direction that's great!
B&Bs or farm accomodations or similar (rustic but clean)
Tour de France Landmarks (particularly Alpe D'uez)
Lonely Planet guide is Cycling France detailed with mileages and elevations
Go by yourselves save the bux I spent 3 weeks in France in 04 met wonderful folks had GREAT food never made a reservation for o'nite stays cept for arrival and departure from Paris, Ride to the Normandy Invasion beaches, Mt St Michel then head to the Loire easy level riding and the chateaux are spectacular, on the road I was rarely alone for any length of time, met with and rode with all sorts of folks;the country cafes are friendly food is very good and the innkeeprs and restaurant hosts are friendly
Most every town,city and village has a travel info office usually nr the train station they can point u to local inns and BnB s
Food? just be prepared for everything u have heard about French food, I gorged on Salmon, Lamb, Croque M'sieu, and Croque M'dame
and Ham n cheese on Baguette cept the ham was cured like nothing I had ever had and the cheese was Camembert
Coffee best ever, pastries in the AM for breakfast
Stop miday and buy your lunch at the local markets and eat in the town square or ride in the country till u fine a shady spot, eat ,kick back and snooze a while
I traveled 4 months total with 2 panniers and a handlebar bag total weight 33pounds and there was stuff I never used, Bike shops are in nearly every village in Paris there were 8 within maybe 10 minutes walk from my hotel, so don't weight yourself with extra parts
When u get into Burgundy there are plenty of estates that have wine tasting rooms, don't pass up visits to the wine caves , Lyon has restaurants the equal to those in Paris
You can always look at a room before accepting it to rent,I was never shown one but that it was spotless, but check the mattresses sometimes they aren't as firm as we have in the US.
Take your own fast drying towel, big bath towels as we know don't exist there
Forgot this Bon Voyage, and Bon Appetit
Two weeks in France sounds fantastic. I did a two-and-a-half week tour through Alsace and Burgundy several years ago, and had a blast. I planned the tour myself based on route information I found in library books, on-line, and through serendipitous discovery.
Accommodation in 2- and 3-star hotels and pensions was usually easy to find. Not once did I make an advance reservation. I traveled over a holiday weekend, and finding places was iffy, but in the end, I always had a roof over my head at night. As a bonus, the cost of an overnight stay was very reasonable. My "trick" was to start looking for a room around 3:00 p.m., but on many days I did not start until late afternoon or early evening.
Discovering local wine, cheese, and dishes is part of the package. You don't have to go looking!
Historical sites are everywhere. During my tour, I visited an archeological museum in Dijon, a WW1 cemetery for fallen German soldiers, a WW2 underground bunker, a museum about the 1000+ year history of Jewish life in Alsace, a Nazi concentration camp in the Vosges mountains, a 2000+ year old mountain-top fortification built by the Celts, and two 4000 year old Paleolithic stone shelters by a roadside in Burgundy.
I don't follow the Tour de France, so do not know whether the Tour passes through Alsace or Burgundy. But if they don't, they should! Both areas were fantastic for cycling.
merlinextraligh's suggestion of looking at the backroads.com website for route info and suggestions makes a lot of sense. If Backroads has a tour there, there's a good reason why.
My own favorite region for touring is Quercy, which is around the Dordogne & Lot valleys in SW France. It has gorgeous countryside, lots of diverse sights (e.g. a huge number of castles, some very interesting caves to visit, fabulous medieval villages, & stunning gorges), a great network of quiet secondary roads, and some of the best food in France. On the western edge is the Bergerac wine region, and the Cahors wine region is at the southern part. The Bordeaux-area vineyards are just to the west. You can do a great route by starting in Bordeaux, and head east up the Dordogne, and then south in an arc toward Toulouse. If you want to see a Tour de France landmark, take a short train ride from Toulouse to Lannemazin, then bike up the Col du Tourmalet. There are lots of "chambres d'hotes" (B&B's) in the Lot/Dordogne (and most of France). Wonderful food, even in small towns, in the Lot/Dordogne area.
I'm not that into the Tour de France, but from what I know, there seem to be 3 big TdeF landmarks: Alpe d'Huez in the Alps just off the Col du Lauteret route; Mont Ventoux east of Avignon in the south; Col du Tourmalet in the Pyrenees. I've been up the Col du Tourmalet--I biked up it after biking in the Dordogne/Lot valleys 2 years ago. Superb ride and great descent to the NW toward Lourdes. While I haven't ridden up to Alpe d'Huez, I have ridden over the Col du Lauteret, whose road it branches off from. The Lauteret is an easy col, and the descent toward Grenoble is wonderful because it's long, gradual, and has few switchbacks. I've biked in Provence but not up Ventoux. I believe there are 3 different ways up, with major differences in difficulty between them.
The Col du Tourmalet has an advantage over Alpe d'Huez in that it's somewhat closer to good non-mountain areas for touring. Heat could be a problem with Mont Ventoux in July. If you want to ride up Mont Ventoux, however, the nearby Luberon area is supposed to be superb for cycling. Here's a good website for Luberon cycling info: http://www.provenceweb.fr/84/VLL/ukindex.htm
I haven't looked, but perhaps that website has info on outfits that might provide support services for cyclists.
If you really want to see Alpe d'Huez, you could combine it with riding in Auvergne, the ancient volcanic area in the center of the country, across the Rhone river from near Alpe d'Huez. Auvergne is a great place to ride, and relatively few tourists go there. The roads have very little traffic, the mountainous scenery is very pretty, and prices are low. Rustic country cooking & great cheese in the region.
If you can leave a little bit earlier, even by a week, it will make a difference. Far fewer tourists in late June compared to July. I've never had any problem finding accommodations without reservations in June or September. You may still be OK prior to the July 14 holiday, but I've generally avoided July & August. Provence, in particular, can be jammed in the summer, when that region can also be brutally hot.
Tourist offices give out free booklets with lists of Chambres d'hotes. There is also a lot of info online, such ashttp://www.chambres-hotes.org/ I've stayed in a few and they have been very nice. The only problem is that they tend to be outside of towns, so if they don't serve dinner (some do, but often with advance notice required), you've get to ride into the nearest town.
It sounds like you would prefer some type of support for carrying your gear. I'm not familiar with any outfits that do that in France besides fully-supported tours, but that doesn't mean such an arrangement doesn't exist. You should consider doing it on your own, however, because France is ideally set up for it. Excellent food & accommodations are found all over, even in small towns. The people are very welcoming to cyclists. Most regional trains are fairly bike-friendly these days. There are few parts of France which are not excellent for cycling, and each region is quite distinct. It's a very rewarding place to bike.
Maps: Michelin & IGN maps are readily available throughout France. Most cyclists seem happy with Michelin's 1:200,000 series. My own preference is for the superb IGN 1:100,000 series. Beautiful maps, with lots of additional information compared to the perfectly adequete Michelin maps. In most countries, I'd be thrilled to have maps available as good as Michelin.
Here's two more links.
The first one is fully translated by Will Dehne (forum member):
southern france to spain
the other one is not finished (got not enough time) yet but you can surf using it's inner links: go to the Alps region you wish to (link: Karten) and click on it for further information: pictures, mountain profiles, accomodation...
route des grandes alpes
As others have said the best way to do this is doing it by yourselves. In France in July there is no problems with accommodation and either small, family-run hotels or bed and breakfast places are plentiful. You have no need to book in July and doing it this way is much cheaper and allows more flexibility than organised tours. Don't be shy with the locals and having a smattering of French helps tremendously as the French are proud of their language and culture. They also admire cyclists and are friendly towards them and France is the best country in the world to cycle in with thousands of small roads, wonderful scenery and great food with plenty cafes and restaurants.
Having only two weeks to tour, in my view means that you would be wise to confine yourselves to one area and explore this rather than try to cover too much ground. It should be a relaxing experience giving you plenty time to see new sights and get to know something of the people.
May I suggest Burgundy as an area as this has everything : great countryside and scenery; not too "touristy" unlike further south; terrific food and wine; a National park; and if you are into ancient buildings, a great many gothic cathedrals built on top of early Romanesque churches and open to view by the public. In short everything you require.
I hope you find the above helpful as I've lived in France for three years and toured that country every year for thirty five years so I suppose I have a vested interest in wanting others to enjoy it.
Last edited by onbike 1939; 03-17-06 at 05:09 AM.
Bordeaux to Carcassone
The route from Bordeaux to Agen is very scenic and the terrain is fairly easy riding. At Agen, follow the Canal Midi to Carcassone. The route along the canal is also very scenic and flat. Arrive in Carcassone around July 12 or 13. Stay in La Cite and be in Carcassone on July 14th. That is Bastille Day, with celebrations. AND, to add to the excitement, the Tour de France will be arriving in Carcassone that day. Take train back to Paris or Bordeaux.
P.S. - You can't see all of France in two weeks. This trip will make you want to come back to see the rest on subsequent trips.
Reading about the wonderful tours by Mike Bedard and the great comments by axolotl and acantor and Travelinguyrt and others inspires my wife and I to consider a trip to France as well. We are thinking about starting in Bordeux and finishing in Toulouse for a month long visit in September staying in modest accomodations along the way. The Dordogne and Lot regions as described by axolotl seem very inviting. We have enjoyed trips to Germany and Austria in the past and had a great time on each occasion. But I can speak some German. So, without having any experience in speaking French, if we are armed with open minds and a good phrase book, will this be a good destination for us?
Consider tripping through Alsace. Alsacien, the local language that many people still speak, is a German dialect. Because Alsace is next door to Germany, many people speak German as a second langauge. Strasbourg is the main city of the region, and is easy to reach by train. You can ride near the Rhine if you prefer flatter lands, or head west into the Vosge Mountains if you like hills. Castles, vineyards, excellent food -- don't miss "tarte flambée" -- museums, villages... it's all there!
Originally Posted by Harold
I've got a friend who speaks no French who biked in France with me (I speak French) and without me. He said it was certainly easier when he was with me, but he still enjoyed his trip without a French-speaker. The Lot & Dordogne region attracts a large number of British tourists, many of whom have bought homes there. So folks there are pretty used to anglophones. I suspect things will be fine in hotels and restaurants, but you'll have a harder time in some shops. One thing to remember: Never assume everyone speaks English; Always ask first. And smile a lot.
Originally Posted by Harold
I read a very enjoyable book titled "From Here You Can't See Paris" by Michael Sanders. The sub-title is "seasons of a french village and its restaurant". The book is available in paperback. The author moved with his wife and young daughter to a small village in the Lot/Dordogne region. Part of the book is about a chef and his successful restaurant that is the only business in the village, and which has permitted the village to continue to exist. The other part of the book is about life in the village itself. The final chapter should be required reading for tourists in France. It's called "How to eat well in a restaurant in France."
I'm made of earth!
The Loire River Valley is said to be one of the most beautiful routes on Europe. I can vouch for the beauty of the Canal du Midi as I rode it last summer on the way to Spain. Just gorgeous.
I've gone with a group called Bicycle Adventure Club many times to France. It is non-profit organization and much cheaper than the commercial companies. And...after the trip, you get back a check for what hasn't been spent. It is much less expensive than if I did it solo since they get group rates for hotels and food. The trip depends on the trip leader/volunteer. Some trips are plush and therefore more expensive. Some are more spartan and very good deals. All routes are scouted, generally. Most people on these tours are retirees. You can see for yourself on their website the trips that are available.
Gastronomic food, history, pre-history, beautiful scenery, and quiet roads, you can't go far wrong by coming to the Dordogne for a spot of cycling. I live in Castelnaud in the Dordogne and have owned a bike rental outfit there now for 5 years. We offer tour support services for independant travellers through the south west of France. Even if you are just passing through the region, go see our website and drop us a line. We may be able to help you out on your tour.
We offer nearly 40 guided and self-guided programs in France, working exclusively with European bike tour companies. www.biketoursdirect.com
Gee, well, I guess I'll plug my tour company too: Agile Compass http://www.agile-compass.com/france.html does semi-custom, small group tours in the Rhone-Alpes, from the Rhone valley and the Drome Provencal through the Vercors plateau south of Grenoble and some of the Alps (around Bourg d'Oisans).
Sorry, no time to read every reaction (so maybe doublure):
a perfect area to ride and to meet all your wishes is the Loire and Cher valley.
Castles (Chenonceaux and Chambord, the finest, resp the biggest) and more historic sites, scenery (sunflower-fields, swamps, vineyards), moderate temperature (Provence, my other favourite is too hot in summer), cuisine etc.
Safe routes and trails.
But no mountains, an extra challenge or desired scenery for many people.
Loire Valley was the playground for many kings etc. in the past. And they appeared to have a good taste for locations to enjoy themselves and their maitresses (and the other way round)
Read cross the earlier text and I'm a bit surprised it's possible to publish tour-companies.
OK, I've the best deal.
When time is okay my wife and you guide you through the area.
Speak French etc. Cycling advice for route and sights and highlights.
3 Years experience, 5 times the Blois-Loches area.
We make contract.
Our fee:One beer and wine at the beginning and end.
One example of the commercial or non-profit organisations above:
Bicycle Adventure Club.
Specimen the Switzerland trip is in this non-profit organisation much more expensive than a so called commercial Western European organisation I joined some times. Name of this cycletours organisation on request by email.
Should you be in our area, welcome to look us up. Show you about we have mountains and seashore at our doorstep. Great cycling. Warm, clear water too on the Meditterranean. Just north of the Costa Brava of Spain. A great web site where you can connect with various cycling options is below. Some cycle between cycling b and b's from day to day or from bike friendly camp sites from one day to the next. Great way to go.
Years ago, we cycled about Normandy, Brittany and the Loire. the experience of a lifetime.