What I Miss Most About Cycling In France

It’s been 493 days since I cycled in France, far too long. The world seems to be opening back up, slowly, and with small steps, so a September or October adventure just might be possible. If not, well, that’s OK too, as your priorities change in the midst of a worldwide pandemic in which millions are struggling to get by.

But the pandemic can’t stop me from thinking about past trips. And so, here 10 things I miss most about cycling in France. It was hard to narrow it down to just dix, but, I did, starting with …

  1. Hay there …

There’s something about bales of hay, in a field, that I love. Especially the round ones. They’re much prettier than the square ones. France has great bales of hay, especially these (above), which I remember so vividly. Like it was yesterday, and not 2010, which is when I took this shot.

I was heading down a long, lovely hill from Sault, in Provence, to the town of Aurel. Then, more downhill, around a bend … and here was this field, and these bales of hay, with a view back up the hill toward Aurel.

Like candy

All I have to say to Susan is: “Remember those strawberries we ate in Beynac, back in 1995?”

And she’ll say: “They were like candy.”

We were in the Dordogne, at the exact right time of the strawberry season, perhaps the exact day of ripeness perfection, and it was market day. What luck! The strawberries were so ripe, so sweet, they melted in your mouth. This picture is actually from 2013, in Saumur, in the Loire, not Beynac, as I didn’t have an iPhone in 1995. The Saumur strawberries were excellent, but the Beynac berries were plumper, sweeter, better. They were piled high on a long table. The farmer scooped them up and put them in a paper, cone-shaped sack. We got a kilo.

Ancient tool sheds

Along the rural roads, as you ride past old farms, you come across these old, stone huts perched proudly in the middle of a field. They were the tool sheds of 200 or 300 years ago, and are now more ornamental than functional.

This one is in Normandy, along the coast, near the famous Pointe du Hoc cliffs that were the scene of a famous D-Day battle. Here’s the link to my Biking Normandy book on Etsy.

Notre Dame

I fell in love with Notre Dame on my first-ever trip to Paris in 1981. We climbed to the top and admired the view, and the little stone creatures who live up there.

The big, open area in front of the great cathedral became my hang-out spot during this and several more trips to Paris in the 1980s. There was a little market, a few blocks away, where I’d get a Kronenbourg 1664 for four or five francs. I’d get one (OK, sometimes two), walk over and hang out, watching the people and performers, listening to the music and all the different languages. It was like the whole world was there.

And so, like millions around the world, I was heartbroken to watch the great cathedral go up in flames. And look forward to the day when it’s rebuilt and we can go back inside, sit down and relax and take in a thousand years of history. While the little market I frequented in the 1980s is long gone, I’m sure I can find somewhere nearby to get a couple cans of Kronenbourg 1664, and hang out with Susan in my favorite spot in all of Paris.

Let them eat …

There are no need for words, and, perhaps, like me, this photo makes your mouth water just a little bit.

Castles

They’re everywhere. 

This one is in Venasque, in Provence. All that remains is a couple of the old stone perimeter walls. The colors of the stones change as the sun rises, works its way across the sky, reluctantly sets, and again when the lights go on at night as the sky turns darker and darker shades of blue/black.

Some castles are in better shape than others, but I prefer the battered ones, the castles that time, invaders, tourists and the elements have battered and bruised and had their way with over the centuries. 

Petit-Dejeuner

I love my bike-trip breakfasts. Such a luxury!

In the past, through the 1980s, 1990s and into the 2000s, I never had breakfast at my hotel? Why not? Too expensive. Plus, most of the places I stayed were cheap, one-star, dumpy hotels that didn’t serve breakfast. Instead, I’d eat/drink the banana, apple and box of juice I got the day before at the supermarche, have a coffee at the bar of a café, and maybe, if I was still hungry, get a yogurt or Yop at the market.

But now that I’m a little older, a little more financially stable and married (especially the married part), I say “what the hell” and always get breakfast at the hotel. I’ll sip my coffee, plan my route and eat as much as I can. Often, another cyclist staying at the hotel will see me and my Michelin map and we’ll strike up a conversation.

I always make a little meat-and-cheese sandwich, grab a piece or two of fruit, and take them with me for the ride (apples travel better than bananas). I’m not sure if you’re allowed to do this, but hey, I just paid 11 Euros for this breakfast, so I’m taking a sandwich and some fruit. And hiding them in a napkin, and under my map as I walk through the lobby and up the stairs to my room.

The picture above is from my breakfast at the Maison Claude Darroze in Langon, in Bordeaux. I highly recommend it, the hotel and the petit-dejeuner.

Pont Julien

This stone-arch bridge, in Provence, was built in 3 BC. It’s more than 2,000 years old and still standing strong. Those Romans sure could build stuff. You can still ride your bike across it. Plus, from Pont Julien, I love the ride up the hills, through the cherry orchards, back to the stone town of Lacoste, where we like to stay. Those cherries are tart and tasty, almost as good as the Beynac strawberries.

It was hard to pick just one old Roman architectural wonder, but I love the ride in and around Pont Julien a little more than the ride in and around the Pond du Gard. Sorry Pont du Gard; I still love you.You’re amazing. Here’s the link to my story about climbing to the top of the pont.

Meow

I miss the cats of France. They’re everywhere and so darn friendly, except when they’re acting all aloof. France is definitely a cat country; England is a dog country.

This little one lived in the hotel I stayed at in Figeac, on the Lot River. She’s been sick, was still recovering, and hung out with me in the lobby one afternoon during an all-day rain while I wrote a couple of stories for this blog. She really liked it when I scratched under her chin.

On the rue again, soon

Oh no, I’m up to #10! That was quick.

I think this photo sums up what I miss the most: A day on the road, in France, seeing the sights. Being one with nature and my bike.Exploring. One day, hopefully soon, I shall return. This photo was taken just outside St-Cirq-Lapopie, a medieval town perched high above the Lot River.

Here’s the link to my five biking France books (the Loire, Provence, Bordeaux, Normandy and the Dordogne). They’re all half off, just $2.50 or $2, so please take a look.

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