Cycling Adventures, Cycle Touring in Southwest France

Interesting sites, beautiful villages and countryside, it is one of the least developed areas in France and remains fairly inexpensive to visit.

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By Murray Hendren

Ever dream of cycling through beautiful countryside on roads so small and devoid of cars they seem like bike paths? Or combining cycling with viewing unique historical sites? Or just having a great green vacation talking with friendly hosts and tasting great food and wine? Then you should consider cycle touring in the Dordogne and Lot area of Southwest France. Just four hours from Paris by trains that transport your bike with you, it is easy to access and a world of its own. Even though it abounds with interesting sites and beautiful villages and countryside, it is one of the least developed areas in France and remains fairly inexpensive to visit.

The first thing you’ll notice is the traffic – there is none – or at least very little if you stay off the main roads. Further, the courtesy of the drivers in this area is unique in France and perhaps the world. It is truly a pleasure to not have to worry about cars here.

Your cycling day typically starts with fresh French bread, cheese and lots of great coffee, and ends with a tasty supper and French wine. In between you will cycle along rivers, over hilltops with marvelous views, along ancient towpaths and through walnut groves. You can visit historic castles, fortified towns, prehistoric caves, bustling markets and of course wineries – the choice is yours. Just make sure that when planning your day, you leave some time for unexpected stops at interesting sites – you’ll see more of them by bike than you would traveling by car.

You can tour hub and spoke style, staying at a central location and riding to various sites each day; or, you can ride between sites staying at a different place every night. Or, you can do a combination of both.

You can do great hub and spoke touring from Roque Gageac, a cute town impossibly located between the Dordogne River and a near vertical escarpment once inhabited by cliff dwellers. From here you can visit prehistoric cave art sites such as Lascaux and les Elysees, the medieval city of Sarlat with its huge weekly market, Beynac and Castelnaud castles and the fortified town of Domme.

Depending on your time, you can then ride east to the early pilgrim town of Rocamadour (the second most visited spot in France) and then south into the Lot valley with yet more dramatic scenery and interesting sites. In the Lot, you can view the Pont Valentre in Cahors and ride the Ganil towpath (cut out of solid rock) near the town of Saint-Cirque Lapopie.

The best time to visit the area is June or September, when crowds are low and the weather is good. If you want to cycle into the evening, then choose June. There are many two- and three-star hotels to choose from with reasonable rates, and many campgrounds if you want to camp. The Logis de France hotel chain offers good value with excellent food, and they offer safe bike storage.

You could spend a week in the Dordogne region and another week in the Lot, depending on your time and budget. If you are pressed for time, hop a regional train for an hour or so (they all accept bikes) and continue your tour in a new area. If you wanted to add a third week, you could tour the famous wine region of Bordeaux just to the west. But no matter how much time you spend there, it’s a trip you won’t soon forget.

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