France is a Mecca for cyclists - here's how to tour independently
Or... a basic guide on how to avoid paying us for a cycling holiday;-)
The purpose of this guide is to help all of you who are too tight-fisted/poor to go on one of our holidays cycling through the French countryside, because in the end I want to see more of you out there even if it doesn't make us money;-)
Many years ago – more than I care to remember – Kate and I were members of our local Cycle Tourist Club (CTC) branch in North Devon. As complete novices we learned a lot from them, but one thing did puzzle me, and that was how few had cycletoured anywhere other then the UK (and a few who'd done nothing but day rides!). They had no excuse – what with the Plymouth ferry just an hour away for a short hop to Brittany.
I suspect that a lot of people are simply a little bit nervous of the unknown, and if the following can help get you on your first cycling holiday in France then it's been worth while – go for it – you'll never regret it;-)
Well there are many reasons: some are obvious; it's easy to get to, the French culture is different enough to be interesting without being scary, as members of the EU travel is easy for UK residents, the French quite like us (though they pretend not to – a mutual failing) and so-on. But even if France was at the other end of the world and populated with little green men it'd still be a Mecca for cyclists.
For one the French countryside is just gorgeous – and immensely varied. Unless you want fjords, deserts or rain forest (none conducive to cycling) France has every sort of countryside you could wish for – we'll go into the French regions later, but for the moment 'if you want it you can have it'.
Next is that the French countryside is populated... Now this might sound strange, but in many countries (New Zealand, the USA etc etc) there are large areas where you'll cycle through gob-smacking countryside for days without seeing a soul. Of course such isolation might be what you're looking for, but then in that case France won't do the job. Kate and I have just returned from a cycletour of the Limousin – the least populated area of France - and one day we did manage 50 kms without passing a baker, but that is very much the exception.
So for most of the time even a gentle paced cycletour will take your through several villages and small towns in a day, enough to stock up on all the goodies you've come for. Not only that, most of those towns will have a campsite and a little hotel or B&B and that is the next reason for coming – it's very easy to get accommodation and it's not expensive...
Then there're the people - who are lovely, the food and drink – which are legendary, the drivers – who are maniacs with everyone except cyclists, the language – which is pretty and has enough in common to make understanding (or misunderstanding;-) possible and did I mention the countryside? It really is wasted on the French...
So now you're convinced let's go into detail...
There is a mass of information on the net - some more valuable than others, but some are worth the effort to go and look at in detail. The CTC (Cycle Touring Club) especially its forums represent a huge knowledge base for answers to the most obscure questions. The Trento Bike pages are an amazing archive of routes all over the world with many in France (some contributed by your's truly). Lastly I have to include http://www.freewheelingfrance.com/ which looks like a major commercial operator (its one failing?) but in fact is rather more labour-of-love where you'll find lots of articles and info on cycling in France;-)