More Resources For Planning A Cycling Trip to France

Based on the e-mails received in the last week, it looks like the first list of travel resources was a hit, so here’s a few more for those traveling to other areas of France. Several of the new resources are for regions I’ve not written much about before. I hope they’ll encourage thoughts about travel to new areas!

Department of Tourism of Vaucluse

If you are planning to travel to the South of France, this is one of the first places you should visit, as the website is packed full of information on the region in general as well as cycling in the area.  The Department of Vaucluse is Provence at its best:  cities like Avignon, Orange and Vaison la Romaine, towns like Cavaillon, Apt, Gordes and Menerbes, villages like Lacoste and Chateauneuf du Pape.

Sunflowers as far as you can see

Sunflowers as far as you can see

In the summer time, lavender and sunflower fields stretch as far as you can see, Cotes du Rhone wines and local markets burst with the best offerings of the season.  And this is the website for pretty much anything you need to know to plan a trip to the region.

This is the land of the Tour de France, and the region understands the importance of cyclotourism to the area.  Perhaps that’s why there is a dedicated cycling section on this website.  Traditionally this region has been a major attraction to experienced cyclists, ones who ride $3,000 racing bikes who want to follow the route of the Tour.  But believe it or not, this region has become a ctcling paradise for families and recreational cyclists.  Well-marked trails, Roman ruins, picturesque hilltop villages, vineyards dotting the hillsides, charming places to stay are just a few of the reasons to take a close look at the cycling in the Luberon and Mount Ventoux area.

The Cycling in Vaucluse section of this website is a great resource to explore different itineraries.  Whether you are a beginner, intermediate or experienced cyclist, there is a wide variety of possible itineraries searchable at each level.  Itineraries can also be accessed by location:  Luberon, Mont Ventoux, Upper Vaucluse, and the Sorgues and Chateauneuf du Pape areas.Screen shot 2013-01-20 at 12.23.18 PM

Each route description has detailed information, a link to a map, uploadable brochures and a GPS file.  There is also a function to be able to pinpoint lodging and bike support services on each itinerary map.  There is also a link to brochures and topographical maps.

Perhaps the best news of all to many of us who might contemplate a cycling vacation to this region where some of the best attractions always seem to be located at the top of hills is that electric bike rentals have become very popular.  Velo Relax du Ventoux rents a bike with a small engine located on the front wheel and a battery on the luggage rack. So if you are interested in cycling in this region, don’t let the thought of hills deter you! Bike rental companies in the region also offer baggage transfer services and delivery/drop off services, enabling cyclists to pick up and drop off their rental bikes at different locations.  For those of us who are averse to killer hills, there are also services that will shuttle you to the top of Mont Ventoux so that you can enjoy the view, and a leisurely ride down!

Velo Loisir du Luberon

I love this website!  If you are planning to visit Avignon or Aix-en-Provence or anywhere in Provence and you are considering adding a day or a weekend of cycling, be sure to take a look at the Velo Loisir du Luberon website.  It is full of information and resources on cycling in the Luberon Regional Natural Park, including rides through/near some of the loveliest towns and villages in the South of France including Apt, Lacoste, Menerbes, Bonnieux and Cavaillon, just to name a few.

This website is unique as it is operated by a network of more than 100 small businesses and professionals from the region dedicated to growing cycling. Since 1996, accommodations, rentals, taxis, restaurants, cultural sites, wineries, guides and travel agents have offered their services to make a cycling trip to Provence easier. The network has sign-posted itineraries on quiet little roads which have been developed in the Luberon Natural Regional Park and the Pays de Forcalquier – Montagne de Lure–including routes for experienced cyclists to weekend recreational cyclists and everything in between.  I am amazed at the scope of information offered by this network which is really invested in developing cyclotourism in this part of Provence.

There are four main signposted routes including the 236 km Tour of Luberon and the 30 km greenway of Calavon, which will eventually be expanded to Avignon in the west and the Var region in the east.  Routes are sign posted in each direction with a different color used for each direction, making it almost impossible to go the wrong way.  Each village on the route has a Relais Information Service board that shows cyclists where they are on the route, services available in the town and attractions in the area.  This is a service that tourism offices on other major routes should follow!

For experienced, hard-core cyclists, who want to test their mettle in this region of the Tour de France, there is the Lure Cycling Challenge, a timed ascent of the Montagne de Lure, a symbolic mountain in Haute-Provence.  Starting at 722 m in Saint-Etienne les Orgues, cyclists ride the 18 km route to the top with an average gradient of 5.8% and a final elevation of 1736 m.  Depending on the completion time, cyclists are awarded a gold, silver or bronze diploma and are included in the online rankings.  Participation in the challenge is open to everyone.  All that is required is to download the app to your iPhone.  Applications and additional information is available at the Lure Cycling Challenge website.  If you don’t have an iPhone, you can rent one for 8 Euro.  While no Tour de France, the Lure Cycling Challenge is a fun way to test your physical stamina, your cycling prowess and come home hopefully with some bragging rights for completing the challenge!

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The Velo Loirsir en Luberon network provides one-stop shopping for cyclists:  from bike rentals to accommodation services, bag transfers, maps, brochures, route information, secure car parking and some of the most affordable self-guided trips you will ever find, this website makes planning a visit to the region a snap.  Under the Itineraries heading you can access information on accommodations, restaurants, bike rental, attractions and wine cellars and elevation maps.  There is an interactive map under Maps and Itineraries which can be very useful for planning purposes but at the current time it is only available in French.  Individual route maps and itineraries can also be located in this section and most of the brochures are offered in English.Under the Breaks and Stays section you will find a wide variety of self-guided tour options including some of the most affordable trips that I have ever seen!  A 4 day, 3 night self-guided tour including breakfast, lunch and dinner, bike rental, luggage transfer and accommodations runs 260 Euro per person per day.  A 2 night trip at a member B&B, bike rental and breakfast runs 100 Euro per person.  The options offered by this network are so affordable that I’ll definitely try to include one of their weekend tours in one of my trips this year!
If you’re planning a trip along the Loire a Velo, this website is the place to learn about Loire Valley wines.  This region is the third most important wine growing region in France, with 2700 winegrowers and 1,000 estates open to the public. The Loire Valley also has the longest wine road, at 800 km.  If you’re planning a visit to the Loire, you’ll definitely want to do some advance research on the wines of the Loire, and this is the place to do it!
The website is easy to use and is packed with information on what you need to know about Loire wines before you visit, from understanding the variety of grapes and the history of Loire wines to information on tasting and buying wines. You’ll learn about the history of wine in the region, going back to the introduction of grapes by the Romans 2,000 years ago.  You can also get a full listing of cellars to visit and suggested itineraries.
Vineyards are everywhere, just follow the signs!

Vineyards are everywhere, just follow the signs!

A trip to this region is not complete without enjoying visits to some of the outstanding vineyards and wine cellars along the way.  For me, tasting at local cellars is such a fun adventure that there are days where I spend as much time visiting vineyards as I do cycling!  To really enjoy your visit to cellars and vineyards, it helps to understand a bit about the region and its wines, so be sure to spend some time exploring this website before your trip.

Loire Valley Wines features information on 350 wine cellars that are committed to welcoming visitors to their estates to learn about winemaking and to sample and purchase wines.  Most will display this symbol, a sign that the vineyard has signed the hospitality charter.   You’ll always be welcome at vineyards that display this sign.

The Loire Hospitality Sign

Loire Hospitality Sign

Read the section on wine tasting in advance of your trip and you’ll feel like a pro when you visit the estates. Have fun choosing the perfect bottle of wine for your picnic lunch and/or for a before dinner treat!

The perfect Loire wine for a picnic lunch

The perfect Loire wine for a picnic lunch

Canal du Nivernais 

This terrific itinerary from Auxerre to Decize is part of the Tour of Burgundy, and until recently, detailed information on the route in English has been limited.  Fortunately Canal du Nivernais now fills this need, offering interested cyclists great trip planning resources.  This 175 km route is located under 2 hours from Paris by train, making this cycling itinerary a perfect add-on to a vacation in Paris.

The 175 km canal was built in the 18th century to transport firewood from the Morvan forest to Paris and fell into disrepair in 19th century when rail became cheaper and faster.  Cruise boats are the only traffic on the canal now.  The current cycle path along the canal opened in 2009 and since that time, it has been a very popular cycling route for those preferring it to better known and busier cycle routes like the Loire a Velo.  With 116 locks along the route, and the famous Sardy ladder with its 16 lock staircase attracts visitors from around the world.  Quaint villages, chateaux, lakes, cliffs and vineyards, this route has it all, and the Canal du Nivernais website can help you plan what part of the route you’d like to visit.

One great feature is the create your itinerary function.  You choose the starting point and destination.  You can now access a great directory of places to stay, searchable by type, comfort level, brand and location.  You can also access attractions and things to do along your chosen location.  There is detailed information on towns along the route and famous vineyards along the way under the “Discover” section on the navigation bar.

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Under Practical Information you can access the 80 page Tourist Guide to the Canal du Nivernais with sections in English, German and French.  There is also a new Michelin Map, Canal du Nivernais by Bike that is available for 9.9 Euro, probably something that you could pick up along the route.  In addition to basic route information, the Michelin map has a number of deviations to attractions along the route.

I hope these resources give you some more ideas about routes to consider for upcoming bike trips.  Let me know if you have any favorite resources that might help me decide where to go in 2013!  Happy planning.

©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.