When able to take breaks away from our home area, one type of holiday we’ve found to suit us well, is a cycling tour in the company of others – and especially in France, a country we have come to love, having taken the children there on camping holidays for many years. We’ve covered most of the country in that time.
It undoubtedly helps in our relations with the locals, that we could speak good enough French to get by. They definitely wouldn’t stoop so low as to speak English, so we always felt on an equal footing with them. I have never found the French to be anything but unfailingly polite and pleasant. I can only assume that their reputation for being haughty and starchy, is due to Brits and other nationalities not being prepared to make the effort to learn a little about French language and culture.
Our first venture on two wheels, was with the specialist tour company French Cycling Holidays, who seemed to have garnered many favourable reviews. We couldn’t have made a better choice, and have made repeat bookings with them since, taking in Provence (including a slow ride up the iconic 2000m Mont Ventoux), the Languedoc, the Dordogne, the Loire Valley, and this year it will be Normandy.
Our first tour was around Roman Provence, in the south. We arrived in Avignon on one of France’s wonderful high-speed TGV trains – a treat in itself – before being collected by Mike (the owner of FCH), and his co-host, Henry.
We bedded in for our week of moderately strenuous cycling with a trip to Île sur la Sorgue. before settling down in our French country hotel. Suitcases are taken onward each day, picnics at lunchtime, whilst all you have to do is cycle around 40 miles each day and lap up the scenery!
Our fellow travellers (see pic below) were from the US, NZ, Oz and the UK – and by the end of the week we felt like we had known each other all of our lives. Lovely company, as it has been on every tour.
Day 4 of this tour took us to Les Baux de Provence, a famous fortified medieval village atop a hill. We had the chance to wander the streets and look at the historical artefacts, and, when enjoying an ice-cream in the main square, whistles started blowing, and police and security staff swarmed around, pushing we poor tourists to the side, and being told to stay where we were. They had dark suits, dark glasses and gun-shaped bulges under their jackets, so it was no time to break ranks.
It transpired that the Empress of Japan (sans Emperor) was paying a visit. Important in her own Japanese way, I suppose, but not exactly someone to get excited about (unless you’re Japanese). Who even knew what she looked like! No-one in our party had any inkling, other than presuming she would be slim, smartly dressed, with dark hair. We were right!!
We needed to be off on our bikes again to maintain our day’s schedule, but were held back for what seemed like an unreasonable time. It seemed an appropriate moment for a show of resistance, so, being bored and British, and feeling mischievous, both Mike (the owner) and I started whistling the theme from Bridge on the River Kwai – the classic 1957 war film about the building of the Burma railway by POWs, overseen by the cruellest Japanese troops. There were muffled sniggers around us, but not a move from the security staff (fortunately).
All very childish really, but irresistible in the moment, and soon we were on our way back down the hill from Les Baux to continue our leisurely journey around sunny Provence. Memorable times…. for us and the group you see below. We’re at the right hand end.