Five down and ? to go.
My fifth Biking France eBook is now available: Biking the Dordogne, and the Lot and Cele river valleys. It turned out pretty good. And, it got me thinking: How would I rank the five French regions I’ve cycled and written about? It’s tough, really tough, as each one offers something different and unique, and judging them is all in the eye of bike of the beholder. What I like, you may not like and visa versa. Or even versa visa.
Nevertheless, here I go…
5 … Normandy. This was tough to rank so low, because I have a deep sentimental attachment to Normandy. In 1999, the newspaper I was working for sent me to Normandy, with the U.S. Army Rangers, the amazing men who stormed the beaches and climbed the cliffs on D-Day. I got to know several of them quite well, and will forever be inspired by what they did on D-Day and for the rest of their lives. Amazing guys. While I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a greatest generation, these guys were indeed very special.
However, we’re talking about bike trips, and the riding in Normandy is really rural and a bit on the boring side. No stone villages or towns/castles on top of the hills, no great climbs and views. Lots of farms, orchards and cows. It’s not unpleasant, but not spectacular.
Nevertheless, if you’re interested in World War II history, this is a place you must visit. As I write in my eBook, you can use Bayeux as a base and do day trips from here to most of the important sights: the American Cemetery, Pointe de Hoc and several other invasion beaches and memorials. It’s quite inspiring … and my eBook includes much of what I learned from the Rangers, and will help put what they did into perspective for you as you ride along where they landed.
4 … The Loire. Oh man, this was tough to rank fourth, just ahead of Bordeaux. The Loire was where I did my first two French bike trips, in 1985 and 1988. The castles, sunflowers, all the great towns and chateaux. It’s wonderful. In fact, I like to tell people: This is the place for you to do your first French bike trip, either on your own or as part of an organized tour. Why? It’s close to Paris, there are lots of great cities to stay at that aren’t far from each other, the riding is pretty easy and scenic, sunflowers and apple orchards. It the perfect place for a couple.
So, why only fourth? It’s become a little too touristy. And, the riding isn’t quite as challenging as I’d like – not enough hills and hill-top towns and views. Then again, these two factors may make this a more attractive destination for you.
3 … Bordeaux and the Atlantic Coast. The “and the Atlantic Ocean” is what gives Bordeaux the slight edge over the Loire. For me. You get two distinct regions: vineyards and villages … then and ocean-resort towns. And both are quite nice.
Then there’s St-Emillion, an amazing and medieval hilltop town surrounded by rolling hills and vineyards. I love the town and the day-trip rides from St-Emillion. Langon, further to the south, isn’t nearly as nice a town as St-Emillion, but the day-trip rides are actuallu better and more varied, and include more castles, cathedrals and, of course, miles and miles of vineyards.
Then there’s the ocean, and the long, wonderful bike paths that crisscross the region and make the riding safe and enjoyable. The town of Arcachon is quite big and touristy, but OK, and a great base to explore the nearby Dune du Pilat, which is kind of amazing.
This was my most recent trip and book, and it was a really great trip. I think this area, and the Dordogne in particular, has some of the best features of all the other regions: Great riding, with rivers, ridges and valleys and reasonable climbs to get up and over the ridges and down to the river valleys. And great old stone towns at the tops of these hills, like Domme, Beynac and Rocamadour. There are prehistoric caves, so many castles and mile after mile of scenic, less-trafficked roads.
1 …Provence. This is cycling heaven. For me. So, if you’re a bit hard core and love climbing, like I still do, this is the place for you. It all begins with Mont Ventoux, which attracts thousands and thousands of cyclists every year to see if they have what it takes to tackle what’s known as the toughest mountain climb in all the Tour de France.
Then, there’s the Gorges des Nesque, a long climb with amazing views.
I love the rides up to Bonnieux and Gordes, and Susan and I “discovered” the small but wonderful town of Lacoste and the castle ruins up above. And then there’s Seguret, perhaps our favorite French city. I could go on and on … and, if you love pure riding, and a lot of climbing, Provence is the place for you. Oh wait … the Pont du Gard. And the the Roman ruins at Glanum, and then there’s Les Baux and … I could go on and on.