I have been fortunate to have taken two bicycle trips in France. One took place in August 2002 in the Dordogne and Bordeaux and then in July 2006 in Burgundy with my friend Judy. Both trips were with the British company, “The Chain Gang Cycle Tours” and included breakfast, hotel room, dinner, bikes, and visits to wineries. Each day we did approximately 50 km on relatively flat terrain…. but not always. The most I rode on one day was 69 km.
Bicycle Trips In France
On both bicycle trips in France, it amazed me that there were people who signed up who really had no idea what they were getting into. They knew how to ride a bike, but were not up to riding over 30 km a day. But that was OK as they sometimes skipped a day and took a cab to the next town or would just go at a slower pace. If you decide to do a bike trip, you might want to ride for a few weeks before. Your legs and butt will thank you.
Each 21-speed bike was equipped with water bottles, a repair kit, and panniers (bags) to carry a few of our belongings, provisions for a picnic lunch, and wine we might have purchased at a winery.
When we arrived the first day, we had hor d’oeuves and wine and met our fellow riders. There were approximately 15 people in our group: a lot of British, a couple from Hong Kong, and a few Americans. We then headed out for dinner and while the meal was included in the cost, we always shared the cost of wine and we often drank a lot of wine, but that was OK as we had burned a lot of calories bicycling.
In the morning, everyone would have breakfast whenever we wanted, knowing that we would head out on our bikes at about 9:00 and make a stop for a coffee and then to pick up food for our picnic lunch. We would ride for a couple of hours and then stop by a river to have our lunch: baguette, ham, cheese, fruit, and wine. Then we’d hop on our bikes and ride until approximately 4:00 pm where we would hit a new town and check into a hotel.
After showering, we’d meet for drinks and then go for dinner. One of the things I really enjoyed was dinner conversation. During the first bike tour, it was fascinating hearing the Europeans’ opinions of world affairs. At the time, there was a lot of talk about the United States.
So that was a typical day: eat, ride, eat, ride, shower, eat, sleep. We ate well and we definitely slept well; most of the hotels were 3 star. However, in July when Judy and I toured Burgundy, there was a heat wave. It was incredibly hot, perhaps averaging 38 degrees Celsius (?). We drank a ton of water (OK, and wine) and one night, we found the hotel room so hot, we slept by the pool.
One of the difficulties of doing this kind of bike tour in this way was that we arrived in the new town with little, if any, time to walk around the town and site-see. In retrospect, an ideal bike tour would have been to ride in the morning and have the afternoon free; however, I realize we wouldn’t cover much ground.
Dordogne and Bordeaux Biking Trip (2002)
Total mileage: 296 km
- We met up in Angouleme and drove two hours to Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil in the heart of the Dordogne and known for it’s prehistoric caves. In 1868 one of the first 5 skeletons of Cro-Magnons (Prehistoric cave man) was discovered in a rock shelter in this town.
- It was only the first morning that had a bit of drizzle. From then on the weather was perfect: sunny and not too hot. We got fitted with our bikes and headed out westward over a mixture of flat terrain and hills. Here are some of the highlights:
- Climbing up the steep Cingle de Tremolat and getting beautiful views of the Dordogne
- Bordeaux wine country and of course visiting 5 wineries including Bergerac wine at Chateau Tiregand, sweet Monbazillac wine at Chateau Fonmourges, and haut-medoc wine at Chateau Lynch-Bages, a vineyard established in 1728.
- Delicious dinners that included:
- risotto with truffles
- duck served with apricots in puff pastry
- traditional fish soup with garlic croutons
- chocolate soufflé
Burgundy Biking Trip (2006)
Total Mileage: 269 km
After arriving in Paris, Judy and I drove to Montbard, stopping a few times so I could nap. After checking in and walking around town, we met up with our group. All of the other riders were British and we had a lovely meal in the courtyard.
As mentioned it was incredibly hot during this trip but with lots of water and a bit of a breeze, we survived. What was difficult, however, were the occasional VERY STEEP hills, such as the one at Chateauneuf. On that day, I rode ahead of Judy and when I reached the top, I waited, and waited, and waited. Finally, I thought something was wrong and headed back down. Sure enough there had been a problem. Judy’s bike had seized up and she could not turn her wheels forcing her to fall over (I think I have the story correct).
Besides the wine-tasting we did in the Cotes d’Or region (vineyards in Masrsannay and Gevrey-Chambertin), here are some other highlights:
Riding along the tree-lined canals (Canals du Bourgogne), stopping for ice cream and watching some boats navigate the locks. When I was biking along the canals I was truly “in the moment”.
- Visiting the Abbey de Fontenay which was founded in 1118 and was declared World Heritage by Unesco in 1981
- Watching the semi-final match of the World Soccer match between France and Portugal
Delicious dinners included:
- escargot in puff pastry
- boeuf bourguignon
- duck with blackcurrant sauce
- smoked salmon
- black forest cake to celebrate Judy’s birthday!
- grilled pineapple and sorbet
So, as you can see, there’s lots of wine-tasting and eating of delicious foods when you do bicycle trips in France; however, with all the bike riding, all those calories are worn off!
If you’re interested in keeping active when travelling in France, be sure to check out these other posts: