France is a large country, the largest in the EU, and has a wide range of climatic conditions, from the warm, sunny south to the more temperate north and the varied temperatures and weather conditions experienced in the Alpine regions. This, along with its varied geography – makes it a marvellous holiday destination, with so many fascinating features packed into one country.
France’s size militates against an all-encompassing cycling extravaganza, unless you are fortunate enough to be exceptionally fit and equally wealthy (at least in terms of your available time); however, it does offer the perfect chance to discover the country in bite-sized pieces of a week or two and here we take a look at some of the very best cycling holidays in France to whet your appetite for self guides cycling tours of France.
Brittany’s Emerald Coast is climatically similar to southern England – hardly surprising given how little distance lies between them. It can be easily (and cheaply) accessed by ferry, through the Eurotunnel or flight. This makes it a great option for families and cycling novices, as does the relatively flat terrain and easy, traffic-free cycling. However, convenience aside, the stunning coastal scenery, with white sandy beaches, sleepy fishing villages and bustling seaside towns, make it a great destination in its own right. The fact that it rarely gets too crowded, retains a very “local” feel and is home to some fabulous restaurants doesn’t hurt either and this is a great introduction to cycling in France and indeed cycling holidays in general.
About as far away as you can get from Brittany on mainland France, Provence immediately conjures up romantic images. Endless fields of bright purple lavender and glorious yellow sunflowers are ubiquitous, whilst the fabled light (that has inspired artists across the generations) and inevitable clear blue skies (it is said to be sunny for 300 days a year) enhance these colourful bursts yet further. The cycling is more challenging than in Brittany, with some moderate hills to tackle, but your reward of a chilled glass of rose at the end of the day is sure to see you to the summit. Olive groves and vineyards will also stand idly beside the quiet country lanes you travel along whilst there are also plenty of mediaeval castles, ruins and ramparts to explore too.
North-west of Provence you will find the Lot “department” (region), named after the river Lot. Few British tourists travel here and it is a great place for people looking to discover the “real” France. The cycling can be undertaken at leisurely level of intensity, with traffic barely a concern and those wanting to try somewhere a little different will be well rewarded. The beautiful Cele valley is home to towering limestone cliffs with gravity-defying villages perched precariously in a most picturesque fashion.
Rocamadour is a key religious site in France and though it has been visited by countless pilgrims, including kings and nobles, it is worth a visit simply for the majesty of the setting in a gorge surrounded by forest. With plenty of other fine mediaeval hamlets and settlements, such as Figeac, you will be able to relax and unwind and experience the timeless charms of a world that has changed little in centuries.
Another region that remains relatively undiscovered, taking in the area between the Doubs Valley and the high Jura, Franche-Comté is situated close to the Swiss border in the east of France. The rolling wooded mountains are beautiful but thankfully the cycling is more rolling than mountainous and the scenery is inexplicably relaxing, from lazy, meandering rivers to quiet country lanes and forest trails with rarely another person in site.
What you will certainly see though is an abundance of natural beauty, with the area well stocked with butterflies, birds and even otters. The fields will be bursting with colourful flowers in the warmer months whilst the UNESCO sites at Besancon and Salins-les-Bains offer anthropogenic splendour to match.
Travel insurance of all kinds can be sculpted for UK, Europe or across the rest of the world. Cover for cycling should be included in the insurance policy automatically but it is always good to check. Your insurance should cover anyone for cycling holidays or on specific days when you would like to explore France or any other country on two wheels.