What’s my favorite French bike trip?
Well, that’s easy: The next one!
I’ve already started thinking about and planning my 2019 trip and have narrowed it down to either the Alsace region or the Dordogne.
Or maybe the French Riviera.
Or maybe the Champagne region. Then again, I really want to cycle around the Gorges du Tarn. I love a good gorge, and this is one of the most amazing in all of Europe. And one of these days I’m going from Bordeaux to Nice. But probably not this year.
I know: It’s so darn hard to pick just one, or even two, cycling destinations. So many options … and so few vacation days. And/or funds. I’m here to help. Here’s my breakdown on several of the more popular destinations…
Ah, the Loire. This was my very first French bike trip, all the way back in 1985. Holy crap, that’s 33 years ago. How is this possible?
The Loire is still (in my opinion) the best “first” French bike trip. It’s an easy train ride from Paris; there are several great, base-camp cities (Blois, Amboise, Tours, Saumur); scores of castles; sunflowers everywhere; it’s not too hilly and there are plenty of great riding routes. It’s a great and romantic ride for couples.
The Loire is also perfect for day trips, and the day-trip ride from Blois to the huge castle in Chambord is one of my favorites. So is the one from Azay-le-Rideau to the amazing gardens at the Villandry castle.
This region is all about World War II: the landing beaches, cemeteries, museums, memorials and stories. Back in 1999, when I was a newspaper reporter, I got to travel to Normandy with the U.S. Army Rangers: the heroes who landed here on D-Day. I last cycled here in 2016.
So, if you’re all about World War II history: Ride here. You can visit all the key sites in only a few days (from your base in Bayeux or maybe Caen) and they’re amazing, emotional and inspiring.
If World War II isn’t a priority, you may want to cross Normandy off your list because: the riding is mediocre. Normandy is very, very rural. There aren’t very many villages and small towns to break up the ride and stop in for a snack or drink at a café.
I’m a little biased when it comes to Provence: It’s my favorite region and I’m a bit obsessed with climbing Mount Ventoux. Sorry Loire. And Normandy.
Why do I love Provence?
It’s cycling heaven, but only if you don’t mind climbing. Provence is filled with picturesque, hilltop villages made of stone; fields of lavender; valleys, gorges, rivers and Roman ruins. And then there’s the Ventoux, a climb that attracts thousands and thousands of riders every year determined to climb this legendary mountain.
I finally cycled Bordeaux last year … and was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed this wine-centric region. There’s a great network of bike paths and rural roads and endless acres of vineyards. The one minus was the lack of hotels … so plan ahead.
I did a great loop, starting in Bordeaux, that included the three major wine regions (Sauternes, St-Emilion and Medoc) and a trip west, across the peninsula, to the beach towns on the Atlantic.
Alsace:I did this route back in 1992, as part of my Paris to Amsterdam ride. It’s sort of like Bordeaux (the wine) and also a little like Provence (climbing and lots of great villages and small towns). I can hear the Alsace calling to me … and am getting close to locking it in for 2019. Maybe.
The Dordogne:I’ve cycled here twice, but the last trip was all the way back in 1987. The Dordogne is a very popular cycling destination and for good reason. Great cycling, including some climbing, and a wide variety of places to stay and tourist attractions: the city of Sarlat, the pilgrimage town of Rocamadour, the hilltop village of Domme and the Beynac castle.
The Alps:I love climbing, but have never cycled the Alps. Why not? This is a region that pretty much requires you to be part of a supported tour group. It seems too hard to get from one base town to the next, what with all the mountains and a fully loaded bike. And I’m not quite ready for a tour-group ride. They’re too expensive (for me) and I’m still a little stubborn about doing it on my own. Maybe in a few years.
Here’s the link to a prior post on the differences between a self-supported and tour-group ride.
The French Riviera:What’s not to love about cycling here. Great towns on the ocean (Nice, Cannes and St-Tropez) and superb ridding to and from the hilltop villages (Bargemon, Grasse and Vence) in the mountains above Nice, Cannes and St-Tropez. I’ve cycled here a few times, but the last trip was all the way back in 1997. Uh-oh, I think I hear the French Riviera calling. Darn, I thought I had settled on the Alsace … and now I’m back to square one.
Oh well, I still have a few months to decide. Can I do the Riviera and the Alsace?