The only thing that is better to me than being in France is planning a trip to France. That’s why October is one of my favorite months, as it’s when I start researching where I will bike in the upcoming year. Unlike last year when I knew that I wanted to explore the Atlantic Coast route known know as La Velodyssee, I really haven’t made a decision yet on where to go in 2013.
Between now and February, I will scour the regional tourism offices reviewing the latest cycling information to help make my decision. There are a lot of areas that I am interested in: the Canal du Midi, the Nantes-Brest Canal, The Loire from Orleans to Nevers to Chalon-sur-Saone to Macon, Paris to Mont Saint Michel, just to name a few. I spend a lot of time looking for information on the route, trying to determine what the route is like, who is it best suited for, whether it is a good choice for recreational cyclists and families. Just like planning any vacation, I want to choose the best itinerary that will meet all my requirements. So what type of other things do I look at? Here is a list of my top criteria:
1. The route must be easily accessible by train. I normally fly into Paris, so easy access to the starting point from Paris is important.
2. There must be access to good bike rentals at reputable bike shops. Nothing can ruin a perfect bicycling vacation more than a bad bike and/or bike problems due to poor bike maintenance.
3. Excellent support services along the route. Cyclists who have traveled along the Loire, the Danube, and many of the Burgundy routes are definitely spoiled by excellent signage in both directions and great support services along the routes. Regions looking for my tourism dollars are going to need to meet these high standards.
4. Lots of things to see and do along the way: historical and cultural attractions, castles, abbeys, Roman ruins, museums, vineyards with wine tasting and summer festivals are just a few of the many non-bicycling attractions I look for when choosing an itinerary. I also like routes that have a lot of deviations for travelers with time to explore.
5. Unique places to stay along/near the route. I have stayed in 5 star campgrounds and I have stayed in 50 Euro/night charming B&B’s and each have very much enriched my vacation experience in France. No other single factor can impact your vacation more than where you stay at night. So it’s not surprising that I spend a lot of time pouring over the most charming, unique places to stay. A lot of times people choose an expensive hotel thinking that the price will guarantee a perfect experience. Sometimes this is true and sometimes it’s not. One thing is certain, finding a perfect place to stay at a very affordable price is always terrific.
6. Great markets and restaurants along/near the route. You’ve found a perfect place to stay in a small village and you’ve managed to book a room at a bargain price. If there is not a restaurant in the hotel, you need to make sure there is a place in that small town to eat dinner. I have been known to bicycle 5-10 miles off course to stay in a town with a famous chef. I love great local French food, and I search through food journals and the Michelin guide looking for small local chef’s who are well known locally.
It is a very tedious process, but one that is great fun and full of a lot of surprises. I can’t wait to get started! If you have any suggestions that you think I should add to my list, please send me a note and let me know!