Category Archives: France

Skedaddle Twaddle about our holidays in France

Customer Story: St Malo to Nice

Our Channel to Med odyssey through France  sees us cycling from St Malo in Brittany and only stops when we reach Nice on the French Riviera. It’s a 1,000 mile journey that is incredibly popular with many Skedaddlers and is truly a ride of a lifetime! This year, Teresa joined us on this amazing cycling tour that showcases the best of France. Keep reading to find out how she got on…

‘Like many cyclists this June, we have been marvelling at the determination and stamina of the riders tackling this year’s Tour de France.  Despite being twice the age of most of the professionals and certainly not athletes (one of us hadn’t ridden a road bike for over 30 years), we are still celebrating the recent completion of our very own tour, a Skedaddle-style French end-to-end journey, from St Malo to Nice on a route taking in some of the best scenery this cycle-friendly nation has to offer.

Meeting our fellow tourers for the first evening in St Malo we wondered what we were in for but the storm which greeted our arrival had abated the next morning, the sun was shining for le Grand Depart and it continued to do so for the next one thousand miles. 

Our days settled into a comfortable routine of early breakfast croissants followed by a short briefing on the route and other important matters of the day – namely the locations of the café stop and the famous Skedaddle picnic lunch – and then we were off, confident that the Garmins provided would get us safely to our destination.  With individual satnavs we were free to cycle at our own pace and our company of 14 divided naturally into two halves – the breakaway group disappearing rapidly into the distance and a peleton comprising those of us happier to travel at a more leisurely rate with halts to admire the view, to take photos and breath, even to take pre-café stop refreshment (we’ll have worked it off in a mile or two). It’s all about pacing and the anticipation of what might lie ahead be it view around the next corner, prospect of lunch or welcoming beer/shower/nap at the end of the day, drew us on each day to our roost for the night in a comfortable hotel each with its own quirk or character typical of its region.

The straight roads, gentle gradients and farms of northern France gave way to the vineyards and elegant estates of the Loire valley, then seamlessly on to the hills and pretty medieval towns of the Dordogne.

A day’s rest in Sarlat gave us time not only to catch up on the laundry but also to reflect on how far we had already come and how manageable it had seemed despite our initial collywobbles.  From here on, as we headed into the hills and gorges of the Grand Massif, the scenery just got better and better and stunning views amply rewarded those “slight adjustments in altitude” which were required to appreciate them.  Colours of purple and yellow in villages anticipating the Tour riders were reflected in fields of lavender and early sunflowers, but photos can’t convey the sounds of the bees and cicadas or the scent of the lavender and pines as we moved ever onward into the sun. 

There were visual highlights on every day of this trip but so much enjoyment came also from being immersed in everyday rural France away from the main tourist trails; from the camaraderie of fellow riders and our guides who became friends; and the joyous sense of achievement in pedalling every inch from the Channel to the Mediterranean.  We may not have won the maillot jaune, but I’ll wear my Skedaddle jersey with pride – and those evenings spent sharing meals and conversations about past cycling experiences have already inspired us to book the next Skedaddle adventure…

Feeling inspired? Teresa and Adam joined us on our 1,000 mile Iconic Journey through France,  St Malo to Nice.

Customer Story: Grumpy Guide to the Loire Valley

Regular Skedaddler (and amazing photographer) David Bentley and his lovely wife Leila this time set their sights (and wheels) on the land of fairy tale castles, royal residences and incredible Renaissance architecture – the famed Loire Valley, one of our cycling holidays in France! To our delight he came back with stunning photos to show off his journey and a few curious insights to share too…

Cher and Sleeping Beauty
‘Getting out of Tours was easy enough but took a bit of time until we finally emerged into the countryside and reached the River Cher. I was disappointed to find out that it wasn’t named after the famous singer but this didn’t stop me humming ‘I’ve got you babe’ as we cycled along. Appropriately it did turn sunny (or Sonny for those Cher aficionados) a few minutes later.

By the time we arrived at our first stop at the Château de Villandry I was on to ‘If I could turn back time’ which received some funny looks as we wandered round the famed gardens. The surroundings were indeed spectacular although the pictures probably won’t do them justice.

Ten miles further on was the Chateau d’Usse known as ‘Sleeping Beauty’ castle. By now I was merrily humming the ‘Shoop Shoop Song’ which I thought was appropriate for the occasion. I couldn’t work out why Prince Charming made such a fuss of getting into the place though as there’s a bloomin’ great road straight up to the front door. He’s probably just a cheapskate and cut though the dense dark woods at the back just to avoid paying the entrance fee. Sleeping Beauty had obviously woken up and gone shopping or something as there was no sign of her, nor Prince Charming for that matter, but even without them to show us round the Chateau was well worth a visit.

Degustation and the Chaser Sisters
Today found us pedalling along the banks of the River Vienne for a circular ride culminating in a visit to Fontevraud Abbey. After a completely flat day yesterday we met our first hill which was a bit of a shock to the system for a short climb up the side of the valley to be greeted by rolling vineyards for as far as the eye could see. I am reliably informed it is considered extremely rude not to stop for a tasting or ‘degustation’ of the local produce. So reluctantly we complied at a couple of wineries on the way. You get to try 3 or 4 different varieties of vino at each stop with the anticipation that you may purchase a box or two (although when they saw our mode of transport they didn’t look very hopeful).

The Abbey of Fontevraud is an impressive world heritage site where Henry II (King of England), his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their son, Richard the Lionheart were all buried. It was disestablished at the time of the French Revolution and became a prison right up to 1963.

One of the most interesting information boards listed the hierarchy of the monastic community with the various roles each sister played. The ‘Portress’ (receiver of messages) and the ‘Doorkeeper’ (holder of keys) both seemed to have fairly easy lives, whilst the ‘Chaser Sisters’ would come in really useful in our household in their role to “chase up the idle, the chatterers and the dozers” Noticeable by their absence however were the ‘Pointer Sisters’ (who could give directions), the ‘Scissor Sisters’ (obviously hair cutting) and ‘Sister Sledge’ (who could organise winter sports activities).

Gateaux by the Chateau and Lycra Envy
Once in Azay-le-Rideau, with our bags still not due to arrive to the hotel for a few hours, we wandered over to the chateau for another immersion into the French Renaissance. One disconcerting thing you notice as a cyclist walking round historic houses is that almost everyone looks you up and down and then says something quietly to their partner. I hoped they might be thinking how good I looked in Lycra with my herculean toned body, but then again maybe not.

The chateau itself was probably my favourite of all those we visited and a photographer’s dream. Especially good is that they open the grounds at 10pm in the summer months free of charge so you can see the chateau lit up in all its glory.

Infidelity and a baguette
With blue skies promised all day we decided on a picnic and acquired the various provisions at a local market on the way. Indeed it is a little known fact that Napoleon invented the baguette so that it would fit in the back pocket of a cycle jersey for that very purpose.

Chenonceau is spectacular and was gifted by Henry II (the French one) to his mistress Diane de Poitiers who lived there for 12 years and created a formal garden. It is alleged that when receiving guests Henry would sit on Diane’s lap, play the guitar and chat about politics all in front of his own wife Catherine de Medicis. On Henry’s death unsurprisingly Catherine evicted Diane and claimed Chenonceau for her own, creating her own formal garden in the process and no doubt gleefully dancing on all the plants in Diane’s

Chambord and a light show
With a couple of potential chateaus on the way we decided to miss the first so that we could concentrate a lot of time visiting Chambord the largest and most flamboyant chateau in the region. Built originally as a hunting lodge it’s totally over the top, with a small matter of 440 rooms and 84 staircases all surrounded by a 13,000‑acre wooded park enclosed by 20‑mile wall. The cost of upkeep was so great that for a good proportion of its history it was left abandoned as no one was prepared to take it on.

Much of the building fabric however has now been restored and a few of the rooms filled with furniture to provide a glimpse of its glory years. In addition some of the building’s upper floors have been devoted to more modern art exhibitions. It really is worth a good wander round.

Blois Castle is noted for its summer light shows which start around 10.30pm. After a tiring day I must admit sleep was beckoning, but in the end sitting on the hard courtyard helped us stay awake and the spectacle was indeed very much worth the discomfort.

An unscheduled stop and Chris Froome
One of the first villages you pass by is Chaurmont with its own Chateau. We decided just to have a quick look, but ended up spending four hours! The chateau is fascinating on its own, but combined with the gardens which host an international festival each year we were really glad we’d dropped in.

After a couple of hours cycling we came across a village fete and stopped for a few minutes rest and refreshment. Without any hesitation the local master of ceremonies complete with roving microphone made a beeline straight for us. Now my French is virtually non existent, my wife on the other hand is reasonably fluent so she ended up being interviewed in front of the whole village. By the end we were local celebrities, everyone knew where we were from and our full itinerary for the holiday, I was told later we’d also got an invite for dinner, another ‘degustation’ at the local vineyard, and gained marriage proposals for our two daughters.

While all this was going on I had various locals come up to shake my hand and wish me well. One in particular emerged from the beer tent to shout “Anglaise, Anglaise, Chris Froome, Chris Froome” putting his thumbs up and dancing about. He took pleasure in examining my hire bike making various approving metering before patting me on the back shouting “Chris Froome” once more for good luck and making his way back into the tent.

Final thoughts…
Was it only 6 days ago that we started out from the very same place? It seemed that we had done so much. The problem with this holiday is not what to see, it’s more what to leave out. There is just so much to do in this region that you could do it all over again and visit completely different things.

One of the best things about a cycle holiday is that there always seems to be a sense of achievement when you’ve completed it. You are often a little bit tired at the finish but this is the first time that we can say we were well and truly Chateau’d!’

David is our August Customer Competition winner! Check out previous winning stories from our customers and learn how you can share your cycling holiday experience with us too for a chance to win vouchers for your next trip.

Take the scenic road with Skedaddle

For those who enjoy soaking up the stunning sights en route, the journey is often less about the amount of cols you can tick off and more about the amazing landscapes you’ll explore from the saddle. Sound like your kind of riding? Take a look at our top 3 vista-tastic road routes below…

1. Trip: Ardeche to Carcassonne Where: France
We say: A beautiful region of France that promises to provide ‘wow factor’ scenery. En route you’ll spy the famous Pont d’Arc, a naturally occurring stone bridge, as well as plenty of lush pine forests and grand chateaux. If that isn’t enough we also have an epic 33-mile ride through the breathtaking Gorges du Tam.

2. Trip: Sardinia Coastal Explorer | Where: Italy
We say: Sardinia is a cyclist’s paradise, with few cars and excellent quality tarmac. An expanse of blue Mediterranean water is a regular companion on this ride and along the way you’ll see many stunning coastal features, from dramatic rocky cliffs to the island’s characteristic unspoilt, white sandy beaches.

3. Trip: Road to Ronda | Where: Spain 
We say: With your accommodation for the week based in the beautiful, old Spanish town of Ronda (notibly one of the oldest in the country) you are perfectly placed to explore the impressive surrounding region. You can expect dramatic limestone landscapes, endless olive groves and plenty of panoramic vistas atop the passes you’ll conquer.