Pedal Dancer® - an online sport and travel guide for cycling enthusiasts. Bike and Travel Topics include: France Travel, Colorado Travel, Cycling Travel Blog, France Cycling, Colorado Cycling, Colorado Sports Photography, Road Bikes and Cycling Equipment, Cycling Events, Cycling Races, Cycling Routes, Cycling Maps, Cycling Climbs, Cycling Tours, Cycling Photography, Spring Classics, Tour de France, Giro d' Italia, Vuelta a España, Tour of California, USA Pro Challenge.



Tips on traveling in France with or without a bike

Please also read the many post at FRANCE CYCLING page

Photos from France in 2013

Album of photos from Cassis, Bonnieux, Crestet, Vaisaon la Romaine, Mont Ventoux, Gorges l'Ardeche, Uzes: Album France May-June 2013  

Guess Where? (a cycling and tourist photography travel series by Pedal Dancer)
Transportation to and in France
Tips for traveling in France
Regions of France
Fun travel stories 
Cycling in France
Food in France
2013 - Stories from travels in France
2012 - Stories from my travels in France
2010  - Stories from my travels in France

Pedal Dancer ebook guide to traveling in France with ease
If you are planning (or dreaming) about a trip to France to ride your bike, here are some random tips on traveling in France:

Hotels & B&Bs: large to medium sized hotels accept credit cards. Small B&B and lodges would much prefer cash so they do not have to pay the extra credit card service fees. I prefer lodges & Bed and Breakfasts in France because the service is more personal and the experience seems more french. Also it is wonderful to have a breakfast available to start your day. You may expect coffee, juice, a croissant or pan au chocolat with butter and jam. Sometimes you will be served yogurt or muesli/cereal. Special full breakfasts may include cheese or ham or hard boiled eggs. Do not expect a typical American full breakfast of bacon, eggs, potatoes, pancakes and toast. You will enjoy a typical french breakfast far more if you intend to ride a bike after your morning meal. Examples of written correspondence letter in French:

Bike Shops: there are a number in the area plus many sports stores. My favorite is located just NE above the center of the town of Lourdes. I have a list of some local bike shop addresses on the Cycling in France Page on this website. You will want to buy the entire shop! They are a good source for replacement drinks, goos, tubes, cartridges, clothing and helmets. (I was also wondering if a second set of wheels would fit in my bike box).

Super Markets in France: Remember to take your 1euro coin and a bag with you. There will be shopping carts as you enter the store. Place the 1E in the coin slot on the top of the cart, and unhook the key/chain that connects one cart to the next. You now have a handy holding cart for all your goods. Commas are periods and periods are commas. E2,80 is 2.80 euros. When buying vegetables you must weigh them first and collect a sticker while you are still in the vegetable section. The checkout person will not do this for you. We generally buy small portions of cheese, dried meats, prepared salads, olives (in a pouch), nuts, cookies, crackers, nutella, water, and wine. (Remember to bring a wine opener with you from home!). 

We also buy a couple of glasses, a knife, napkins, and small baggies to store and transport food. I also buy shampoo, soap, toothpaste here in France to avoid carrying the weight on the plane (even though it is more expensive), (I bring travel size sundries for the first night). Markets and bookstores also have great magazines (and cycling magazines!) buy one, and have fun trying to read it. Markets do not give out plastic bags, so bring your own, or simply place all your groceries back in your cart again after check-out and unload them individually into your car or backpack. Return the cart to the cart rack. Slide the key/chain back in place and your 1euro coin will pop out, ready for your next use.

Buying fresh fruit in the morning market or in small towns is quite fun (melon, cherries, peaches), also try the local cheese (goat or sheep!). Buying real baguettes and real butter (buerre) croissants from the corner bakeries (Boulangeries) is preferred. Charcuteries sell cuts of dried meats, it can be challenging but rewarding to try out some local meats. 

Operating Hours: Shops open around 9:00am. Bakeries and small markets are closed during lunch (12-2), cafes are open for lunch (12-2), but closed between lunch and dinner. You will likely be refused if you show up for lunch at 2:30 after a ride. Shops close around 5:00pm, very large stores close between 6-8pm. Bars open after work hours for drinks, but dinner is generally served 7-9. Large boulangeries might stay open until 8:00pm as workers pick up their bread on their way home. Cafes in small towns often close Sundays around 6:00, if they are open at all. Get used to this timing, you won't be disappointed if you know what to expect.

Greetings: *ALWAYS greet a store owner, worker, waitstaff, cashier, cyclist, hiker, (any person you see) with eye contact and a warm "Bonjour Madame/Monsieur". ALWAYS say "Au revoir Madame/Monsieur" upon leaving. Take a moment and truly pause over eye contact with this person who is working to make your vacation even more special. I can't emphasize this enough. I have friends in the USA who will hardly greet me with a hello, as if they are too self-conscious or have not been taught proper manners. I come to France and everyone, even cyclists on a bike, drivers, pedestrians, every individual treats me with the courtesy to at least regard me. I am fascinated with this word in France - regarder in french means 'to look'. And the French truly see and regard me. It is lovely (and I may never go back to the USA again for this reason alone!).

Gasoline: please don't rely on 24hr gas stations. Our USA credit cards do not have the chips required to use these stations. You must try to find a station with an attendant or a booth. Look for Total gas stations within normal working hours (9-12, 2-5/6). Also look for E.Leclerc, Carrefour, InterMarche super, or other large supermarket chains (open during lunchtime, closed on Sundays). Upon arrival, stand by the pump, pull out the hose, wait, the meter should be cleared to 00.000 for you. Pump your gas. Walk into the attendant, or drive to the booth, (Greet them!), tell them what number pump you were at "numero quatre", hand them your credit card for payment, sign, say thank you and goodbye.

Wi-fi Hot Spots (internet in France): check this link out before you leave home (or use your iphone for a quick research (to locate only), then rely of wi-fi ("wee-fee"). You can search this site anywhere around France for both free and paid wi-fi hotspots. you can also download an iphone app from them

ATMs: be sure to call your credit cards and local ATM bank before leaving home to let them know you will be traveling with your cards. This will keep them from shutting down service on your card in fear of fraud. Remember your pin numbers by heart, bring the phone numbers for your credit card companies with you in case of loss, and be sure to find out in advance which cards charge what for fees in Europe. I generally use my ATM card for cash, and my Capital One World MC (no individual transaction fees) for all other purchases.

Recycling: France recycles! I do too, I respect this since I am in their country. I separate out my plastics and find the marked recycling bins. If I stop in a town for a coke, after sitting outside for a drink, (or pouring it into my bike water bottle), I ask the shop owner if they could recycle my can please.

Laundry: Purchase Genie hand soap for washing cycling kits and clothes. (Oh bring a hanger with clips, or a small laundry line with wooden clothes-pins for drying. Electricity is VERY expensive in France, so try to avoid using a dryer if at all possible (more likely not available). If you need to do a big load and have a couple of hours to sit around, you can find a laundry station (it looks like a small portable building) attached, but outside, of some of the large markets. Drive around in the parking lot to see if you can find one first. A load will cost you 8-12 euros. I try to bring clothes that can be hand-washed only.

Hostess gifts: If you are visiting a family or friend you might want to bring a gift for them. I have learned from what my French friends bring back to France in their suitcases from the United States. A few gift ideas might include: hand, kitchen or bath towels, specialty sauces like salsa, hot pepper, or BBQ sauce. Or perhaps something from your local state. Or send them a picture of all of you together.

Rental Car Models: Renault Scenic. I love this car. It easily holds 2 people, 2 bikes, 2 bike cases, and 4 bags. Or 3 people, 3 bikes, bags, but no bike cases. (pesky bike cases). Or a Ford C-Max (similar model). Wolkswagon Golf or the smaller Renault will do fine for 2-3 people with bikes, bags, but NO bike cases. 

Bike cases and racks: Bike cases are a pain while traveling, there is no getting around it. I have had friends who have paid bike shops to store their cases for them while they travel. I had a couple friends devote a bunch of time trying to get a bike roof rack for a rental car, the rack remains in a basement in France. I met 3 Irish lads who bought a bike rack at the local sporting good store upon arrival in western France for the rear of their trunk (boot), use it for three weeks, and leave it when they flew out from the eastern side of France.

There you have it - "more than you would ever dream to know" about getting around in France. That is my friend Jean Paul's term for when we seek to know far more than is really necessary. 

More Cycling Travel tips in France

Water while you are riding a bike in France:
Many small towns have a central water spigot or fountain. It will be recognizable by a metal spout and a brick basin or pond. Some are free flowing, other need to have the knob pulled or pushed. The water is drinkable if signed "eau potable", don't drink it if it is labeled with a non potable sign. It is good, enjoy the water for free. Otherwise a coke at a small shop works well, or buy an espresso at a cafe and fill your bottles in the restroom. (This one is in Saint-Marie-de-Campan on the way up to La Mongie on the east side of the Tourmalet). 

Don't drink the water you see flowing from the mountain side or from random creeks, or if it at all looks like farm animals drink from the source. If you have a concern, ask a local. If you are really desperate for water, ask a camper or a person in a RV for help.

Bikes outside of cafes:

In small towns it is fine to rest your bike (velo) against a wall and sit and have a coffee or a drink or lunch. Bikes are generally safe in small towns and at the top of the Cols. Do not leave your bike unattended in the large towns or cities. Not even to rest them against a post when you are sitting nearby having a drink. It simply is not wise. Also do not leave your purse, laptop, or bike visible in your car. We buy an inexpensive blanket and cover them up, or try not to travel with them in the car.

Good roads to ride upon:

Avoid the Red roads, Yellow is okay if scenic, White is the best. Watch for no bike signs and don't go there. Expect to get lost around Argeles-Gazost. It is simply confusing, to nearly everyone. I wrote a post about understanding bike signs in France in June 2010.

Peage/Tollways in France:
Not all tollbooths are created equal. You will receive a ticket at some and be required to pay at others. The open lanes are marked by a green light. If you pull your car up and a ticket comes out, pull it out and save it safely, drive on. At the next station you come to, insert the card and then your credit card to pay the required amount. Retrieve your card, and drive on.

If you arrive at the booth and see only a coin bucket or a due amount showing, toss in the coins, or use your card. Using a credit card is much easier at all tollbooths.

Parking Lots in France:
Parking in City Centers are often fee parking marked by a Blue square sign with a white P. These blue signs will lead you to the public parking lots. Whenever you see the Blue P Public Parking Lot, drive up to the gate and push the button to collect your card. Park your car and take your card with you. Go shopping, eating, touristing, whatever. Upon return to the lot. Locate the parking payments kiosks/machines. You pay upon return, get back into your car, and place the card in the gate booth upon exit.

This order is important. Also many of these parking garages close at 10:00pm (22:00). They'll lock your car in. One time we happened upon a great outdoor country music concert in Pau and decided to stay and listen, only to return to find our car was locked inside the garage. We had to take a taxi home and ride a bike back into the city the next morning. So much for wild nights in the Pyrenees.

Beware some open air parking is also marked as payment required. Payment will be painted on the asphalt or signed. Locate the small pillar/booth and purchase a timed parking pass to be placed on your front dashboard.

Food after your ride:
If you finish your ride after 2:00pm, look for Boulangeries (Bakery), Bouceries (Butcher)/Charcouteries (Deli), they should be open. If you are like me and enjoy protein after a ride, the Charcouteries have meats and salads, the Boulangeries have quiche, small pizettas, and perhaps ham and cheese sandwiches. Or look for small grocery stores in the towns where you don't have to leave your bike unattended. Buy some food and sit outside and eat it.

Watching the TDF coverage on TV:
Then look for a Bar/Tabac or Cafe Bar. They will serve you a cold drink (no food at the hours the TDF will be on so eat up at the bakery). The Bars will allow you to watch their TV so you can catch up on the Tour de France when it is in the part of the country where you are not. Bars often have the large TVs. Greet the Bartender kindly, "Bonjour Monsieur", you may ask the bartender nicely "pouvons-nous regarder la TV?, le Tour de France, si'l vous plait? (may we watch the Tour de France, please) pointing to the TV. Then settle in to watch the race and be sure to buy a couple of drinks. The World Cup is on right now, so it might take priority, but the French love the Tour de France as well. Say thank you and goodbye upon leaving. "Merci, Au revoir Monsieur".

Routard Guide Book Ratings:
Many establishments in France will carry the sign of Routard outside their restaurant or hotel. The symbol is of a hiking man with a backpack and walking stick. They are about 8"x10" in size and will be hanging by the front entrance. Look for these plaques. They are regarded as recommendable. Usually they will lead you to a truly French experience. If you are roaming through a town looking for a place to stay or eat, select a Routard recommendation.

Paying with a credit card at the Super Market:
Again our USA credit cards do not have the required chip as is customary in France, and so I always simply hand my credit card to the cashier. The are very understanding about running the card for you. Sometimes they will swipe it in a different machine. Again show that you are grateful for this added service.

I purchase an Atlas of France before leaving home. I cut out the individual pages where I will be traveling. I highlight my proposed routes on the pages. I bring a small plastic baggie. Every day I select the page that contains my route of the day and stick it in the baggie, and place it in my jersey pocket. This keeps the map dry and readily available.

I purchase the individual Michelin LOCAL paper maps of the areas where I will be traveling. I use these for large scale planning, for driving, and to see the entire route of one stage of the Tour de France. Be sure to buy only the Local Michelin maps, when you are on a bike, you will need that much detail. These are the traditional size maps, and are too large to carry with you on a bike, that is why I prefer the individual Atlas pages instead.

Map #s: *342, 338, 340, 343, 344, 335

Trafic Signals:
You should stop for red lights in a car and on a bike. The lights are often 2 meters to 5 meters before the intersection. Be sure to stop before the light so you can see when it changes. We are used to driving directly up to the intersection to look both ways, if you do this you will be stuck in no-mans land wondering when to go. (A flashing yellow light, means to proceed ahead slowly.)

Oui Oui Oui:
In the countryside of the Pyrenees, oui is not pronounced as "wee", but as sort of a combination of "waih or weuh", you will hear this a lot. The sound of "wee" is of the north, of the big city, of more formality. A positive response sounds something like: "yah way" (they are not telling you to go away).

Also read my earlier post with additional tips: Getting around France with ease

Alright, there you go, more of "more than you ever dream to know" about traveling around France with a bike. Also I'm going to be giving some TDF fan tips coming soon. Happy travels!

General France Travel Tips (from my brother Straw)
  • Need 1 euro coin for shopping carts. We keep a single euro coin in the dish in the car just for this purpose.
  • You need to take one or more empty bags with you into the grocery store. They do not offer bags in the markets in France.
  • Picnics are fun. Meals in the restaurants are nice but get boring after weeks in a row.
  • Get an outdoor table cloth at l'Eclerc - buy off the bulk roll in the store. One meter should be fine. ~ 6 euros.
  • Vegetables - some are per piece others you have to weigh yourself in the produce section and mark before going to the checkout..
  • Buy bottled water in bulk and keep them out of the sun. We buy the large Volvic 6 pak. You might also enjoy all of the carbonated water options.
  • Don't drink at all before driving - strict rules and you don't speak the language.
  • Stopping for cafe on longer drives is fun - either on the peage or at little restaurants in the country.
  • At the toll booths, use your credit card in the lanes that say CB or Bank Card. Much easier than coins.
  • "Danger comes from behind" - when driving on the peage focus on cars coming up behind you before changing lanes. This quote is from a guy who drives in Europe all of the time. I think of it constantly while driving there. The speed of cars behind you is the surprise, not the ones in front of you. Some cars may be going 50 mph faster then you so they were not in your mirror 10 seconds ago.
  • Always say Bon Jour to the proprietor when entering a store or cafe. Asking "Parlez vous ingles?" is a nice way to start a conversation before butchering their language.
  • You have to ask for the check, L'addicion SVP, or it will not come.
  • Tipping is not required. Leave only small change when you have some. We tip a little if it is a place we frequent.
  • On round-abouts, be sure to look hard to the left and even a little down the road to the left. If they are driving fast they can be in the roundabout before you realize it.  It is easy to get into a rhythm on the round-abouts so you need to be extra careful to always be cautious and look hard to the left especially on smaller roundabouts within developed areas.
  • When in doubt drive slowly and go around the round-about a couple of times. Let them honk. If they honk that means they see you, which can be a good thing.
  • The days are long so do not forget you still have 3 to 4 hours of sunlight after 6pm.
  • Just reading a book or a magazine in a cafe is a wonderful way to spend a day.
  • Do not plan too many things in a day. No rushing is required (plus it does not really work there).
  • Tarte au Citron, Pain au Chocolat, Figolus, Cafe au Lait, Fresh Baguettes, Laughing Cow Cheese, Petit Deli Chocolate Orange Cookies, Orangina, Diet Citrus Soda, Pastis, Rose, are Good.
  • Be Like Suz - a smile, a question and a laugh will open interesting conversations and maybe opportunities.  

Renting a Car and Driving in France
  • Understanding road signs in France      
  • Understanding Autoroutes and Toll Booths in France 
  • Map of Road Construction at Bison Fute     
  • Frixo Road Traffic Reports for the UK Provide current Road Traffic Reports and weather reports. Frixo is a road travel reporting website, that provides users with the most up-to-date road traffic information. Frixo data is updated every 5 minutes using sensors placed on motorways and common A / B roads. It is a free service aimed at giving you live traffic news and information. If you are driving through the United Kingdom, Frixo is a good resource. The website reports road delays, and live average speeds on roads helping you to plan your travel and avoid delays. 
Car Rental Insurance: Try this company for comprehensive (cheap) car insurance for your auto rental:. Premium Car Rental Protection is you use an AmEx: 

Rental Car Models: Renault Scenic. I love this car. It easily holds 2 people, 2 bikes, 2 bike cases, and 4 bags. Or 3 people, 3 bikes, bags, but no bike cases. (pesky bike cases). Or a Ford C-Max (similar model). Wolkswagon Golf or the smaller Renault will do fine for 2-3 people with bikes, bags, but NO bike cases.   

Bike cases and racks: Bike cases are a pain while traveling, there is no getting around it. I have had friends who have paid bike shops to store their cases for them while they travel. Or have left the cases at a hotel upon arrival and picked them up while staying a night before departure. I had a couple friends devote a bunch of time trying to get a bike roof rack for a rental car, the rack remains in a basement in France. I met 3 Irish lads who bought a bike rack at the local sporting good store upon arrival in western France for the rear of their trunk (boot), use it for three weeks, and leave it when they flew out from the eastern side of France. If you dare you can transport you bike in a cardboard box and leave it at the airport upon arrival. Check with the airlines that they will have one upon return for you to pack up. 

Every time I go to France I handle the bike box dilemma differently. Paying a tour company to move it for me, or leaving it a friend's home, or schlepping it along. If you travel with people who have the same bike case it makes packing them in a rental car much much easier. The Serfas, Thule model of bike boxes can be sandwiched inside each other and strapped upright to the inside of the rental car, allowing you to slide two bikes easily in and out of the back, on the other side. With luggage in the front middle. This set-up is perfect for two drivers/cyclists, but you will need to rent a Renault Scenic or Ford type of crossover 5 door car, which adds cost to your overall trip. 

Some people go as far as to bring "breakaway" bicycles. These are standard road bikes, with frame connectors that allow the bike to be broken into smaller pieces. The pieces fit into a travel case which looks like a hard-sided old-fashioned Samsonite suitcase. Approximate weight is around 38lbs for these bikes, opposed to just under 50lbs for the traditional bike box with bike. The smaller size of the breakaway bike case is much better if you plan to take taxis or the subway (traditional bike boxes cannot fit through the turnstiles). 

Traditional bike boxes can be loaded onto trains and buses in the designated oversize baggage area. yes they are in the way, but it works. I do not recommend traveling to Europe with the large top loading bike boxes, they are just too bulky and heavy. Weight limits on all overseas flights is now 50lbs for excess luggage. Bikes no longer count as your second piece of free luggage. You must pay ($50-$250) each way to transport a bike from the USA to Europe, and you will pay much more for "excess weight" if your bike & case total more than 50 pounds. So be careful not to load any extras into the box. The good old days are gone. 

Scicon cases are the Mercedes of bike boxes, your bike will not be damaged and travel in style. Although they are bulkier to pack, they do roll and pack up much easier. Remember security will open your cases, and jam them back closed, so be extra careful of hangers and derailleurs and bars and anything extending to the edges of the box, be sure to tape, strap, or secure your bike in place very well.

Some people travel with soft-sided bike cases, but I'm not ready to speak up about whether those are good or bad yet until I interview a number of people. I have an all carbon bike, and I wouldn't want to discover it damaged in transit at the start of my big vacation.

Understanding the Regions of the Pyrenees

The Valleys of the Pyrenees Where are the best bike rides in France?

The Valleys of the Pyrenees in Pictures a visual trip from west to east
Regions of southern France
  • Aquitaine
  • Midi-Pyrenees
  • Languedoc-Roussillon

Understanding the Departments in the Pyrenees

Cycling in France: It is very helpful to understand the regions of the Pyrenees when looking for accommodations in France or buying maps in the area you intend to ride. There are three primary regions in the Pyrenees, divided into Departments. There are major cities designated as region capitals and department capitals.

What Departments are we specifically concerned with for cycling?:

  • Pyrenees-Atlantiques  
  • Haute-Pyrenees  
  • Ariege
  • Haute-Garonne
  • Aude
  • Pyrenees-Orientale

Anatomy of the Pyrenees

What we think of as the Pyrenees Mountains – the stretch of mountains running West to East, just north of the border of Spain, is in fact not one region but 3 separate regions in southern France. Understanding the organization of the regions, then the departments, and then capitals and major cities within each can be a bit confusing. To locate accommodations, arrange transportation, and buy the correct map or guidebook it is very important to understand the organization of the regions of France.
For a quick reference divide the mountain range into thirds, the western third is Aquitane, the middle third is Midi-Pyrenees, the eastern third is Languedoc-Roussillon.