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west Provence : Nov 2006

posted to rec.bicycles.rides 06nov30:

subject:  western Provence in France

Sharon and I had a great time doing rides around Aix and Marseille in southern France. Late November is not the perfect time to ride there, but the American Thanksgiving holiday allowed us to get a full week for the cost of 3 vacation days. Selected photos at

Felt like the most fun region for riding which Sharon + I have found so far. We're already making specific plans for going back: where to make our base, what new routes to try, what routes to do again perhaps with new variations.

What's so great:

  • Variety of riding: from flat in the Camargue to gentle further north in the Rhone valley, to villages on moderate-size hilltops, to the giant climb of Mont Ventoux.

  • Variety from big seaside views, to inland vineyards and stone houses, to remote forests, and to farm animals beside the road, pleasant valley cities with large car-free zones.

  • Lots of big views on roads that traverse hillsides at a moderate grade.

  • Hilltop towns are not so high and steep as some other regions (e.g. the "T" place). Climbs to cross passes are shorter than in some other regions.

  • For visiting in late autumn, tends to have more sunshine and less rain than places further north. (but it can get windy)

  • Easy transportation access to other great riding regions: A7 north to Auvergne, A8 east to Cote d'Azur and Alpes Maritimes, ferry from Marseille or Toulon to the island of Corsica / Corse.

non-riding advantages:

  • some great hiking in the Calanques, Grand Canyon du Verdon, etc.

  • pleasant walking + shopping in the cities.

  • great wine (Cotes du Rhone, etc.) and great food.

Highlights for us on this trip

  • Cassis tri-adventure -- hike, swim, bike along the Mediterranean coast, including big sea views riding the Route des Cretes road to la Ciotat.

  • Grand Canyon du Verdon: largest canyon in Europe, two corniche roads hanging the edges, big hiking adventure down inside.

  • hilltop villages in the Vaucluse between Avignon + Apt.

  • loop thru toothy Alpilles ridge and les Baux, east of Arles.

  • Camargues special atmosphere out on the unpaved flat dikes thru big lakes and marshes, with sightings of birds and horses and bulls along the paved flat roads.

  • Mont Ventoux for its special atmosphere of steep roads with giant unhindered views.

  • Aix-en-Provence city walking around on street market day.

We also rode around Mt Ste Victoire (famously painted by Cezanne), over the Pont du Gard bridge from Roman times, and along the Gorges de l'Ardeche (nowhere in the same league as G.C.Verdon, we called it "faux corniche").

We did this trip in "normal Euro" style, putting our bike on a car each day and driving to the start of our chosen ride. Of course there's been lots of enthusiastic reports on Provence from "bicycle only" style tours, and also from expensively guided van-supported tours -- easy to find with web searches. The very helpful Cycling France guidebook published by Lonely Planet has detailed routes and descriptions for three or four multi-day cycle tours in this region.


other regions between Auvergne and Provence : Nov 2006

On a rainy day I drove south from Auvergne to Provence. Looking from the A75 autoroute:

  • just North of Issoire the l'Alagnon river goes thru a narrows.
  • south from Issoire, looked like lots of mellower riding around exits 18-21 around l'Alagnon river valley and Haute-Loire.
  • Tried getting off autoroute driving SW toward Puy Mary, found that the river which had a friendly valley with moderate hills + farms further north seemed pretty hilly + forested when it turned toward that more southwesterly area, so I turned around early and went back to autoroute.
  • exits 25-27 on A75 autoroute: looked hilly.
  • exit 28:  gentler valley near St Flour.
  • exit 30:  hilly again.

[ flying over some areas N of Montelimar on Sharon + my Marseille-Paris flight, looked like some interesting farming terrain ]

Languedoc region:

  • driving southeast on N106 was pretty, though a bit narrow traffic lane (but not a lot of traffic then) and hilly.
  • some of it follows river Truyere -- route signs for "Route entre Lot et Truyere".
  • gets seriously hilly with deep valleys before reaching Mende, and this continues thru Mont Luzere area.
  • I drove around the N side of Mont Luzere. Didn't seem that interesting to me.
  • Seems like the main reason to ride in Cevennes area is a strong need for "remoteness" (and hills)

Auvergne : Nov 2006

posted to rec.bicycles.rides 06nov29:

subject:  Auvergne France first time

I was enchanted by my first ride in Auvergne. Thanks much to for recommending the region. I'd be glad to get some more specific ideas about fun places + roads to try there.

After I saw the Auvergne region recommended on this newsgroup earlier this year, I had to get out my map of France to find out where it was. In the center of the country with some volcanic mountains called the Massif Central. As I drove into the region, I thought the terrain all around looked promising for riding -- some flat areas along the river Allier, mountains to the west that didn't look too intimidating, lots of rolling farmland, interspersed with lots of little volcanic nubs.

I decided to ride a loop clockwise around the Puy de Sancy (1885m, might be highest in Massif Central?). What struck me most was the many pretty farms with their buildings and cows and horses. Next was how each climb was rewarded by a fun interesting descent. Also far and wide views out from the hillsides. Variety in the route -- also included a bigger climb over a named pass, and some riding in the forest. I loved it despite it being the windiest day I remember choosing to ride. (route details below)

Eager to try a second day, I used the Michelin 1:200000 Auvergne Limousin map to prepare some ideas for a loop route. I found a place to park my car by the Longues SNCF train station near Vic-le-Comte, southeast from Clermont, got on my bike ... and there in the station parking lot was a map showing a bike route titled C8 -- about the same distance and using some of the same roads I had planned. So I decided to follow the signs for that route, and it was delightful riding like the first day -- this time with more focus on hilltop villages.

I'd be glad for more ideas for a return visit. Below is what I've learned so far.


sources of info for Auvergne routes:

I didn't find any specifics in a search of the rec.bicycles.rides newsgroup archives for "Auvergne", but here's what I have found:

around Puy de Sancy route details

I started in Besse (because it was convenient to drive there from an Autoroute exit). After a temporary detour on D149 south, I continued with D978 south, D203 west thru Picherande on the south side of the Puy de Sancy. Then by the village of Chastreix D88 northeast then west, D645 northeast to le Mont-Dore on the north side of the Puy de Sancy. Climbed (with a steep start) around 400 vertical meters to Col de la Croix St Robert, then D36 southeast to return to Besse. I think around 65 km, some gentle, some hilly. I saw bike route markings painted on pavement and on signposts at several points. I was glad I chose the clockwise direction because the descents looked more interesting.

official bike route C8 in Puy-de-Dome details

route is roughly 10-20 km southeast of the city of Clermont-Ferrand, and passes thru these places: Longues - Montfleury - Busseol - Lignat - St Julien de Coppel - la Beaute - Saliedes - Pignols - St Babel - Yronde et-Buron - Coudes - Sauvetat - Longues. Sign said 62 km with +1310 vertical meters of climbing. Difficulty level 3 out of possible 4. I thought it was hilly, but each climb was worth it for view and/or fun descent.

[ the following was not posted to newsgroup: ]

search for gentler roads

After riding back to my car I tried driving north past the east side of Clermont.

  • South of Clermont, D1 had a significant amount of car traffic, and at least one segment was marked closed to bicycles.

  • D4 north of Clermont was pleasant + pretty, but road surface perhaps a bit bumpy.

touring style in Europe : Oct 2006

posted to rec.bicycles.rides 06oct28:

Sharon and I live in the northeast U.S. and when we do single-day rides at home we usually put our bicycle on a rack on the back of our car, drive to some pretty area with fun roads and ride there. When we take a multi-day vacation with our bicycle, we usually drive to some place and stay in a motel room (or our parents' house), and each day either ride from the motel or more often put our bicycle on our car and drive to a starting point which looks like it will have some great riding. Usually we try to figure out some likely nice route on a map, working together with any hints we can get from bicycling guidebooks or websites for that area. On bad-weather days, we just leave our bicycle in the motel room and drive somewhere do some non-bicycling activity.

Near as I can from several bicycling vacations in the France, Italy, and other western European countries, most serious serious European riders have the same style as we use in the U.S. -- i.e. when we're riding in France and Italy, the majority of bicycles we see are being carried on cars. We figure the Europeans must have a clue about the most fun style for bicycling trips in Europe, so . . .

So on our bicycling vacations in Europe, we've always followed the popular local style: We bring the car rack folded up in our airline luggage, pick up a rental car at the airport when we land, put our bicycle on the car and drive to our hotel room in some pretty region that's supposed to have fun riding. Michelin 1:200000 maps usually have pretty roads and steep hills marked, so we usually figure out a loop route for each day from the map, drive our car with bike on it to some village on the loop, and start riding from there. After 3-5 days based in one region, we usually drive to a different region for another 3-5 days, then drive back to the airport, return the car, fold up our rack, and fly home. 

Austria - Germany - Switzerland : Sept 2006

posted to rec.bicycles.rides 06sep22:

subject: Salzburg + southeast Germany

Sharon and I finally got to try out riding in Austria and Germany, and we were very impressed. I put some photos up at

What struck us:

  • incredibly organized routes and trailways for bicycling.

  • more people out riding than anywhere we've been so far.

  • high quality of the riding + scenery off the main river routes.

  • high density of quiet roads to explore with freedom.

  • new long distance cycle-touring routes that do not follow the rivers.

What we found was lots of pretty farms with flowers and horses and cows, with mountains with pointy peaks as a background, variety of hills, some steep but most moderate, seemed like most of the climbs were led to nice views and/or fun downhills. Some lakes, lots of pretty villages with those funny-round-ish church steeples and bakeries. Roads mostly good-quality asphalt and sufficiently wide for the amount of vehicle traffic.

We had been hesitant to go there because the reports we'd seen were about trailways along the major rivers like the Donau, Inn, Salzach -- and that's not our style. Instead we did our usual kind of riding like home in the Hudson valley, exploring out on the roads in the hills and valleys and villages of pretty farm country and finishing each day back where we started. Lots of fun for us, and we saw lots of local riders doing the same kind of thing.

We stayed in a hotel near on the outskirts of Salzburg. A couple of days we rode from our hotel, a couple of other days we put the bicycle in our rental car to start somewhere else (in the Salzkammergut lakes and in the Czech republic). We started out planning our bicycling loops by choosing roads marked scenic green on our Michelin map which sorta took us to some objective that sounded interesting like a lake or a town -- so the first afternoon we picked the Obertrumer See, and another day we picked the Wagingersee.

We soon discovered that the non-river areas were full of signed bicycle routes. Then on our way to the Wagingersee we stopped at a bookstore in Traunstein and they prominently displayed detailed bicycling maps -- usually two competing maps for any nearby region we could think of -- and that's not counting the computer CDs we could have bought. Actually trying to follow all those maps and signs was more entertaining. We eventually figured out that if we followed road signs naming villages we could find on our map, then at least we'd have a good clue where we were.

other things:

  • long distance cycle-tourism: Two non-river routes which we happened to find ourselves on sections of -- which seemed nice were: Mozart radweg (wanders around the Chiemgau area of Germany and in Austria within 150km of Salzburg) and Bodensee-to-Koenigssee radweg (from Lake Constance to Berchtesgaden) -- both have obvious websites.

  • Salzkammergut lakes were indeed pretty, and despite being surrounded by serious hills, much of the riding was gentle. We found some quiet pretty roads following a bicycle route with the romantic designation "R2".

  • the lengths to which Salzkammergut goes to be bicycle-friendly are amazing: a little bicycle ferry to make it more convenient to visit St Wolfgang, a separate bicycle tunnel (with view areas) next to the car tunnel. I do not know how other bicycling destinations intend to compete.

  • a large percentage of the off-road bicycle trails which do not follow rivers are next to vehicle roads. For my own bicycling I'd have been happy if they'd just used the same amount of space to make a wider roadway -- but if having a separated path gets lots more people out bicycling, I guess it must be good.

  • we were glad to find some nice bicycle paths in the city of Salzburg itself.

  • the number of people we saw out bicycling on weekdays was amazing. I don't know where people got the idea that Italy was a big bicycling country compared with this, and it seemed like clearly more riders than most places I've been in France.


P.S. We also spent a couple of days doing the same style of riding far west near the Bodensee and St Gallen (Switzerland + Germany around Lake Constance). Most of the same observations apply, except that the mountain peaks weren't as close. Lots more fun + pretty bicycling-friendly terrain to be explored -- except next time we ride around the west end of the Bodensee from Konstanz to Meersburg, we'll choose a non-weekend day so we won't have to deal with so much bicycling traffic.

more . . .

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