bicycle touring france

The Pedalshift Project 129: Bicycle touring France

Bonjour from France! Although I’m in Paris for a non-bike touring related work trip, being in the City of Light has me thinking about a future trip out here with my bike. On this episode, we cover all things bike touring France… tips on camping, traveling, handling language differences, and much more.

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Katy Trail Tour Journal Video Series

Bonjour! Bicycle touring France

I have *not* toured in France yet, but I’ve done a fair amount of research on it… so much of this pod is about a brain dump of things I discover and eventually test out, but I want to be upfront that I’m going on a lot of other people’s experience on this.
 
I have done a lot of traveling and hitting campsites on one trip in the south of France a bunch of years ago, so I definitely have some insight on the larger culture and some tips from that experience.
 
My biggest barrier… I speak little to no French. I’m working on survival phrases and always leave every trip a little more comfortable with interactions and the language. Paris is good training wheels as an English speaker, because so many people speak English. I always try French first and the kind folks will pivot into English because… well, I’m not good at French.
 
Would love to hear more from those of you who have done tours in France to help supplement.

Camping

  • France has a huge camping culture… that was surprising to me for some reason. 
  • About 8million people camp in Frances’s 10,000 registered campsites per year. That’s mostly cars, but the setup is wide and plentiful for bike camping too.
  • July and August are PACKED. It’s possible to get shut out during this high season, so consider traveling outside of these two months. Winter? Many of the sites are closed.
  • Municipal sites are run by (duh) the villages and are great values – sometimes just a couple euro per night. Some private ones like along the Med are resorts with pools and beaches and cost a lot more. But they can be amazing based on personal experience.
  • Most maps of France have excellent indicators of where there are campsites (international icon). Make sure you have one of the area you’re in.
  • Wild camping is technically illegal in France. But as always if you practice good technique (don’t be a jerk, pack in and pack out, stay hidden, arrive late, leave early, respect the property) you should be fine.

Eating

  • Dude, it’s France. A bakery in every town. Fresh food. 
  • If you cook, chances are you can get fresh ingredients every day unless you’re in a really remote spot.
  • If you don’t, chances are you’ll find cafes, groceries, markets, etc. in every town.
  • Watch out for Sundays. In a lot of France, towns just shut down all day. Be sure to have some food on you Saturday unless you know you have a destination the next day that is open.

Routes

  • France has excellent routes following EuroVelo routes that leave the country if you’re doing a bigger tour – a good resource, and the official tourism site have amazing options
  • I use maps.me for offline maps. It even has offline bike routes. Download all you need offline and it can get you where you need. It even lets you search for addresses or major places offline. Super helpful if you have limited or no access to data.

Getting there and around

  • France has excellent train and ferry systems… and they tend to be bike friendly, but as always check in advance for your particular route. 
  • Many people fly in and out of Paris to start… the good news is it’s a great bicycling city with multiple routes that lead out of town. 
  • It’s totally possible to ride from CDG to the center of the city. It’s a little over 20 miles… here’s a good, tested route. Of course, there’s always trains and even Uber.

What catches my eye

  • I loved the south of France, but its super busy during high season, and I don’t think I’d want to bike there then.
  • I have a cousin who lives and works in Brussels, so I’m intrigued with a tour loop that begins and ends in Paris taking the EuroVelo 3 and 5 to Brussels for a visit and then a return the same way or a loop through Lille and hooking up with EuroVelo 4 and then the London-Paris route back into Paris.
  • Oh and I hear they have wine? Eurovelo 3 from Paris goes to Bordeaux. 

Listener tips and recommendations

Kieran from Cork, Ireland
 
  • France is a great cycling nation – we really had a great time there and were met with patience and good nature even though our French was minimal.
  • France is by no means an inexpensive country but … campsites were clean, good value and very welcoming to 2 sweaty Irish lads!
  • We travelled mainly on B roads through rural countryside with plenty of hills but nothing too bad and we felt our fitness growing each day.
  • We used the train system to make our way back to ferry terminals with no issues loading our bikes on board.
  • I don’t have much touring experience but France left a long lasting positive effect on me and gave me a hunger for more.
Adrian from the UK
 
  • 17 day tour through France going from the UK to Spain: journeyswiththetank.wordpress.com
  • If you love great scenery and food ( and of course good wine) you’ll love it.
  • Drivers tend to be very tolerant of cyclists and generally give plenty of room.
  • Despite its love of good food, parts of France can be a bit of a wasteland when it comes to finding somewhere to eat. Decent size towns are fine, but villages may have no shops. Petrol (Gas) stations outside of big towns are often are just that, whereas in UK you can normally buy food and snacks at almost all.
  • Shops – cafes can keep odd hours, often closed for long lunches or half days. Sundays can be an issue as many things are closed. Normally supermarkets or bakeries will be open Sunday morning, as everyone tends to buy fresh bread everyday. Worth having at least something in the panniers, just in case.
  • French/ European chain called Decathlon ( https://www.decathlon.fr/) sells sports/ camping/cycling stuff. Really good value if you need any bike or cycling gear. They also sell gas cylinders. Tend to be on outskirts of big towns
  • Camping tips
    • Google maps
    • Archie’s camping app (http://www.archiescampings.eu/ ) it’s constantly updated and shows most campsites.
    • Campsites in France are fairly cheap and facilities tend to be good, oddly not all have toilet paper though, so best to bring a roll !
    • Municipal sites can be very good value, some have laundry/drying facilities and even swimming pools !
  • Map app recomendation
    • Another app worth download is the IGN map app (cnet review https://download.cnet.com/OutDoors-GPS-France-IGN-Maps/3000-12940_4-75855952.html )- there’s a free version and paid. The free version only works when you have data/WiFi – covers all of France and you can zoom in to quite detailed maps 1:25000 I think. Be aware road numbers in France can be confusing, each town numbers it’s own small roads, so you can be following the D24, which suddenly becomes the D87, then the D2. Often easier to navigate by place names

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