Foodies, facts & fabled tracks

Where you want to cycle in France is just as important as which style best suits your fitness levels and cultural expectations. You could become part of a guided, small group or might prefer self guided cycling. Point to point itineraries are great for seeing more of a region, although centre based trips do alleviate the need to keep packing and unpacking. Short distances (25km to 50km) on flat terrain, along a riverbank, canal path or coastline, are really relaxing whereas longer routes, 50km+, over agricultural hillsides provide more of a challenge. Perhaps the Pyrénéan cols of the Tour de France or the peaks of the French Alps are more your thing? Be honest, enjoy yourself and choose a cycling vacation which appeals for all the right reasons.


If you’re looking to pause a little longer in a Provençal market town or stow your bike and stroll over a cobbled castle courtyard, then choose a leisurely cycling vacation where distances are shorter and gradients are as flat as a crêpe. Canal towpaths, riverbanks, lakesides and coastlines are all ideal for pedalling daily distances of 30km without too much effort, as well as offering a whole heap of excuses to indulge during the afternoon and evening without feeling like you have to hit the hay.


Taking your cycling vacation in France to a more moderate level (some steep gradients and daily distances of 50km+) doesn’t mean that you have to bypass historical sites and gastronomic delights – far from it. These types of tours appeal to cyclists who feel fit enough to enjoy a challenge without going OTT. Through the wine growing regions of Rhône-Alpes or Nouvelle-Aquitaine, for instance, or perhaps the hillsides and plateaux of Provence appeal, alongside all of that delicious, hearty fare?


Set your sights on Col de St Ignace, Col d'Aubisque and Col du Tourmalet as you embark on a classic coast-to-coast furrow across the Pyrénées with gradients averaging 8 to 10 percent and ascents stretching to a staggering 20km. Alternatively, why not cycle a daily average of 90km from Lake Geneva to Alpe d'Huez over a six days, or time your vacation to coincide with the Tour de France, where you can watch the peloton pass just hours after you’ve cycled the course yourself?

Historical or cultural

The French are renowned for preserving their heritage which is why we feel a cycling tour should always include at least a couple of châteaux – there are 1,500 to choose from in the Dordogne alone! Alternatively, seek examples of Roman engineering, with aqueducts and amphitheatres aplenty in Provence. In Normandy, pay your respects at the WWII cemeteries and memorials along the beaches. Sometimes you’ll simply cycle into a provincial market town or village, and just feel like you’ve pedalled through a portal into the past.


Let’s face it, the French do food remarkably well and just because you’re embarking on a bike tour it certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t fill your saddle bags with all manner of buttery, crumbly, creamy goodness. Whether you’re tempted by tarte flambée in Alsace, moules à la crème in Normandy or bœuf bourguignon in Burgundy, sampling the local grub, and the wine from its region of origin, is an opportunity too good for foodies to turn down.

Tailor made

Self guided, tailor made tours allow you to travel at a time of year that suits you, although cycling between April and October ensures you’ll get the best of the weather. Detailed trip notes, a choice of itineraries, luggage transfers, local guides and characterful, family-owned hotels add to the benefits of 24/7 assistance, if needed. These all combine to ensure you’re getting a cycling vacation in France that matches your interests and comfort levels, as well as increasing independence and confidence.

Small group

Small group cycling vacations aren't about being herded from pillar to post without the freedom to cycle independently – far from it. They are about inspiring confidence, learning from local experts and encouraging camaraderie for completing challenges or simply enjoying an evening out. Having a group leader enables stress-free cycling as you know you're safe and can rest assured that no one will get left behind – or pedal off too far ahead. Support vehicles are on hand to transfer luggage, supply mechanical assistance and offer a cheeky chance to duck out of a lengthy ascent if you'd prefer to rest.
If you’d rather stay in one place – without the need to pack and unpack – you can, as well as opting for a self guided, centre based vacation as part of a small group. These let you go off cycling during the day before joining the rest of the group in the evening. If you're a solo cyclist you'll get the option to share a room with someone of the same gender or have your own space for a supplement. Some of the sterner routes, such as over the Pyrénées and around the Alps, are much better suited to guided small groups, as you need to follow a leader who knows what lies ahead as well as evoking esprit de corps to help you over a hump.
Photo credits: [Top box: francois schnell] [Moderate: Steve Jurvetson] [Challenging: Graham of the Wheels] [Foodie: Graham of the Wheels] [Small group: Graham of the Wheels]
Written by Chris Owen
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