Get the most out of a cycling trip to France

A man and a woman are cycling towards the camera on a quiet road in warm conditions
France remains a popular destination for British cyclists. Photo: Sarah Plant
France has much to offer the UK cyclist looking for a flight-free foreign trip. Cycling UK’s Jennifer Young talked to Sarah Plant, a British woman resident in France, about her top tips on how to make the most of the French cycling experience

If you’re planning an overseas cycling trip this year, there’s a good chance that France will be on your hit-list. Our nearest neighbour is perennially popular with British cyclists, and it’s not hard to see why. France offers quiet routes, varied scenery, favourable weather and excellent food, not to mention a culture where cycling is encouraged. So here is Sarah’s expert guide on how to enjoy ‘la vie en velo’.

1.  Choose the right time of year

At the top of Sarah’s list: it’s crucial to consider the best time of year to travel. France enjoys a temperate climate, even though there are significant differences between the north and south. The west of the country benefits from a mild Atlantic climate most of the year, while central and eastern regions have a continental climate with more marked seasonal differences. In the south, winters are mild and summers hot.

Sarah says: “You can enjoy good conditions for cycling in most areas from the start of April to the end of October, opening up a big window away from the more obvious holiday season. I suggest avoiding mid-July to mid-August when the French take their summer holidays and when the weather is usually at its hottest.”

2.  Fixed base or touring?

Next, work out which type of holiday you prefer: fixed base or touring. Do you like the idea of staying in one place and going on day rides? This allows the option of non-cycling days to explore or just enjoy café society. A fixed-base trip also means none of the hassle associated with carrying your luggage from place to place and no need to worry about making the destination on time.

On the other hand, you may be looking for more of an adventure and want to pack in as many different places and experiences as possible, or to challenge yourself on a long-distance ride. In which case, touring is for you.

3.  Accommodation matters

To get the most out of your holiday, Sarah advises researching your preferred routes and booking your accommodation well in advance, especially if you are touring. France offers a wide range of hotels, chambres d’hote (guest houses), youth hostels, B&Bs, Airbnbs or camp sites which cover all price points.

She says: “Make sure you are comparing like with like. Is breakfast included, for example, is there tourist tax to pay, is there somewhere safe to leave your bike overnight, do your hosts speak English (unless of course, you are fluent in French)?”

Facilities matter too: “Are you looking for a pool to laze around in your downtime? If you’re hiring a bike from your base, ask for a photo in advance, check what equipment is supplied, and make sure there’s someone available to do running repairs if needed.”

4.  Pace yourself

Practice makes perfect! Sarah says: “When you’ve decided on your destination, check out the distance you’ll be riding and do some practice rides at home to make sure you are fit enough to complete the routes. Consider the type of surface you will be riding on and the gradients involved too. It would be tragic if you ran out of energy halfway through your week away.”

5.  Get your packing right

This is most important for those moving from place to place overnight. Don’t forget that if you’re taking your own bike, you will have to consider how much you can travel with.

Sarah’s tips: “Make sure you take clothes that are simple to wash and dry, pop a few washing tablets in the pockets and pack a lightweight waterproof jacket, whatever the weather report tells you. Also make sure you pack a couple of bungees – they don’t take much space and often come in very useful!”

6.  Don’t forget the essentials

And on the theme of packing, it’s essential to take an easily portable first aid kit. Plasters, antiseptic cream and bandages are obvious items to include. Ensure a strip of painkillers and Imodium are in every kit too.

You may appreciate blister plasters and ibuprofen cream to rub away any stiffness or soreness after being in the saddle for prolonged periods of time.

7.  Check your passport!

It may seem obvious, but it’s surprising how many people suddenly discover their passport is out of date. Check the requirements for each country you are travelling through.

In France you must have six months’ validity from the date of expiry. The date of expiry is 10 years from the date of issue stated on your main passport page (except where the new passport was issued before the old one expired).

Sarah has witnessed this first hand: “Since Brexit, a lot of people have been caught out with this. If in any doubt, check – the local Post Office is a good source of accurate advice.”

8.  Insure yourself

At the same time, check your travel insurance and make sure it covers you when cycling. It can be very costly to get emergency treatment and, if the worst happens, you want to be sure you can get yourself, and your belongings, home. Remember that Cycling UK members save 15% on travel insurance with Yellow Jersey.

Sarah adds: “Make sure you carry your next of kin details in a handy purse or wallet, or with your phone. In an emergency, it’s very difficult to know who to contact, and you don’t want alarm bells rung to the wrong person! It’s also a good idea to note any medication you take, or any medical conditions, like diabetes, for example.”

9.  Be sun safe

Be prepared for the elements. Sarah says: “Bearing in mind you may be cycling in hot weather, make sure you have a good-quality insulated water bottle, rehydration tablets, a sun hat or cap, plenty of high protection sun creams and sunglasses. Remember, it’s just as easy to burn when it’s overcast or when rays from the sun reflect off water.”

10.  And finally: have a wonderful time in France!

Sarah Plant runs Le Moulin du Chemin, a chambre d’hote offering year-round fully inclusive cycling and walking holidays in Deux Sevres, between Poitiers and La Rochelle.

a field of sunflowers with a bike propped against an old building