How to choose the right cycling holiday in France

There are dozens of guided, self-guided and fixed base cycling holidays in France (see our selection here) – David Houghton has this advice to help you choose the cycle tour that's right for you.

Before choosing a cycling holiday in France, consider what type of bike tour you're after and who you'd like to share it with. Photo: Andrew Dennes

Before choosing a cycling holiday in France, consider what type of bike tour you're after and who you'd like to share it with.

There's a cycling tour for almost every reasonably fit traveller. But to find your perfect cycling tour of France, you’ll need to assess what’s important to you. What kind of accommodation are you looking for? What kind of meals are you anticipating? What’s your idea of adventure? Your idea of comfort? How much personal attention will you need? How you prefer to cycle independently or in a group? Do you want to meet people and make new friends, or do you dread the thought of sharing your cycling holiday in France with a group of strangers? 

These are all valid questions, and it’s essential to consider them before you start shopping for a French cycling holiday. A cycling tour is guaranteed to give you a better understanding of what you value - even before you begin to pedal.

What is a guided cycling holiday?

A guided cycling tour is led by an experienced guide, often assisted by a small support crew. Cycling tours of France vary in price and quality from deluxe tours with hotel accommodations to inexpensive camping tours. Trip lengths vary from 2 days to 8 months (or more), and average cycling distances vary by tour and by company. Some also offer single day guides tours without accommodation or meals.

Differences in cost are related to the level of accommodation, meals, bicycle rentals, luggage handing and entrance fees to attractions along the way.

What is a self-guided cycling holiday?

Cheaper than a guided cycling tour, a self-guided cycling tour is also arranged through a tour company. They provide maps, book accommodation and arrange for your luggage to be transferred to your accommodation every day. Breakfasts are always included and some companies include dinners.

Although you don’t have a cycling guide, someone is always available at the other end of the phone for emergencies or mechanical help.

What is a fixed base cycling holiday?

Put simply, these are cycling holidays that use a fixed base – usually a hotel, B&B or gite – from which you can explore the local area. These tours may be guided or self-guided, and organised through a tour operator, with a daily route mapped out within a set radius of your accommodation. Sometimes your tour operator will have additional transport to ferry you to ride starting points farther afield. However, fixed base holidays can also be trips you've arranged yourself directly with the accommodation provider, who may be able to supplement your own research with local route advice and maps. Fixed base cycling is a flexible option that gives you the opportunity to alter your daily rides and routes without impacting on the next day's cycling. You can even take a day off if you want! 

Assessing the level of difficulty on cycling tours

On guided and self-guided cycling holidays in France, many companies will offer two or three cycling options suiting those who want to ride more and those who want to sightsee more and ride less.

You should look at elevation profiles (i.e are there mountains en route and, if so, how high/steep are they?) and itineraries for a better understanding of the difficulty of a trip. Terms like ‘beginner’ and ‘advanced’ can be subjective, and many companies use their own system to indicate different levels of difficulty. If you’re uncertain, be sure to check with the tour operator.

Do tour prices change?

Tour prices do change periodically, as well as routes and dates. Be sure to check the tour organiser’s website for the latest information.

How do you find a tour?

Search Freewheeling France's tours directory – we're working with some of the leading cycle tour companies in France to bring you a good selection of tours led by companies with a good track record in France. Listings are searchable by region as well as by tour type. You can also use our bespoke service (this it our Corsica page but we can offer similar service for most areas of France). It's also a good idea to ask other cyclists for personal recommendations – you could always post a note on the Freewheeling France Facebook page.

Once you find a tour and a company that you think may be right for you, spend some time looking through the cycling itinerary to make sure the bike tour meets your needs, and jot down any questions you have for the tour company.

Make sure you ask your cycle tour company if road-side assistance is included, especially if you're taking a self-guided tour. Photo: Andrew Dennes

What should you ask the tour company?

There are a number of details you should clarify before you book your cycling holiday in France. Find out the deposit necessary to book the trip, and check their cancellation and refund policy. Also, is there a supplement if you're travelling alone?

You may want to ask about the experience of their guides, and whether they’re local to the area you’ll be cycling in. You can request references from former customers if you’d like reassurance.

It's also worth asking if you'll need to know basic bike maintenance skills. Ask also if the tour requires any special knowledge or equipment: are bikes included in the price (if not, how much extra do they cost to hire, and is equipment such as panniers, pedals, helmets, etc included?). Or, if you prefer to bring your own bike, can the company help with transfers from the airport/train station?

And what if you’ve found your perfect cycling tour of France but none of the scheduled dates match your work holidays or your children's half-term break? Most companies will try to accommodate you as best they can – ask if they can either schedule another date for that tour or offer you a private tour for your preferred dates.

Family cycling holidays in France

Finding a family cycling tour in France shouldn't be a problem. There are many companies offering family friendly tours as part of their regular schedules, while other companies will tailor any tour for kids if you arrange it beforehand. More often these will be private tours for your family only, or you could get a bunch of othe cycling families involved and have fun together. Even if you’ve found the perfect tour and the company doesn’t advertise it as family cycling holiday, ask them if they’ll customise it into a family tour for you.

Search for organised tours in the Freewheeling France tours directory.

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