My friends, a married couple, went on a bike tour in France in 2011. The wife, a gorgeous go-getter and her handsome, athletic husband described their trip in detail to me. Her husband’s hobby is cycling so this trip was very meaningful for them. They are also avid travelers and passionate about seeing the world. It was a very fulfilling collaboration to do this interview together because my friend had the most organized method of researching this trip. What inspired you to travel to France?
We went to the Tour de France because of my husband’s love of cycling. I kept a journal while researching the trip to map out the logistics. I used Google Maps to research the driving time. For the train details, I read The Man in Seat 61 which is a website about a man who has done extensive traveling throughout Europe by train. There are websites of train schedules with the timetables, etc. There are different types of trains; high speed trains, scenic trains, etc. SNCF.com is one of the sites I used. I used the book Eyewitness Travel France as my guide for the trip. Even the maps in that book were useful to us.
What did your trip itinerary involve?
I wrote down different possible itineraries. The main reason for the trip was the Tour de France so our itinerary coincided with that. We asked ourselves, “what major cities do we go to to make that work? ” You’re not really there to see the cyclists because they go by so fast…..you are there more for the experience.
What excursions or museums do you recommend?
Louvre, Palace Versailles, Luxembourg Gardens, Tuileries Gardens (next to the Louvre) , Champs Elysees, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triumphe
Describe the Tour de France.
There’s a big carnival before the stage. There are 21 stages. Each stage goes from one city to another. Each host city has a carnival which is a huge parade, tents with vendors, shows, awards for kids’ festivities and an area for team buses. You see cyclists getting off tour buses and journalists interviewing them.
When we were in college, Lance Armstrong’s popularity influenced us to to go to Tour de France. Even if you’re not into cycling, you should go because it is so beautiful! You’re there for the atmosphere. From the time that the first security car gets there, to the camera crews, and the parade coming through up the mountain….it’s several hours. (each stage). You go to places you normally wouldn’t go to and it’s so beautiful in the tiny towns and villages. When the tour comes through, it gives the town so much business! You have to book your trip months in advance for your accommodations.
How would you describe the tiny towns and villages?
Quaint, storybook, romantic, picturesque cottages, and authentic! We stayed in Joursac , which was a tiny town of 45 people. We stayed in a bed and breakfast where the owner hosted us and some of the media people. There’s no hotels in these towns! The owner told us to show up for dinner. He cooked a French meal– custard, meat, milk–all from the cow on site. There are old cobblestone homes and the local baker came down twice a week, driving around selling bread for the week.
It’s free entertainment because you don’t pay to watch the tour. You have to park far away and walk up the mountain. You meet people from different countries. We met some Norwegians and cheered with them.
What hotels and restaurants do you recommend?
Describe the vibe of the culture.
It was fashionable, nice and upscale.
Describe a custom that you observed there. Did you incorporate any of their customs back home?
We buy Nutella a lot more and we made crepes when we returned. The first time we had Nutella crepes was in France. We also buy French mustard more. We bought French cafe music ….like Edith Piaf. We also loved the sunflowers in France so now we buy them and have them in our home a lot more.
Were there any challenges in getting to your destination?
Driving through France and the overnight trains had their challenges. We once found a dirt road with a sign pointing to get there….but on foot! We took our rental car on that road, (a hiking trail) seeing deer pass us and not thinking “this is wrong!” The car stalled, got stuck and then it started raining. We couldn’t abandon the car because all our luggage was in there. On another occasion, on the overnight train, from Nice to Paris, it was suspected that a criminal was on the train so an armed militia came onto the train.
What did you learn about yourself from this trip?
We learned to trust one another and trust God. It’s easy to choose to never travel but you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone into new experiences. We drove from Paris to Nice on windy mountainous roads. We went to the South of France where there were beaches, flowers and wineries. In Cannes, there were yachts and blue ocean!
How did this trip enrich your life?
It brought us closer together emotionally and spiritually. We had interesting moments and learned from them. We ask ourselves before every trip, “what is the purpose of this trip? sightseeing? relaxation?” This trip was phenomenal because it gave us both! —time in the car driving and being together but also sightseeing in the urban and exciting hustle bustle places. We saved the Eiffel Tower for the last night.
Your planning journal is so organized! Any planning resources you want to share with us?
I also used Trip Advisor to read about some of the B & B’s as well as the City’s Chamber of Commerce website. Many of these websites listed recommended accommodations. I also used the official Tour de France website: www.letour.com
©Gina Michalopulos Kingsley