By Maggie LaCoste
I’m not sure why anyone would spend $800 or more a day per person to ride a bike in France, or anywhere else! Riding a bike is about as basic as it gets, other than walking, and France is one of the most bike-friendly countries in Europe to do it. You don’t need to spend $800, $500, or even $300 a day for a bike trip in France. As a matter of fact, depending on the level of comfort you are looking for, or your budget, you can have a great trip for $50 to $100 per person per day. Regardless of your budget, there are many options for weekend or month long trips. France is a very bike-friendly country, so don’t be intimidated by the idea of traveling through the French countryside alone. You won’t get too lost, and you just may have the adventure of a lifetime!
So here’s a look at some of the different cost options for biking in France. I’ve divided the options into four categories: luxury, premier, comfort and budget and, for easy comparison, all options involve biking along the Loire River. I’ve listed what’s included for each example and the daily price per person in US dollars. When you compare options, be sure to factor in what is and is not included, including meals and bikes. Two of the biggest price variables are the “luxury quotient” of the lodging and whether dinners are included, and if so, how many. Some of these variables make it difficult to compare apples to apples, but nonetheless, you will be able to sift through what is important to you.
If you are looking for a bike trip in France where you will be pampered, treated to luxurious lodging and meals, be able to hop in a van if you get tired, and you don’t mind dropping $800-$1100/day per person, this category is for you! This is the category for luxury American guided tour operators such as Butterfield and Robinson, Backroads and Duvine Adventures.
The Cadillac of the group, hands down, is Butterfield and Robinson. Their 7 day, 6 night top of the line Loire Chateaux tour runs $6,795 per person. For those of you not great at math, that adds up to $13,590 for two people, not including air fare. Needless to say, at $1,132 per person/day, pretty much everything is included in this package, including wine with dinner. I’m not really sure who would pay to ride a bicycle at these rates, but their tours seem to fill up every year. If this type of luxury appeals to you, you can read more about guided bike tours on one of my previous blogs from November, Are Guided Bike Trips Worth It.
A more “budget” entry in this category is outdoor company REI who offers a 6 day, 5 night guided tour on the Loire for $2,599 per person for REI members and $2,850 per person for non-members. At $520/day, this trip still includes all the basics of most guided tours, but lodging is in smaller local hotels and guesthouses rather than 5 star Relais Chateaux type hotels.
If you like the idea of a pre-planned itinerary, pre-booked hotels and having your luggage transported each day to your next hotel, then the premier category may appeal to you. This category is comprised of both American and European tour companies specializing in self-guided tours. Because these tours are self-guided, you have much more flexibility and spontaneity than with a guided tour. You can stop when you want, eat when you want, go off the route to explore, bike early and finish early, or sleep in and bike later.
There are major price differences in this category, so it’s important to research carefully. I have found that French bike tour companies offer much better rates than many of their American counterparts. Here are a few of the better known companies offering self-guided tours on the Loire.
Discover France is one of the largest French tour companies, and they offer a number of options for touring the Loire by bike. Their Grand Loire trip runs $2,415 for 7 days, 6 nights and includes 4 star lodging, all dinners, luggage transport, route information and emergency support. Bike rental is not included in the price, but is available to add. At $400/day, this is one of their more expensive tours. Their 8 day, 7 night Classic Loire trip runs $1,700, and lodging is in a mix of 2,3 or 4 star hotels and not all dinners are included. At $240/day per person, this is a much more affordable option.
Another option in this category is a tour recommended by Loire a Velo, the French organization that oversees the Loire a velo project. Offered by Loire Velo Nature, this 6 days, 5 night tour includes lodging in 2 and 3 star local hotels, three dinners, bike rental, all route maps and daily luggage transfer at a cost of $1,100 or $215/day. A great long weekend option is the 5 day, 4 night Gastronomic Biking Adventure offered by Biking France, a French bike tour operator. This bike trip through the heart of Chateau country includes three star lodging, all dinners, breakfasts bike rental and luggage transfers for $1,150 or $230/day.
Bottom line is that if you are looking for the security of a pre-planned tour, but you are looking to get more bang for your buck, take the time to explore French bike tour companies.
If you are not afraid of adventure, like the flexibility of planning your own route, deciding where you stay each night and how much you spend, this category is for you. I’m not averse to spending money on my bike trips, but I like to decide where and how I spend it. If I can stay in a perfect, quaint, charming manor house for $75/night, why would I spend $350/night for the 4 star hotel down the road? That night I might spend $100 on dinner, but to me, I’ve still had a bargain of a day: with bike rental and $15 for lunch, my cost for the day was $220 for 2 people, or $110/per person. The next night, I might splurge on a $150 hotel, but eat moules and pomme frites for dinner, and my daily cost would still be $110/per person. When you go it on your own, you can choose what you spend and where you spend it. Every trip usually has one or two days where my daily expenses are less than $150 for two people. Regardless of the budget that you have to spend, there are affordable hotels, guest houses and bed and breakfasts within easy reach of the Loire bike path. The Loire a Velo website is full of lodging possibilities at all price ranges.
Luggage transfers are becoming more prevalent on some of the major routes, but can be expensive. There are several companies that specialize in luggage transfer along the Loire, but their fees are based on kilometers traveled, so it can be a bit expensive, unless you are a family, as the fee covers multiple bags.
For those who are willing to carry camping gear in addition to luggage, it’s possible to bike the Loire for as little as $50/day and probably less if you are really frugal. Once again, the Loire a Velo website has a lengthy listing of campgrounds on or near the Loire bike path. One thing to note about campgrounds in France, they have a star system similar to hotels, and many French campgrounds are as luxurious as four star hotels, so don’t think that camping is a bad option. Many Europeans eagerly choose campgrounds for their annual vacations because of the comfort they offer compared to hotels.
Two options on the Loire include L’ile d’Or Camping and Camping Des Chateaux. L’ile d’Or camping is located on an island in the Loire River close to Amboise. The site offers showers, electric hookups, laundry, internet access, a restaurant and bar and a million dollar view of the Loire and regal Amboise, all for less than $10/day. Camping Des Chateaux is on the cycle path, less than 8 kilometers from Chambord. Facilities include a swimming pool and rates are around $15/day.
You don’t need to spend a fortune to bike in France, or anywhere else in Europe for that matter. Spending more money won’t necessarily mean that you’ll have a better bike trip, sometimes just the opposite is true. The whole point of biking in a foreign country like France is to have the opportunity to get up close and personal with your French hosts. In order to do this, you just have to put yourself out there. This is really hard to do if you are traveling in a pack of 15-20 other Americans, or if you are staying in exclusive 5 star hotels. If you really want to experience France, you need to break away from the pack, and plan an adventure that will immerse you in the heart of the region that you are traveling. I hope that I have given you some ideas to consider as you contemplate or plan a weekend or longer trip to France this summer!