Bicycling in France: It’s All About the Experience

By Maggie LaCoste

When you’re planning a bicycling trip to France or anywhere else, how do you decide how many miles/kilometers to do each day? I’ve gotten a lot of e-mails regarding this question lately, so I know many of you must be busy planning trips.  The answer isn’t simple and may vary from trip to trip, the kind of cyclist you are, the kind of bike you are using, whether you are traveling with kids, carrying your own panniers or interested in enjoying the local attractions.  The decision is challenging because the choices you make will have a major impact on how much you enjoy your trip, and if you want to come back again!

Take time to enjoy the fun things along the road

Take time to enjoy the fun things along the road

In order to respond to the mileage question, I’ll explain my thoughts on traveling by bike. For me, bicycling in France isn’t about distance covered, but rather is about having a unique travel experience.  Experience France by Bike is dedicated to exactly just that: exploring and experiencing France the slow way.

Take time to meet new friends

Take time to meet new friends

The bike is really just a means to an end, a way to tour France very differently than normal tourists for whom cities and countries often blur together by the end of a trip.  A bicycling vacation can be an escape from everything that is fast and frenzied about day to day life, but only if you allow time to relax, explore and enjoy the unique opportunities of traveling by bike.

Take time to marvel at the biggest haystack in France

Take time to marvel at the biggest haystack in France

With an understanding of my emphasis on the quality of the experience, rather than the quantity, I think somewhere between 35 and 50 km is a good daily distance to travel. This allows enough leeway during the day to stop and spend time exploring things you discover along the way, time to have a second cup of coffee, time to buy supplies for and have the perfect picnic lunch, and time to visit with other bicyclists you meet along the way.

Take the time to smell the ripening grapes

Take the time to smell the ripening grapes

Obviously there will be days when you go farther, either intentionally or because you get lost.  My longest day was just under 100 km and the only thing I remember about that day was how relieved I was to finally make it to my destination that night.  That was it, nothing else.  We had no time to stop to see anything along the way.  A day of missed opportunities, and missed experiences. I promised myself to not let that happen again.

Take time to have a picnic

Take time to have a picnic

Most of my itineraries are from 40-50 km/day with several days from 50-70 km.  If I have a long day, I always try to plan an easier day the next day.  I find that this works well, allows enough time to do all the things I want during the day while still enabling me to get to my B&B in time to enjoy the sunset and an apertif.

Take time to go to market day

Take time to go to market day

As is the case with any adventure form of travel, there will always be things to slow you down along the way:  getting lost, bad weather, bad directions, bad bike paths, tire troubles, getting sick, getting hurt, etc.  Any of these can add unplanned delays to a day, hopefully not an already long one.  If I had a choice of bicycling more of an itinerary (covering more distance) versus having the opportunity to see more along a smaller part of the route, I would always opt for seeing more along a smaller part of the route.  This is where you will encounter people and places that will change your life.

Take time to discover history

Take time to discover history

©2013 Experience France by Bike.  All rights reserved.

Posted by Maggie LaCoste

I love the adventure and unpredictability of experiencing France by bike. Cycling in France is the ultimate slow travel adventure, an opportunity to see it through the back door in a way few tourists experience. One week on a bike in France and life takes on a different meaning! I created Experience France By Bike to inspire recreational cyclists to visit France the slow way….by bike, and to be the best source of information for planning the perfect bicycling adventure. I encourage readers to embrace the uncertainty of the road ahead and to take the path less traveled, exploring roads, towns and villages that you would never experience traveling by car.

  1. I agree that 35 to 50 is a good average. After that, it can become tedious. We fan out from a base and often drive to our starting point. Sometimes we do a loop but not always. We’ve discovered that in fact, the way there and the way back on the same route are not the same at all. We like to break the journey with lunch but make sure there is a place to eat on the way. Otherwise we take a picnic. Even in the summer, you can’t count on finding a café or restaurant, even along dedicated bike routes.

    1. You are so right! Just like when you travel by car, the tendency is to try to squeeze in too many places so that you don’t “miss” any major city or attraction. In the process, you end up missing the whole essence of the region you are visiting. Some of our best bicycling experiences have been as a result of getting lost or straying off the main route. A bicycle gives you permission to deviate from the normal route, so take advantage of it!