Bicycle Touring in France

The roads in the Paris area are often wet and slippery, and have irregular surfaces (cobblestones, speed bumps, poor pavement). I wanted a bike with better traction and braking power than my road racing bike—a bike that I could also use for touring. In January, I bought a mountain bike. I was not planning to ride off-road, so I put on Panaracer Pasela Compe non-knobby tires, and added a luggage rack for saddlebags.

France’s network of small roads and frequent hotels make it a good country for hotel-type cycletouring.

Note to Americans: these hotels are not luxurious. Often, the entrance is through the bar. There is usually a sink (lavabo) in the room, but there may not be toilets or showers—in this case, there will be common facilities for several rooms. Soap and shampoo are not provided, so always carry your own. Hotels usually have a restaurant. Do not expect the hotel keepers to speak or understand English.

In early May, I toured the Var department in southeast France, then in June, did a tour of the Hautes Alpes and Gorges du Verdon. My French bicycling partner, Charly, designed the itineraries for both trips. He provided maps with the roads highlighted, names and information for hotels, and descriptions of the scenery and places to visit en route. He also loaned me his old saddlebags. Charly’s reason for living is to ride mountains, so any itinerary he plans has lots of climbing. The ones he made for me were no exception.

These trips were the first time I had done this type of bicycling—riding with saddlebags, staying at hotels. I had to get used to the differences between this style of riding and the style that I had always done—training for racing or fast touring.

Racing/fast touring


In order for the kilometers to be “official” for my club, both these trips were classified as FFCT Voyages Itinerants. Every day of the trip, I had to get the Voyage Itinerant card stamped at any place of business that I passed en route.

Both trips were point-to point. I took the train from Paris to the departure town, rode the stages, and returned to Paris from a different town.

The Var
The Hautes Alpes and the Gorges du Verdon(mostly photos)

Return to Bicycling à la Française

Barbara Leonard