France Bicyle Trip

Jul 13th, 2010, 03:26 PM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 40
France Bicyle Trip

My family, including husband, and two sons (12 and 16) are planning a bicycle trip to France in June of 2011. Being a France travel novice I'm looking for advice on which region of France we should focus on for the trip. I want to stay away from the mountains (nope, not going to join 'le tour de France"! I am looking for trips that offer smaller, scenic towns, some castles/chateuas, and lovely views while riding. We are ok with rolling hills. Also, I'm going back and forth between doing a barge/bike trip with just a bike trip where the tour company transports your luggae. I'm currently looking at the 'tripsite.com' tour company. Any advice?
Fayew is offline  
Jul 13th, 2010, 03:54 PM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Posts: 2,081
Loire Valley is good--nice mix of rolling hills once you climb out of river valleys and oodles of chateaus. Loved Normandy--bike is great way to do D-Day beaches. Coastal Brittany quite hilly, but loved Dinan, Cancale. Some great little bike trails there. Burgundy trails are pretty easy--great wine tastings. Perigord/Dordogne routes are hilly (BIG uphills) but loads of fun with lots of walled towns and castles.

We always do our own trips in US but do guided (not "self-guided") trips in Europe because a) we're not flying over and transporting via ground routes our own bikes and b) also quite frequently do not speak local lingo fluently nor have good knowledge of local emergency services. One of us has an accident or illness, without fail, on all of our trips.

FYI: Our day rentals in various places have given us pretty awful bikes.

Have never done anything through "tripsite.com."

Not that helpful in the way of info, I know! But...

...Good luck and go for it.
AlessandraZoe is offline  
Jul 13th, 2010, 04:27 PM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Jan 2010
Posts: 5,821
Try Butterfield and Robinson, they have some great bike holidays. Just had a quick look at their site and they do a family one in the Loire valley among others.
raincitygirl is offline  
Jul 13th, 2010, 04:34 PM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 76,473
Marking for later comment - i have biked around just about every part of the Hexagon and enjoy talking about it.
PalenQ is offline  
Jul 13th, 2010, 04:52 PM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Posts: 2,081
raincitygirl--Butterfield and Robinson are totally upscale, though (sort of like the Four Seasons or Ritz-Carlton of biking tour world). Very pricey.

Fayew: Lots of companies of many different types service the Loire in various ways, and you should be able to find something that equates with the family pocketbook, whatever that is.

Here are my summaries of the various guided tour companies with which my family has had experience:

Backroads--Often stays in same places as B&R--usually VERY good biking and EXCELLENT, very professional guides. Excellent bike routes, service, you name it. If the dates/places match, we usually go with this company. They are not cheap, though people we knew who had the moula to bike with B&R and who then tried Backroads usually went with Backroads on later trips.

DuVine--Also often stays in same places as Butterfield and Robbinson, but our one trip with them had less than serious biking. Nevertheless, I thought we got a good bang for our buck as far as accomodations/food--just not quite good enough biking. Bike directions were probably the worst ever, but on the other hand, on this trip, they wanted us to sort of huddle together on the trail (????), so directions actually were not necessary. Lots of group pictures every ten miles or so. Not our fave way of biking.

VBT: EXCELLENT value. Have gone with them twice (Tuscany and Spain) and would not hestitate to go with them again if their dates are better than Backroads.

Bike Vermont: They have tours in Scotland and Ireland. I know they've moved into Tuscany in the past few years; I don't know if they've moved into France. We loved their Ireland trip--one of the best trips we've ever taken. Excellent value--very "Vermonty" type guides.

There are a ton of "self-guided" options in France, too, which will provide bikes, routing, hotel arrangements and luggage support, just not daily guides, and therefore your pricing will be much cheaper. I've never done them but have quite often considered them. Just Google "self guided biking France" and stuff should pop up.
AlessandraZoe is offline  
Jul 13th, 2010, 07:01 PM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 45,840
The Dordogne is rolling hills and infinitely more beautiful than the Loire.
StCirq is online now  
Jul 14th, 2010, 06:53 AM
  #7  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 40
Thanks everyone, truly appreciate the advice. Looks like I have more research to do on both locations and bike companies. I like the idea of guided tours but don't want to stop every 10 miles for pictures or ride in a big bunch, although it would be nice to have familar faces around in the evenings.

A couple more follow up questions, How big are the hills in Dordogone? Are their any particular cities/town in Dordogone or Loire areas we 'shouldn't miss'?

Love this forum!
Fayew is offline  
Jul 14th, 2010, 07:17 AM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Jun 2007
Posts: 1,996
I came across this article way back when we were researching our next trip to France. The tour company was Cycling for Softies. We didn't do any biking on that next trip, but we did visit some of the places they talked about in the article and found that the Mayenne is rolling, pretty countryside.

http://tinyurl.com/2wtokz5
Coquelicot is online now  
Jul 14th, 2010, 07:55 AM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Posts: 2,081
Fayew:
I do encourage you to look at the websites of all the biking companies whether you intend to use them or not. By checking their itineraries for their various tours, you'll get a good idea of the "not to miss" places and get a sense of what a reasonable bike would be daily in those areas. You could then easily construct your own itinerary, should you so wish, based on that information.

Want to make sure you understand, though, before you turn completely away from using a biking company: only one of the companies, DuVine, that I reviewed did the "clumping" and photo op thing, and since we never did them again, I haven't a clue if they run all the trips that way. It could have been our particular guides on that trip. So I don't want to damn DuVine, and I also want to say that with the other tour groups, we NEVER felt as though we were in some forced march.

More specifically, with VBT, I've had to press for one final group picture on both of our trips. Backroads tends to gather for one final group picture, and I think Bike Vermont did also. But that's about the limit of "forced group" stuff with them. Lunches are usually on one's own, and it's common to have one night per tour where dinner is on one's own.

Standard procedure with VBT, Backroads, Bike Vermont, B&R: They give you a route rap in the mornings by your bike (set up and usually loaded with fresh water), hand you turn-by-turn directions, and off you go at your own pace. A van usually sweeps back and forth throughout the day, making sure everyone has access to water and snacks, and usually one guide brings up the rear to make sure no one is in trouble. Both guides have cell phones. Thing I liked about this arrangement is that my kids could go off biking together or with other people at their own blistering pace and I never had to panic.

Another general thing the companies do is have meeting points throughout the day, and they arrange for tours a few times during the week. So for example, on our Loire tour, we biked to Château de Chenonceau where a private guide awaited the group; another day we biked to Villandry and Azay le Rideau, on other days we went to Blois, etc. In our bike trip to Perigord, the Dordogne, we biked to the Font du Gaume caves where we got a private tour and to Chateau de Beynac, among other castles. You get the idea. Wine tastings, olive oil tastings, etc are common on all of these. VBT seems to make a one-night cooking class part of the deal, too.

So again, just looking at the details of the tours these companies offer will give you a good idea of what is doable and enjoyable in the short time you are there.
AlessandraZoe is offline  
Jul 14th, 2010, 08:32 AM
  #10  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 40
Great advice AlessandraZoe! If you had to pick one of your bike trips in France to do again which would you select?

Off to do more research!
Fayew is offline  
Jul 14th, 2010, 09:00 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Posts: 2,081
You know, Fayew, there are so many factors that go into that "favorite" designation. Weather, people on the trip, how much the hills hurt, you name it.

We actually did the Perigord, Dordogne with a now bankrupt company (I obviously did not review that one). It was the WORST run trip we've ever done--and it remains our best trip of all time. We clients more or less had to "take over" the trip by day four, and we had the BEST time doing so. There were 9 kids on that trip--age range 8 to 18--and they eventually started secretly meeting in various hotel rooms (unbeknownst to we tired adults) to play cards all night. My eight-yr-old honed poker skills on that trip. She's majoring in Finance as we speak.

But you wanted castles, right? I think I'd choose between the Dordogne (harder biking) and the Loire. The Dordogne is the stuff of Richard the Lionhearted, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and so on. A bit more medieval. The Loire--more early Renaissance--has a lot of interesting chateaux (and if I were you, I'd make sure you picked out the most DISTINCTIVE ones because they can blur), plus in Amboise (great place) you have all the Leonardo de Vinci stuff. The Leonardo museum there has life-size recreations of some of his designs, and if one of your boys is a future engineer, this could be a winner.

Ironically, while we were in Sarlat (Dordogne), our never-present guides warned us about moving on to the Loire the next week. "It's overrun with Paris tourists" was the statement. Well, we can report that Sarlat was much more crowded than anything in the Loire.

Biking wise, I think the Loire is a really good option. Lots of good river trails, and as I said, once you get up out of the river valleys, which were certainly much less of a climb than our routes out of Dordogne river valleys, good routes from point to point. You know that feeling when you're on a stretch with just little dips up and down, up and down to make you feel like you're flying as a biker. Lots of those in the Loire stretches.

On the other hand...My girls--both really good bikers--liked visiting two of the "Ever After" Castles in the Dordogne more than the chateaux in the Loire, and the other Dordogne castles a lot of trebuchet stuff. And we all got a hoot out of visiting Josephine Baker's place there (nude picture alert).

If one of your guys is into WWII, I'd go to Normandy. I visited the beaches and visited the American cemetary eons ago without a bike and was moved, but biking those beaches and then going to the American cemetary just took my emotional experience up a notch. When you bike through those towns, you get the feeling of how our American tanks felt, too.

So again, can't quite say, "Oh yeah, this was the best one ever..." thing.

Not helpful, right????? I am actually a very opinionated person, but I'm equally into "To each his own". You're a parent, so you know what I mean. You know your kids, and their wants, needs will be way different from the needs of others. No rights, no wrongs; only choices.
AlessandraZoe is offline  
Jul 14th, 2010, 09:05 AM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 45,840
There is far more of interest for kids, IMO, in the Dordogne than in the Loire. Caves, canoeing, kayaking, rock climbing, medieval warfare exhibits, etc. And the food is far better. The hills in the Dordogne aren't massive, though there are lots of sheer cliff faces along the river; but I doubt if biking tour companies plan routes that are too arduous.
StCirq is online now  
Jul 14th, 2010, 09:07 AM
  #13  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 40
You are so right AlessandraZoe - I was just being lazy! Without doing the legwork I would never be happy anyway! So many choices, so much to see, too little time!

thank you for all of the information, it is very helpful and I'm sure I'll be back with more questions.
Fayew is offline  
Jul 14th, 2010, 09:16 AM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Posts: 2,081
Fayew: Good plan. Just keep saying, "If I make the wrong choice, we'll just have to come back." Ergo, our personal repeat trips to France.

All kidding aside, when you've read a bit more and then have some specifics, I'll do my best to answer.

BYW, I did not list Provence (although I love it) on my list. I don't think it's a teen guy thing. But if you have questions about biking it, just let me know. If your boys just want hills and more hills, you'd have a winner!

Another tidbit: I did have a Lonely Planet biking guide for France, but I think there are now better books on the market.
AlessandraZoe is offline  
Jul 14th, 2010, 12:30 PM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 16,498
similar to above, look at the headwater.com web site gives some good ideas. I find my knees are my limitations. I've done Le Loir (north of La Loire) trees and flat fields, Chablis/Auxerre fine views, Alsace pretty on the roads and canals, Champagne dull apart from the wine (see my visit report, Jura (fantastic alpine fields in the spring but so hilly.

Depending on your body well worth ensuring the villages are well spaced out so yoiu get rests and food on a regular basis.
bilboburgler is offline  
Jul 14th, 2010, 01:50 PM
  #16  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 40
Thanks bilboburgler! I'll check out the site.
Fayew is offline  
Jul 14th, 2010, 02:02 PM
  #17  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,863
I really like the Loire, having done two trips. The cycling is not difficult.

I did one trip with a tour - starting in Chartres and ending in Chinon. It was enjoyable, but the tour company really mis-priced the tour and I got a great deal.

When I went 3 years later with my wife, we stayed in two places - Onzain for 6 days and Azay-le-Rideau for 3 days. I like fixed center cycling much better - don't have to worry about the luggage and biking without luggage is much more fun. Consider renting a Gite if the saturday to saturday schedule makes sense for what you decide.

Remember, everything is going to be new to you, so a series of loop rides from a fixed center shouldn't be boring.

Organized tours have gotten really expensive so I would really encourage you to do it on your own.

To pick a route, get Michelin maps (1:200,000) scale and stick wherever possible to white roads. Yellow roads are generally ok. Ride the red roads only when you must.

A couple of nice resources for you are

www.crazyguyonabike.com (resources, trip reports)
www.ctc.org.uk (english touring club site).

I had a friend (an experienced cyclist, although elderly at the time) who did a bike/barge trip in Holland and liked it.
bigtyke is offline  
Jul 15th, 2010, 05:53 AM
  #18  
 
Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 2
IMO traveling with the family is tough and often you get home needing a few days to recoup before heading back to work! If you can, I'd recommend going with a tour company. Here is a good article from Nat'l Geo that takls over how to sort thru all the terms and best figure out the best choice for you.

http://travel.nationalgeographic.com...rs/tour-speak/

Make sure they have guides that are geared towards younger people--then parents can relzx that much more!
kitty59 is offline  
Jul 15th, 2010, 11:15 AM
  #19  
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Posts: 2,081
Mmm--I don't know if gearing towards younger people is always the ingredient. Depends on your family dynamic, depends on your kids' personalities and ages.

Sometimes family biking tours "dumb down" the miles for the younger set to the expense of very physically capable teens, and I know OF, but have not been ON, tours where the kids sort of have camp while the parents have their own trip. That's TOTALLY fine IF you want that; it's just that we personally have been more interested in being with the kids rather than trying to be away from them. Adult-oriented trips have been great for our needs.

As always, to each his own.

In total agreement that using a tour--no matter what the type--saves parental energy. While I love to plan travel,the idea of meeting everyone's interests WHILE ON A BIKE with almost endless route options and activity variables is a pretty tough task. Using a tour group automatically limits planning hurdles to pre- and post-trip days and things, and I appreciate that luxury.

But if I had to make the monetary choice of planning everything myself or NOT going, I'd be more than happy to plan every darn mile. The last decade with the kids just blew by, and I'm so happy we spent so much of it in travel.
AlessandraZoe is offline  
Jul 15th, 2010, 01:01 PM
  #20  
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 76,473
An untour tour is possible in places like the Loire Valley where vans carry your luggage to the next base but that is all - much cheaper than a tour and having no luggage to strap on the bike makes cycling oh oh so much more fun - esp for the kids.
PalenQ is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -

FODOR'S VIDEO

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 05:26 AM.