For starters, bicycling is the national sport of France. My first recollection of France is of a guy leaning out of his car window, yelling, “Alle, Alle, Alle,” as we were climbing a long hill. Another recollection is of the night when we spent ten times as much for dinner as we did for our hotel room. Granted it was a cheap room. This gives away our schedule of priorities. There are various parts of France which offer outstanding cycling but are distinctly different. There is Southern France, Brittany/Normandy, Loire Valley, Massif Central, Vosges, Alcase Lorraine, French Alps, Provence, Pyrenees and Corsica. Each of these areas offers the cyclist something of interest.
offers a warmer, drier climate and the Mediterranean. Brittany offers the cooler Atlantic influenced weather, the district culture of the Brittons, less population and more rugged scenery.
Alsace and Lorraine
offer the curious commingling of the German and French cultures, closely situated quaint towns and hills covered with vineyards.
offers stiff climbs and grand vistas with steep sided valleys and forests
The Loire Valley
offers almost flat countryside studded with magnificent renaissance Chateaus. There are excellent back roads and high quality tourist facilities.
offers plenty of hills, tiny narrow roads and scenic variety.
are for hill climbers. They offer France’s toughest and most spectacular cycling. The roads here are better suited for biking than in other countries of the Alps.
offer the rugged mountains, vistas, distinct culture. Here are some of the steepest and longest climbs in Europe.
is one of Europe’s best biking islands. It offers a mix of mountains and coast. The roads are rougher; there is little of cultural interest but the scenery is superb. Corsica has been recommended by three German cyclists we met in Southern Turkey, who also recommended Norway.
On our first trip to France we entered France from Germany and returned to Germany so we biked across the Rhine to Haguenau then south down the Route du Vin to Colamar, Besancon, Beaune and Dijon in September of 1986. We left through Metz and Seirck les Baines. Subsequently we flew into Paris in 1994 and eventually got to the Loire valley. We flew into Nice in May 2000 and biked through Provence. We flew into Toulouse in May 2002 and biked through the Dordogne.
There are so many options on back roads throughout France that a suggested route becomes virtually impossible. It’s better to “wing it” by taking the back roads you decide to take when you arrive. So any of these routes can be varied and your enjoyment will not be diminished. So we recommend the routes only as a general guide line. You can’t go wrong on the back roads of France.
How We Rate This Trip
Throughout most of France, the secondary road system is excellent and in very good repair, especially in the Loire and Massif Central. The canals have rideable gravel paths next to them for a change of scenery. France has all terrains from flat to hills and four mountain ranges. All roads are well engineered. If you are looking for flat, follow the canals. In the Pyrenees, the rugged terrain dictates strenuous climbs in the 10% range.
The extensive French secondary road system has a low level of traffic. However, in the mountainous regions where these secondary roads are fewer, you will be forced to ride on main roads with more traffic.
In summer the temperature range is in the high 70’s to low 80’s and spring and fall usually run in the mid 60’s. Add 10 degrees for the Mediterranean costal temperatures. The west is cooler. Summers are slightly less rainy. There are between 10 to 12 days of rain a month in the summer, except in the south along the Mediterranean Coast where there are 1 – 6 days of rain in the summer. The incidence of rain is higher as you go further west.
In central and eastern France (excluding the mountain areas of the Vosqes, Jura and Alps) there is a continental climate. The winds can be changeable but generally, they are not a big factor. Along the Atlantic coast, especially in Brittany, the winds are off the sea and stronger.
There is continually an assortment of architectural styles from fine examples of Baroque and Gothic Cathedrals to the Chateaus of the Loire Valley. There is diversity in geography with four major mountain ranges and seven large rivers that lends itself to beautiful vistas. You can ride through hundreds of kilometers of vineyards or a mosaic of landscapes along forests, waterways or canals; the rugged wind swept shores of Brittany to the half-timbered homes of Alsace. The word is variety.
There is a plethora of excellent guide books on France and specifically cycling in France. Our favorite general guide book is published by Hachette. This guide has better hotel descriptions than the Red Michelin, it has the same types of sightseeing, ratings and restaurant recommendations found in the Green Michelin. Our favorite cycling guide was: France by Bike, by Karen and Terry Whitehill. Published by Mountaineers in 1993. Another, Cycling France, by Jerry Simpson, is also available. France is also the home of Michelin Tire and Map Company. The maps we used were 1/200 000 scale. Rule of thumb: Anything, buildings, towns or views with three or more stars is worth a detour, even on a bike
Road Safety: 8
The extensive secondary road system is very quiet. As a general rule, the French have more respect for the bicycler than you will find anywhere in the world. They steer a wide berth around you. You’ll share the road with packs of racers or ladies on single speeds leisurely pumping to the store.
General Safety: 7
Avoid Paris and the big cities and you are safe. Pick pockets are famous around the major tourist attractions such as the Eiffel Tower. Violent crime is not usual. The country side and small villages away from the major tourist hubs are tranquil.
The prices in Paris and other tourist areas are obscene. However, in the countryside and smaller towns, the prices fall off radically. The food and wine quality is so high that you have to expect to pay for these but generally you can live for just slightly higher than in the U.S. or the rest of Europe. What you get for your money for hotels is of a poorer standard than Germany, Switzerland, or England.
Tap water is potable. The famous French bottled waters Peirre and Evien are found everywhere. Wine is the drink of the country. Beer and soda pop are widely available.
No one comes close in this category. Into the world order, certain nationalities have brought truly great contributions. The French brought us excellence in Cuisine. Every small village has bakeries and restaurants of note. The rural cuisine is hardier and less refined and regionalism adds variety. The preparation of the food is always an art form.
The French are very clean in their person but their surroundings leave something to be desired. It seems that if it’s old, it’s considered good, but French don’t care if it’s faded, worn out and has some holes. You must inspect everything carefully. The Auberge (same as a B & B) does not reach the standards of Germany and Switzerland, for the same price. You find yourself paying $60 – 85 for a room with a croissant and café breakfast.
The French are aloof and often downright haughty. You just can’t easily break through and develop conversation. Granted, the language is a barrier but also their cafes are designed for separateness. The cafes are places to see or be seen. However, if you get to know a Frenchman, you’ll never have a more loyal friend.
The French are world leaders in all the classical western forms of music, art, poetry, dance and the not so classical fashion, taste and etiquette. They take the arts very seriously and politeness and etiquette sometimes seem extreme.
The French love antiquities and especially their own. Every historic sight, castle, chateau and cathedral is immaculately preserved. The variety crosses centuries and styles.
TOTAL SCORE 105
Route Descriptions and Maps
Provence, May 2000
In and out of the Nice Airport
Nice airport to Grasse
Out of airport (conveniently located 10Ks west of the city) to coast road. West (left) for 6Ks on busy flat road. Inland toward Colle du Loup climb on wide-street. Urban. Views of St. Paul . Then 2-lanes at 15Ks. Left (west) to LeBar at 30Ks up a valley. Hilly. Good views. At 36Ks, junction, right (west) to Grasse at 42Ks on Main Highway.
Grasse to Fayence
Out to junction at 19Ks. Left on D105 into the Gorge. Views of an ancient Roman aqueduct carved into the stone cliffs above the Gorge. Down to the river at 25Ks then climb on D19 to Callian (32Ks) out to D562. At 36Ks, right on D19, then at 40Ks toward the cliffside village of Fayence 42Ks.
Fayence to Cotignac
Out of town to D19. Right (west) to Seillans 7Ks. Continue on D19 descending and climbing out of Gorge. To Bargemon at 20Ks. Hilly. Continue on D19 to junction D21 at 27Ks. Left (south) to Chateaudouble at 33Ks. To Ampus on D51 at K43. These are the small, beautiful hill top villages that were safe havens for the inhabitants of this mountainous region of France. Then continue on D51 to Tourtour, 51Ks. Continue on D51 to Salernes, 60ks (cross D560 before town then next right into town). Now, on D31 to Entrecasteaus, 68Ks. Right (west) on D50 to Contignac 77Ks. Great ride.
Cotignac to Aix en Provence
Easier riding. Out on D13 5Ks then left on D560 for a very gradual climb to Barijols, 14Ks. Up a small road to Varages at 23Ks. Then D561 to Rians through typical Provence countryside at 42Ks. Left (south) on D3 then right on D23, at 45Ks to Pourrieres at 57Ks. Right on D57d to Puyloubier at 63Ks. Now take D17 along Mount St Victoire to the junction for entrance road to Beaureueil 75Ks.
Then straight into Aix 84Ks.
Aix to Roussillon
This ride has plenty of hills. Out to the north on D14 toward Montagne du Luberon the gateway to the Vaucluse. The town of Rognes is at 18Ks then take D543 to the bridge, 24Ks. Over the Durauce River on D943 to Cadenet, 27Ks, then to Lourmarin, 32Ks, climbing toward Montague du Luberon. Continue to climb to Bonnieux turning left on D36. In Bonnieux at 44Ks. These are the famous hilltop villages of the Luberon. Out on D109 to Lacoste, 49Ks, and Memerbes,57Ks. Then D218 to Goult 64Ks. Then D104 to Roussillon (74Ks) which teeters on its spectacularly situated ochre hilltop from which magnificent views of the surrounding lowlands may be enjoyed.
Roussillon to Vaison la Romaine
Down out of town to D2 then right to D4, 4Ks. Picturesque red hills. Left to road to Lioux, 7Ks. Gradual climb to 10Ks and junction S943. Left. Flattens out at the top and then along the cliff, very pretty. At 31Ks, D1, left. At 34Ks left on D942. Up into the Gorge. At 40Ks, Monieux. Now down the Gorge. At 62Ks, junction D19, north (right) all the way to D938, the main road, climbing, some steep. At 82Ks, right (north) to Malaucene, 85Ks. Continue on D938, busier, to K88. Right on D13 to Entrechaux, 92Ks, then left on D205 on the north side of town. Along river to Vaison, 98Ks. In the heart of Mount Ventoux and the Dentelles de Montmirail.
Vaison La Romaine to L’Isle sur la Sorque
Out D977 for 6Ks then left on D88. Segueret, 10Ks then D23 to Sablet, 13Ks. Wind your way along the wine villages of the Dentelles de Montmirail. D79 to Gigondas then D7 south to junction D8, 20Ks. Through Vacqueyras to Carpentras, 33Ks. Out on D938 to D212, 36Ks, along a canal to Pernes, 40Ks. Back on D938 to L’Isle sur la Sorque, 52Ks.
L’Isle sur la Sorque to Saigon
South along rail tracks for 3Ks then left on D31 along canal under N100 to Robion, 11Ks. Left (east) on busy D2 to D29 at 12Ks. Right to Maubec, 15Ks. Out on D188 to Menerbes 20Ks. Now D109 up to Lacoste, 26Ks. Good scenery, big ups and downs. Stay on D109 to Bonnieux, 31ks then D3 to Apt, 43Ks. Out of Apt on small road south to Saigon, 47Ks.
Saigon to Moustiers
(At this point we were short of time but still wanted to ride through the spectacular Canyon du Verdon so we used busier direct routes)
Out of Saigon on D48. Hilly. At 10Ks right on D223 to junction N100, 13Ks. Right on this main road through Cereste 20Ks. To junction D907, 27Ks. Right on hilly road to Manosque, 41Ks. Out on minor roads across A51 to D907, 46Ks, across bridge to D4, 48Ks. These are busier roads. Right on D4 to D82, 49Ks. Left to Greoux, hills, 58Ks. Out on D952, 20Ks to Riez, less hilly. Riez, 78Ks. Continue on D952 to Moustiers, 93Ks.
Moustiers to Castellane
Well, continue on D952. In fact you ride all the way on D952. There are other routes through the Canyon du Verdon but it was recommended that the best route is on D952. It goes by Point Sublime and seems to have the best views on the best engineered road. If it’s any confirmation, we encountered many other bikers here. It’s a great ride.
Castellane to Nice Airport
Out on N85. Not bad for a main road. Hills. All the way to St Vallier, 51Ks. 12Ks to Grasse at 63Ks. Minor roads down to Antibes, 83Ks. Urban and busy near the coast on various roads. Sometimes through Parking lots and sometimes on sidewalks trying to avoid the traffic to Nice airport at 95Ks.
The Dordogne, France 2002
September 1, flew in and out of Toulouse
Weather was poor with rain, fog and cold.
(See road story about the terrorist scare when we flew into Toulouse)
Toulouse airport to Montauban
We left the airport under strange circumstances but it is easy to ride on the service roads out of this airport either to the city or in other directions. Out to D2 then north to D63, 10Ks. Right to the bridge over the Garonne river to D4, 15Ks. Left (north) to Bouloc, 23Ks. All these roads have traffic, are pretty flat and offer nothing spectacular for scenery. Good roads. From Bouloc, there are many quiet alternatives. We took D63 to Villaudric, 29Ks, then D87 to Villemur, 37Ks, then the minor roads near the Tarn river ending up on D21 into Montauban, 63Ks.
Montauban to Cahors
Out of town on minor road between train tracks and the highway to Fonneauve, 4Ks then there are a lot of good choices. We went left to junction D69, 6Ks, then right (north) over River Aveyron to Ardus, 8Ks, left on D78 to D959, 11Ks, right (north) thru Molieres, 25Ks to Castelnau-Montratier, 38Ks. Out on D19 for 1K then left and cross river to D659, 41Ks. Left (north) to junction N20, 66Ks. Then to Cahors, 71Ks, on this busy highway.
Cahors to Cajarc
52Ks along a river
This was a rainy day and our progress was minimal. Out on D653 to Vers, 14Ks. Then continue along the river on D662 to bridge at 26Ks. Cross to D40 just over the river then left to St. Cirq-Lapopie, 30Ks. Out on D8 along river to Calvignac, 43Ks. Cross river again back to D662 then right to Cajarc, 52Ks (Cajarc became affectionately know to us as Car Jack due to our lame sense of humor and poor pronunciation)
Cajarc (Car Jack) to Rocomadour
Out on D662 along river to the east to Faycelles, 21Ks. Then to Figeac, 28Ks, on D662. Out of Figeac on D2 north to Reyrevignes, 40Ks, now on D11 to Assier, 44Ks. Then to junction D25, left (west) to junction D14, at 55Ks. Right (north) to Gramat, 68Ks. Out on D14 and then left to Pigeonnier, 70Ks, then left on D36 to l’Hospitale (just above Rocamadour) 79Ks.
Rocamadour to Sarlat la Caneda
We stayed up in l’Hospitale, out on D673 to Payrac, 21Ks. Then minor roads including D129 and D101 across D704, 36Ks. Now D50 to LaRoque, 45Ks (Cross river on small bridge before Domme) D703 to Beynac, 55Ks. (no hotel available so forced to go to Sarlat). Back to junction D57, up D57 which was hilly and busy (not recommended) to Sarlat, 67Ks.
Sarlat to LeBuque
This is not the direct route (D47) which is mostly level even though it goes through a hilly region. We go via Montignac. Out of town on D704 north then right to Proissans on a minor road, 5Ks. Go right in town to junction D56, then left. Cross D60, 10Ks. Take the minor road to St. Genies, 14Ks. North on D64 to minor road left (21Ks) then to St Amand De Coly, 24Ks. Minor road to LeBousquet, 27Ks, then to D704, 28Ks, right to Montignac, 30Ks. Take D65 southwest to bridge, 36Ks, cross to Thonac. Left on D706 back over river, 40Ks. The road follows the course of the twisting Vezere River. At a number of spots along the road you can see places where the towering gray and white cliffs have been hollowed out to form caves and tunnels which sheltered prehistoric man. At one time, the river bed was 90 feet above it’s present level. Follow minor D706 to Les Eyziers, 54Ks. Continue on D703 to LeBuque, 65Ks.
LeBugue to Monpazier
Out (southwest) on D31 through Limeuil 6Ks, to Tremolat, 13Ks. Hilly along the river with great views. Cross the river then cross again to Mauzac, 18Ks. Out to junction over D703, 20Ks. Left through Lalinde, 26Ks, over D660, 29Ks, to Lanquais, 33Ks. Then D22 to Faux, 38Ks. Minor roads to Mousac, 43Ks, then again minor roads to Beaumont and junction D660, 48Ks. Right. Good fast road with a gradual incline through farm country to Monpazier, 64Ks.
Monpazier to Cohors
Out across Dropt River on minor road. Climb to Soulaures, 4Ks, then left at T junction to D53, 7ks. Right then left to Fontenilles, 10Ks. Straight to junction D660, 13Ks, there right to Villefranche, 18Ks. Out on D57 which becomes D28 to Puy-l’Eveque, 35Ks. Cross the River Lot and left on D8 along the river. Twist and turn to Luzech, 59Ks. Out on D9 to D23, 65Ks. Cross river to Douelle, 72Ks, then left on D8 to Cahors, 85Ks. Busy road into Cahors.
Cahors to Moissac
Now we are short on time so basically we took the more direct routes. Out on N20 for 4Ks to D659 then to junction D104, 17Ks then right to junction D57, 21Ks. Continue along Barguelonac River to junction D31, 29Ks. At junction, left back to river, 35Ks. Right on D57 again to D81, 37Ks, then left to D16, 40Ks. To Durfort-Lacapelette, 44Ks. Continue on D16 to junction D957, 51Ks. Stay straight on D957 to Moissac, 57Ks.
Moissac to Toulouse Airport
(This is the direct route. Nothing special)
Over the river to St. Benoit, 1K. Minor roads to Castelsarrasin, 7ks. Out on D45 to junction D14, 13Ks. Right (south) at the small road junction, at 16Ks, before Lafitte then straight then bear right then left to Montain,20Ks. Cross D928 on D55 to junction D3, 30Ks. Left to les Chemin, 32Ks. Minor roads to Le Burgaud on D58, 36Ks. To junction D30, left. Off D30 on to D29f to Cantegril, 43Ks. Minor roads over Save River and D17 into Merville, 48Ks. Minor road to Aussone, 51Ks. Now D64 then to right on minor roads to Fenouillet, 54Ks. Now D2 to Blagnac, 61Ks, on a busy road. Right to Airport, 62Ks.
Loire Valley 1994
We landed at Charles de Gaulle airport. There was no legal way out of the airport so we hopped a train (also illegally) thru Paris to the end of the line at St. Remy about 20Ks south west of Paris. We relied heavily on a recommended bicycle guide book: France by Bike, by Karen and Terry Whitehall, published by Mountaineers in 1993.
St. Remy to Chartres
To avoid N306, south on D938 to D40 to D24 to Cernay, hilly, 14Ks. Out on D72 south west to Sonchamp, hilly and quiet, 32Ks. Cross N10 (36Ks) and on to D101 to Esclimont, 44Ks. Then D18 to Gallardon, 50Ks. Out on D32, less hilly, to junction N10, 68Ks. Then the unpleasant and busy N10 into Charters, 72Ks.
Chartres to Beaugency
Out on D935 to Dammarie, 10Ks, busy, then angle right at far end of town on D127 to Fresnay-le-Comte. Swing right into Fresnay and then follow signs to Meslay-le-Vidame, 17Ks. Continue on to Bronville then right on D154 to Bois-de Feugeres. Cross N10, 22Ks, and angle left through flat farmland on D359 to Alluyes, 26Ks. Out on D153 to Dangeau, 31Ks, then left on D941 to Logron. Cross D955 at 39Ks on D23 to Lanneray, 46Ks. Go left on D31 to St Denis, 55Ks. Take the busy D927 to Chateaudun, a hilltop city, 58Ks. Take D955 which swings around the base of the Ville. Jog left then veer right on D31. Quiet, flat farmland, easy but less scenic. D31 becomes D14 to Prenouvellon, 79Ks. Then D2 to Charsonville, 85Ks and Baccon, 91Ks. Then Le Bardon, 95Ks, Into Meung-sur-Loire, 100Ks. Follow the riverside Promenade des Mauves to Bauel, 102Ks, then the busy N152 to Beaugency 106Ks.
Beaugency to Chaumont-sur-Loire
Out of Beaugency on Tour St.Firmin and continue on the Rue Porte Tavers to Tavers, 3Ks, then to Lestiou, 6Ks, then Avaray, 8Ks. To Corbouzon, 19Ks. Flat along the river to junction D112, 15Ks. Left across the Loire to Muides, 19Ks and then climb away from the river to Chambord, 25Ks. Now D33 to Huisseau, 31Ks and Vineuil, 37Ks. Straight to Gervais-la-Foret, 39Ks. Cross under the main road before gaining a smaller road signed for Blois. Right to center, 42Ks. Leave Blois on busy D751 to D173, 46Ks. On a quiet road to Cande-sur-Beuvon, 49Ks. Then back to busy D751 to Chaumont, 55Ks.
Chaumont to Chinon
Climb out on D114 for 1K then right on D27 to Vallieres, 8Ks and Chissay-en-Touraine, 19Ks. Gently undulating through fields and forests. Right on D176 to Chenonceau, 24Ks. Continue on D176 to Civray, 25Ks, left to Blere on the other side of the Cher river, 31Ks. Then left and climb to Thore and les Fougeres, 35Ks. Then right to Subaines, 40Ks. D25 out to Chedigny 48Ks. D10 to Reignac,56Ks then Cormery, 64Ks (D10 becomes D17). Good scenery. Take N143 but quickly off to right. Hilly at first to Veigne, 72Ks. Left on D50 then right into Rue Jules Ferry. Quiet roads beside the Indre River to Montbazon, 75Ks. Out on D17 to Monts, 81Ks. Continue on D17, busier, to Artannes, 84Ks. Right on D121. Its quiet through flat farm fields to Druye and down short and steep into Villandry, 94Ks. Right on D7 for a chateau and then back to continue. Take small tree lined road parallel to the Cher river across from Langeais, past Brehemont, 106Ks into Usse, 114Ks. Back out to river road to Huismes 120Ks. Out on D16 to Chinon, 130Ks.
Chinon to Angers
Out on D749 south across the Vienne river then right on D751 then left on D759, 4Ks. Then a quick right to leCoudray-Montpensier thru to D117, 7Ks. On D117 to Chavigny to right to Couziers and on rough pavement through rolling hills to Fontevraud, 21Ks.
Out on D145 through the Foret De Fontevraud to Champigny, 28Ks, then into Saumur along a ridge above the Loire river. Saumur, 34Ks. Out on D751 to Gennes, 50Ks. Onto D132 along the Loire through Le Thoureil, St. Remy and St. Jean, 74Ks. Right on D751 to Juigne, 76Ks, then straight onto D132 to N160, 79Ks. Right across the river on busy road into the center, 85Ks.
Angers to LeLude
City riding out to D52 north, a very busy highway to D192, 10Ks. Right, much quieter to Villeveque, 15Ks. Cross to Soucelles, 16Ks, then right on D109 to D74, 20Ks. Right over Loire into Seiches, 22Ks. Out on small road to Marce, 24Ks, continue to D59, 29Ks. Left to junction D18, 34Ks. Left into Dartal then back on D18 to D138, 37Ks.
Left through les Rairies, 40Ks. Now left toward Cre. But take D70 left before to Bazouges and then back to Cre, 43Ks. Left on C3, flat. Left into La Fleche over the river, 49Ks. Out of La Fleche on the busy N23 to Clermon-Creans, 54Ks, then right on D13, much quieter, to Pringe, 60Ks. Then to Luche-Pringe, 63Ks. Right on D214 for 6Ks to intersection, 69Ks. Down steep D307, 74Ks. Right to LeLude, 77Ks.
LeLude to Montoire-sur-le-Loir
Out on D305 to C11 to follow the river (right) 2Ks back to D305. At10Ks, right to Vaas, 16Ks. Right (south) on D30 to D11, 18Ks, left to Legue-de-Mezieres, 26Ks. Left (north) on D10 into Chateau-du-Loir, 31Ks. Out on D64 to Le Port-Gautier, 36Ks. Right on D61 to Marcon, 38Ks. Left on minor road to La Chartre-sur-le-Loir then D154 to Trehet, 46Ks. Left (north) on D80 to Ruille and D305, 48Ks. Right on D305 which is quieter here. At D57, 53Ks, right (south) to D10. Left to Artins, 59Ks, on quiet roads. Left in Artins along river to D917, 63Ks. Right to Troo, 66Ks and Montoire, 72Ks.
Montoire to Chateaudun
Out to Lavardin, 2ks then take D168 to St. Rimay, 7Ks. Quiet through farms. Junction D917, left, busy across the river then right on D24, 9Ks. To Le Gue du Loir, 17Ks out on D5 with side trip through Villiers then D5 again. Into Naveil, 25Ks, then D917 into Vendome, 28Ks. Out on D917, east, with a quick left to Areines and then Meslay, 31Ks. A quick left then right on minor roads to Courcelles, 45Ks. Cross river to Freteval, 46Ks then right to Moree, 49Ks. Left on D157 then D19 then right, 52Ks on minor road to St Jean-Froidmental, 58Ks. Good views along river. To St. Claude and out finally to D11 to junction D927, 77Ks. Right to Chateaudun, busy, 79ks.
Chateaudun to Paris by train.
1986 Strasbourg to Dijon Tour
(The distances listed in this tour are not cumulative)
Strasbourg to Colmar
Leave Strasbourg on Rue de Koenigshafen (N4) in the direction of Saverne (west).
Outside of Strasbourg 4Ks go left on D45 toward Ergersheim (14Ks). Then turn south on D30 for 1K.Turn left on D127 to Bischoffsheim. Take the small road, D435, west to Rosheim (2Ks). At Rosheim take D35 (10Ks) here the road twists south through vineyards for 30Ks. Take N59 into Selestat (5Ks). Out of Selestat take D159 to Kintzheim (4Ks). Turn left (south) on D35 to Ribeauville (2Ks) and Riquewihr (4Ks). Riquewihr has been declared a national monument, and the town is closed to automobile traffic (bicycles are allowed). You will find half-timbered houses in this area. Out of Riquewihr take D3 to D1 BIS (5Ks) to D10. Follow D10 to Turckheim (6Ks) and from here follow D11 east on small roads into Colmar.
Colmar to Mulhouse
Leave Colmar heading toward the Rhine (7Ks) on N415 turn north east (left) on D12 through Volgeisheim (11Ks). East of Volgeisheim find D52 along the Rhine to Ottmarsheim (32Ks). Take D108 west (right) into Rixheim (8Ks) and N66 into Mulhouse (5Ks).
Mulhouse to Besancon
Leave Mulhouse on D432 to Brunstatt (5Ks). Go right (southwest) and cross the Rhine folloing D8 to D18 to Balschwiller (14Ks). Outside of Balschwiller cross the Rhine to Hagenbach (3Ks) and follow D103 to Vellescot (14Ks). Go west on D13 to Brebotte (3Ks). Turn south on D35 (3Ks) to D23 into Fesches-le-Chatel (9Ks). Follow D121 along the canal into Monbeliard (6Ks). Out of Montbeliard to D126 (5Ks). Turn right on D126 (2Ks) to D297 L’Isle le Doubs (12Ks). Take N83 that follows the Doubs River into Besancon (56Ks).
Besancon to Arbois
Leave Besancon on N83 along the Doubs (5Ks). Turn left (south) on D473 to Epeugney, 14Ks and Amancy (11Ks). Just past Amancy (3Ks) turn right on D492 through Nans Sur St Anne to Salins-les-Bains (18Ks). Take D105 (west 8 Ks) to Les Arsures. Take D249 into Arbois ( 6Ks).
Arbois to Beaune
Go west out of Arbois on D469 (6Ks). Turn left on D9 to Aumont (5Ks) and Les Essards Taignevaux (19Ks). Continue on D9 (6Ks) to outside Neublans and on the other side of town (2Ks) take D118 to Charette (9Ks). Out of Charettte take D73 to Sermesse (10Ks). Cross the Doubs river to Saunieres (1K) and ride D154 to Les Bordes (5Ks). From Les Bordes take D970 to Beaune (3 Stars in Michelin) ( 22Ks).
Beaune to Dijon
Take D18 past Fussey to D8 (sharp right) to Marey-les-Fussey (13Ks). Take D115 north to Meuilley (3Ks). Then D109 to D35 (1K) to L’Etange-Vergy (3Ks). Then go right (north) on D116 to D31 (12Ks). Turn right to Gevrey-Chambertin, (6Ks). Take D122 north to Dijon (3 Stars in Michelin) (21Ks).
An Explosion in Toulouse France
Our plane landed in Toulouse France at 1120AM and immediately there was an announcement, “There was a large explosion at 10:15AM this morning and we are waiting for permission to deplane.” We all flop back down into our seats in silence. I know reactions to this news would have been different before September 11, but 20 days later the world is still in a state of alert. I look over at Peter, his blue gray eyes are closed and his snitzel haircut looks neat as a pin. He is here because it’s great bicycling and I am here because I like it. I lived in France after college and I am now studying French.
We slowly and orderly leave the plane. No one knows exactly what happened. They announce that they will be closing the airport and diverting planes to another city. We take a cue from others and keep our voices low, put bicycles together, find the ATM and slip out an unguarded door. The day is warm with overcast sky and flat light and we ride in shirtsleeves, there are no moving cars. We are alone.
As we cross above the freeway we see no cars, then we come to the main secondary road. It’s bumper-to-bumper with cars leaving the city. Our bike maps show the smallest roads so we can get away from traffic; even these tiny roads are busy with women driving kids, single male drivers, and big trucks we figure the freeway must be closed. A woman stops us and says we should cover our mouth and nose. I sniff the air and only smell diesel fuel from the slow traffic. Another man stops to make sure we know there was an explosion.
We keep going away from Toulouse and after about an hour there is no more traffic on the small roads and we start to notice the plump purple grapes dripping from the vine-covered hills. We look for the grape pickers and see only a tall shinny dark blue truck, two wheels on either side of the grapevine straddling the row. The truck is shaped like a doorframe over the vines with large silver corkscrews on the inside next to the grapevines. These corkscrews turn caressing and circling the grapevines and gather the grapes off the vines and deposit them into a holder on top. We stop and watch. Our feet stick to the road like its flypaper and when we ride again we notice our tires are sticking to the grape residue on the road.
The route is beautiful, with old gray stone villages perched on hilltops, grapevines, and cornfields and purple hops paint the tapestry countryside.
We are not sure which road to take when I spot a straw hat bent over in a garden. I yell pointing at the road we think it should be, “c’est la route au Montparasse?” A rosy faced man in a starched long sleeve blue shirt slowly straightens up and walks toward me through three-foot tall red and yellow rose bushes. He stops, smiles and says “Bonjour Madame, Disirez-vous quelque chose?”
I slow down, “Boujorn Monsieur, pardonez-moi, c’est la route au Montparnasse?”
“Oui, Madame, tout est direct”
“Merci beacoupe, Monsieur, Au revoir”
“Au revoir et bon voyage”
Peter smirks as we ride down the road, “A little lesson in manners.”
That evening we see a special edition of the local paper with photo’s of the explosion and the headline reads “29 dead, 3000 injured from explosion of a fertilizer plant in Toulouse”. It is confirmed that it was an accident. The original fear was terrorism, and as tragic, as the explosion was there was a relief that it was an accident.
We are touring the Dordorgne river valley and we soon fall into a routine. Breakfast is a tiny thick espresso coffee with milk and croissants at a café. We usually stand at the bar with the older men and when they hear our accent ask if we are “London” and we say them “Americaine”. They are surprised and then express their sorrow about September 11. We talk about the explosion in Toulouse and the world situation.
Before setting out we shop for our lunch because all the stores close between 1230P and 230P. Peter goes to the Bolongerie. Opening the door he’s enfolded by the warmth and inhales the fresh yeast scent. He settles into the usual long line, with each patron chatting with the one clerk in turn. He has a sweet tooth and this line gives him time to study the different breads, croissants, patisseries and quiches. He can’t restrain himself and buys our fresh baguette and extra goodies. I shop the Formageri (cheese shop). This small shop feels cool and filled with cheese and thick sour milk smell. I buy a local hard cheese that turns out to be hardy and creamy like Gouda. And my last stop is the Butchery for slices of ham, or salami. The lines at the butcher are never long but each patron takes a long time, choosing from the different pates, and cuts of meat. It’s finally my turn and the phone rings, the lone butcher takes the call, hangs up and walks over to write the order in his date book and finally looks my way. The phone rings again, he smiles, shrugs, answers, and I wait while he goes through his routine. He apologizes and gives me a few extra slices of his homemade salami.
Traveling in Europe is like going home to Mama. You walk into the house, everything is old and familiar but you look at it with new eyes. You appreciate the care that goes into maintaining an older home; you see the little improvements that don’t disturb the original dignity. The meals are better than you remembered because only the best ingredients are used. The frantic pace of the world is forgotten when she wraps you in her generous arms and tells you family stories. As she rocks you with love you know that no matter what explodes it will all be put back together again.
Germany and France 1986
We’ve all faced decisions on where to bike. My wife Sally and I were definitely flying in and out of Frankfurt, Germany, but we waffled back and forth about whether to spend our two weeks in Germany or France.
On the flight over, we were still debating the question. France has an excellent rural road system and Germany is so densely populated; but the German people are more approachable and many speak English. The French are aloof and few speak English, but French cuisine and wine are superb. However, the German beer and hearty food also appealed to our bicycler’s appetites. The weather would be the same for both countries in September: expect 13 days of precipitation out of 30.
We finally decided to ride to Heidelberg the first day. We felt that we could always catch a local train if the roads were too congested.
We emerged from the Frankfurt airport into hazy, warm sunshine. We took a minor road south avoiding the Autobahns and happily discovered our first of many bicycle paths. We followed a series of interconnected paths all the way to Heidelberg. Sometimes these paths were separate off-road ways and at other times they were wide shoulders next to the road. Occasionally, we’d be forced to ride on the roads which were congested with very fast moving traffic, but overall it was a pleasant first day ride.
Our orientation to biking in Germany was beginning. We followed the signs showing a silhouette of a bicycle all the way to Heidelberg; but there were risks in traveling by the seat of our pants. At one point, we encountered a sign showing a graphic of a bicycle with a read circle around it. We blithely passed it thinking this must be a special route since the pictured bicycle was circled in red. We all know that feeling—on a narrow road with heavy, fast moving traffic; white knuckles clutching your lower grips; head down to both squeeze the edge of the pavement and disregard the roaring traffic coming up from behind. It’s even worse when, off to the right, you spot the bike path that you should be on meandering through the serene fields. And so we learned that the sign with the bicycle circled in red meant emphatically “No Bicycles.”
On our second day, again under hazy, warm sunshine, we headed further south. About noon, we encountered our first harvest festival in Wiesloch. The bands were playing, the bratwursts were cooking, and the beer was flowing. American military bases dot this area, so we were hardly foreigners. Still Klaus, a spry English-speaking octogenarian, adopted us and gave us a guided tour of the town and festival. We snacked on the various local specialties and then hit the road again.
By later afternoon, we were pedaling through Ettlingen where it was also festival time. Sally and I decided this festival would be especially good nocturnal entertainment, as it was unabashedly food, drink, and entertainment oriented. Local sports clubs and singing clubs, etc. each sponsored a booth which sold different German beers and local food specialties to raise money for their respective clubs.
We took a room at a hotel and headed for the festival. While ordering two steins of beer and watching a dance group perform, I literally bumped into Gerhard who immediately, in perfect English, invited us to join him and his wife Gilda at a picnic table. Again, we had guides.
Our preconceived notions of Germany were right: friendly people who spoke English, opportunities to meet and get acquainted with the local people, excellent food and beer. Our surprises were pleasant ones. The bike paths allowed peaceful biking even thorough the densely populated regions, two glorious days of warm sunshine, and it seemed like there were harvest festivals everywhere on the weekends during September.
The next day we crossed over the Rhein into France. We stopped at a small village fest, had sausages for lunch, and continued on to Huguenot where we booked a room. As we pulled into the city, the weather was becoming cloudy, windy, and cold, but here was yet another festival where we had a dinner of Torte Flambé, a local specialty.
We were in France, but in Alsace where the contrast between Germany and France is not that marked. After all, Alsace has been both German and French through the years depending on the vicissitudes of the last war and treaty. Since World War I, it has been French except for German occupation during World War II. Our innkeeper described Alsace as the best of both France and Germany.
We eventually found our way to Strasbourg, the interesting metropolis of the Alsatian region. First, we biked through the Vosges Mountains, ending up in a cold downpour at Schirmeck. For the sake of comfort, we went to the station to catch a train. The line ran only one way—to Strasbourg.
We toured Strasbourg on foot, got tourist information, and washed our clothes in a Laundromat. (Later on, back in Germany, we discovered that Germany, unfortunately, has no self-service Laundromats.)
That night, we dined at a restaurant which specialized in the local cuisine which consisted of sauerkraut, sausages and beer. The German language, or rather the Alsatian dialect, which sounded very much like German, was usually spoken and the half-timbered buildings were typical German architecture.
The next day, armed with better maps, we headed for the Route du Vin (Wine Route). After a deceptively steep ride to Obernai from Strasbourg, we skirted the vine-covered mountains while riding in the relatively flat Rhein valley. These romantic medieval towns were only three or four kilometers apart, so our progress was slowed as we toured each one. The highway always circumvented the towns t avoid their narrow cobblestone streets. Our bikes gave us a great advantage over the motorists since we could always ride through the towns by simply spotting the tallest church spire (usually at the town center) and heading in that general direction.
Most of the towns were completely intact from medieval times. We have all taken pictures of quaint places by making sure to cut a supermarket or apartment building out of the photo frame, but in these perfectly preserved towns you could turn 360° and snap photos. There was very little destruction during the last wars since Alsace simply capitulated to whomever arrived first—invariably the Germans.
As you would suspect, there were plenty of tourists. The roads were fairly heavily traveled, but the French drivers were extremely courteous, steering a wide arc around us even if they had to pull out into the oncoming traffic lane. Sally and I figured that the French drivers didn’t want to risk knock off a future Tour du France hero, since most of the bikers with whom we shared the road were not touring but rather race training.
One day toward evening, anticipating a hot shower, we realized that there were no hotel rooms available in the beautifully preserved town of Ribeauville. Panicky tourists were rushing in and out of each hotel, guesthouse, and pension the town. It was simple for us. We would ride up to a hotel, Sally would hold my bike, I would poke my head in the door and ask simply “Complet?” (French for full). The proprietor would answer, “Oui,” and we would go on to the next one.
The race for shelter was on as we rode to the next town, Riquewihr, which was even more picturesque than Ribeauville. The motorists zoomed around us and we could see that the hotels outside the town were full since the tourists would pull up to the hotel, run inside, immediately run out and speed off.
As darkness fell, we pushed straight into town on the little narrow roads. Since cars were not permitted into the city center, the first hotel at which we inquired still had two rooms available. Now, however, we became overconfident. Sally stationed herself at this hotel to protect our potential room while I cased the rest of the town for a possible better deal. I could find no other available room so I quickly returned. Sally said that there had been no other customers in the meantime. However, the proprietor, recognizing what I had been doing, now declared that one of the rooms had been taken, so that the only room available had no shower…not even down the hall.
We had to take it and we did. She was punishing us for attempting to find another room. The French are master politicians in world affairs and in everyday life. Applying your basic power politics, she managed to not only put us in her least desirable room, but also forced us to agree to eat both dinner and breakfast in the hotel dining room.
The room rates in France are strictly government controlled so that you are never really ripped off. If rooms are in great demand, however, the proprietor may require you to have meals there. This was seldom a problem, but the continental breakfast was usually overpriced.
We washed rather well in our wash basin and descended to the dining room. Our meal was excellent. Actually, the worst meal we had in France could still be described as “very good,” but the food was usually “excellent.”
We spent the majority of the time on this bike trip in France, so “how did you find the French?” was a legitimate question put to us upon our return. Sally had spent time in France previously and she could have answered cryptically: “We didn’t.”
Except for waiters, store clerks, and innkeepers, our contact with the French people on a personal level was minimal. There was the French farmer in a small town in Lorraine who invited us into his house, gave us a tour of his house and attached barn and offered us refreshments. And there was the couple in Soultz in Alsace who owned the hotel, but they seemed more German than French, just like Alsace itself often did.
And then there was Luigi—the bartender. We approached him in a small bistro in Besancon, just south of Alsace, and asked for “2 bieres, s’il vous plait.” I thought I had perfected this line, but Luigi shot back at me, “I suppose you want two Budweisers.”
You’d have to call him French. He had not left France for 20 years, was married for 25 years to a French girl, and his son for whom he was working that night spoke only French. Luigi, as his name would imply, was of Italian extraction, but had grown up in England. He was an orphan during World War II, lived by his wits on the London streets, and at night slept in the Victoria Train Station.
Sally and I took turns peppering Luigi with questions. He recommended and took us to a small restaurant around the corner, introduced us to the owners, helped us order the specialties of the region, and joined us for dinner. We mentioned our lack of contact with the French and Luigi commented, “The French are not mixers. They prefer cafes in which to see and be seen rather than pubs to discuss the events of the day with both friends and strangers.”
The meal was excellent as usual, and Luigi then mapped out our following days. “You must go to Arbois and stay at the Hotel du Paris which has the best country restaurant in the region—three starts. Go to Beaune and then finally to Dijon.”
Our trip was developing into a tour of France. The bicycling was enjoyable and served the dual purpose of burning off the calories we consumed in the restaurants, the bakeries, and right off the trees.
Each night we would find a restaurant emblazoned with the necessary emblems of merit that could satisfy our biker’s hunger with local specialties and local wine. Each day, as we made our way from Strasbourg to Dijon, we would choose between the breads and pastries of the small bakeries (every town, no matter how small, had its own bakery) or the fruits of the season.
Along the rural routes, the mirabelles and plums were ripe on the trees. Mirabelles looked and tasted like cherries, so we would stop any time we spotted an especially luscious harvest hanging on a tree and pick and eat our fill.
Although there were plenty of bicyclists on the roads, they were either local shoppers transporting their groceries in their big front baskets or racers who swooshed past us during their workouts. The bicycle tourists we encountered were neither French nor German.
In Beaune, we met two English bicycle tourists and started comparing notes. We enthusiastically described the “Route du Vin” through Alsace to them. Reflecting upon their tour of central France, they had decided to call it the Route de la Peche” (Peach Route) based upon their huge consumption of the local fresh fruit.
We also met Ellen and Irv Rothschild of Cleveland in Beaune. We were staying at the same hotel and spotted each other’s bikes, so we sought each other out. Irv was a retired professor from Western Reserve Medical School who was the most enthusiastic bicycle traveler I have ever encountered. If he and Ellen weren’t touring, Irv was either writing about his trips or tearing apart his bike in his basement. He is considering writing a book entitled “The Joys of Bicycling.” He captured me in the garage of the hotel to show me more than I wanted to know about his bike’s mechanics. As my attention span was being tested, his instincts as a teacher led him to tap the part he was instructing me about and say, “Now pay attention here.” I know that we would read with relish a book entitled, “The Joys of Bicycling” by such an enthusiastic, interesting, and experienced author.
Over dinner, he allowed us to express our feelings about the joys of bike touring. We told him we loved to travel and we like to be physically active. We felt encapsulated in a car zooming from one city center to another. The genuine folks are most likely in the countryside and villages. We especially love our encounters with these people and these encounters seem easier when on a bicycle. It seems to us that people are more open since even a stranger on a bicycle obviously presents no risk to them. The bicycler shows a real interest and commitment to their area just by being there rather than only passing through. Irv and Ellen understood.
In Kaisersberg, we met a 70 year old retired Swedish airline pilot who was meandering through Europe on an ancient one-speed bike. He said that after a career of flying over Europe at 30,000 feet, he was just poking around little streets in tiny villages, which previously were but dots on the landscape.
While still in Alsace, Sally and I attempted a shortcut to find ourselves up the side of a mountain on a dirt track running through the vineyards. As we pushed our bikes up the final steep grade of a hill, we spotted a couple in folding chairs having a picnic of bread, cheese, and wine. They had come by car and I cold see Great Britain license plates, so instead of greeting them, I simply said, “Every time I find myself in the most obscure corner of the world, I invariably run into a bloody Englishman.” This couple then went on to regale us with stories of their past bike tours throughout all of Europe. It was obvious that their preference was biking, even though they had driven this time.
After Following Luigi’s tour through Beaune and Arbois, we rode into Dijon. On impulse, we rode directly to the train station and discovered that a train was leaving shortly for Metz and that they would allow us to take our bikes onto the train. This quick trip would position us to ride down the Moselle River to the Rhein and then up the Rhein back to Frankfurt. So we left Dijon, a reputedly interesting and attractive city, after a most superficial look and headed for Metz, a supposedly less notable city in the north.
When we arrive in a new area, we usually starte at the tourist information office if there is one. Some of the information people, after a hectic summer of answering the same questions over and over, had obviously run out of patience. However, in Metz where the tourist traffic is relatively thin, M. Cleven, the elderly director of the Metz Tourist Office, gave special attention to our concerns as bicyclists instead of giving us the usual curt answers.
He reassured us that there were bike paths almost all the way up and down both rivers. He gave us maps and information galore and guided us to Sierck les Bains, the last French town on the Moselle. We had excess French francs and wanted to spend one last night in France before following the Moselle into Germany. He assured us that there was a nice hotel and restaurant in Sierck les Bains.
We saw the hotel on the river as we descended a sweeping hill into the center of town, but it was closed for two weeks because the owners were on vacation. We rode through the small town and found the recommended restaurant where we made reservations for later.
Since we didn’t have any guidebooks, we had become experts at picking hotels and restaurants in both Germany and France from their outside appearance. Each establishment wore emblems of recommendation like a soldier would wear his medals. We especially looked for the Swiss and German Touring Club emblems on hotels and Hatchett Guide emblem or just the sheer number of any emblems on a restaurant.
After some inquiries, we learned that there were rooms across from the train station. We had little choice. It was a pit but with a correspondingly low price: 50 francs ($6). We would still have 550 francs in cash ($66) after paying for the room. As it turned out, the recommended restaurant was very elegant with lots of tuxedos and fabulous food. Our bill exceeded our cash, and I had to put the surplus amount due on a credit card. Sally said, as we waddled away, that this must truly indicate something about our values when we spend 12 times as much on dinner as we did on our hotel! She was right.
Whereas the contrast between Germany and France was vague in crossing into Alsace, it was very sharp as we traveled down the Moselle. There was an abrupt change in architecture, food, attitude, and style.
The traffic was heavy, but as before in Germany, we found bike paths which ran along the Moselle and the Rhein. Again, we were surrounded by vineyards cascading down the hillsides as we pedaled through medieval towns full of tourists. Occasionally survival became paramount as we were forced to share the road with the fast moving traffic streaming along the riverside.
The last night we stayed in Weisbaden which left us with a 40 mile trip the next morning to the Frankfurt Airport where we knew showers were available. On reaching the center of Weisbaden, the sound of loud rock music was blaring from the boom boxes of American GIs. There are many U. S. army bases in this area also. At our hotel we met the proprietors, Horst and Anna, who had recently returned from a vacation in France. We swapped stories about the meals we had feasted on, the bakeries we had overindulged in, and the fresh fruits of the season that we had devoured. We said that France is the best place in the world to be hungry.
The German couple confided that they had spent a leisurely time sailing a powerboat through the rivers and canals of France. Anna, a trim woman of 35, confessed that she gained five pounds on the trip. Horst, more portly, sheepishly admitted to putting on 20 pounds on their two week trip. The ultimate reason for traveling by bicycle in France is to avoid doing this!
At the Frankfurt Airport, we met a couple from Sheboygan, Wisconsin who assured us that we would not only survive but enjoy the bike trip they had taken down to Munich from Frankfurt, primarily because of the network of bike paths. This report rekindled the debate about where we would bike when we return to Europe. On the plane, Sally and I reviewed the positive and negative points of biking in France and Germany. The arguments for each place really hadn’t changed. Ultimately, we will probably head for France. The deciding factor is the French cuisine.
For What It’s Worth
The French Grocery stores have quality food that is better than we in the US can buy in a fine Bakery or speciality meat or fish market and it’s the best bargin in France.