Travellers’ tales: From the Med to la Manche

A loaded touring bike is leaning against a pole on a gravel path on a mountain
Rob Hopkins’s bike on Mont Ventoux: almost there!
Cycling UK member Rob Hopkins and his friend John cycled end-to-end across France from St Raphael to St Malo

To celebrate our 60th birthdays, my friend John and I decided to cycle across France. Another friend had recommended the St Malo to Nice route, so we bought the book, France en Velo, downloaded the GPX files, and tore some pages from a Michelin road atlas as a backup.

We decided to ride the route in reverse. We sent our bikes to our hotel in St Raphael on the Mediterranean, using a courier called SendBike, then followed by train. We started in St Raphael instead of Nice as the Grand Prix coincided with our start day.

The plan was to do the ride in 14 days with no rest days – a risk if we had problems. We travelled light, with a saddlebag and handlebar bag rather than panniers. This made it easier to average 120km (80 miles) each day. With a 7am start each morning, we usually reached our destination mid-afternoon.

The early starts were well worth doing. We’d grab coffees and pastries after a couple of hours and get a good mileage in before the heat built. It was surprisingly cool first thing even in the south, although by lunchtime it was usually around 30ºC.

The real pleasure of the ride was the peaceful and beautiful countryside – mountainous in the south, with many gorgeous villages, and gently rolling hills further north. My favourite town was Vaison-la-Romaine, which has medieval streets and Roman remains. It’s a little off the France en Velo route as we’d detoured to cycle up the magnificent Mont Ventoux.

It was a joy to hear birdsong throughout the journey. We heard nightingales (which also sing during the day), golden orioles, turtle doves, bee-eaters and more. Roadside verges were covered with wildflowers.

We arrived at St Malo at 4pm on our planned final day, having had no mechanical problems or bad weather. That left time for a wonderful swim, followed by mussels and chips, a comfy hotel, and ferry home early the next morning.