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Touring in Europe

mattsawyermattsawyer Posts: 9
edited January 2016 in Tour & expedition
Hi All,

New to the forum but I've known of it for some time (as a reader but never a poster).

Right, I've done some searching but I have some specific questions now. Me and my friend are keen cyclers and are planning a road tour for 7 days - 14 days depending on how much we can see. We are looking somewhere like France (southern France) or Holland (Amsterdam). Somewhere where we can get our bikes on a train (Eurostar) or ferry to get across the channel and into Europe. We can either get another train from there or start cycling but the more trains we get the less cycling we do as we also need to get back and dont fancy flying. We aren't going to race around (probably gentle 40 - 50 miles a day) and want to see some nice sites and mainly have a nice relaxing lads week (or two).

So;

1. Which country is, in your own opinions, better to tour for a pair of beginners? i.e are road systems confusing, is it easier to find camping or less likely to get in trouble pitching.

2. Which country will be nicer to cycle by road bikes (I only have a full carbon Wilier Zero 9 - yes, I know this sounds silly). But which in your opinion is more beautiful in July / August time?

3. Is either place more risky to leave bicycles with a lower level of security (I wont be carrying my New York Forgetaboutit lock).

4. Can anyone recommend any specific places or routes which you may have rode before that are not to be missed?

I should mention we aren't set on France or Holland, they are just ideas based on transport getting there so any other destinations would also be helpful. Any information to get us started would be amazing.

Posts

  • mercia_manmercia_man Posts: 1,391
    Hi Matt. France is definitely a more beautiful country than Holland if you want good scenery and empty roads.

    For a first European tour, I would recommend the Bike Express coach as it's hassle-free and you don't have any logistical problems of booking trains which will carry bikes.

    I think you are in London from what you said in your other post. You can catch the Bike Express at three pick-up points on the M25 as well as Gravesend and Gillingham just before lunchtime. Most pick-up points are on motorway services which you can cycle to. Alternatively some have cheap parking. Your bike is loaded by staff in the trailer and you relax in the double decker coach which takes you to Dover and then to your chosen destination in France.

    Here's a suggestion of the sort of holiday you could do. You could take the Mediterranean route and get off the coach the next morning at Valence or Orange (drop-off times around 5.30 to 6.30am). You could then cycle across central France (an excellent touring area and still fairly quiet even in July/Aug) and catch the Atlantic route coach around 12 days later from Toulouse, Agen or Bordeaux for return to London. I've done this several times. You need to be capable of riding 40-60 miles a day to catch the return coach. Return tickets for Bike Express are £256 (cheaper if you are a CTC member). Visit www.bike-express.co.uk for downloadable brochure.

    As an alternative to a moving on tour, you could also consider taking the coach to a good cycling area, finding a campsite and enjoy unladen day rides. Bear in mind that southern France such as Provence will be very hot in July and August with daytime temperatures in the 30s. For sligtly lower summer temperatures, Burgundy is a great cycling area - not too hilly, lots of cycle paths on former railway lines and plenty of interesting and attractive towns and villages. You could catch the coach to Beaune. It drops off in the early hours and there is info in the brochure on pre-booking accommodation in budget chain hotels. You gain entry by your credit card and then take your bikes into the room with you - at least that's what we have done.

    Brittany and Normandy are two excellent cycling areas where you can combine inland touring with the seaside. That's where my wife and I did our first European tours. You could take a train to Portsmouth and catch Brittany Ferries ships to Caen or St Malo. You can get cheaper DFDS ferries to Le Havre but it is a nightmare to cycle out of - lots of motorways.

    French campsites are plentiful and cheaper than UK. Municipal sites in particular are a good option. Small independent hotels, often in the Logis de France grouping, offer good and reasonably priced accommodation and good value fixed price menus for your evening meal, whether or not you are staying there overnight.
  • Amazing answer. Exactly what I needed to know.

    I've taken a look at bike-express and they seem to be just what we were looking for. Time to start planning this trip now!

    Thanks again.
  • andymillerandymiller Posts: 2,856
    I'd second the suggestion for Brittany and/or Normandy. But Holland has its fans, you could get there very easily via Harwich, and it has very good cycling infrastructure. I've never been camping in the Netherlands, but the Dutch seem to be mad about camping so I assume they have lots of excellent sites.

    If you're going to Brittany or Normandy then your best bet is to get the ferry - Brittany Ferries do excellent services via Portsmouth and Plymouth but there are other alternatives (IIRC via Newhaven or via Weymouth).

    If you want go to the south of France then Bike Express might be your best bet, but the service is expensive and you can get there much faster if you carry your bike in a bag and take the TGV (the last time I looked it was possible to change at Lille Europe).

    The rules on Eurostar have changed since I used the service last summer. As I understand it, you have to put it in a box (which they provide) but that's not really a big deal. EDIT: according to their website they have a 'limited number of spaces' for unboxed bikes.

    There are bike-friendly trains from Paris Bercy for Burgundy (another good option) and to south-west France from Montparnasse (IIRC). (I think there's also a bike-friendly service to Toulouse but it's been a very long time since I travelled on that line).

    Sleeper trains are also a good option - there's a useful service from Paris Austerlitz to Nice, which is about the only rail option to the south of France if you aren't willing to put your bike in a bag.

    Riding across Paris is pretty straightforward.
  • mercia_manmercia_man Posts: 1,391
    Amazing answer. Exactly what I needed to know.

    I've taken a look at bike-express and they seem to be just what we were looking for. Time to start planning this trip now!

    Thanks again.

    Really pleased to be of help. Cycle touring is great. And France is a wonderful destination.

    I know Bike Express is fairly expensive but it's always been worth it for me because it's so simple to book online, catch the bus at a handy pick-up point, enjoy a meal and DVD on board and wake up the next morning in the south of France. No transferring between rail stations, carrying your bike between platforms or having to box or bag your bike depending on the various rules in force at the time. With Bike Express all you have to do to prepare your bike is slacken the stem, turn the handlebars to the left and take off your luggage bags. You can leave on your bottle cages. The bikes are carried in a custom double decker trailer, normally back wheel down in a channel, front wheel up, with a strap across your down tube. Some people tape the down tube to prevent scratches - I've never bothered and have never suffered damage.

    But book early. Bike Express is popular and the coaches fill up quickly. The downside is trying to sleep in a reclining seat as you travel through the night. You will probably want a short first day of touring to recover!
  • Hi, agree with all the suggestions for France,Belgium is allso a fantastic country for cycling shame about the weather,
    http://www.fietsroute.org/indexuk.php
  • Amazing answer. Exactly what I needed to know.

    I've taken a look at bike-express and they seem to be just what we were looking for. Time to start planning this trip now!

    Thanks again.

    Really pleased to be of help. Cycle touring is great. And France is a wonderful destination.

    I know Bike Express is fairly expensive but it's always been worth it for me because it's so simple to book online, catch the bus at a handy pick-up point, enjoy a meal and DVD on board and wake up the next morning in the south of France. No transferring between rail stations, carrying your bike between platforms or having to box or bag your bike depending on the various rules in force at the time. With Bike Express all you have to do to prepare your bike is slacken the stem, turn the handlebars to the left and take off your luggage bags. You can leave on your bottle cages. The bikes are carried in a custom double decker trailer, normally back wheel down in a channel, front wheel up, with a strap across your down tube. Some people tape the down tube to prevent scratches - I've never bothered and have never suffered damage.

    But book early. Bike Express is popular and the coaches fill up quickly. The downside is trying to sleep in a reclining seat as you travel through the night. You will probably want a short first day of touring to recover!

    I also recommend Bike Express. Have used them a few times now. I don't think they are that expensive when you consider that pick up point from UK and channel crossing is included. I live near M1 so ideal for me. I've come back from Europe under my own steam before and cost much more. I just wish they went to more destinations like Germany, Switzerland and Italy.
  • andymillerandymiller Posts: 2,856
    I also recommend Bike Express. Have used them a few times now. I don't think they are that expensive when you consider that pick up point from UK and channel crossing is included. I live near M1 so ideal for me. I've come back from Europe under my own steam before and cost much more. I just wish they went to more destinations like Germany, Switzerland and Italy.

    These things often come down to personal trade-offs. If you live near one of the Bike Express pickup points and their destinations work for you then yes it could be the best option. But if you don't, then it might just be worth keeping an open mind.

    And a short note on costs. I've literally just finished booking my ticket on the Paris-Nice sleeper for a trip in April: a couchette plus bike ticket cost me €45. My eurostar ticket cost me £45 and the bike ticket cost £30. There's a short bike ride between stations in Paris, but nothing that's a big deal. Train from London at 14.31 arrive in Genova (Genoa) in Italy at 14.16 the following day.
  • As above, Brittany has some world class cycling, and Brittany Ferries are excellent.
  • briantrumpetbriantrumpet Posts: 6,841
    I've literally just finished booking my ticket on the Paris-Nice sleeper for a trip in April: a couchette plus bike ticket cost me €45. My eurostar ticket cost me £45 and the bike ticket cost £30. There's a short bike ride between stations in Paris, but nothing that's a big deal. Train from London at 14.31 arrive in Genova (Genoa) in Italy at 14.16 the following day.
    I'm still somewhat in the dark about whether some of the night trains are being axed this year - I'm sure that last summer there was news that a lot were going to be cut, because of the losses they are making, and old rolling stock, but it's all gone quiet now. I've only used it twice (Die > Paris and back), but it was cheap and very pleasant.

    Incidentally, anyone wanting to but SNCF tickets, captaintrain.com is a very good site, much better than SNCF's own, and the app is good too.

    EDIT - I'm cross with myself now, realising I should have done the night sleeper at Easter for Paris to Die and back, instead of stopping overnight at hotels and doing early morning/evening trains. If the service is still running in July/September, my summer get-away will be via that option, I think. Cheaper, and gives me more time in Die.
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