The question: We want to book a country home that's great for cycling in France. Is there a best time and destination?
There’s something appealing about pedalling through a fresh landscape – especially if it’s a French landscape at just the right pace (think gentle, croissant-fuelled movement). Where exactly depends on the difficulty of terrain and what history-meets-bucolic vistas you’re after.
Loire, with its routes along riverbanks and farmers’ fields dotted with Renaissance chateaux, is “perfect for even a novice biker,” says Kathy Stewart, director of media relations for Butterfield and Robinson ( butterfield.com), an active holiday company that started European biking trips in the 1960s.
Burgundy, meanwhile, offers “possibly the best biking in France,” she says. “There are options to head into the hills for more challenging biking or to stay in the flatter valleys. The rides are past some of the world’s most famous vineyards like Romanée-Conti and through ancient Burgundian medieval towns like Beaune.”
The list goes on: The lavender fields and hilltop towns of Provence. Alsace with its rolling hills and villages decked out with geranium-filled window boxes. The forests, fields and paths along the ocean in Normandy.
As for when to go, southern France is better in the cooler spring and fall months, while the best biking season in the north runs from June until the end of September, says Stewart, a former biking guide herself.
Once you’ve picked your province, you can search France tourism’s site ( franceguide.com) for agencies renting villas (which can come with luxury amenities such as pools), gîtes (where the owners are often nearby) and apartment rentals.
Vacances Provençale Vacations ( europeanhomerentals.com), for instance, offers pages of stone country homes built among cypress trees or renovated apartments in the ever-popular Provence, an ideal destination for mid-level cyclists, says VPV’s James Collins. “If you are centrally located – in the Avignon area – you have many things to see and do in a short cycle trip.”
Be sure to ask if your lodging includes loaner bikes or if there are nearby rental companies. “These are usually cruiser-style bikes best suited to riding into town and back with a baguette, rather than a serious ride,” says Stewart, who notes that her company’s founders also rent out their property, once part of a centuries-old fortification, in Burgundy (bastionsteanne.com). Bikes, along with a Bulthaup kitchen, are among the amenities.
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Karan Smith is a former editor of Globe Travel.
Special to The Globe and Mail