France On Two Wheels
The Perfect Way To Enjoy Rural France
With the launch of our competition to win a copy of Adam Ruck's France on Two Wheels we asked the author to tell us a bit about how the book came about and what he loves about cycling in rural France.
Guest Post by Adam Ruck 17th April 2013
Many travel books start as a publishing or fundraising idea, and most travel articles start as that ghastly word, an angle. Others develop from a real holiday or journey, and my book, France on Two Wheels, falls in that category.
A friend rang me to say he was looking for someone to keep him company on a bike ride to or from his holiday home in western Switzerland. I worked out that cycling to or from Switzerland would mean cycling through France, and accepted. We agreed we would not do lycra, cycling shoes, sponsorship, main roads or big towns. We would not deny ourselves wine with lunch, and if we felt like dismounting to push the bike up a steep hill, we would.
Drawing a straight line from Lake Geneva to the nearest ferry port at Caen took us over the Jura to Arbois, through Burgundy to the Loire south of Orleans, and northwards from there to Chartres, the Normandy Beaches and home. This is a mouth watering itinerary, with wine tasting in Arbois and Burgundy, favourite monuments like the pilgrimage church at Vezelay and the cathedral at Chartres, and a succession of rivers to swim in and beautiful landscapes to cycle through.
When I wrote an article about the ride so many people said ‘what a lovely thing to do,’ that I hatched the idea of a book of French bike rides. Instead of choosing a favourite region to explore on a bike - Loire Chateau country, the Burgundy canals, or the Dordogne - I wanted my rides to be journeys with some geographic, historical or practical logic: from Paris to Provence; down the Loire from its source to the sea (at 1000km+, this took us two trips); along one of the medieval pilgrimage routes towards Compostela; a descent (or so we imagined) from the top of the Massif Central to the Atlantic, following sections of the Tarn and the Lot. Getting from A to B gives a satisfying sense of travel, and variety: I like the changes of countryside, cheese and wine.
We find straight roads through flat country soon become boring. We like the fact that cycling gives us exercise and counteracts the effect of the eating and drinking we enjoy so much. But we cycle to see things, not for sport, and mountains are a challenge we are content to decline. For us, rural France is perfect. Not too flat, not too steep; neither too hot nor too cold, and almost never dull. Vineyards, country churches, battlefields, painted caves, local museums ..... excuses to dismount crop up all the time.
Perhaps we and our book could be accused of falling between stools. I thought I was writing a guide book of practical value, but book shops stock it in the Travel Writing section. I have included hotel recommendations at shorter intervals for the benefit of cyclists who want to travel at a more leisurely pace than we did. But to the leisure cyclist, a 500 mile bike ride may sound a bit much. To the two-wheeled athlete, 60 miles a day is chicken feed. He may look at the book, notice no mountain passes, no gradient charts, no technical clothing and no mention of gearing ratios .... and put it back on the shelf.
All I can say is, this is not a cycling book, but a celebration of the delights of the old-fashioned French touring holiday, as traditionally undertaken in a car, bowling along empty country roads, enjoying good food and wine in family-run hotels, and a little light sightseeing between meals. The book is written in the form of a narrative, with little essays on things I find interesting, boxed-out so that readers who do not share my interest can skip them.
Some people derive satisfaction from making their own arrangements; or do not trust others to make them. We are two such people. One of the reasons we enjoyed our bike rides so much is that we were drawing our own lines across France. When we came upon dedicated cycling trails, as we often did because France has a growing number of them, we did not follow them with much enthusiasm. Basically, we were happier pottering along normal back roads in the old-fashioned way.
A cycling holiday ought not to be complicated. The enforced simplicity of the activity is what we enjoy as much as anything, and the idea of jumping on the bike on the spur of the moment, heading for France and riding south has great romantic appeal. But it is not practical. If you are using the train to get to the start and/or back from the finish of the ride, and you are at all price sensitive, you need to book tickets months in advance; and if you are travelling long distances on fast trains, transporting the bicycle is not as straightforward as it might be.
Then, if you take the view, as we do, that a good dinner/B&B (however you define it) is a key part of the pleasure of travelling in France, that takes planning and needs reserving. If it ever was true (as I doubt) that every French village of substance had a reliably good hotel-restaurant, it certainly is not true now.
Having spent long periods exploring France and inspecting hotels on guide book research - for Which? and the AA - I was confident I could plot good itineraries and punctuate them with an original selection of mid-priced hotels (interrupted by a few extravagant treats) that would be a key ingredient of the book’s appeal. I’m not sure this part of my plan has worked, because I have described the hotels as we came to them, in the narrative, rather than in a separate gazetteer at the end of the book. So it does not look like a user-friendly hotel guide.
Be that as it may, I hope the book will be a good companion for anyone who enjoys exploring France, by bike or in a car.
Book published by Short Books @ £8.99
High Point Holidays organises 3 road cycling holidays in France available from April to October. So if the idea of organising your own routes and accommodation seems too daunting, let us take the strain. Our holidays include bike hire, full cycling notes and maps, luggage transfer between guest houses and all accommodation.
Click here to enter our Competition to win one of 3 copies of Adam Ruck's France on Two Wheels
"For us, rural France is perfect. Not too flat, not too steep; neither too hot nor too cold, and almost never dull. Vineyards, country churches, battlefields, painted caves, local museums ...... excuses to dismount crop up all the time."
"this is ..... a celebration of the delights of the old-fashioned French touring holiday, as traditionally undertaken in a car, bowling along empty country roads, enjoying good food and wine in family-run hotels, and a little light sightseeing between meals."
"A cycling holiday ought not to be complicated. The enforced simplicity of the activity is what we enjoy as much as anything"
"a good dinner/B&B (however you define it) is a key part of the pleasure of travelling in France"
"the idea of jumping on the bike on the spur of the moment, heading for France and riding south has great romantic appeal. But it is not practical."