Tag Archives: cycling in france

9 things you’ll only understand if you’ve been cycling in France…

In the spiritual home of cycling, its glories are always celebrated! If you need more convincing on why France is the perfect destination for your next cycling holiday, we asked our guide and cycling journalist Hannah Reynolds to talk about her 9 favourite things about cycling in France…

After a season of working in France leading holidays for Skedaddle  there are a few things that I am really looking forward to enjoying again this season…

1. Bread
French bread is bread as it should be. Warm and fluffy on the inside with a tooth challenging exterior. On its own it fills your mouth with just the right salty, chewy sensations but when smeared with rich, creamy butter it becomes one of the best foods in the world. I could live on bread and butter, if the bread comes from a village ‘boulangerie’ and the butter is from Normandy, thick with crunchy salt crystals.

2. Wine is food
Every meal is accompanied by wine, not necessarily more than a small glass, but an indispensable part of every meal. It’s not treated as a luxury but is appreciated by everyone. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just a ‘pichet’ or carafe of the local wine will enhance the taste of every other dish on the table. No one is drinking to be drunk, wine is there to quench thirst, add contrasting flavours to the meal and in a daily celebration. Enjoying a glass of wine is part of the joie de vivre. Why deny yourself? When in France I drink more often, but less in total, and the enjoyment is all the greater for that.

3. Cycling is respected
If you ever get sick of your friends mocking your Lycra, or of car driver’s close passes, or reading the Daily Mail’s hate fueled cycling comments then come to France. France is the spiritual home of cycling; here both the pneumatic tyre and the greatest bike race in the World were invented. Cyclists are greeted with respect, car drivers give you space on the roads and the stories of your day in the saddle are taken as seriously as if you were retelling the time you won a stage of the Tour de France. Cycling is taken seriously, its suffering understood, its glories celebrated.

4. Meal times are revered
Plastic sandwiches eaten over your keyboard or microwaved meals eaten out a plastic container have no place in France, or I think in any civilized lifestyle! When in France I realise the importance of making time to eat; not just to enjoy the food but to relax and enjoy the company of the people you are eating with. Everyone downs tools and stops for lunch. Road workers shrug off their overalls and office workers step out into the sunshine. Even simple meals are likely to have at least two courses and evening meals can stretch to three or more. Each dish is small but builds into a satisfying meal. Making a little ceremony of every meal doesn’t necessarily mean eating more, it means eating well. Taking time to really notice and enjoy flavours means you often end up eating less than when shoveling it down one handed whilst typing emails. Slower meal times are better for your health – and your digestion.

5. Sundays are sacred
On Sundays you will be greeted not with ‘bonjour’ but ‘bon dimanche’ – good Sunday. For other nationalities the absoluteness of Sunday closure comes as a bit of a shock. Getting a pint of milk after about 1pm is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Bakeries do a roaring trade in the mornings, sending their customers on their way with beautifully boxed patisseries tied up with ribbon, and florists stay open so you can buy flowers for your host on your way to Sunday lunch, but by lunchtime the streets are empty as everyone sits down to eat together. If all meal times are sacred then Sunday lunch is the most sacred of sacreds. The bonus for the cyclist is that for the majority of the day the roads are virtually deserted and peaceful. No one works so there are no trucks, no delivery vans and few people want to drive when they know there will be a well-chosen vintage to be enjoyed with their lunch. Once you learn to check the milk levels on a Saturday then Sundays become a day of relaxation to be embraced.

6. Tarmac is smooth
Anyone who has cycled in France will be familiar with the ‘route baree’ sign. It is impossible to do a long ride without coming across a closed road but the pay back of this minor inconvenience is that the majority of roads are pot-hole free with a beautiful smooth tarmac top. When there are road works they are a proper job, you can see the deep slice that gets taken out before being fully relayed.

7. Mountains
Britain is beautiful, no doubt about it. We have stunning coast lines, vast wild moorlands, ancient forest and remote hills. We even have mountains, but what I miss when I come home from cycling in France is the big mountains. Mountains that take hours to cycle up which, when you finally reach the top, allow you to gaze down on other mountains and view spiky snowy peaks in every direction. Just looking at mountainscapes raises my heart rate. Baking hot sun on your neck and sweat dripping off your nose onto your stem as you inch and haul your bike up a pedal stroke at a time.  Then, at the top, the glorious release of a swooping downhill, just the sound of your free-wheel and wind rushing past your ears as you and your bike flow sinuously around every curve. I miss mountains.

8. Space
France and the UK have a very similar population, but France is three times bigger than the UK. There’s more space, more rural areas, more quiet roads, more picturesque small villages, more wild uninhabited spaces. If you ever feel claustrophobic and that you can’t move for queues, and people and traffic jams then a cycling holiday in rural France will give you breathing space. Yes, of course there are busy cities but it is easier to get further away from the press of civilization in France than it is living in the UK.

9. Rules that are made to be broken
As an outsider my observation is that French people love to make rules, but they love to break them even more. Sometimes it feels like it’s a national form of entertainment, especially to watch others try and work out which of the rules are really rules and which can be ignored.

However, remember that it is the French who gave us the word etiquette and you are far less likely to see cultural rules ignored than those of petty bureaucracy and jobs-worths. The rule that will never be broken? Correct swim attire in pools. Gentleman you had better pack your budgie smugglers or there is no chance of a swim.

Feeling inspired? The best way to explore France from the mountains to the coastline and all of the countryside in between is on two wheels! Check out our full range of holidays in France to inspire your next visit.

The Beautiful Isle – The Secrets the Tour de France missed!

Skedaddle has been running trips to Corsica for years, way before the Tour de France decided to visit in 2013. Classic Road Cycling product manager David Hall tells us some of the secrets Le Tour missed.

When the Tour de France announced that the peloton would visit Corsica for the 100th edition of the great race, I wondered what had taken them so long. I first visited Corsica about 10 years before I worked for Skedaddle. I was on a cycling tour of the Hawaiian islands, sat in a guesthouse depressed about my imminent return to work and I picked up a copy of National Geographic and saw a picture of Corsica. I didn’t even know where it was then, but it looked beautiful and on the spot I decided it would be my next holiday.

I went there twice the following year with my touring bike and tent. When I joined Skedaddle it was the first overseas destination I worked on and with the experience I’d gained through my previous visits, it didn’t take long before we were able to create our first route with the help of our local team. I fell in love with the place and have been going back ever since.

Corsica remains one of our most popular destinations. For some reason, many people seem to come to Corsica as their first road cycling holiday and then progress to some of our more serious mountain tours, such as the Alps or Pyrenees. Over the last decade I’ve really got to know Corsica and not a small number of the Corsican people! It is a proud island and the turbulent history of invasions and the fight for independence have left the Corsicans keen to protect their identity.
The Corsican flag, the ubiquitous Moor’s Head, is prominent throughout, from coffee cups to car bumper stickers and there is a nationalist sentiment rooted in a deep love for the island. The local people are sometimes a little wary of outsiders wishing to exploit the island’s beauty and rich culture. Restaurants and grocery stores are bursting with local food and produce; Corsican wines and Corsican beer are the almost exclusive offering in many places.

Some stereotypical French traits are exaggerated here; depending on their mood the people can be incredibly indifferent, even stand-offish or they can be extremely welcoming and warm. And whilst Corsican people can be a little hard to crack at first, once you are welcomed in, the hospitality can be overwhelming. These days I’m greeted with open arms and hugs and kisses, in even some of the most remote corners of the island. There are times when Corsica feels like my second home.

Eating & Drinking

Corsican food is rustic and rural. Chestnuts feature heavily because of the vast forests in the interior. Cakes, liquors and even the local beers are made from them. The charcuterie has a distinctive taste because of the chestnuts eaten by the pigs which are left to roam wild in the countryside. Food is seasoned with the herbs of the local maquis, the aromatic shrubbery that covers most of the island, which has given Corsica its nickname “the scented isle”. Corsica has a great deal of livestock roaming freely. In some areas we need to take special care, particularly on blind bends! As well as the pigs, horses, goats, cattle, if you’re very lucky wild boar might be encountered – many of them feature frequently on local menus.

Things you shouldn’t miss when cycling in Corsica

A 35km climb though the magnificent Spelunca Gorge, from the seaside resort of Porto to the summit of the Col de Vergio (1477m above sea level).

MOST FUN DESCENT – The descent down from the highest climb goes through a narrower but no less beautiful gorge, the Scala di Santa Regina. ‘The most fun you can have with your pants on’.

COASTAL BEAUTY – Cap Corse, the “thumb” of Corsica, the northern cape, takes you past an ever-changing coastline, dotted with Genoese towers and is different to any other part of the island.

CHESTNUT FORESTS – La Castagniccia is a virtually unvisited region of the island. It is remote, unspoilt and very traditional with little traffic and is utterly fantastic.

THE GARDEN DESERT – The Desert des Agriates is another very sparsely populated region. Historically it used to be very fertile but quite inaccessible. Northern Corsicans would row their boats down the coast and scramble the cliff faces to farm the land. Over time this fertile area was over exploited and is now a deserted scrub landscape. Beautiful nevertheless and offering fantastic riding.

Skedaddle Runs two road cycling holidays based in Corsica – the Beautiful Isle and the slightly more challenging Southern Secrets trip as well as a more leisurely self guided holiday – click here for details. Our Grand Tour of the Med road cycling holiday also visits this amazing island.