A reader – yes! – “just wondered if you might be able to offer some advice.”
Well, I might. I enjoy displacement activity and responding to requests for advice is a special favourite. There is little risk that the advice will be taken, and the process of researching it allows me to dream of trips I have neither the time nor funds to make.
“My fiancée and I are planning a trip to France in the middle of August for 2 weeks.” Good plan.
“She is not a big cyclist,” I am glad to learn. Who’d want a big cyclist for a fiancée? So the requirement is for “a trip where the cycling is pretty gentle – but where we get to stumble across lovely villages / good food / maybe vineyards / the odd beach or river for swimming etc. Maybe up to 30-40 miles per day – but some days with no cycling at all. Could you recommend a good region for this that isn’t too hilly?”
Reader was thinking of the catching a train to Nice and cycling along the coast into Italy, but fears this may be a bad idea (“tourist central”). Reader is right, for that and several other reasons, including the difficulty of putting a bike on any train to Nice, other than the sleeper. Anyway, the 30km ride from Nice to Italy might not be quite enough for a fortnight.
Here’s an idea, combining some of the rivers of south west France, starting from Brive, a direct four hour train ride from Paris. (One of several ways to shorten the tour would be to do the first section by train and start from Figeac).
1 From Brive to Figeac via Collonges la Rouge (lovely village to stumble across), a stretch of the Dordogne (swimming opportunity) from Beaulieu to Carennac and, if wished, Rocamadour (tourist central). 100km. 1.5 days
2 From Figeac, follow the Célé down to the Lot, with a rest day to visit Pech-Merle (book in advance) and St Cirq Lapopie and go canoeing. Good food passim.
Follow the Lot to Cahors and explore some vineyards around Luzech before heading south to Moissac. 160km. 3.5 days including a rest day.
3 Up the Aveyron to Villefranche de Rouergue, via Najac and the Aveyron gorge. 125km, 2 days
4 From Villefranche to the Tarn at Ispagnac. About 155km. 2.5 days. Fiancée might find this bit hard work.
5 Ride down the Tarn gorge to Millau (more swimming and canoeing opps), Brousse le Chateau (prepare for hills after St Rome and an unlit road tunnel near Broquiès), Albi, Gaillac (vineyards) and Montauban. 250km. 4 or 5 days. Return to Paris by train.