My ultimate fear is that when I die my wife sells my bikes for what I told her I paid for them.

Or; always buy a new bike the same colour as your old one; she'll never know!

I was at a bit of a loose end so I thought rather than fly I would cycle to the south of France to join my wife, who was already there.
I didn't have time to cycle through England so I caught the train to Dover. £40 first class for me and the bike seemed reasonable value, I can drink a lot of coffee! I stayed at a Premiere Inn overnight, next to the port, and then cycled into the Port of Dover the following morning to catch the Dover-Calais crossing. The Premiere Inn were very accommodating and secured my bike in a store room overnight. It felt quite strange lining up with HGVs and a little un-nerving cycling up the ramp, over the gap and onto the ship but I made it safely.

It is worth checking if you plan to cycle around France, or anywhere for that matter, that there is room to secure your bike. You wouldn't want to leave it outside fastened to a lamp post.

A young German couple (cyclists) at the check-in office, who were trying to get a crossing, took great interest in my cycle helmet (pictured above). My wife bought it for me after seeing it on the Gadget Show on TV. It folds in on itself and reduces its size, very conveniently, and very colourful.

I had planned a route, of sorts, basically, follow the compass south, and aimed to have a leisurely fifteen-day meander along quite French roads.

On arrival at Calais I cycled inland to Ardres where I found a nice, pleasant lake side campsite. I had a small 1.5-person tent which just gave me room to move around a little, change my clothes and as the ride progressed apply the necessary creams.

Camping La Fregate had a decent shower block and a perfect little grassy area to site my tent. The shower block came in very handy the next morning as it was raining quite heavily, so I set my camping stove up in the changing area and cooked breakfast.

Camping La Fregate on the lakeside at Ardres

I set off from Ardres to reach Arras. I have to confess I always feel a little subdued when I travel across this area of France as I start to think about the lives lost in war, particularly those during WW1.

I have stayed with my family at a chambre d'hôte for many years in the village of Auchy-au-Bois, not far from Arras. I did a little research about the village and found that some English regiments had been garrisoned in the village during WW1. The regimental diaries were available on the web and made interesting reading.

In Arras I stayed at the hotel Les Trois Luppars which is on the Grand Place, dated from the 15th century. It is a two star hotel but very clean. My wife and I use it each year now when we are driving to the south of France. It is cycle friendly, having a small secure courtyard to store cycles overnight. There is a nice Leffe bar in the Place des Heros and having cycled all day a little refreshment was justified. The Gothic tower in the square is lit at night and looks spectacular. It was still raining a little, and cold, so I didn't linger in the square for too long.
Arras was built on the Arras Plain which is a limestone plateau. It saw a number of specific battles during WW1, 1914, 1917 and 1918. The limestone lent itself to excavation and tunnels were dug under the city and later expanded during WW1. They played a key role in the Allied armies holding of the city. Vimy Ridge, which is 11km distant also saw tunnelling used to great effect during the campaign. The Canadien War Memorial at Vimy has tunnels which can be visited. Seeing a Maple leaf cut into a limestone alcove, in one of the tunnels, by a Canadian soldier waiting to go out and over the top during the battle for the ridge was a very moving experience, as was the information centre, with its grainy footage of those terrible times.

Beffroi l'Hotel de Ville d'Arras

From Arras I cycled to Saint-Quentin. When I asked for directions I made the initial mistake of pronouncing the 'Q' as in the American state prison San Quentin, which seemed to baffle everyone I spoke to. Once I began to pronounce it as 'kintin' they all understood where I wanted to go.

I cycled, briefly, on the Rue Winston Churchill near Ronssoy, where the departments of Somme and Aisne meet. It was a relatively flat route but at Bony I turned onto the D1044 which I thought might be quiet; it carried a lot of HGVs which made for some uncomfortable cycling.

I camped at the municipal site Auberge de Jeunesse. It was really good, just outside the town and opposite the Canal de Saint-Quentin, which runs parallel to the River Somme . The ablutions were clean with good showers. I had some non-lycra clothing for walking in public, to prevent my arrest by the Police Municipal, and wandered into the centre to find some food. A small supermarket had everything I needed, which I took back to camp and cooked on the MSR stove I carried with me.

When I arrived, and cycled into the campsite, I noticed an English motorhome already set-up. I asked the couple where I should go to register and was asked by them, 'Do you have a caravan?' I am a reasonably strong cyclist, but not that good!

Saint-Quentin was hard hit during WW1, being on the Hindenburg Line. 80% of its buildings were destroyed and it took a long time to restore the city.

Day 5 on my loosely put together plan took me from Saint-Quentin to Soissons. I had listed towns & cities en-route to the south but not any roads. I didn't have a map so relied on dead-reckoning and the occasional La Poste worker for directions. 'D' roads were sometimes confusing. I thought they were generally smaller roads, like our 'B', but I fell foul of that presumption. I turned onto one D road which then turned into something akin to a major dual carriageway. Cars were hooting at me when they went past and I couldn't understand why. I managed to leave at an exit slip road and find a quieter, more tranquil route, which was much less stressful.

My Dolan performed well (apart from the rear hub!)

I noted that there were some steep hills today, which of course meant some decent descents. I had arrived on the outskirts of Soissons and cycled into a main road junction when the rear wheel hub went. There I was pedalling like fury and not moving, with cars starting to enter the junction. I quickly hopped off and pushed to the pavement and safety. I had to walk/push the rest of the way into the town and search for a cycle store to have the wheel repaired.

I was fortunate to find Cycles Fosse on the main route through the town, which was also en-route to the campsite I planned to use. The cycle shop was brilliant. Even though it was late afternoon they found a new rear wheel and fitted my rear cassette just as closing time approached.

I camped at the Camping Municipal de Soissons, which was excellent. There were shops nearby where I could purchase food and supplies.

Soissons to Sezanne. It was 60 miles today. I was sat in a cafe yesterday, in Soissons, waiting for my bike repair and asked by a woman on my thoughts on French roads. I said that compared to England they were very good. 

I think some international, professional riders, refer to our UK roads as 'sticky'!

The woman said the roads around Soissons were terrible. I took the D6 south and found that it was true, at least here. The D6 was appalling. I actually rode on the grass verge for a while as the road surface was so bad. I climbed up onto a large flat plateau, with hectares of cereal crops growing, which obviously had constant wind judging by the number of wind turbines. True to form I had a strong headwind, which coupled with a poor road surface made for some challenging riding for a while.

My mobile rang, it was my wife. She was watching the Meteo from the south of France and it had said that rain was due where I was. I looked up to blue skies.

Not long after the call I was cycling along the Marne valley when I met the weather front and the heavens opened. Visibility was so reduced that I fitted and illuminated my lights.

I opted not to camp and via my mobile I reserved a room at the hotel La Croix d'Or. Somewhat 'old world' it was, nonetheless, very good. It had a restaurant which was not open at the time. There was safe bike storage in a yard at the rear of the hotel. I went to the Au Gout d'Asie restaurant for dinner. As you may gather from the name it was a Chinese restaurant which had an all-you-can-eat menu. The food was good and I ate all I could.

Day 7 was Sezanne to Troyes, a lesser mileage day but I wanted the opportunity to explore Troyes.

My route took me generally south through the village of Mery-sur-Seine in the department of Aube where I stopped for morning coffee.

I was now in the champagne region. It was still raining a little, and cool. The roads I progressed on today were, in many places, single track country roads. Quiet with the occasional farm there were no problems with traffic and you could just drift along without having to concentrate too much. 

I stopped near to a farm to plan my route when the window of the house opened and an English voice asked whether I was ok, and would I like a cup of tea? I graciously declined as I wanted to push on to Troyes. Obviously, I was immediately recognisable as a lost English cyclist!

I needed to answer a call of nature and didn't want to put the bike on its side.

Troyes. I decided to spoil myself and booked into a hotel for the night. The Le Royal on Boulevard Carnot offered a good rate so was booked via mobile 'phone. I actually arrived at the hotel before the online booking did. They didn't have anywhere to store my bike overnight but telephoned a nearby hotel who took the Dolan in. They were very helpful.

I had stopped in a square near the Hotel de Ville en route to the hotel for a cold drink and spotted a Koga World Traveller touring bicycle parked outside the cafe. It transpired that it belonged to a Danish lady who had taken time out from working to travel from Denmark to Santiago de Compostela on the west coast of Spain. SdC is the end point for many converging routes on the Camino de Santiago. Also known as the Pilgrimage of Compostela it leads to the shrine of St James in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. I was impressed and envious of the Koga bike, but even more impressed with the determination of the Danish cyclist. 

Suitably dressed in non-lycra I headed out from the hotel to explore Troyes. Sited on the Seine it is believed to date back to 600BC. It was an important trade centre in medieval times and the troy weight for gold derives from the standard of measurement developed there.

Troyes has some wonderful old buildings and many streets are like the Shambles in York. Half-timbered buildings dating back to the 16C

Troyes to Montbard took me through some wonderful countryside and into the Bourgogne-Franche-Compte region. There was a long and steep descent to Montbard, one of those where you are just in control! Known for the Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site it is described as a small industrial town on the River Brenne, but it seemed quite pretty to me.

I was camping at the municipal site at Montbard. I had a small pitch which was surrounded by hedging and there was a cafe/restaurant. I pitched my tent and wandered off to inspect the shower block and grab a coffee. When I returned I noticed a tent opposite with a bike leant against a tree. It turned out to be a [slightly] older English chap who had retired and was spending six weeks cycling around France. We swapped bike stories, it was nice to have a fellow cyclist to chat to for a while.
There were some other UK nationals on site too. They were the only ones making noise, who other campers were complaining of and asking to be quiet and who ran amok in the shower area. Big cars, big vans and big caravans - say no more.
The one thing I noticed as I rode over the hill and into Bourgogne proper was that previous days had seen small vineyards where Citroen seemed to be the vehicle of choice, now it was Land Rover - Range Rover. Vines stretched across the hillsides as far as the eye could see with strange looking tractors used to tend the vines. The houses seemed much larger and more auspicious too.

It was getting warmer and coupled with the dramatic scenery it made cycling a very pleasant experience. ​​​​​​​
Camping du Paquier Fane seemed to be a popular site for motorhomes and caravans but there was a quiet camping area. The campsite was someway from Changy centre so once I had my tent up and I had showered I ventured no further. It had been a 65-mile, 6-hour day with a long day to follow. The campsite had a nice restaurant so I restored my energy levels there, wine is a carbohydrate, isn't it?

Day 10 Chagny to Lyon. The route was planned as 96 miles but turned out to be a few more. I found the cycle route Voi Verte and cycled along the canal-side on the Chemin du Deversoir. It was very pleasant riding. One thing that I found to be well thought out was the provision of wooden 'balconies' on the canal-side for disabled fishermen, giving easy access for their sport

Each lock on the canal had a picturesque cottage.

I should have gone right from the canal but I think I got carried away with the scenery and continued straight on arriving at the outskirts of Chalon-sur-Saone. There was supposed to be a cycle way on the east bank of the River Saone but I couldn't find it. I ended up in a small hamlet not sure which direction to take. I asked a local chap who was cutting his hedge and he directed me to a house opposite. I wandered up to the door, which was answered by Andrew, an Englishman. He and his wife had retired to France and had a wonderful timber framed brick house. He invited me in and I sat with him and his wife for a while, with a very pleasant cup of tea and biscuits. With directions to get me back on track I headed for Tournus and the Velo Bleau.

So, back to the west side of the Saone at Tournus and on to Macon where I re-crossed the river in search of the cycle path. This was supposedly a cycle route towards Lyon. It turned into a rocky path which became so bad I got off my bike and pushed in fear of damaging something, on both the bike and myself. I arrived at a road bridge and decided that I needed to get off the path and onto a road, so I scrambled up the bank to the road. As look would have it I emerged onto a lay-by with an information kiosk. Even more fortunate was that it had air conditioning, as the day had turned out to be very hot. I sat for a while and cooled down, had some refreshments, and with new directions headed onto the D933 to Lyon, with 30 miles still to go.

With 12 miles to go I was running low on energy and food began to be at the forefront of my thoughts, it was still hot. Low and behold a big yellow 'M' appeared on the horizon. Not exactly food for athletes but at least it filled a hole and the coke provided some hydration, along with the accompanying sugar rush.

I arrived in Lyon in the dark. I had booked into a hotel as I planned a rest day here. I was having trouble locating the hotel and asked for directions. Unfortunately, the chap directed me towards the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere which is up a steep hill. It transpired the hotel was on the other side of the river up in the Croix Rousse 4th Arr. It was getting late and I was both tired and cross at the misdirection. As I cycled up towards Croix Rousse a group of people came out of a park entrance where a fete was taking place. I asked them if they knew where the Kyriad hotel was and one replied, 'Yes it's near my home, walk with us and we will take you.' Which they did, and took me to the reception desk to make sure everything was ok. I was extremely grateful for their kindness.

Having booked into the hotel for two nights I was able to have a leisurely breakfast the following morning and set off on foot to explore Lyon. It really is a busy, vibrant city, third largest in France. It began as an encampment at the confluence of the Saone and Rhone rivers around 43BC and became a Roman city and hub for many roads in the area.

The Kyriad Hotel was a good stop over. They secured my bike and had a nice restaurant for breakfast. It appears to have changed to an Ibis now, on the Rue Jacques-Louis Henon.

Lyon is built around two hills, which I had climbed in search of the hotel, the Croix Rousse to the north and Fourviere to the west, on which is the Basilica. Towards the southern end of the city is the confluence of the Rhone and Saone.

The image above is actually a flat building wall with a large mural. It looks very real.

The Basilica
The Basilica
Musee des Confluences
Musee des Confluences
From Lyon I headed to Valence. I decided to stick to the N7, a busy road but it had an adequate side-strip of tarmacadam to keep me away from the vehicles. 

I arrived in Valence centre and went to the Tourist Information Office to get details of a campsite. They directed me to Camping Charmes, which was about 13 miles further south, and it turned out to be a pleasant riverside cycle to the campsite. I had noted that it was a hot day with some long climbs so I was a little tired on reaching the site. The sign on the gate said closed.

I went to reception and spoke to the owner who explained that there was a private, family function at the site but if I was happy to stay I could, there just might be some noise. I enquired about a meal and was invited to the party!

Paella, wine, cheese, desert and coffee for a very reasonable price. I was seated at a table with other family members and made very welcome. And after dinner, karaoke. Thankfully, for those present, I didn't have to sing for my supper.

I was made very welcome at Camping Charmes

The heat of the south was now very much evident and so onwards Valence to Sorgues, 68 miles. I followed the N7 for a while and then turned left onto the Donzere-Mondragon Canal.

My route occasionally ran parallel to the A6 autoroute, which we use annually in our car journey to the south of France. Driving on that road it is amazing how much you miss when just focussed on the road ahead, with so much to see within a short distance of the peage.

I cycled along the canal path for some distance, there was not a soul, or vehicle to be seen. As I looked down into the canal there was a man keeping pace with my slow cycling, swimming alongside me! I did wonder if he was heading for the Mediterranean too.

The Barrage de Donzere-Mondragon on the canal of the same name.

I cycled through the town of Orange which has a smaller scale version of the Arc d'Triumph.

I had booked into La Bastide de Morgane at Sorgues. I travelled roughly alongside the Rhone then turned eastwards to Chateauneuf-du-Pape. I have drunk plenty of wine from the commune in the past and so thought it a good idea to call at the village.

It has a ruined medieval castle, circa 14th century, which sits atop the village. I discovered that thirteen different varieties of grape are allowed in the red wine but the blend must be predominantly Grenache.


La Bastide de Morgane was someway outside of Sorgues on the D907. When I arrived in the late afternoon I found that the place was closed with not a soul in sight. Pinned to a tree was a note to me saying that the owners were away and I should let myself in, which I did. I had access to the bedrooms but not the main hotel. Sorgues was closed, it was Sunday. So I sat in the garden of the hotel, in the evening sunshine, got out my MSR stove and cooked dinner. Going to the breakfast room the following morning the owners were back and breakfast was served.

Penultimate day; Sorgues to Pertuis. I cycled SE today through the Parc naturel du region du Luberon and Provence Vert. It had rained overnight and I vividly recall the strong earthy smells as I cycled along the quiet roads which were just beginning to steam as the heat increased. I could have stopped and sat for hours. The small villages on the hillsides were a photographer’s dream. There was a long section of road that descended towards Pertuis and it challenged my bike handling skills to the limit. Paniers and a bar bag do not make for easy and quick manoeuvrability.

The town of Pertuis had a pleasant square to sit and have dinner.

I stayed in the Grand Hotel du Cours, which is not as its name suggests. It is described as 'low key lodging with regional dining'. It was low key and I ate out, but it served its purpose. It also had safe cycle storage.

The final leg: Pertuis to St Raphael 86 miles. It was, almost, downhill to the coast. Through Provence and via Cotignac and Lorgues it was, again, a pleasant ride through the wooded slopes of the 'pre-alps d'Azur' to Puget-sur-Argens and the finish. I briefly cycled along the coast road and had glimpses of the blue Mediterranean. It had been a long final leg but at least I ended the day at home.

I had a mixture of days, some with lesser and some greater mileage. The leg to Lyon was the longest at about 120 miles but that was due to some navigational challenges. I did have a rest day planned after that long day though, to have some off-cycle R&R and wash my kit properly. If you like cycling - get yourself to France. 

When I asked for help and directions everyone, without exception, was extremely friendly and helpful which, in part, made the journey so pleasant.

For routes the Euro Velo network is excellent.
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