FIRST TIME FRANCE

Cycle-touring, Expeditions, Adventures, Major cycle routes NOT LeJoG (see other special board)
somebloke
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Joined: 24 Apr 2013, 10:09am

FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby somebloke » 13 May 2014, 5:57pm

Okay, my wife and I would like to visit France. We have a touring tandem and live near Porstmouth but we've never been to France, don't speak French and have no idea where to start. What lies the other side of the Channel is a mystery. A friend suggested a long weekend (or a long midweek) with no car, just the bike, to get a feel for it. So this opens up questions of where to stay, what ferry routes are best and where to cycle when we get there. We can travel outside school holidays and midweek travel is fine. We don't want to ride long distances, in fact just staying in one place to explore a bit would be good for this first time.
Any advice or guidance would be much appreciated.
Thank you.

Psamathe
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Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby Psamathe » 13 May 2014, 6:10pm

Re: Language. Not a major issue but if you learn even a little and use it even very badly you will get a lot of cooperation. When I was there I only spoke my (diabolical) French and even when you are destroying their language, that you are trying is really appreciated and invariably makes people want to try and help.

Depending on what you might already know, there are quite a few free resources on the internet e.g. http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/french/talk/.

But don't let language put you off. Worth trying to pick up even a little but worth going whatever.

Ian

khain
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Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby khain » 13 May 2014, 7:08pm

France is brilliant for cycling, much better than Britain. As far as I know the whole country is good but it would probably be best to start along the north coast - Normandy is really nice. Get the ferry to Le Havre and just go from there. There are loads of nice little villages and most have campsites or other accommodation. Make sure you get a fairly detailed map. There are loads of good quality quiet roads for cycling and drivers are generally more courteous to cyclists than in Britain.

Not many people speak English well but so long as you learn a few basic phrases you should be ok. Take a phrasebook and do make the effort otherwise the people will look down on you, and rightly so.

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al_yrpal
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Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby al_yrpal » 13 May 2014, 7:41pm

Portsmouth to Cherbourg, turn left, ride through Barfleur to St Vaast la Hogue. Stay in the Hotel de France et Fuschias. You can book by phone. They have a wonderful position just off the harbour and a fantastic reasonably priced restaurant with a lovely conservatory and a hidden garden with masses of flowers. They speak English and the owner a lady has been running it about 40 years. You can visit Isle de Tatihou and the Oyster beds. The town is a bit of a gastrononomic destination for the French, packed with seafood restaurants. There are lovely rides to places nearby. Avoid Le Have the cycling to Honfleur is a nightmare and its a long crossing. That hotel is a favourite of ours for a weekend.

Al
Touring on a bicycle is a great way to explore and appreciate the countryside and towns you pass through. What do you do to make a difference?

hamster
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Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby hamster » 14 May 2014, 9:48am

I did a mini-tour last year from Portsmouth on the tandem with my son. Take the night boat,arrive bright and early in Ouistreham (Caen), then tootle along the D-Day beaches. Camp in Arromanches, day trip out to Omaha beach. Second day trip to Bayeux, then on the final day a gentle ride back to Caen for the afternoon boat.

The D-Day history (debarquement, not invasion as they point out - the Germans were the ones being invaded) means that people are firstly used to anglo visitors, secondly they are very welcoming even if we did bomb Caen to rubble and inflict huge civilian suffering. Just remember it's the 70th anniversary of D-Day this year, so in early June things could be busier than usual. The municipal campsites (especially Arromanches) are clean, cheap and usually very well-located.

nirakaro
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Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby nirakaro » 14 May 2014, 12:50pm

If you start from le Havre, don't be put off by the first few miles, which are through rather austere docks and industry. Once you cross the Pont de Normandie, you're in pleasant countryside.

Ben@Forest
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Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby Ben@Forest » 14 May 2014, 1:21pm

A few years ago I did the 'Route de Cidre' or at least large parts of it, in a part of France that can't make its own wine it's a good idea. Like others, I disembarked at Caen and then went through villages such as Beuvron-en-Auge (officially one of the most beautiful villages in France). Also visited Pont-l'Évêque (as in the cheese), Lisieux and Honfleur. I don't remember it being especially hilly and French hoteliers are often more accommodating in putting your bike somewhere secure.

As first timers - and unless you are in the first flush of youth - I would recommend pensions or hotels. There is nothing more dispiriting after a wet day riding then having to put up a tent, try to dry clothes and maybe even cook and eat in the rain. When you get more seasoned then try camping if you wish. I wouldn't want you to get put off cycle touring at the first go because of lousy weather. Have a go - you'll have fun!

eileithyia
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Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby eileithyia » 14 May 2014, 4:23pm

France is brilliant, learn a few lines / keywords and you will be fine, struggling with the language is part of the fun of touring.
I stand and rejoice everytime I see a woman ride by on a wheel the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood. HG Wells

JJF
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Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby JJF » 14 May 2014, 8:16pm

Living near Portsmouth you are spoilt for choice of crossings.
Look at http://ldlines.co.uk/ and www.brittany-ferries.co.uk Between them they offer destinations: Le Havre, or St Malo, or Cherbourg, or Ouistreham.

Find a crossing which suits your timetable.
A single centre trip would be ideal for a start.
As has been said by other contributors above, France is brilliant for cycling.

jake
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Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby jake » 16 May 2014, 10:03pm

This humorous book by Edward Enfield (Harry's Dad) is very encouraging to beginners cycling in France : http://www.amazon.co.uk/Downhill-Medite ... way+edward
He and his wife started with some short rides from Le Havre along the Seine.

somebloke
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Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby somebloke » 17 May 2014, 10:20pm

Many thanks to everyone who has responded so far. All very helpful and encouraging.
I tend to agree with the idea of avoiding camping for a first trip as 'the first flush of youth' is a distant memory. I do like the idea of a single centre somewhere near the ferry and riding out from there. Maybe three nights??? Are hotels expensive? What about bike storage?
Is there space for bikes on the ferries? Is there any need for booking?
The idea of an overnight trip on the ferry sounds tempting, especially as I suffer badly from motion sickness.
If this trip is successful, we'll look at longer trips. A short break seems like a good introduction.
Thanks again.

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al_yrpal
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Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby al_yrpal » 17 May 2014, 10:59pm

You can book yourself and the bike on any ferry on the Brittany Ferries website. For such a short trip its not worth getting a special seat. The Hotel de France in St Vaast you can book by phone or on the internet, just have a look at their website.. from 90 to 140 Euros per night. Plenty of security for your bikes

Al
Touring on a bicycle is a great way to explore and appreciate the countryside and towns you pass through. What do you do to make a difference?

somebloke
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Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby somebloke » 18 May 2014, 6:24am

al_yrpal wrote:You can book yourself and the bike on any ferry on the Brittany Ferries website. For such a short trip its not worth getting a special seat. The Hotel de France in St Vaast you can book by phone or on the internet, just have a look at their website.. from 90 to 140 Euros per night. Plenty of security for your bikes

Al


Thanks.

vjosullivan
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Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby vjosullivan » 18 May 2014, 9:45am

somebloke wrote:We ... don't speak French and have no idea where to start.

There are several online web sites that teach the basics of languages. I am currently using Duolingo on my iPad. It's free and has an online counterpart (at http://www.duolingo.com). Everything is broken down into small chunks that take about ten to fifteen minutes to complete (a little longer if you keep repeating a section until you get 100%.) Designed to be used casually and daily, this particular app may suit lapsed speakers who have forgotten more than the learned at school but it does seem to work.
E25

DevonDamo
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Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby DevonDamo » 18 May 2014, 10:40am

No one else has mentioned it yet, so: keep an eye out for restaurants in towns with lots of white vans parked outside them around midday on weekdays. These are likely to be serving a fixed-price meal for workers, and it's excellent value. It will say something like 'Menu Ouvrier' or 'Menu price fixe'. Last time I was over there, I had 4 courses, and as much wine as I could drink for 11 Euros. (The real workers tend not to drink the wine, as they're driving, so I didn't feel too bad about caning the already-open bottles on the table.)

Re language: I used the 'Michel Thomas' French language course ages ago and I thought it was excellent for two reasons. Firstly, it's all on CD, no writing, so you learn French how it's spoken rather than how you think it should be spoken - this helps a lot with comprehension when you are trying to talk to someone. Secondly, he gives you a few stock phrases which can be customised to allow you to say most things without having to get involved with too much complicated grammar or extensive vocabulary. Some of the other courses people have mentioned might be just as good, but this is the only one I've tried, and I'd definitely recommend it as an incredibly fast way of giving you enough language to survive. As has been mentioned, the moment you make a decent attempt at the lingo, people will tend to do their best to help you - so much so that I never really got a chance to practice my French as everyone jumps in with their English.