Elaine and I are back from France. We did about 3 weeks cycling, including a week in Paris on the Velibs(free city bikes), 5 days on hire bikes in the Loire Valley, 9 days similarly in Provence, a few days rest in Nice and the rest driving around in hire cars or speeding along on the fantastic French railways.
We arranged the trip through World Expeditions and their cycle tour offshoot, U Tracks. Local French companies supplied the bikes, maps with route notes, and they transported our bags each day to the next hotel. The bikes were 21 speed hybrids, which were recent models, not too heavy and worked fairly well apart from some loose spokes on my bike (easily fixed by buying a spoke wrench). If the bikes broke down they said they would come and fix them, as we were never very far from their base. But we didnt need them, only had one puncture. Many other cyclists were doing similar tours, it is a major industry.
Our first cycling trip, in the Loire Valley, started and finished in Blois, cycling on mostly quiet roads and cyclepaths, doing about 30 to 40 km a day. Plenty of time for visiting magnificent Chateaux, like Chennonceaux and Chambord,
passing through vineyards, quaint villages, eating bread, cheese, pates and terrines for lunch, and staying at comfortable 2 star hotels which usually had a really nice restaurant attached. Amboise was a standout food-wise, and had a nice laid back air too, with the obligatory Castle overlooking the town. Our main problem there was a shower recess that leaked water, we had an inch of water in our hotel room before we realised.
Then we drove south to the Dordogne region, and saw the caves of Lascaux (prehistoric art) and some very interesting old towns like Sarlat. Heading east we went though very rugged gorge country between Millau and Nimes, with lots of narrow roads, barely room for two cars to pass, and dropped the car off in Avignon. Had a look at the Pont du Gard, the Roman aquaduct near Nimes. Nimes also has some outstanding Roman remains.
Our next cycling trip started in a small place called Barbentane just south of Avignon and went via Arles to the Camargue region and back.
The weather was great, the wind mainly behind us, the bikes OK and we loved it, with some fascinating scenery and places. Arles was a great city to stay in, very old and cramped but full of history, including a huge Roman arena. Les Baux, which featured on Day 1 of the last Tour de France, was on top of the only hill we had to climb; its main feature is an old ruined castle built into the white rocks, surrounded by an ancient village (full of tourist shops), extremely picturesque, and a nice downhill to our second last cycling day in St Remy, which had extensive Roman, Greek and Gallic ruins and a great Hotel.
Then we caught a train from Avignon to Nice and stayed a few days near the beach. Our son, Sam, met us there. He is living in Copenhagen. Water was warm but the beach was stony. Still, a good city to visit, with very cheap buses and trams (1 E for any trip).
From Nice we hired a car and drove through Provence to Orange, passing through some amazing limestone gorge country (Gorges du Verdon), beautiful valleys, more hill top villages, more very narrow roads with sheer drops or cliffs, or big unprotected drainage ditches (very few guard rails in country France), and up Mt Ventoux
from Sault. There were about a dozen cyclists strung out along the 20 km road to the summit, it was very cold and windy up there (about 1 or 2 degrees at the top, 1910 m), and the last few km’s are truly exposed and daunting. Met a Canadian cyclist at the summit, even if he did walk the last bit. The descent is just as difficult, even in a car.
After Orange we left Provence behind and headed north to Dijon, via Grenoble, Annecy and Besancon, which all featured in the last TdeF. Annecy was the pick, on a blue alpine lake, with towering mountains all around.
We dropped the car off in Dijon, which was a great place for a few days, a compact city with good transport and lots of museums and galleries and miles of history, being the seat of the powerful Dukes of Burgundy.
We went down to Beaune, about 40 km south, where all the famous Burgundy wines come from. It has a remarkable old building, called the Hospices de Beaune, built in the 15 Century, by the the Duc de Bourgogne’s Chancellor. It has remained virtually unchanged since those times.
Then it was a fast trip back to Paris by the TGV and a long flight home.