(Not Quite) Lost in France
by Andy Brown, 24 May 2017
Where Andy's Francophilia hits new heights, and he doesn't, despite his best efforts, actually get lost.
France. Home of le Velo. Arguably. Certainly, home to Le Tour: great roads and even better scenery. A great place to ride my bike no matter the season. That's particularly true of Provence and the Alpes Maritime where I’ve been fortunate to cycle twice. I know the area close to Grasse as we've friends who live there. But on a bike, you see things differently. That was the case on both trips. One in February 2014 and the other September 2016. One hot, one not. Both up and down with great food stops.
In 2014, I took my bike via Easy Jet and the single euro bus fare to Grasse. All good. It's a bit nerve wracking trusting the bike box to airport luggage handlers, but I've had no problems with BA or Easy Jet. The bus driver was also excellent. My problem is the lack of anything decent to grab hold of on the bike box to manhandle it across car parks, bus stations or airport concourses. But all went well. The bike was soon assembled and off I went. Lights, full winter gear and cash etc. Much better than the skiing option my wife and daughter chose. My route planning was a bit off - too many steep inclines - one ride had about 1,500m of climbing packed into 70km - but excellent. It felt better somehow. Like proper grown up cycling. Albeit not too serious - there was one very long lunch of steak and frites in Saint Cezaire to reward a beautiful valley climb.
Both photos, Credit: Pexel Images, 2017
The trip to the same area in the summer last year was as good, but with a twist. The change was friends had hired the best but most expensive full carbon bike for me. Far too good. But I loved it. Only two rides, but one of them out to a town called Gourdon with a view overlooking Vance and the coast that was spectacular. A steady climb up from Grasse to St Vallier de Thiey via the Rue Napoleon then up again, negotiating road works, to the romantic isolated plateau crossing to Caussols. Then a flowing curving descent to Gourdon. Brilliant lunch. Great weather. Lovely people. Slow climb back.
It is a beautiful area in the hills above Cannes. Ever so slightly off the beaten track. Great value for local food and drink and - I found this out thanks to the long lunch in Saint Cezaire in February 2014 - there are heaps of maps, routes and guides for all kinds of riding. Just wandering around, stopping for food and making time to talk gives you this chance to learn more – and test your French grammar.
I indulged my road bike and Lycra tendencies. But you can do what you want on a bike. And you won't get any sneery looks. Mind you. I did get one from the bike hire bloke last summer when he saw my pedals. "Non." He reached for his clean pristine pair rejecting the trusted ever so slightly grimy old ones of mine. They were not classy enough for his beloved rental.
So, do what you like on a bike in the south of France, but do it with style. Elan. Souplesse. Or just ride the bike.