The Mistral winds and the cold have settled over France and only the most determined cyclists are out on the trails. For most of us, the time between Christmas shopping and holiday parties is the perfect time to start thinking about ideas for bicycling in France in 2014. During the next few months, I’ll be sharing some trip planning thoughts, today starting with tips on saving money.
For some reason, the the US dollar exchange rate got progressively poorer throughout 2013, as experienced first hand on my trip in October, with $1,000 US dollars yielding around 730 Euro. I don’t understand the exchange rate, and I certainly can’t control it, but I can help you with tips on how to get the most mileage out of your Euros. Take the time to do some upfront planning, and you can easily enjoy a great trip and stay within your budget. Here are 10 tips to help you plan a trip that won’t break the bank:
1. Choose B&B’s in villages outside of larger towns. Lodging can be the largest daily expense on any vacation, especially if you like to stay in charming places. That’s why I always look for small, locally owned and managed B&B’s just outside larger towns. By careful research and shopping, I can find much nicer accommodations for 25-30% less than in the neighboring town.
2. Consider staying at a campground. Leave it to the French to have campgrounds that are nicer than many hotels! Several years ago, we stayed at a campground because it was the only place we could find to stay. It was the best thing that ever happened to us! I never realized what a great experience and bargain French campgrounds were. Now we plan to stay at campgrounds at least once every trip. The choices in this category are huge, with plenty of options in the 2*, 3* and 4* categories. Even at the basic level, most campgrounds have at least one swimming pool, tennis courts, mini-golf and a number of different lodging options. For example, Les Chateau Indigo in Bracieux, about an hour or so by bike from Chambord offers lodging options from wood-canvas tents to gypsy caravans to mobile homes and chalets. A classic wood and canvas tent for 4 people with 2 bedrooms, kitchen and hot plate costs 59Euro/night during the summer season. There are cheaper options and more expensive options.
3. Take a local train rather than the TGV. TGV’s are great for long distance travel, but they also carry a premium, often as much as 30% or higher. If you are planning to travel by train, always check the cost of other options like the Intercity trains.
4. If you are staying at a hotel, don’t get the breakfast option. Unless you are staying at a B&B where breakfast is automatically included in your rate, do not eat breakfast at your hotel. Rates for breakfasts at many hotels can cost from 10-15 Euro/person and possibly even more. Pack up and head for a local coffee shop along the way. You’ll have a better breakfast for less money, and have money to spare for a late morning expresso and pastry!
5. With research, even splurges can be affordable. What’s a vacation in France without at least one great splurge? With some great research you can find a less known, privately owned estate that will provide more charm and warmth than an expensive 4 or 5* hotel.
6. Shop at local markets. Going to the local market is my favorite French experience. Not only do you get to participate
in a French ritual, you can get great food bargains too.
7. Buy a bottle of local wine and have a glass before dinner. You can reduce your dinner costs by 10 Euros or more by having a glass of wine before dinner out. Local wines are available at the weekly market or at the town market for 3 Euro and up. Have a glass before dinner and safe the rest to have with your picnic lunch the next day.
8. Eat out for lunch and enjoy a picnic dinner. Lunch specials in many towns are a bargain. Enjoy a leisurely lunch on a warm day, and buy supplies for a picnic dinner at your B&B for the night. Many of the B&B’s that we stay at have eating utensils that you can use, and usually picnic tables for a leisurely dinner. If you are staying near a vineyard or have a pool, a picnic dinner can be a perfect experience.
9. Choose the chef’s special at lunch or dinner. Regardless of whether you are in a big town or a small village, the chef’s specials always offer the best bargains, and usually the best selections of the day. Lunch specials including entree, dessert and a glass of wine are commonly under 7Euro, and dinner specials can be found even in large towns for around 10Euro.
10. Drink wine, not soda or alcohol. For reasons I cannot explain, soda is twice as expensive in France as wine! So when in France, do like the French and drink wine or an aperitif. If you are really craving a Coke or Pepsi, wait and buy one in a supermarket where they are much cheaper.
Stay tuned in the weeks ahead for more tips to help you with your bicycle trip planning for the upcoming year, along with updates on the major routes in France. I’m busy working on research for my two upcoming books on bicycling the Loire and the Vaucluse region of Provence. For those of you that will be traveling to either of these areas, I will be including my cost savings tips into my lodging recommendations, a section that will be sure to save you a great deal of planning time and money.