Exactly what is it about France that makes it my favorite bicycling destination in Europe? Can there be that many unique factors that make a French cycling vacation any better than one in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, England, Switzerland? There are castles in Germany, abbeys and grand cathedrals in England, charming villages along rivers in Austria, and great food in Switzerland. Each of these countries have great bicycle paths. So what’s so special about bicycling in France?
It’s not any unique set of factors that sets France apart as my favorite cycling destination, but rather a unique combination of factors that always contribute to a perfect bicycling vacation. I’ve never had a bad bicycling experience in France, it never disappoints!
Here are some of the factors that make France my #1 bicycling destination in Europe.
From haute cuisine to crepes on the street, France is a Foodie’s paradise! Whether you have a budget of 10€ or 100€, you never have to struggle to find great tasting options, especially if you’re creative.
One of my most memorable lunches came from a supermarket along the Ille et Rance Canal in Brittany: beef bourguignon for under 3€. If you love cheese, you’ll find yourself in heaven in France. Regardless of your budget, regardless of whether you prefer hard or soft cheese, smelly or not, strong or gooey, you will never run out of cheese to try in France.
With ham or salmon for breakfast, with bread and apricot jam and cold cuts for lunch or with dinner, a meal without cheese in France is like a day without sunshine!
There’s nothing like bicycling along quiet vineyard roads in France, touring some of the world’s best and least known wine estates and drinking local wines that never leave France. If you love wine, experiencing France’s vineyards by bike should definitely be on the top of your to-do list!
France is one of the largest wine producers in the world with an estimated 27,000 wineries. With the exception of northern France, virtually any region you choose to cycle has vineyards: Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Charentes, Cotes du Rhone, Jura, Languedoc, Loire, Medoc, Provence and Southwest France. No matter where you’re cycling and regardless of your budget, you’ll have an incredible variety of local wines to choose from. Supermarkets offer local wines for as little as 2€ and almost all restaurants offer wine for less than the cost of a Coke.
Like many countries in Europe, France has made a major commitment to expanding the network of safe bicycle routes throughout the country. Over the last few years, the number of car-free bike paths and veloroute networks across France have increased dramatically.
In addition to long distance routes, there are over 3,000km of flat, safe and signposted short distance routes on quiet country lanes, perfect for families, first-timers and cyclists of all ages.
I plan my bicycling trips around market days, seriously! If I am anywhere near a popular market, I’ll plan a deviation just to be able to participate.
Le Marche is an opportunity to experience French life; it’s my favorite social encounter in France.
I smile for days before a market, just thinking about the great experience that lay ahead. And when we stumble upon one unexpectedly, it’s the best day ever.
The Happy Sound of “Bonjour”
I love the exchanging of “bonjour” that is customary among cyclists in France. Over the last 10 years, it’s actually become a favorite, something that makes me smile pretty much all morning when I’m cycling. And it’s one of the things I miss when bicycling in other countries. I can’t explain it, I just love it!
The French Picnic Lunch
There are few things I love more about France than the picnic lunch! Sometime between noon and 1:00, workday activities come to a screeching halt as people rush home or to the closest picnic table or bench to enjoy lunch with family and friends.
Everything about the picnic lunch is fun, planning and buying supplies are almost as much fun as eating it. There is something so comforting about the picnic lunch, a time for story telling, sharing thoughts, discussing politics.
It’s one of my favorite parts of the day when I am in France, and it’s one of the things I miss the most when I leave.
French Bread and Pastries
French bread and pastries are their own food group, at least in my mind. They’re one of the things I miss the most when bicycling in other European countries.
It’s hard to pass by a Artisan Boulangerie in France without being seduced by the smell of fresh baking bread; or not be tempted looking at the assortment of treats at the local patisserie.
There’s really nothing quite like these two favorite French indulgences!
Exactly how many castles or chateaux there are in France is always up for debate, depending on how you define “castle”. Regardless of which number you believe, there’s lots of them, the oldest dating to the 9th century.
No matter what region of France you travel to, you’ll find castles to visit.
There’s Chateau de Vitre and Fougeres in Brittany, Angers with its 17 watchtowers along the Loire, the spectacular Haut-Koenigsbourg in Alsace, Chateau de Foix, one of the oldest and two of the best known, Versailles and Chambord.
Affordable Places To Stay Near Bicycle Paths
No matter what part of France you are touring by bike, you can always find very affordable accommodations. If you’re willing to be flexible, you can even find economical choices in August!
I prefer smaller villages outside of large towns where I can stay in the best B&B in town for less than half the cost of an average hotel in the bigger town.
I’ve also learned to take advantage of the incredible camping facilities in France, where you can stay in a fully furnished tent with a kitchen for under 50€ a night.
Easy Train Access, Reliable Train Service
Most major bike routes in France can be accessed within 2-3 hours from Paris on the TGV. I try to plan my bicycling trips so that I can take the TGV from Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris to my destination. Even if I have to wait a couple of hours for the train, it’s much less stressful than traveling into Paris, especially after an overnight flight.
Local trains are a great way to escape bad weather or avoid large cities. Most local trains accept bikes. Look for the train car with a bike on it and be ready to hop on quickly when the train stops.
The French Rail system runs like clockwork, something I learned to appreciate on a recent trip to Europe where we experienced 3 major train fiascos in two days.
My list of reasons could go on and on: French gardens like Chaumont, Versaille and Villandry, abbeys like Senanque and cathedrals like Chartres, Mont-Saint-Michel and Cluny, great support services along bike paths, fortified hilltop villages, lavender and sunflowers. Many other countries share some of these perfect trip ingredients, but to me, France just seems to have them in the perfect combination. I’ve never been disappointed with a bicycling trip to France. If I can only take one bicycling trip a year, it’s probably going to be where I have the best memories.
I am already looking forward to planning my next trip. What about you?