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We can pick up from Nantes, Rennes and Dinard airports or the ferry terminal or train station in St-Malo. For transatlantic clients coming into Paris CDG, there's a direct Air France flight to Rennes, as well as good railway links to St Malo. We'll then take you to the hotel in St Malo, where there will be tools and equipment available so you can put your bike together. Later we'll go off to dinner, where we'll spend the evening getting to know each other while we brief you on the ride.
After a hearty breakfast we head to the seafront to take the official departure photo with the ocean as a backdrop, before we mount up and head off out of St Malo along the coast. You can admire the bright colours of the sandyachts at Saint-Benoît-des-Ondes and the view of Mont Saint Michel as we follow the coast road. The landscape is a little undulating at first, but then flattens out for a while as we turn inland and ride past fields full of cabbages, onions and garlic. Then it changes again to rolling hills and lots of pretty villages and towns, including Fougères, which is frequently included in the Tour de France, but also features in the 4-yearly Paris-Brest-Paris cycling event. The terrain starts to become a little more hilly as we arrive at the medieval town of Vitré, with its castle and timbered medieval houses. This is where we stay the night and we'll wander into the old town and enjoy our dinner in one of our favourite restaurants on the trip.
This is certainly a day of contrasts. We begin by cycling through open countryside, along quiet lanes, past fields and hedges, through many small villages. You'll be amazed at the beautiful gardens that surround the houses and decorate the towns. After about 70km, we pass through the town of Segré and everything changes. We're now cycling along dead straight Roman roads through forested areas, where you can see little except a church spire on a hill in the distance. When you finally reach the little town on top of the hill, you descend the other side and again you can see the next hill, with the next church spire. The only real difference is that the churches all have different shaped spires - as if there had been a medieval competition see which town could build the church with the most interesting steeple.
Just when you think you can't take another straight road, we arrive at St-Georges-sur-Loire and the terrain changes once more. We cross a bridge over the Loire that spans several small islands to get to the other bank, and for the rest of the day we cycle through one pretty village after another as we follow the river, criss-crossing the Loire via an assortment of bridges and marvelling at the beautiful old châteaux and churches. We end our ride in pretty Brissac-Quincé, with its beautiful castle. This is a big area for hot-air ballooning, and if we're lucky, we may get to see some.
We climb through Brissac, heading east, until we meet the river Loire, which we follow for the next 30km, riding through the beautiful historic city of Saumur, the site of a WWII battle where the cadets at the local cavalry school held off the German invaders for two days before the powers that be forced them to withdraw, allowing the enemies to overrun the town. We have a short, steep climb out of the town, and turn away from the Loire, passing through Fontevraud with its famous Abbey, the final resting place of the Plantagenets including King Henry II and his son, Richard the Lionheart. Then it's on to Loudun, the site of the 17th Century Loudun Possessions, when Cardinal Richelieu rid himself of a rebellious and disobedient parish priest by conspiring to have him accused of witchcraft, leading to his torture and eventual execution by being burned at the stake. On a less grisly note, it was also the finish of a Tour de France stage in 2000. The route takes us past the mushroom farms that are a major industry in this area - there's even a mushroom museum near Saumur - and through wide open fields of corn and barley. For the rest of the day the landscape alternates between beautiful rolling green fields and hedges, wide open farmland and small towns and villages as we start to make a wide arc around the outskirts of Poitiers, ending in the medieval town of Parthenay, where we're staying.
We continue our route around Poitiers, riding through a number of mall towns, such as the ancient Roman town of Sanxay, Rouillé, the site of a WWII internment camp, and Vivonne, which was a major transport hub during the war, since the main A10 crossed the Paris-Bordeaux railway line here, and so it was subjected to many bombing raids by both the allies and the Germans. We then head south east, approaching the river Vienne, passing under the magnificent 19th century viaduct at L'Ile-Jourdain. From here we ride south, passing the Isle de Saint-Germain in the centre of the river, and on to the medieval town of Confolens, a major trading post where inhabitants of both sides used to meet to buy and sell. We're staying in the centre of the town.
We're now entering the south west of France, with its profusion of châteaux and caves. We travel winding roads through rolling hills and unbelievably pretty scenery, past buildings constructed from golden stone with terracotta tiled roofs. We begin by cycling past fields of sunflowers and end up riding through endless plantations of walnuts, as we follow the Route des Noix (road of the nuts). There's a short climb to Hautefort, which is famous for having the first ever hospice, founded in the 17th century, and now a museum of medicine. We pass through beautiful Condat-sur-Vezere on the river, before coming to a big open valley with a magnificent castle, the Château Fleunie. A short, steep climb, and then you're looking down on the valley with the château and the river. Before long we arrive in Montignac, famous for the Lascaux caves, now closed to the public for fear of damaging the fragile structure of the prehistoric cave paintings. At St-Léon-sur-Vézere you will see the amazing limestone cliffs with their cave dwellings, the Cité Troglodytique de la Roque St-Christophe, which was inhabited for 55,000 years until only 300 years ago. We cross the river Verzère and continue through the bustling town of Sarlat-la-Canéda, before turning sharply north-east and riding along a gorge to Souillac.
We ride out of Souillac, continuing on the Route des Noix (yes, it runs a long way) towards the Massif Central, through hilly terrain, as the walnuts finally give way to sheep. We pass the ancient fortified mill at Cougnaguet and climb back out of the valley. From here we can see Rocamadour, the small town built into the side of the cliffs and a destination for pilgrims for centuries. Many small towns in France have an amazing claim to fame, and we stop for coffee in Figeac, whose famous son, Jean-Francois Champollion, deciphered the hieroglyphics on the Rosetta Stone in Egypt, and put his home town on the map. Continuing along the river Lot, we head into the department of Cantal, - as usual, following a river of that name. This area is known for a fairly hard cheese that is about as close as you'll get to English Cheddar in France. We continue through the wine-producing area of Entraygues, and on to our hotel, by the bridge on the river.
This area was featured in the Tour de France in 2010, so you're now definitely in cycling country. There are a couple of undulating climbs - the first up to the Col de la Tourette (839m), followed by the Col des Tribes (1,131m). At the top of the latter you'll also find a sign for the "Ligne de partage des eaux" that marks the point where you're equidistant between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. From here we can see the wooded slopes of Mont Lozère, the highest point in the Massif Central, before we make the twisting 25km descent to Lac de Villefort, following the river L'Altier. We climb again from Villefort to the Col du Mas de l'Ayre (846m), and as we descend into Les Vans, it's noticeably warmer and you know you're finally in the South. As we climb out of Les Vans, there's an immediate change in the landscape. From lush and green it has suddenly become rocky and dry with goats, sheep, fruit orchards, olive groves, sunflowers and endless vineyards; not to mention the most amazing rock formations. We finally descend again and follow the river Ardèche for about 15 flat kilometres, until we get to the 10th century town of Ruoms, our overnight stop.
Out of Ruoms and now we're following the Ardèche river, heading for Pont d'Arc, famous for the natural stone archway, formed over millions of years by the sheer force of the water. This is the gateway to the famous Gorges de l'Ardèche, otherwise known as the European Grand Canyon. We follow the river for 30km, marvelling at its many beaches and enormous limestone cliffs, as we make the short climb up to the Col du Serre de Tourre (322m), from where we can look down on the Gorge.
We stay at this level, cycling through arid, rocky terrain, stopping now and again at the viewpoints to take in the amazing panorama, until we exit the Gorge at St-Martin-d'Ardèche and the pretty town of Aiguèze. Here we cross the river via a very narrow suspension bridge, with huge, imposing towers. Now we follow the river Rhône, criss-crossing it as we go, riding through numerous vineyards. We're soon in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, one of the most famous wine producing areas in the world. Before long Mont Ventoux appears through the haze on the horizon - a timely reminder of tomorrow's ride. We ride past endless fields of lavender - the smell is amazing, but the most surprising thing is the incredible sound of the bees buzzing. Finally we cycle through Carpentras and head towards Bédoin, at the foot of Mont Ventoux.
We couldn't go past Mont Ventoux without offering riders the opportunity to make the climb to one of the most spectacular and iconic cols in the cycling world. Of the three sides, this is considered the middle one in terms of difficulty, but it's also the shortest, and it's the only logical way to insert it into the official route without travelling miles out of our way. From the hotel in Bédoin you have a couple of kilometres to warm up before you start the climb, then it's about 14km up to Chalet Reynard, and then a further 7km up to the col, passing the monument to Tommy Simpson who died at that spot 50 years ago in the Tour de France. When you reach the top, the landscape is absolutely amazing and totally unlike anything else you are likely to have seen - like an enormous sand dune - very barren, but stunningly beautiful. We stop briefly to take in the atmosphere and enjoy the sense of achievement before we retrace our steps to Chalet Reynard, where everyone regroups, pausing to pay homage to Tommy on the way down. If you're worried about making the climb, you have the option to ride in the minibus, but so far nobody has taken that option and even our weakest riders have managed to do it and been thrilled with their achievement.
From here we continue on our journey, riding through fields of lavender, chestnut plantations and lots of little towns. As we leave Banon, we say goodbye to the lavender at last and follow a wooded valley to a reservoir, Lac Laye, where we turn east and finish just outside the town of Forcalquier.
We descend from Forcalquier, crossing the stony river Durance at La Brillanne, as we ride into Oraison. From here we're cycling through lush, green farmland until we reach Moustiers-Ste-Marie, famous for its pottery. Out of Moustiers on the Corniche Sublime, with dramatic views over the surrounding countryside, before we descend to cycle around the enormous and imposing Lac de Ste-Croix. Before long we can see the Gorges du Verdon, as we cross over the bridge, to make the climb to Aiguines. Passing the château with its mosaic-tiled roof, we ride up to the Col d'Illoire (967m), from where we can stop to look down over the gorge. It's not the top, there's a further 3km to go until we reach the Source de Vaumale (1,180m), which is very understated, almost ugly.
For the next 30km we're either riding up or down as we travel through the Tunnels de Fayet, descending to cross the river at the Pont de l'Artuby, and climbing along the Balcons de la Mescla, until we come to Comps-sur-Artuby, where turn left and climb gently towards our overnight stop at Trigance.
We can drop you off at Nice airport, which is well-connected to major international cities, such as London, Dublin, New York and Toronto; or the railway station, which connects with many European cities. We'll also be passing Béziers on the road home, which gives you another option, especially if you've come from the north of the UK.
Airport Transfers, providing we can co-ordinate your itinerary with the rest of the group.
Ensuite accommodation in minimum 2* but usually 3* or 4* hotels, in shared rooms. Single rooms are available and a supplement of £550 applies.
Continental or buffet-style breakfasts every morning, supplemented with muesli if needed.
3-course evening meals every night with wine, a beer or a soft drink.
Snacks to keep you going during the day, such as bananas, chocolate, and quality energy gels and bars.
Bottled water and carbohydrate powder for your bottles, as well as High5 Zero electrolyte tablets.
Maps of the route for you to refer to as you ride and GPS files for you to upload to your device.
Souvenir full-zip Owayo St Malo to Nice jersey.
As many photos of you as we can take during your trip - usually a few hundred pictures - so you can relive your journey from start to finish when you get home.
We'll never be more than a few kilometres from you at all times, so you don't need to carry loads of kit with you "just in case". We'll try to be at the bottom of every climb so you can shed unwanted clothing, top up your water bottles and grab a snack or energy bar, and at the top of every col so you can add a windproof layer before you start your descent.
We don't make our prices look cheaper by leaving out evening meals, alcohol, or even airport transfers, so if you're looking at prices, it pays to make sure you're comparing like for like.
1600KM, 13 FULL DAYS OF RIDING, CLIMBING AROUND 19,500 METRES
DAY 1 - ST MALO TO VITRE - 129 KM, CLIMBING 1,100 METRES
DAY 2 - VITRE TO BRISSAC-QUINCE - 130KM, CLIMBING 1,000 METRES
DAY 3 - BRISSAC-QUINCE TO PARTHENAY - 130KM, CLIMBING 1,000 METRES
DAY 4 - PARTHENAY TO CONFOLENS - 127KM, CLIMBING 900 METRES
DAY 6 - SORGES TO SOUILLAC - 138KM, CLIMBING 1,700 METRES
DAY 8 - ENTRAYGUES-SUR-TRUYERE TO MENDE - 120KM, CLIMBING 1,800 METRES
DAY 9 - MENDE TO RUOMS - 105KM, CLIMBING 1,100 METRES
DAY 10 - RUOMS TO BEDOIN - 129KM, CLIMBING 1,350 METRES
DAY 11 - BEDOIN TO FORCALQUIER - 99KM, CLIMBING 2,000 METRES
DAY 12 - FORCALQUIER TO TRIGANCE - 123KM, CLIMBING 2,000 METRES
Out of Confolens and we continue to flirt with the river Vienne for the next 20km, winding through many small medieval villages on quiet roads, crossing the river at Chabanais, via a bridge that was rebuilt after the French Resistance destroyed the original during WWII, in a vain attempt to stop the Nazis. At Rochechouart you'll see many places (hotels, bars, campsites, garages) that are named after the meteorite that landed 4km to the west of the town around 200 million years ago. From here we follow the D675 into the Massif des Feuillardières with its chestnut trees and small rivers, before riding through the picturesque town of Brantôme, sometimes called the Venice of the Dordogne, which is built on the river Dronne. Onwards and we climb for a bit through fields and chestnut woods, before descending into Agonac. We climb again as we leave the town, following the signposts to our overnight stop in Sorges. This area is famous for its truffles, and there are bound to be some on the menu tonight! There's even a museum dedicated to them if you arrive in time.
DAY 5 - CONFOLENS TO SORGES - 118KM, CLIMBING 1,400 METRES
DAY 7 - SOUILLAC TO ENTRAYGUES-SUR-TRUYERE - 141KM, CLIMBING 1,900 METRES
We travel east out of Entraygues, following the winding river Lot, through several small towns and villages, including Espalion, where deep sea diving equipment was invented by two very enterprising local men - one a mining engineer and the other a naval officer. We continue on to Ste-Eulalie d'Olt, still on the river Lot, and one of the most beautiful villages in France. We follow the river along a flat valley surrounded by farmland, passing through an area that used to be known as Gévaudan. Here in the 18th Century, a wolf known as "La Bête de Gévaudan", attacked and killed more than 100 people, many of them children working in the fields, until it was finally killed. At Moriès we turn away from the Lot and follow the river Colagne through Chirac and as far as the fortified town of Marvejols, which used to be the capital of this region. Now the terrain is more demanding, and we make the short climb up to the Col de Goudard where we find we're at an altitude of over 1,000 metres for the first time on our journey. We pause to enjoy the stunning view before we descend into the small town of Mende.
We climb gently again as we cycle through the rocky landscape, and into Castellane with its Chapelle Notre-Dame du Roc, perched high on a cliff above the town. Across the river again, still climbing, to the Col de Luens (1,054m), followed by a short descent and then a modest climb to a final, unnamed col. This is the last significant climb on the trip. We cycle along a wide, fertile valley, until we come to a canyon called the Clue de Gréolières. Through the town and down the Gorges du Loup, with its waterfall, the Cascades du Saut du Loup; on through a tunnel and over a bridge where we can see both ways down the gorge. Another tunnel and another waterfall, the Cascade de Courmes. From here it's all downhill to Cagnes-sur-Mer, where we get a glimpse of the Mediterranean for the first time. The roads are noticeably busier as we approach Nice, but there's a cycle path to make it less nerve-wracking. Finally we're on the Promenade des Anglais, and we ride triumphantly into the old city of Nice. Time for a well-earned beer, I think! We stay in a beautiful old hotel by the old port, so we pack up the bikes and head out for a slap-up dinner overlooking the water.
DAY 13 - TRIGANCE TO NICE - 114KM, CLIMBING 1,000 METRES
This is our "relaxed" version of this tour, allowing riders to take a bit more time to stop for coffee, take photos, or just enjoy the scenery. If you're able to average 13 miles per hour and you're looking for a more challenging event, you may be interested in the 10-day ride, shown here:
We're always looking for something new and challenging for our clients to do, so when we discovered the book, France en Velo, we just had to find out more.
If you've already cycled from Land's End to John O'Groats, this would be a similar "end to end" - about the same distance but just a tad more exotic. The roads are far less busy in France than the UK, and the diversity of the scenery makes it simply spectacular. It could almost be sold as a wine tour, since we cycle through one famous wine producing region after another, and of course, we just have to sample the local wine each night with our dinner!
The route described in France en Velo takes you around Mont Ventoux, with the option to take an extra day and cycle the 26km each way from Sault to the peak and back if you want to. To us it seemed a shame to go so close to such an amazing and iconic place without actually giving riders the option to make the climb, so we've tweaked things slightly. The Bédoin side is considered the middle route in terms of difficulty, but it’s the only logical way to incorporate the climb into the official route with as little disruption as possible. So we ride through Carpentras and Bédoin, and then on up to Chalet Reynard and continue on to the summit, before descending back to Chalet Reynard and down to Sault, where we're back on the official route. Clients have the option to either cycle right to the top; to cycle as far as Chalet Reynard, 7km from the top; or if they really don't want to make the climb, to ride in the minibus. People usually stop to pay their respects to Tommy Simpson at his memorial on the way back down.
We originally organised this tour as a 10-day ride, but it quickly became obvious that while some people want to ride this as a challenge and have no problem with maintaining the necessary average speed of 13 miles per hour, others either aren't able to maintain that speed, or they simply want more time to enjoy the scenery, stop for coffee and take photos. So here's the same tour, but re-arranged to make a 13-day ride. We've tried to make the days as even as possible, but as we cross the Massif Central, towns - and in particular, hotels - become fewer and further between, so we have no option but to increase the length of some days. But we try to balance the days out, so it's still manageable for most average riders.