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  1. #1
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    cycling in France

    Hi guys,
    I and two friends are cycling across France from West to East this Summer, and I wondered whether you might be able to share some expertise. Are there any places that you'd avoid in Northern France?
    Thanks for any help you can give me.

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    The area due north of Paris is just about the only part of France that I found to be somewhat boring for cycling. Where do you intend to start? Is there a specific place where you need to finish? If you give me some more details, I can probably give you a more helpful response.

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    I'm heading to France too, at the end of next week.

    I'll be meeting up with a friend who will most likely be somewhere in the south east. Can someone recommend a nice route from CDG airport in that direction? I'm not planning to enter Paris.

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    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    maybe the ancient cobbled road portions .. the ride is a bit rough..

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    Senior Member bikemig's Avatar
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    It's been a while but I biked in and out from CDG airport; not a good experience. I would not do it again and I've traveled many roads with heavy traffic. I've also cycled extensPerhaps you can find a good route though; I couldn't. That said, the cycling in France, once you get out of the greater Paris area, is absolutely first rate. There is a fine road network that is well signed and maps are easy to come by. I prefer by and large areas south of where you are going but Alsace Lorraine and the Franche Comte are very beautiful.

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    There are fee or no places you truly need to avoid - northern France isn't northern Mexico. I wouldn't cycle through the Parisian banlieus.

    Otherwise, there are a few areas in the north I was less excited about. The Champagne isn't extremely dull, but quite tedious because of the long monotonous stretches of cornfields. I also remember that there were few campingsites there.

    The area known as the Berry really has very little to offer, but perhaps it is not considered 'northern'. Still I mention it because it has officially become the most boring area I ever toured in. Areas I would positively recommend are Normandy, the French Ardennes and the Vosgues. Actually, why not go to the Belgian and Luxembourg Ardennes? They're a staple for bike tourers. Picardie is also okay, I cycled the North Sea Cycle route there, which starts in Boulogne s. Mer and then goes north, but inland. Which implies that if you're going to the northernmost tip of France, you probably don't want to hug the coast.

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    Senior Member cyclezealot's Avatar
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    Since they favor the North: The history, scenery, ambiance, you can' t go wrong by cycling along the Loire Valley. The Loire is supposed to be the heart of France. Before you leave be sure and read the book by Lonely Planet.. "Cycling France. " It will help you in planning your routes and let you know what sights are passing you by. From the Loire, I'd branch out and ride though the northern section of Burgundy . Maybe, next hop on the train and finish you're tour in the Voges Range and end the tour in the Alsace. Gites are often bike friendly. But, should they be touring in August. Be prepared .. hotels and Gites are often booked way in advance and if they have not made arrangements in advance , be prepared to sleep on some park bench.
    Pray for the Dead and Fight like Hell for the Living






    ^ Since January 1, 2012

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    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by base View Post
    I'm heading to France too, at the end of next week.

    I'll be meeting up with a friend who will most likely be somewhere in the south east. Can someone recommend a nice route from CDG airport in that direction? I'm not planning to enter Paris.
    I'd recommend checking into trains. You can often get a city train out to towns just outside Paris for a reasonable price, and then you can cycle from there. Less hassle with traffic, etc.

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    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    AMS Shiphol is a piece of cake to ride out of.. and depart from
    I used the same bike paths the locals use to go to work, there.

    and the National Railroad station is directly Under the airport building.

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    Senior Member chas58's Avatar
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    +1
    Good recommendation.

    Quote Originally Posted by Machka View Post
    I'd recommend checking into trains. You can often get a city train out to towns just outside Paris for a reasonable price, and then you can cycle from there. Less hassle with traffic, etc.

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    I really really like massif central area, don't miss it!

  12. #12
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    I cycled through Alsace, from north to south, and enjoyed it tremendously. The scenery is beautiful, the villages interesting, food is delicious (as is Alsatian wine), and there are many choices of roads to take. You can choose routes through the Vosges Mountains (some crazy steep hills), or stick to the rolling hills closer to the Rhine.

    I have also cycled around Burgundy. I particularly liked riding along the hilly country roads just west of the main tourist region. Not a lot of traffic, and stunning vistas, especially when heading downhill toward the main towns (Beaune, Nuit St George, etc.)

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    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mattyt2 View Post
    Hi guys,
    I and two friends are cycling across France from West to East this Summer, and I wondered whether you might be able to share some expertise. Are there any places that you'd avoid in Northern France?
    Thanks for any help you can give me.

    I've travelled from Calais to Paris to Brest back to Paris and up to Caen in 2003.

    And then in 2007, Rowan and I travelled from Dunkirk to Ieper to Lille to Paris to Brest, back to Paris and then out to Strasbourg via Nancy and back up to Lille, Ieper, and Dunkirk ... with a few trains, and following the "D" and "N" roads ... and canal tow paths.

    The Vosges Mountains between Nancy and Strasbourg were a bit of a surprise. I wasn't expecting them ... but that area is beautiful. We rode the tow paths along the canals through there ... absolutely lovely.

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    I have also biked out of CDG, and also would not do it again. If I were returning today, I would find the easiest way to link up directly to a train to Brest. I'll probably never actually ride the PBP, but it would be fun to ride the route from Brest into Paris and then keep going from there.

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    Thanks for your help,
    Our route would be something like this:
    St. Malo - Chateaubriant (125km)
    Chateaubriant – Tours (170km)
    Tours – Orleans (115km)
    Orleans-Provins (140km)
    Provins – St. Dizier (130km)
    St. Dizier – Nancy (via Toul) (130km)
    Nancy – Verdun (90km)
    Verdun – Charleville Mezieres (100km)
    Charleville Mezieres – Cambrai (130km)
    Cambrai – Lille (via Arras) (84km)
    Lille – Bailleul (via Ypres) (50km)
    Bailleul – Dunkerque (46km)

    From the things you've all said there's nowhere particularly to avoid in Northern France. Any other advice, maybe about weather, kit etc. that you'd give to a first time tourer would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.

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    For kit... think about how you ride your bikes now, and how you tend to pack for trips.

    For example, I'm the sort of woman who can pack clothes for a month of travel, including a nice dress and shoes to wear to a wedding... in a bag that makes a suitable carry on on almost any size airline flight. I don't have a lot of problems working out the space issues, since my airline carry on and my touring panniers are about the same size. Really, my bike has more space than an airline carry on. But plenty of men pack heavier than I do, and really have a hard time narrowing down what to bring. If you're more like me, chances are you can do ok on getting things to fit. If you're the kind of person who takes a suitcase that can haul a dead body everywhere, not so much.

    Both sorts of packers can make unconscious assumptions about weather conditions tho that can lead to trouble. Trouble here mostly means heat stroke or hypothermia. Think a bit about what you'd do if you were too hot (which for some folks can happen at 70F). And think a bit about what you'd do if you were too cold (which for me has happened at least once at 80F).

    I also ride a lot. I'm car free, so I do grocery shopping by bike, hardware store trips, clothing shopping, library runs... I've even done things like brought home a drum throne on my bike. I don't usually end up with a lot of questions about how to stuff something on my bike. If you don't ride a lot, one of the best things you can do for yourself is practice. Riding with a load is not hard and is a lot of fun . But practice makes anything seem easier.

  17. #17
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mattyt2 View Post
    Thanks for your help,
    Our route would be something like this:
    St. Malo - Chateaubriant (125km)
    Chateaubriant – Tours (170km)
    Tours – Orleans (115km)
    Orleans-Provins (140km)
    Provins – St. Dizier (130km)
    St. Dizier – Nancy (via Toul) (130km)
    Nancy – Verdun (90km)
    Verdun – Charleville Mezieres (100km)
    Charleville Mezieres – Cambrai (130km)
    Cambrai – Lille (via Arras) (84km)
    Lille – Bailleul (via Ypres) (50km)
    Bailleul – Dunkerque (46km)

    From the things you've all said there's nowhere particularly to avoid in Northern France. Any other advice, maybe about weather, kit etc. that you'd give to a first time tourer would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.

    We were in France in August 2007 in many of those areas: http://www.machka.net/pbp2007/2007_PBP.htm (stories, photos, etc.)

    About the weather, when I was there in August 2003 it was hot and sunny. When I was there in August 2007, it was much cooler and rainy. So from my experience, you could experience anything from cool and rainy to hot and sunny.

    How is your French?

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by mattyt2 View Post
    Thanks for your help,
    Our route would be something like this:
    St. Malo - Chateaubriant (125km)
    Chateaubriant – Tours (170km)
    Tours – Orleans (115km)
    Orleans-Provins (140km)
    Provins – St. Dizier (130km)
    St. Dizier – Nancy (via Toul) (130km)
    Nancy – Verdun (90km)
    Verdun – Charleville Mezieres (100km)
    Charleville Mezieres – Cambrai (130km)
    Cambrai – Lille (via Arras) (84km)
    Lille – Bailleul (via Ypres) (50km)
    Bailleul – Dunkerque (46km)

    From the things you've all said there's nowhere particularly to avoid in Northern France. Any other advice, maybe about weather, kit etc. that you'd give to a first time tourer would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.
    Personally I would never cycle into places like Nancy and Lille. Awful cities, better to circumvent them. Charleville Mezieres is pretty, following the Meuse is nice. I've never been to Tours or Orleans, but wouldn't count on them being nice places to cycle through. But then again, I try to avoid cities anyway.

    As for weather, I count on at least one thunderstorm when preparing for France. Rule of thumb. Last couple of years, august has been wet in western Europe.

    Do your best to speak at least a bit of French. The locals really like cyclists, but don't like to be addressed in english. Also, it's difficult to be too polite in France. Say 'vous' even to children, use 'est-ce-que' for questions, lots of 'merci beaucoup' and 'excusez-moi'.

    But then again, standing on a corner, looking puzzled while holding a map will probably draw someone's attention. Often, you can follow someone's car to a campingsite or the route out of town.

  19. #19
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    We didn't find any problems with Lille. It was one of our favourite places. We trained to Nancy and had a good time there, even though Machka was ill; we went on to Strassbourg from there.

    In 2003, I had an awful time getting along one of the main arterial roads into Charleville Mezieres.

    So, you just can't judge. Things might be better or worse on any particular day. Different things appeal to different people.

    There are, however, some industrial towns that I wouldn't visit again, Liege being one of them.

    Camping grounds aren't that difficult to find. They are usually well silgnposted with the word "Camping".

    If the OP does northern France, maybe think about going across into Belgium. The area is steeped in World War One history, and gives one a measure of how horrific that war really was. Perhaps the locals' memories of that horror make the area even more idyllic.
    Dream. Dare. Do.

  20. #20
    Senior Member Sachelis's Avatar
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    There is a GREAT article that contains tips about France and cycling in France at http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/?...c_id=2282&v=Bn. It includes lots of little tips about dining, manners, right-of-way, maps, hotels and camping, etc.

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