The Tour de France is upon us, with professional cyclists including British stars Chris Froome, Mark Cavendish and Geraint Thomas currently tackling the Alps. The world’s most famous bike race offers the chance to marvel at the physiology of abnormally skinny athletes, titter at die-hard fans running up the side of a mountain in fancy dress, and - best of all - admire the landscapes of the most visited country on the planet.
The sight of the magnificent Alps, the rugged Breton coastline, or beautiful Carcassonne, all of which feature in the 2018 route, are sure to inspire wanderlust. So here are some of our favourite cycling holidays in France.
The cycling holiday for people who don't like cycling
OK, so you like the idea of cycling - gentle breeze, ever-changing scenery - but don’t want to bust a gut doing it? The Loire Valley is for you. Headwater offers four days of low-speed pootling through this flat but glorious region, stopping at the chateaux of Amboise, Chambord, Cheverny and Chenonceau. The trip includes hotel accommodation and plenty of fine food, too.
Marcel Theroux tested the tour for Telegraph Travel last year - and it really did sound heavenly. “As we saddled up each morning, one of the things we looked forward to was the feeling of being immersed in the peaceful rhythms of rural life,” he wrote. “We felt like privileged witnesses to odd vignettes: popping into a tabac for a pick-me-up at 11am to find the locals enjoying a glass of rosé; the man carrying red lupins to the graveyard like a character in Jean de Florette.
“The gentle exercise sharpened our appetites. And every hour or so, we passed a sign inviting us to break our journey with a wine tasting.” Cheers to that.
Provence and Camargue
See flamingos and wild horses in the Camargue, Roman remains and a starry van Gogh night in Arles, the papal palace in Avignon, and the Châteauneuf du Pape winemaking commune, on this one-week Provence to Camargue boat and bike tour with Freedom Treks. The pace is gentle – or you could really cop out and get an electric bike. We won’t tell anyone.
Drink your way around Burgundy
Adam Ruck, one of Telegraph Travel’s cycling experts, recommends a seven-day Burgundy Wine and Bike itinerary with Active Tours. “For the pedalling wine buff, it’s a salivating ride from Dijon down the Côte de Nuits to Beaune and on to Pommard and Puligny-Montrachet, before looping back via the fortress village of Châteauneuf en Auxois and a 50km stretch alongside the Canal de Bourgogne,” he explains. Included in the price are organised tasting visits with an expert local guide. From €2,050, including accommodation, most meals (dinners with wine), tastings and bike hire, but not travel to Dijon.
For something a little more serious, take the advice of David Millar - the former pro - and try Corsica.
“I’ve raced here a couple of times and was blown away by how perfect it was for cycling,” he says. “Much of the interior of the island is unpopulated, with the coastal areas being the main attraction for obvious reasons. This is a blessing for cyclists as it means much of the inland part is untouched and unbothered by people. Don’t be tricked into thinking it will be easy riding, though – there are proper mountains, the tallest of which peaks at 2,706m.”
Marmot Tours runs a Classic Cols of Corsica itinerary.
The best après-velo in France
As all keen cyclists know, the best thing about riding your bike all day is tracking how many calories you’ve burned off – and then attempting to eat and drink that same amount during an evening of gluttony. We’re only in it for the ice cream.
The best après-velo in France? David Millar reckons you’ll find it in Biarritz. He adds: “Oddly, Biarritz isn’t a destination much thought of when it comes to cycling, being primarily associated with surfing, yet it has lots to offer. I should know, as I lived and trained there for seven years. Much of the best riding is to be had along the French-Spanish border which lies atop the nearby foothills of the Pyrenees. The Col d’Ibardin and Col d’Ispéguy are my favourites and lead you into Basque country proper.”
History and coastal scenery in Normandy
Simply pedal off the ferry in Dieppe for glorious coastal scenery, in Caen to tour the D-Day beaches and resorts, or Cherbourg to explore the splendid isolation of the Cotentin – Normandy is ideal for a short cycling break.
While it’s easy to find accommodation as you go, there’s much to be said for an organised tour. Biking France offers several itineraries in the region.
The Beast of Provence
An assault on a the most mythical mountain of the Tour de France does not have to be an exercise in pure attrition. At the foot of Mont Ventoux - nicknamed the Beast of Provence and a 1,912-metre Tour staple where British cyclist Tom Simpson “rode himself to death” in 1967 - you’ll find the luxurious Hotel Crillon-le-Brave, a haven of haute cuisine and spa elegance.
There are three routes to the top of the mountain. For real hero points, get up early and tackle all three in one day – you’ll earn membership to the exclusive Les Cinglés du Ventoux club.
Meander along an engineering masterpiece
Another one for lovers of the flat. The Canal du Midi – a 150-mile channel cut across the torso of Languedoc-Roussillon in the late 17th century as part of a project to link France’s Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts – really lends itself to unrushed progress.
A section of it is featured in a seven-night group jaunt sold by Explore – a leisurely escape which manages 142 miles in total (at an average of 24 miles a day) as it winds to pleasing destinations like the walled city of Carcassonne and the medieval twins of Béziers and Narbonne. Prices begin at £1,079 a head including hotels, breakfast, bike and flights.
Taking part in a one-week Haute Route tour is as close as you’ll get to becoming a real pro. It is timed, with a leaderboard, fully supported, and features the same sort of leg-sapping terrain that Froome et al are facing this month. There’s even a time trial, for heaven’s sake.
There are two options in France this summer: the Haute Route Pyrenees (770km and 20,000m of climbing), featuring epic climbs such as the Aubisque, the Hautacam and the Tourmalet, and the Haute Route Alps (787km and 20,650m), starring the Galibier, the Madeleine and the Izoard. Not for the timid.