My Summer Cycling Adventure In France: 10 Favorite Memories

What a difference a few weeks can make in your perspective!

The week before my summer cycling trip to France, I worried whether a month of bicycling would be too much….if I had planned too arduous of an itinerary for my husband and myself. Less than a week after my return, I am still in awe at the incredible adventures experienced on this trip and I can’t imagine spending even one less day exploring the backroads of France by bike!

From a starting point in Strasbourg (where our bikes were stored since last year’s trip) to an ending point in the Camargue in Provence, we bicycled a hair over 1200km in 23 days.  During this time, we cycled on parts of EuroVelo 1, EuroVelo 6, EuroVelo 5, EuroVelo 17, the ViaRhona and a teaser segment of EuroVelo 8, the Mediterranean Route.  We had plenty of adventures trying to link different routes together, sometimes with rather hilarious results, like the day we cycled in a grass field that Google Maps actually had a route number for!

I’ll always laugh remembering how Google Maps actually gave us a route number for this grass path!

As I started making a list of 10 special memories of this trip, I had no idea what a challenge it would be to choose only 10. I could easily name 20. I hope that 10 will be enough to give you a sense of why exploring new areas by bike is so special and full of unique travel memories.  From the mesmerizing sound of cicadas cycling though the forest to eating fresh apricots from the orchard to watching a World Cup match at a local cafe with hundreds of local residents, this trip enabled me to experience France in a way few tourists do. Here are 10 special memories from my trip to France this year.

Cycling The Doubs Valley

Cycling the Doubs Valley was a surprising highlight of my 2017 trip, so when I had the chance to spend more time there this year, I didn’t think twice!  You won’t read about this region in most travel books, yet it’s one of the most beautiful segments of the EuroVelo 6 itinerary!  The Doubs is full of spectacular scenery, lovely riverfront towns and the breathtaking Vauban citadel at Besancon. 

View of the Doubs Valley from the Vauban Citadel in Besancon, one of the loveliest towns in France

Dinner at La Mas d’Emma in La Motte du Rhone

Nothing makes an overnight stay at a Provencal mas more perfect than enjoying a home-cooked meal with the hosts, or in my case, hosts Myriam, Philip and 12 other guests!  Sharing vacation stories and getting to know fellow guests from Germany, Italy, Scandinavia and France was an incredible experience.  Kudos to Myriam for the preparing such a delicious dinner and to Philip for being such a perfect host, including a special surprise for the 4th of July!  Thanks for the wonderful Provencal experience!

Philip is quite a host, making everyone feel at home at La Mas d’Emma

Crossing the ViaRhona’s Himalayan Bridge in Rochemaure

The only way to experience this amazing Himalayan-style suspension bridge is by bike or on foot.

The new bridge uses the pillars of the old historic bridge

The 1,000 foot bridge was originally built in 1858 and mostly destroyed during WW II.  The bridge was scheduled to be destroyed in the 1980’s but fortunately, due, in large part to the efforts of local citizens, a new bridge was built and became part of the new ViaRhona cycle path. The new bridge opened in 2013.

Cycling across the Rhone on this bridge connecting the Ardeche and Drome regions was a highlight of my time on the ViaRhona.  It will remain a favorite memory of a perfect day cycling the ViaRhona and an example of why I love experiencing France by bike.

Ice Cream Hour In France

Somewhere around 3:00 in the afternoon, it’s as if a silent bell goes off telling everyone in France, “It’s ice cream time”!

At most cafes, there’s not a seat to be found at ice cream time!

In big cities and small, late afternoon signals time for either a cone to enjoy while strolling the streets, or a sundae to help cool off from the summer heat.  It’s a practice that’s fun to observe and even more fun to participate in!

Chantilly is a must on these afternoon treats!

Just looking at the photos brings back the best memories of my trip.

The ViaRhona From Vienne to Pont-Saint-Esprit

There aren’t enough superlatives to describe the experience of cycling the new ViaRhona route from Vienne to Pont-Saint-Esprit!

With the ViaRhona 2 years from completion, I had few expectations of the cycle route.  I’d never visited the Ardeche or Drome departments and I knew nothing about the towns along the itinerary. To say that I was blown away by this section of the route is an understatement.

It was definitely one of my favorite 4 days of cycling anywhere in France ever!  Stay tuned for more on this part of the ViaRhona. Hopefully the yet-to-be-completed segments of the ViaRhona will follow the example of the Ardeche and Drome departments.  Their attention to detail makes this not only a gorgeous area to cycle, but it makes it easy.

Gorgeous vineyards along the ViaRhona near St. Cyr-sur-le-Rhone

I can’t wait to cycle this itinerary again!

Exploring The Alpilles Mountains On A Sun-e-Bike

Exploring gorgeous towns and villages in the Alpilles on a Sun-e-Bike was every bit as memorable as my Sun-e-Bike experiences in the Luberon several years ago.

The road to Les-Baux-de-Provence

Great scenery, beautiful villages, and extra power when you need it to cycle up huge hills are elements of a Sun-e-Bike experience. The hills in the Alpilles were much steeper than those in the Luberon, so I was happy to be cycling on the latest model Sun-e-Bike!  If you’re planning a trip to Provence, I highly suggest exploring some of the terrific hill towns like Les-Baux and Eygalieres, one of the loveliest towns in the Alpilles.

The charming town of Eygalieres in the Alpilles

Being able to cycle to both of these amazing towns by e-bike was an incredible exhilarating experience!

L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue

I love everything about L’isle-sur-la-Sorgue.  It’s warm, charming, comfortable, friendly and drop-dead gorgeous!

L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is one of my favorite towns in France

Many of the water wheels from the late 19th century are still operational

If you can, plan to be here on Sunday for the market, one of the best in Provence. Spending time at a French market is one of the best ways to experience life as a local and is always one of my favorite cycling holiday memories!

Meals to go are always a favorite of mine at French markets!

Watching World Cup Matches 

If going to a weekly market is one of the best ways to experience life as a local, then watching the recent World Cup matches with the locals is like being a part of the family!  With every successive win over a 2 week period the national enthusiasm grew and grew leading up to the final match which we watched in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.  Normally a quiet, subdued town, L’Isle was bursting with flags and banners of every size.

The normally subdued L’isle-sur-la-Sorgue was a sea of celebration after the World Cup finals!

French soccer team shirts were sold out in every store.  The French red, white and blue were everywhere.  I will never forget this afternoon, standing side by side in the town square trying to watch every moment of the match on TV’s strategically placed in the square. My husband and I cheered for each spectacular play, goal and save, and for that one afternoon, we felt completely French!

The Streets of Avignon During the Avignon Festival

It’s hard to describe Avignon during its annual performing arts festival, one of the biggest and most important in the world.  If you are crowd-adverse, it’s perhaps not the best time to visit, but thousands of people from around the world visit the city during the annual event. The massive festival takes over the city, with performances held in locations throughout the city. Experiencing Avignon during this event is definitely a memory I’ll never forget!

Advertisements for every kind of show are hanging everywhere in town!

An Evening With Cycling Development/Tourism Officials

One of my favorite evenings of the trip was having dinner with a group involved with the development of cycling itineraries and cyclo-tourism in the Vaucluse region.  The opportunity to share thoughts and ideas on cycling in Provence with these individuals was an incredible opportunity and a wonderful memory of a great trip.  Thanks to Valerie, Fabrice, Elodie, Anais and Maryse for giving up an evening with their families to have dinner with me!  I look forward to sharing more thoughts on growing cycling in Provence.

While I’ve detailed 10 top memories, there are many more!  This trip was packed with wonderful cycle routes, incredble people and drop-dead gorgeous scenery. I can’t wait to write more about my favorite itineraries!

Stage 24 of the ViaRhona, a car-free journey through the Camargue

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.