None of the information, links or mentions that you will find here are ‘sponsored’*. If it is here, it is because we think it may help you have a better cycling holiday.
* but see ‘Insurance’ below
4. The Language
5. What to Wear
6. What to Carry
7. Road Use
8. The Gallic Shrug
9. Public Lavatories
10. Public Holidays
11. Cash machines and money
12. Using Phones and internet access
13. The Post Office
15. Re-entering the UK
16. Websites and books
A valid passport is mandatory for travel to France. Information and application forms are available at main post offices. Allow plenty of time for the application process and check with the UK passport office for current processing times and requirements.
United Kingdom law** requires that we provide you with details of a source of insurance that will compensate you in the event that you have to cancel your trip and would lose your deposit or other payments. Where a company makes such information available on its website and a site visitor subsequently purchases from that source, it is usual practise that the website owners are paid a commission. We don’t want to sell insurance but would not wish such commission to go to waste so have asked that should any money be due, that it be paid to a charitable body recycling bicycles discarded in the UK for use by poorer communities in Africa.
**Package Travel Regulations 1992
Foreign Office Advice
Go to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (or Tel: 0870 521 0410 ) for current advice on travelling to France.
0. Luggage Security
Please help us transport your bags securely between hotels by ensuring each item is closed, sturdy, easily portable and clearly labelled. It is also a good idea to include your name and address prominently inside any baggage checked into the hold of an aircraft.
As with any European travel, taking a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) with you and keeping it with your passport makes absolute sense no matter how complete your travel/personal health insurance cover. You can apply for your EHIC by filling in a form in the “Health Advice for Travellers” booklet available at Post offices, or by applying online at the Department of Health website.
When packing for bicycling vacations in France, I used to assemble a personal first-aid kit that comprised nothing more than some elastoplast, antiseptic wipes, a pair of tweezers and a little tube of sudocream packed into a spectacles case: a sort of puncture repair kit for the body. Anything more serious, I sought expert help.
May you never need to summon an ambulance in France, but if… the number to dial is 15 to reach the nearest SAMU (Ambulance) unit – and before calling try to establish your location sufficiently precisely that your responder can direct a vehicle.
It’s a condition that booking with Bordeaux Cycle Tours that a guest has adequate personal accident insurance that, in the event of serious injury or ill-health, covers their repatriation and which specifically includes cycle touring as an activity. A few insurers treat cycling vacations in France as a hazardous sport and their standard holiday insurance will not cover you so it is important to check. Please note that a cyclist like a pedestrian is a road user and thus capable of causing an accident that causes damage/injury to others. Public liability (a.k.a. 3rd party insurance) makes sense wherever you cycle and is very cheap anyway if part of existing household or motor insurance. A phone call to your broker/agent can set your mind at rest.
You probably don’t need a cycle tour kit list from us (but see below) but do remember headgear that protects from the sun makes sense and a long-sleeved top may help prevent sunburn in the first few days. Spare spectacles, a stock of any prescription medicines, and enough credit/charge on your mobile to last the tour makes sense. Few if any, English language publications are available outside Bordeaux (and not many in it) so any holiday reading needs to be packed.
Unless your name is Lance Armstrong, cycling vacations in France don’t need a lot of support equipment and anything overlooked can be bought en-route – though the price of some toiletries may make your eyes water, (and £10 for sunblock?) and the adaptors that allow you to plug into a French two-pin socket can be expensive to buy over here. Here is a fun (and useful) site for packing obsessives.
4. The language
If your last French lesson was an episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo! or you have modelled your French accent on Inspector Clouseau, worry not. Dip your rusty French in:
1. A BBC page specially dedicated to the French language
2. RFI (Radio France International), a page about learning and teaching French
3. Fourmilab, a site offering a summary of useful resources for learning or improving French …….. and give it a polish.
And for those with a French vocabulary gleaned entirely from wine bottle labels and Tour de France commentaries when you book with us we provide the BCT Bluffers Guide for French Cycling Holidays which at 100 words can be learnt on the trip across to France. Available for sale at £780 (free cycle tour included).
– If you don’t believe 100 keywords are enough, you can test it out – spend a day in the UK using only the English equivalents to go shopping, to the pub for a meal, a bike ride in the country and buy a lottery ticket – with the occasional gallic shrug, easy.
5. What to wear:
Cycling vacations in France are not endurance events and you don’t need to acquire every bit of cool kit in the bike shop. BUT, if you don’t already own a pair (or two), buying proper cycling shorts will increase your enjoyment of the tour and reduce the incidence of chafing (writing this I have just googled ‘chafing and cycling holidays in France’ and not found any cycle touring companies discussing the subject – wonder why not?). This article about chafing and how to avoid it, fortunately, is grown-up enough to give 5 good practical prevention tactics.
Otherwise a cycling outfit should include:
- layers that you can remove/add
- trainers with a sufficiently stiff sole to cushion your foot,
- Sunglasses (preferably wrap-around to protect your eyes from insects)
- sunblock for all exposed skin (and sudocream for those areas never sunburnt)
- (strongly recommended) cycling gloves to cushion the palms of your hands AND
- very strongly recommended, a cycling helmet worn anytime you are riding. They can, of course, be purchased in France but we suggest you buy one and ride out in it a few times. We do not supply them because of reasons of hygiene and fit not because they are not important.
- You could bring your own water bottle or you can rely on purchasing bottled water en route.
6. What to carry?
Items to carry on the bike:
Water (litre a day?). ( handlebar cool bags are available for spares)
Sunhat and sun cream
Camera, and charger/converter for 2pin electrical sockets
Wet wipes or similar,
an emergency corkscrew (we supply a basic ‘picnic kit‘).
The bicycle accessories – lock, pump, repair kit, pannier bags that we supply
7. Road Use
French drivers invariably give cyclists a very wide berth and the only challenges you may encounter are those streets in the old part of Bordeaux which are one-way for cars but two way for cyclists. So check first before entering and have that gallic shrug prepared in case they are unable to appreciate your preference for the left-hand side of the street. In any case when crossing any traffic stream, always look both ways – or an absent-minded ‘brit’ may catch you unawares.
Need to know
Stay On Bike Path
End Of Bike Path
Proceed With Caution
8. The Gallic Shrug
Preparations for cycling holidays in France may include cycling down to the shops a few times but could also usefully include some time in front of a mirror practising that most distinguished of French art forms, the gallic shrug. To demonstrate the range of expression and degree of vacuity that can be achieved, we shall shortly be arranging a series of interactive webinars… no, course not (just kidding).
9. Public Lavatories
I have tried and failed to persuade the tourist office in Bordeaux to amend the standard city centre map so as to include the location of all public lavatories but have been only met with bemusement. They are far removed from the squalid facilities (I don’t mean the tourist office) that were all that was available when I first visited Bordeaux 400 years ago. Indeed few if any English cities can boast of such cleanliness and convenient locations.
The stainless steel ‘tardises‘, nominally coin-operated (50 cents) but usually now free, are close to most public spaces, though poorly sign-posted. Shopping centres, libraries and similar invariably include free public lavatories and where exceptionally, facilities (for example at main railway stations,) are staffed, a charge of 50 cents is usually made at the entrance. I have it on good authority that the law in France insists that lavatories in all bars, cafes, etc are open to all regardless of whether they are customers but have never put it to the test.
10. Public Holidays
Supermarket chains generally stay closed on Sundays but an increasing number are opening for a few hours in the morning. Corner-shops and local markets in the city open up 7 days a week as does the main fruit and veg market at Capucins (til about 1pm).
Bank holidays are similarly generally respected as days of rest and if you are not forewarned, in the countryside this can make it difficult to buy even a bottle of water. Hence this list of Public Holidays. Many petrol stations in France are fully automated and do not function as the shop of last resort, on Sundays.
Not a Public Holiday but… In Bordeaux, every two years during the third week of June, a Vinexpo is held that essentially is the world wine trades’ annual convention and every hotel room for 10 or more miles around Bordeaux is booked for several days. In 2010 it is 23rd -27th June.
11. Cash Machines and Money
It is unnecessary to bring large amounts of cash, though some euros will be essential. The majority of cash points accept Switch & Maestro cards as well as Mastercard and Visa, although of course there is a vicious transaction charge (minimum £1.50). Many, not all, will recognise your card’s origins and display its instructions in English. Exchange rates at exchange bureaux and banks are not significantly better or worse than the rates used by card-issuers so its not usually worth the queues unless it’s a particularly large transaction when the services of a money broker are best investigated.
Most supermarkets accept debit cards issued by UK banks but have a minimum transaction of 10-15 euros. Changing Sterling currency in small-town France has become quite difficult since the widespread use of Euros has made such foreign exchange transactions rare.
If offered 100 euro notes in change or at a bank politely decline them as most shopkeepers will not accept them (the risk of a forgery is too great) and a complex and time-consuming process at a bank is required to exchange them for smaller denominations.
12. Using Phones Internet Access
Most mobiles will automatically pick up a French service provider on your arrival… but calls made on your UK Sim Card will be charged as though you were calling from the UK even when the destination of the call is just down the street.
Phone cards can be purchased in Post offices and most tobacconists which give access to cheap rate international calls.
In theory, using the phone cabins or PCs in an internet cafe is the cheapest option but it is essential to ask for the rates that apply before calling and very obviously show that you are timing your call (the old adage still applies – ‘you act like a sucker, you will get treated like one”)
13. The Post Office.
Be warned that different counters in the Post Office may offer different (very limited) services and if you join the wrong queue… Expect slow-moving queues but civility when you do finally arrive at the counter and attempt to ‘achete des timbres pour une carte postale à l’Angleterre’. Alternatively ask your BCT host for stamps or buy them in a tabac and save yourself the frustration. Post Offices generally open: 08.00 to 18.00 but in the countryside may be open only a few hours a week.
Most restaurant bills have service included and no tip is required. If buying a coffee or similar at a café it is normal practise to leave the smaller of the coins that you receive in change as a tip (not surprisingly most prices yield several small coins as change). Taxi drivers will expect a tip but be sure to get a firm price for any journey before setting off.
15. Re-entering the UK
Go to The Custom and Excise site for any questions about what you may legally bring back from France. If you anticipate bringing wine back then remember to book a bag into the hold when you book your flight to avoid usurious charges by low-cost airlines.
16. Websites, books and other sources
As with most subjects, websites on cycling holidays, France, the French and all things ‘bike’ vary considerably in quality and you can waste a lot of life browsing without getting much return for your time. The sites that we have encountered that were worth a look we list below but it is not a definitive list, and we welcome your suggestions for additional relevant, interesting and, best of all, funny or inspiring sites.
The Bordeaux tourist information Office site yields to a determined searcher a lot of detailed information and can lead into the Bordeaux City Council (Connurbation Urbain de Bordeaux CUB) site
Countryside and Coast
The Departmental Tourism site, Gironde Committee Regional de Tourisme (CRT) can be found at and by following the links to the various local tourism information bureaux you can check out most places on your chosen route.
As sub-national government has a regional tier as well there is a Regional Tourism Information service – Aquitaine which promotes tourism across the four departments it covers.
Cycling in all its varieties
The Foreign Office on France
The glories of cycling in France, or anywhere else.
A story of derring-do – she dared to try and she done it – twice. An account of how Lynne Taylor of Walsall tackled a long distance record that makes most of us squirm even to think about. http://www.abcc.co.uk/Lynnetaylor/taylorl1.html A true Athlete, and yet with virtually no public profile.
Not one of the organisations, companies or website are referred to in this section because they have paid us to mention them, have promised to recommend us, will pay us if you click the link*, or will buy us lunch at La Boulangerie on Rue Barreyre, Bordeaux (05 57 87 60 76 to book). A few refer to us on their websites, but that is not the reason for their inclusion here, simply evidence of their good judgement.
Sadly, this does not demonstrate our integrity – just our lack of e-commerce and marketing savvy. So we‘ll have to be satisfied doing just one thing well – supporting great cycling holidays in south west France (& Le Boulangerie is only open evenings so there was never much chance of a free lunch anyway. ).
* but see ‘insurance’ above