Planning A Bike Trip to France: Ten Money Saving Tips

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.

The charming Hotel du Canal in Castelnaudary with rates from 59-75 Euro

The charming Hotel du Canal in Castelnaudary with rates from 59-75 Euro

Enjoy a great B&B with pool from 65Euro at La Colombiere in Colombiers

Enjoy a great B&B with pool from 65Euro at La Colombiere in Colombiers

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.

Gypsy Caravan camping option

Gypsy Caravan camping option

Luxury in a wood and canvas tent

Luxury in a wood and canvas tent

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.

Local trains are slower, but much less expensive

Local trains are slower, but much less expensive

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!

Breakfast bargains even in large towns like Bordeaux!

Breakfast bargains even in large towns like Bordeaux!

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.

Chateau Franc-Pourret in Saint Emilion

Chateau Franc-Pourret in Saint Emilion

6.     Shop at local markets.  Going to the local market is my favorite French experience.  Not only do you get to participate

Enjoy dining at the market just like the French!

Enjoy dining at the market just like the French!

in a French ritual, you can get great food bargains too.

Roast chicken, one of my favorite market purchases

Roast chicken, one of my favorite market purchases

Look for dinner-to-go options

Look for dinner-to-go options

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.

Local wines are a bargain in France

Local wines are a bargain in France

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.

The perfect picnic dinner in Burgundy

The perfect picnic dinner in Burgundy

Our view at our picnic

Our view at our picnic

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.

Chef's specials in Bordeaux

Chef’s specials in Bordeaux

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.

Drink more wine not soda!

Drink more wine not soda!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4 Responses to Planning A Bike Trip to France: Ten Money Saving Tips

  1. JdeP December 7, 2013 at 3:46 am #

    No. 4
    If all you want for breakfast is a coffee and a croissant, then a café is probably a cheaper option than the hotel.

    But I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in a French hotel where breakfast cost more than €10; and if, like me, you want to fill up on calories for a day’s cycling by having two coffees, a glass or two of orange juice, a couple of croissants, and maybe a yoghurt, or bread with jam, or an egg, or cold cuts, then the hotel is usually going to be the much cheaper option. Often in a hotel you can also legitimately pocket a piece of fruit for later, or even make a cheese and ham sandwich, saving yourself the cost of lunch.

    • Maggie LaCoste December 10, 2013 at 12:18 pm #

      Thanks so much for your comments! There actually are many boutique and chain hotels where breakfast can be quite pricy, so it’s always a good idea to ask ahead of time. I wholeheartedly agree with you that there is nothing like starting the day with eggs, toast and some yogurt, so if that is an option, it’s always preferred. But many breakfasts in France are just coffee, juice and bread and croissants. We went for a full week this summer without a B&B where we could get some eggs. When we did stay where we could get eggs, I probably ate a dozen! Bottom line, if money is an issue, it’s always best to make sure you know what you are paying for in advance so that you can choose a different option if you want.

      Maggie LaCoste

  2. Pernel Riley February 26, 2014 at 5:36 am #

    I was just browsing when I happened to see your blog. Great tips you have here, though I am not a biker, I am a cheap traveler. Always looking for budget airlines, cheap hotels and cheap deals. Thank you for sharing these awesome tips. By the way I love your surname, I love LaCoste shirts :)

    • Maggie LaCoste February 26, 2014 at 9:58 am #

      Dear Pernel,

      Thanks so much for your note. I am glad that you came across my blog too! Perhaps if you keep reading I may be able to convince you to take a bike trip in France! Many of my readers have never taken a bicycling trip before, so you would be in good company! I choose my accommodations very carefully. Out of all the lodging options in an area, I only can stay in one place each night, so I like to make sure that I choose the nicest place I can for the best rate. Luckily I most often make the right choice!

      Happy travels and thanks again for reading Experience France By Bike.

      Maggie LaCoste
      Experience France By Bike
      http://www.experiencefrancebybike.com

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