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Paris - Hills, dales, forests and moors are quietly eaten up to the hum of tyres and the faint click of gears. The French countryside is ideal for a cycling holiday and a great way to imbibe the French value and celebration of life.
At harvest time, families bring in their grapes, fruit or even tobacco leaves. Young and old work exceptionally hard from dawn, with a break at noon for a snooze under the trees. This is a nation with savoir faire (know-how).
The roads are beautiful and the land is sparsely populated. Although industrialised, the French have deep roots in the land. Autumn is hunting season, and unwary cyclists have been known to receive a few stray pellets in their backsides.
Some of my favourite cycling memories were in this country – in particular, a ride from Najac to Monestie (which you will have difficulty finding on most maps) in south-west France. We cycled up a valley thick with oak, ash and beech trees, lovely and cool with the sound of running water.
In Burgundy, we pushed our bikes up a hill outside Cluny, and from the top, enjoyed the medieval landscape of abbeys, wheat fields, woods and vineyards.
During a grape harvest in Julienas we checked into a hotel where at 6pm on a warm evening, in the circular courtyard, tables laid and candles lit, we enjoyed a gourmet meal under the stars.
In Alsace, we cycled into a Hansel-and-Gretel village, complete with half-timbered houses and a beautiful circular fountain. Tractor-drawn bins overflowing with berries were being delivered to a winery.
We became part of the group, a mix of gypsies and students, and were invited to sample some earlier pressings in the cellars.
My last clear memory of that gloriously inebriated evening was handing a cat to a worried resident. “Votre chat, madame (Your cat, madam),” which is about as much French as I know, apart from “Je suis un Springbok (I am a Springbok).”
On the way back, the wind was behind us, and after 10 days of cycling, we felt like Tour de France veterans. The open road and cycle-friendly byways beckon.
l For more details on cycling in France, contact Serena Cartwright, a representative for Susi Madron’s Cycling Holidays, at 021 790 2207, or see www.cycling-for-softies.co.uk - Weekend Argus