By Maggie LaCoste
Wow! Who would have ever thought that October in Brittany and Burgundy would have been warmer and sunnier than the Loire in July?! My last minute biking adventure over the last couple of weeks enabled me to explore some new bike paths and experience some interesting new adventures. While the weather was perfect, each day of bicycling involved a unique bicycling adventure, providing me with lots of advice to share with you. I thought a good way to kick off my posts on my recent trip would be to share travel advice you should never believe when traveling to France.
#1. There is Internet everywhere in France.
We’re spoiled in the USA. Internet is practically everywhere. If you are in Paris or another large city in France, that may be true also, but that’s not where I bicycle. Medieval villages, walled cities and towns, quaint stone walled bastides are lovely, but not conducive for receiving cable signals. This last week I had no Internet for 5 of 7 nights. In some instances, there was supposed to be Internet, but there’s not a guarantee that it works. Several nights I worked on posts only to lose them at the last minute because of a fading signal! Bottom line, don’t assume you will have Internet service to contact family. Be sure to have a backup plan.
#2. Everyone Speaks English.
I’ve written about this a lot in the past, but I have to admit that I have gotten spoiled bicycling along the Loire where it does seem that everyone speaks English. In rural Brittany, Burgundy and Normandy such is not the case. It’s easy to muddle your way through ordering food, getting a hotel room or table for dinner. But if you have a bike or bicycling problem or emergency, communication becomes more difficult, and the language barrier more challenging. As a result of my experiences this trip, I will be developing an emergency guide that will be part of all my new French bicycling itineraries. Hopefully it will never be needed, but if it is, you’ll be happy to have it!
#3. It’s only 40 km to your destination, or mileage estimates from locals.
Around the world, people always underestimate travel distances, and France is no exception. This can be a big problem when you are traveling by bicycle! Computing daily biking distances can be a challenge as local maps can be misleading, along with advice from locals. Bicycle route distances, especially veloroute and voie verte are often longer because they normally don’t follow a straight line. For example, the distance between two towns on the highway might be 45 km, but on the voie verte it is 70 km.
A major miscalculation can result in a very bad bicycling experience. This happened to us twice during our recent trip. The first time, we planned on a long day of 65 km along a canal in Brittany, based on a mileage estimate of a local resident. We planned on a long, challenging but not impossible day. The actual mileage was 85 km, the last 2 straight up the side of a mountain! I was amazed to have completed the ride, it was not fun. With no train along the route and a paid hotel at the destination, we had no choice but to ride on.
A second time, along the Burgundy Canal, the stated mileage for one stage was 42 km. You can imagine our surprise when we had been bicycling for almost 2 hours and the signposted mileage was still 40 km. We discovered during our ride that the posted route mileage did not reflect an almost 20 km deviation of the canal. Another small piece of local knowledge that impacted what we thought would be an easy day of cycling.
When you are planning you daily mileage for an upcoming trip, always err on the side of less rather than more. The whole point of exploring France by bike is to gave the time to explore, to experience the countryside and the unusual attractions. Have a second cup of coffee along with the local specialty pastry. This is what makes traveling by bike different from any other type of touring. I will definitely take more care in planning stage distances in the future. All of my upcoming itinerary guides will also include daily mileage guides to help make your planning easier too!