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Old 08-18-09, 04:30 AM   #1
zoltani
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Some questionss about touring France (general, not route related)

Well, I've just moved to France and to get to know the country a little better I have decided to do a bike tour. The route has been planned out for the most part, and I'm pretty set on where I want to go, so I don't really have any questions about that. Mostly my concerns/questions are centered around navigation and lodging. So here goes....

- I plan to mostly take the littel white roads, but after doing some day rides around here I have found that they are a little more difficult to navigate than I first thought. How well signed are the small white "D" roads? Will a compass come in handy when trying to decide which direction to take or is it not really needed?

- When I tour I like to camp. I would like to stay in the "camping municipale" because they are cheaper than the larger campground, and hopefully have less screaming kids and such. At the same time I don't have a great internet connection so planning out the camping beforehand is not that easy. I also don't see myself finding internet along the way to check on camping. How likely is it that most small towns have a camping municipale site? I know that almost all aournd here (ardennes) have one.

- If I can't find a camping and it is starting to get late how easy is it to wild camp in France? So far I have only been warned against hunters, as they don't like to find a scraggly american camping in "their" forest.

- How easy is it to find alcool bruler and where should I look for it?

That's all for now. I appreciate any insight that you all can give, thanks!
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Old 08-18-09, 04:59 AM   #2
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I'd suggest visiting the tourist info of whichever small town you find yourself late in the afternoon. They should be able to provide a list of local camping options for that night. You'll then have several hours to figure out which option suits you and your route best, see the town if you like, do grocery shopping if needed, and ride to the camping place. I'd check for tourist info's opening hours beforehand, though.

I always tour with a small old fashioned compass (not a battery operated one). It weighs next to nothing and is a good backup even if you have GPS. Regarding stealth camping in France and availability of stove fuel, I've no idea. Sorry.

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Old 08-18-09, 05:05 AM   #3
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if you speak the lingo you will never get lost,simple because french people i found are only to willing to help a stranger,and they love cyclists.the municipale campsite's of which there seem's to be one every 20 km or so are fantastic,we paid between 5 and 7 euro a night ..the wild camping i would not chance it ,seems every blade of grass is cultivated great farming country.so if your a good map reader (im not) you'll be fine,very best of luck on your trip around france as long as the weather is good and you don't have any mishap's you will have a ball.
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Old 08-18-09, 05:06 AM   #4
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If your from the states I can see how you may find the navigating very different. I find a compass very useful to help out in many situations. The key to navigating on these minor road found in France and the UK is good planning and also not being too worried if you feel a bit lost. That's where the compass comes in handy. Know roughly where you are and roughly where the next village you wish to pass through is and choose the rough in that direction if in doubt.

I've never paid much attention to looking for alcool bruler but most medium to large super markets seem to have blue camping gaz canisters and also seem to have some sort of small DIY section where alcool bruler would be found. I don't think it will be that big a problem.
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Old 08-18-09, 07:02 AM   #5
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A compass is always a good idea.
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Old 08-18-09, 07:29 AM   #6
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Good article about touring in France here.
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Old 08-18-09, 08:01 AM   #7
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Quote:

How well signed are the small white "D" roads? Will a compass come in handy when trying to decide which direction to take or is it not really needed?
All roads in France, including "D" roads, are consistently well marked. With a good map (I prefer IGN maps to Michelin, but either will suffice), it's pretty hard to get lost in France. IMO, France has the best network of quiet secondary roads in the world. They are well built, well maintained, and well signposted. I've never needed a compass there, but it can't hurt.

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- When I tour I like to camp. I would like to stay in the "camping municipale" because they are cheaper than the larger campground, and hopefully have less screaming kids and such. At the same time I don't have a great internet connection so planning out the camping beforehand is not that easy. I also don't see myself finding internet along the way to check on camping. How likely is it that most small towns have a camping municipale site? I know that almost all aournd here (ardennes) have one.
Municipal campgrounds are common but not universal. As Juha suggested, visit a tourist office (often called "syndicat d'initiative") and ask for camping information. They should have brochures for the department, and perhaps the region.

As for screaming kids, I suspect you're more likely to encounter them in a cheaper municipal campground than elsewhere.

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- How easy is it to find alcool bruler and where should I look for it?
Blue "Camping Gaz" cannisters are far and away the most common camping stove fuel in France.
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Old 08-18-09, 08:09 AM   #8
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http://shop.lonelyplanet.com/Primary...=1250603453257

I used the original edition of this book when I was cycling around France a few years back, the routes were very well thought out. I would expect the new edition to be at least as useful.

www.yacf.co.uk is a British cycling forum, a lot of the members are cycle tourists and seem to spend their share of time in France.

I always have a small cheap compass with me on tours. I seldom use it, but it's good to be able to verify which way is which sometimes. If the sun is out you can make a rough guess as to which is north (or soouth or east or west) by sun position and time of day.

The little white roads are the least used local roads, whether they are "D" roads (route departmentale" or "C" roads (route communale) or just the little vineyard roads. None of them are likely to have signage to get you past the next village, although I recall the white "D" roads being a little better marked than the little vineyard roads. Get a good map like the IGN maps and plan on stopping at every crossroads at times.

"Camping Gaz" stoves are by far the most common portable cooking device in France (I think they're a French invention), but alcohol stoves have their advantages. If you can't find "alcool a bruler" in a supermarket, try a hardware store.

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Old 08-18-09, 08:42 AM   #9
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All roads in France, including "D" roads, are consistently well marked.
We can't possibly be talking about the same France. The one in Europe? Between Germany, Spain and Italy?

I haven't biked a lot in France, but I have done driving tours and the signage is often atrocious. A compass (or even better, a GPS) would definitely my choice.

Other than that, I can't help you, I'm not really big on camping and greatly prefer to stay in the auberges and other small, locally owned accomodation.
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Old 08-18-09, 09:36 AM   #10
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During my last tour in France, I recall exactly one minor road (in the Basque region) which wasn't marked at the intersection. I was very surprised, because it is so rare. For comparison, the majority of minor roads in northern Spain were not signposted. When the French do things right (e.g. high-speed trains, subways, cooking, road construction, signposting), they do things extraordinarily well. When they do things poorly (e.g. rock music, smoking prevention campaigns, drug testing of athletes), beware!
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Old 08-18-09, 09:40 AM   #11
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I bike in France for about 5 weeks a while back. No major issues, had a great time.
All I had was a compass and map, and did fine...it'll be great!
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Old 08-18-09, 06:50 PM   #12
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I found that the key to navigating around France by bike was referring to a detailed map, such as the widely available Michelin maps. I saw other maps from other companies that contain even more detail, but I don't think I ever got lost, at least, not seriously lost!

Getting lost (or misdirected, if you prefer) is part of bicycle touring. Asking local people for directions is a good way to figure out where you are. I do it almost every day that I tour.

It can't hurt to carry a compass. I travelled with one for years, but don't recall ever using it on a bike tour.
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Old 08-19-09, 03:16 AM   #13
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If you don't know French already ... learn. At least learn enough to be able to get train tickets, buy food, ask directions, etc., and understand what is said to you.

Rowan and I didn't have any trouble rolling up to campsites and getting a place to stay when we've been in France. Check out our 2007 story:
http://www.machka.net/pbp2007/2007_PBP.htm
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Old 08-19-09, 03:59 AM   #14
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Get a Michelin Map if you have not... . D Roads are marked but sometimes you'll go a long way between signs in isolated areas..I'd try to stay on the D roads when possible. On the National Highways, I"ve found at times the shoulders are narrow and the fast trucks will blow you away..
If you get into a town and can't figure the signs. stop at a bus stop or mairie , there almost always town maps. You know the town of your next direction, it will tell you . You will figure out the maze of small streets from the local city map...
.... Remember the signs. Tout Directions migth combine directions for those going in different directions. I don't know what the law is in regards to wild camping.. But, I see it done quite frequently.. ps.. Almost every city has a town campsite. And they are cheap.. That local village map will tell you of their location.
Get down to the Perpignan area. Give us a PM. We'll likely be home.
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Old 08-19-09, 05:55 AM   #15
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We are spending a month in the Aveyron area, and driving/biking around the Lot, Tarn, and Garonne a little. The "D" roads are great. The road signs are fantastic, in our experience. The "D" roads around this area can be pretty steep, so if you're fully loaded, it can be tough. Climbs are rarely over 2km, but many of them seem are over 10% grade. The two-digit highways seem to be bigger, not as steep, and have more traffic, than the 3-digit ones.
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Old 08-20-09, 01:16 AM   #16
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I found alcohol in the first little store I went into and while I didn't buy it a second time after that, I saw it at other stores, as well. Consider it readily available.

As for road signs, I found the intersections in France very well marked, even on the small roads you are talking about. On rare occassions an intersection wouldn't be signed or wouldn't appear in the proper place on my road atlas. But, for the most part, I just followed the signs. You will have to know the intermediate towns as they will be on signs. I don't think I would have used a compass but they don't weigh much.

I am not aware of a web site (in English) that lists which towns have a municipal campground, but since you are in France, maybe you can find an association of them and can get a listing of them. I only stayed in one which was cheap and deserted. I wouldn't assume that the town you are near has one but many of them do. Keep in mind that the Ardennes is in a forest and an obvious camping destination. You may not find so many municipal campsites in others areas.

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Old 08-20-09, 03:29 AM   #17
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I've done a bit in the past, I found a compass and map very handy. In flat country (eg, loire valley) you can pretty much just work out the direction of the town you're headed for, and pick roads as you come across them. There are lots of really nice farming roads that get zero traffic. Depends how flexible you are of course.

You didn't mention your level of French. I'd definitely bone up on creative ways to say "I'm sorry, please forgive me". It helps.
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Old 08-20-09, 12:01 PM   #18
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Thanks for the information.

My level of french is currently a survival basis which should serve me well. I definitely can understand more than I can speak, so at least I should be able to understand basic directions, that is if people don't speak too fast. To be honest my wife is french and i have some french friends, which helps with the basics, such as which parts of france are good to visit. However, they have little knowledge of bike touring the country so they are not a good resource for that.

I think I should be fine, as I am not too afraid of getting lost. When I have been lost around the Ardennes it was a minor inconvenience, and I could route my way around to where i wanted to go. Where I am staying now is actually on the plateau and not in the forest, and there are plenty of camping places around, I just hope it will be the same in Auvergne and the Massif Central.

After asking around i found out that you can apparently find alcool a bruler in most supermarkets, as it is sold as a cleaning agent. That's a relief, but I expect to eat a lot of bread, cheese, and sliced meats.
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Old 10-08-09, 03:20 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by antokelly View Post
if you speak the lingo you will never get lost,simple because french people i found are only to willing to help a stranger,and they love cyclists..
For sure. It's great when young French women erupt into applause for some amateur chugging up a hill. The other day, an old lady obviously suffering from osteoporosis somewhat straightened her back and applauded me as I passed her by on the road..
What. Me.!. ?. Why.
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Old 10-08-09, 03:59 AM   #20
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regarding the internet and looking / planning campsites:
Years ago, in the stone age of cycletouring (i.e. before the internet) people were touring in France.
There is a camping guide of France that should include most of them, and if I'm remembering correctly (and not mixing up my countries) you can get a smaller one for each county / region for free or little money in every tourist information.
The only slight problem with that is that they ONLY carry the guide for their own county, even if the town is just 1 km. from the border with another region.
Personally I've never used the internet to find a campsite, we just go and when tired start looking for a place to stay.
However, it's been about five years since we cycled in France, so the situation could have changed.

ooops, just seen the date when originally posted...
silly me...

Last edited by jurjan; 10-08-09 at 04:01 AM. Reason: replying to an old thread... sorry!
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Old 10-08-09, 05:45 AM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jurjan View Post

ooops, just seen the date when originally posted...
silly me...
Ooops. I didn't . At least its the same year..
. It's few cities in France that does not have some kind of local campsite..Just check with the local tourist office. Exception.. So much travel is going on during August , even campsites might be to full capacity. Any other month, no problem. Village campsites are usually the cheapest.
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Old 10-08-09, 10:22 AM   #22
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I just returned from a short tour of northern France. Most of my tour was in August, so I had the misfortune of finding almost everything closed because everyone was on vacation :-)

I used the Michelin road atlas that was in 1:250000 scale. It wasn't good enough for the cities, but it did quite well for the country (D and C) roads.

I did not find the roads well marked - at least compared to Canada. I did find that the best strategy was to navigate from village to village. The junctions of D roads were always marked by white arrows pointing to the next destination. They didn't always have the road number.

My strategy was to pick a daily destination based on the distance I was willing to go, and then make a list of the villages I would be passing through to get there. As I arrived at each village, I checked my list to see where I was going next, and followed the signs at the junctions to get there.

I didn't get lost too many times, and when I did, it wasn't hard to find a way back to my planned route.

---

For camping, I can say that I didn't find very much to the north and east of Paris. I was expecting to find municipal campsites, but they didn't appear to be in any town with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants. Part of the problem was that I wasn't going through tourist areas. There are a lot more campsites clustered along the north sea and the major river valleys.

---

I found the drivers in France to be remarkably courteous to cyclists. I did not have a single negative encounter with a motorist on the entire trip.

I will definitely be touring in France again soon. Next time, I'll go south to see the better scenery.
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