Biking in Southern France

st emillion

So, in October we went on one of the most memorable trips – 6 days of independent biking in Southern France! For the longest time, Kurt wanted to ride a bike through Bordeaux, but we were both always put off by the idea of being on a “tour”. Typically, when you are a part of a bike tour, you are only going as fast as the slowest person in the group. Plus, you may have to negotiate stops and breaks and places to eat with the rest of the crowd, which, well, takes the adventure edge off just a little bit. On the other hand, group tours are easy…. and pre-planned, without the hassle of finding bike rentals, or accommodations….. and, most importantly, they transport your luggage! ….and are there for you in case of emergency. So we were somewhat torn on how to handle this.

…Until, that is, we found a SELF-GUIDED bike tour option (organized by Discover France). You get all the perks of being on a group bike tour – yes, yes, luggage transfer too! – minus the super steep price, and, well, a group. It was simply perfect, and our 6 days of biking were fun and gorgeous beyond belief.

The starting point was the city of Bordeaux, where, after sleeping off the jet lag, we got our bikes and helmets and got ready for the morning departure.

(But not before some surprising spontaneous carnival action which was taking place just outside of our hotel!)

Bordeaux carnival

In the morning we headed across the river to a bike trail, pedaling 30 miles towards St Emilion. Here is a great stop along the way: L’Abbaye de La Sauve-Majeure, a former monastery which is now in ruins.

The town of St Emilion is a UNESCO world heritage site with gorgeous ruins, churches, steep streets and stacked houses. It is also one of the main red wine areas in the region of Bordeax, so it has wine stores. And more wine stores. And right next to all those wine store are… other wine stores. It just so happens that Bordeax wine is my favorite, so I was in a happy place!

The following day the route was about 20 miles to Sainte Radegonde. Stunning views, biking though endless vineyards – and because this was the end of their harvest season, air was filled with the smell of ripe red grapes.

By the way, we had no guide, and all of our routes were pre-programmed in a little GPS that did a wonderful job keeping us on the small scenic country roads. Not a lot of traffic, and lots of bonjour’s, friendly honks and waves from locals. The French love cyclists!

Here is the views from our chateau in St Radegonde – which is actually in the middle of fields and farms, surrounded by cows, geese, ducks, tractors – and of course, more vineyards.

St Radegonde

From there, it was a 30 mile ride to Bergerac. It was fall, and while the days were perfectly mild and sunny, mornings were brisk and full of fog. But what fog it was! These trees made me think that were were riding through a fairy tale.

Our route – thanks, trusty GPS! – took us through many quiet, old, picturesque villages. On this route we crossed from Bordeaux into Dordogne region.

Bergerac is a charming ancient city (aren’t they all here?!), sitting on Dordogne River, full of historic renaissance buildings.

From Bergerac it was 25 miles to Tremolat. The terrain difficulty of our rides has been increasing day by day, and this one was hilliest yet. This region has less vineyards, and limestone cliffs rise along the banks of the river.

Our chateau room, 5 kilometers outside of the Tremolat village, was the cutest.

From Tremolat – 30 miles to Les Eyzies. With a lunch stop in Le Bugue (another prehistoric charming town on the river? Well, okay. If you insist!).

Hilly, hilly ride! I’m using all of my gears, constantly, now. Some hills were so steep that it was much easier to walk, but the payoff, aside from gorgeous views, was all the downhill flying. Wow, was the flying fun.

Did I also mention that my butt hurt? Yeah, the “normal” bike seat was too rough for me (my own bike at home is outfitted with a super cushy one) so I should have invested in some gel pads. Lesson for the future! But lets get back to that scenery….

The bales of hay, which were everywhere, made me imagine that we were biking through Van Gogh paintings:

Meanwhile, Kurt clearly was popular with the French ladies:

Les Eyzeis is another UNESCO site – a village which seems to grow out of a cliff. It contains some important archeological sights, which unfortunately we didn’t get to explore because we had another full day of pedaling ahead.

The last ride was to Sarlat. It was shortest in distance, but for some reason hardest in endurance for me. Another giant steep hill and then, more flying. What a great feeling it was to descend, at 30mph, onto a medieval town lined with cobblestone streets. Sarlat is very prehistoric and representative of 14th century France, full of buildings with very steep roofs. It was a bittersweet time, too, as this is  where we surrendered our bikes, and the following day – hopped on a train to Paris.

This post was only intended to give a brief overview of our tour and show some photos. Neither words nor photographs, though, can fully describe that giddy feeling of hopping on a bike every morning knowing that yet another unique adventure awaits. I also can’t quite translate how good it feels to have fresh french country air hit your face, or how delicious each wine glass was after a daily long ride. I did not even get into describing the food we ate, which was so amazing it would bring you to tears. And I did not yet mention how nice all the people were – everywhere we went (or rode) the locals gave us fantastic treatment. This was, simply put, the BEST way to discover France. I have gathered a ton of inspiration for some new paintings, and can’t wait to a similar bike adventure again!

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