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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, and even the odd windmill. We finally cycle into the beautiful historic city of Saumur on the banks of the Loire, 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. This is a massive wine producing area, and we'll be sure to taste a couple of the local vintages with our dinner.
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 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 for 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.
We leave Saumur and cycle away from the river 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 make a wide arc around the outskirts of Poitiers. Finally we arrive in the small town of Vivonne, which was a major transport hub in during the war, being the crossing of the main A10 between Bordeaux and Paris, as well as the main railway line, and was therefore frequently bombed by both sides.
Heading south east, we approach the river Vienne, passing under the magnificent viaduct at Ile-Jourdain as we touch the river and turn away again, winding through many small medieval villages on quiet roads. We follow the river along its eastern bank, before we arrive in Rochechouart. Many places (hotels, bars, campsites, garages) bear the name of 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, finally arriving in the picturesque town of Brantôme, sometimes called the Venice of the Dordogne, which is built on the river Dronne.
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 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, which is 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. More walnut plantations and duck farms and we finally arrive at our overnight stop in Souillac, a remarkably modern town in this very historic region of France.
Out of Souillac, continuing on the Route des Noix towards the Massif Central, and you can see that the terrain is becoming more hilly 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, famous for a fairly hard cheese that is about as close as you'll get to English Cheddar in France. We continue past the wine-producing area of Entraygues-Le-Fel and then cycle along the river Lot as we arrive in Espalion, where deep sea diving equipment was invented by two very enterprising local men - one a mining engineer and the other a naval officer There's a diving museum here and a bronze statue of a diver on the river bank.
After leaving Espalion, we soon come 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 (1052m), our highest point so far on this trip.
We pause to enjoy the stunning view before we descend into the small city of Mende, where there are lots of bars and restaurants to stop for lunch. 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 you'll also find a sign for the "Ligne de partage des eaux" that marks the point where you're equidistant between teh 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 du Villefort. Our final climb of the day is the gentle ascent from Villefort to the Col du Mas de l'Ayre (846m), and then we descend into Les Vans. It's noticeably warmer and you know you're finally in the South.
Now we're in the South of France there's an immediate change in the landscape. From lush and green it has suddenly become rocky and arid with goats, sheep, fruit orchards, olive groves, sunflowers and endless vineyards. We turn south at Ruoms and head towards Pont d'Arc, the natural stone archway spanning the river Ardèche, formed 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 with its many beaches and enormous limestone cliffs, making 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. 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 noise of the bees is also incredible. Finally we cycle through Carpentras and head towards Bédoin, at the foot of Mont Ventoux, where we stay the night.
We couldn't follow the route around Mont Ventoux without offering riders the opportunity to make the climb up 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 the only one we can include in the route with minimum disruption. From 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 would 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, 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. Climbing out of the valley to Forcalquier, with its observatory and its octagonal chapel, we cycle past lush green farmland until we reach Moustiers-Ste-Marie, famous for its potter, and our overnight stop.
It's our last day of riding and the challenge hasn't ended yet. We head out of Moustiers on the Corniche Sublime, with dramatic views over the surrounding countryside, before descending to cycle around the enormous 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 ugly Source de Vaumale (1,180m).
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. We had to make a compromise here, in order to make the distance today more manageable, so we deviate from the official route for the next 20km, riding through fairly flat farmland for a while, before climbing the Col de Clavel (1067m), and descending into Séranon, where we're back on the official route again, cutting out 30 rather insignificant kilometres. 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 ocean 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 pack up the bikes and then head into the old port for a slap-up celebration dinner.
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, provided you arrive and depart at a time that we can co-ordinate 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 £400 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, 10 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 SAUMUR - 180KM, CLIMBING 1,400 METRES
DAY 3 - SAUMUR TO VIVONNE - 146KM, CLIMBING 1,100 METRES
DAY 4 - VIVONNE TO BRANTOME - 165KM, CLIMBING 1,800 METRES
DAY 5 - BRANTOME TO SOUILLAC - 164KM, CLIMBING 2,200 METRES
DAY 6 - SOUILLAC TO ESPALION - 169KM, CLIMBING 2,500 METRES
DAY 7 - ESPALION TO LES VANS - 174KM, CLIMBING 2,700 METRES
DAY 8 - LES VANS TO BEDOIN - 153KM, CLIMBING 1,700 METRES
DAY 9 - BEDOIN TO MOUSTIERS-STE-MARIE - 160KM, CLIMBING 3,000 METRES
DAY 10 - MOUSTIERS-STE-MARIE TO NICE - 146KM, CLIMBING 2,100 METRES
Some people want to ride this as a challenge, and can easily achieve the 13 miles per hour that you need to be able to ride in order to complete it comfortably in 10 days. Others want more time to enjoy the scenery, take photos, and stop for coffee, and for those people, we've re-organised it into a 13-day ride. See more here: