Le meilleur endroit en Europe?
600 kms thru Provence (including a crack at Mt Ventoux) over two weeks in August 2005
August was the only time I could get away and it's not a great cycling time in France, (too hot, too many tourists and so-on) so, I took a commercial 'self-guided' tour which meant all I had to do was ride; accommodation and meals were pre-arranged and more importantly, my gear was taken from hotel to hotel for me
All-in-all a very easy way to tour
I have no hesitation in recommending Bruno @ Cyclomundo to arrange a 'self-guided' tour in France
Getting ready to go:
Maps: I used the Institut Geographique National Carte Departmentale D84 1:125, 000 map of Vaucluse and the tour operator provided excellent maps with the daily route clearly marked out and with reasonable additional written directions - even so, I still got a bit lost coming out of small towns a couple of times
Visa: I didn't need a visa, some folks do tho and the French Ministry for Foriegn Affairs has a nice website where you can find out whether or not you need a visa
B/trike: Said it before, but I'll say it again: bikes and planes don't always mix well
I flew Air France - not bad - and they were a bit concerned with the weight of the trike in its nice hard case. I ended up paying excess baggage both to and from Paris. Ouch!
I used a hard case from BikePro USA because to get from Paris airport to the south of France I was using the train and bikes on trains are just marginally less hassle than bikes on planes. I couldn't take the trike on the TGV and the Sernam rail freight forwarders won't take trikes either so I had to make the trike look like just another piece of luggage. It worked
If you'd rather not hassle with getting your bike onto a train or plane why not hire a nice tricycle couché when you get to la belle France?
Jean-Jacques Courree of Le Barjonaute has nice ICE (sorry!) trikes available to rent in the south of France
Vaccinations: I didn't bother
Once you're there:
I spent a few days just being a tourist in Avignon - it was as fabulous as you would expect - to acclimatise to the time-zone, the food, the water and to life in general... and I had absolutely no difficulty with uppity locals even tho my French language skills are best described as crap
Accommodation: My hotels had all been pre-arranged by the tour operator and they were all very good - even if I did get a thorough mauling in one very upmarket establishment from fleas left behind by a previous canine guest. On the upside, all the hoteliers were really helpful and secure bike parking was offered even in the smallest of places
Food: Ahhhhhhhhh, the food! Fond memories: lots of rabbit, duck and fish on offer and for those times when a good feed of carbs is needed, plenty of pizza type joints. As this area is home to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Tavel, for example, finding a good wine to wash down the good food is very easy (and believe it or not, not that expensive)
Plenty of small shops and markets along the way, and for those times when you just want to watch the world go by, plenty of cafes for coffee and a snack (or a nice cold beer)
Money: Being a tourist destination, credit cards rule. Everything, well, almost everything, is available by credit card and for those things that aren't, there are heaps of ATMs
Roads: French roads were mostly well paved and often there were nice clearly marked bike lanes and where there weren't bike lanes there were nice verges. Of course out in the backblocks the roads are more like those in Oz - a collection of patches and pot-holes
Traffic: Roads are mostly very good; traffic - amazingly - good
In towns the traffic was often heavy, but then again, there were bike lanes almost everywhere and where they didn't exist, traffic was always manageable. Compared to Sydney drivers, French drivers were a dream come true; patient, courteous and inevitably friendly
Outside the towns where there were no bike lanes drivers seemed accustomed to sharing the road and would simply wait until an appropriate space opened up before overtaking. At intersections and on round abouts more than one driver ceded right of way with a smile and a wave even tho they had precedence
The bits that weren't so good? The climbs! Some of the ascents were murderous, and the professionals make it look so easy. Then again, maybe if I took drugs like some of them...
The most frequently asked questions:
By folk outside Francea: Where did you stay? Where did you eat? etc etc etc
There's not really one most frequently asked question, it seems everyone loves France as a tourist destination and everyone seems to be looking for recommendations
By folk inside France: Is it easy to ride a bike like that?
As always, the trike was an instant ice-breaker and despite my appalling French I had a lot of lovely chats with a diverse range of people about the trike. Trying to explaining planetary gears is hard enough in English, you don't want to even think about trying it in another language...