Sunday, March 25, 2007

Best Cities to Fly Into

Best Arrival Cities

A question that I regularly get is where to start your journey. For most you’ll start and stop in Paris but know that you have many other options. I haven’t been to every airport in France I have been to most of the key regional airports that you can use as a starting point. In general if you are planning on starting a trip in the Alps Lyon, France, Geneva, Switzerland, and Grenoble, France are all logical choices. For the Pyrenees you can use Toulouse, France or perhaps Pau, France.

I must warn you that traveling to smaller French airports is can add some extra travel anxiety if you don’t plan ahead. The more often you change planes the more likelihood you may have delays so don’t plan too tight of a timeline so you don’t miss a special stage you’d really like to see for example.


With so much to do and see, along with two airports, Paris is a natural choice. Because so many flights come here directly from U.S. hubs so you can eliminate connections and know that your luggage has less of a chance of disappearing. Taking the train from Paris is a consideration as there are so many trains leaving daily

If you are renting a car, driving out of Paris can test your mettle and you may have a long transfer to say the Alps or Pyrenees. Part of the upside of Paris is that if you have bike boxes often you can make arrangements with hotels to keep your empty bike case while you travel. The Hilton at Charles de Gaulle has been helpful to me with this matter in the past but isn’t the cheapest lodging around.


Because it is a major population center and close to the Alps, the airport at Lyon is a logical choice to start a trip. Lyon will be able to support you if you’re renting a car or taking the train. Traveling from Lyon to the popular destination of Bourg d’ Oisans, (bottom of Alpe d’ Huez) is about 150 Kilometers or 2 hours depending on traffic. A quick check showed 16 arrivals daily from Charles de Gaulle.


Grenoble has a new, modern, regional airport that can be used as a destination but it is a relatively sleepy airport. Having visited there on two occasions you can find rentals and such but your choices will be limited to a degree. Compared to Lyon or Geneva you could hit more snags by flying here but all in it’s all a nice airport. One example is a 2003 plane bound for Grenoble had to be rerouted to Lyon and occupants driven by bus to Grenoble. The reason was that with 12 cyclists aboard the smaller plane used for Grenoble could not take their bicycles and luggage. They were put on bigger plane headed for Lyon instead. If you’re traveling as part of a large group maybe try Lyon instead.


Just across the French border in Switzerland Geneva serves as larger destination and a good choice as a starting point for an Alps TdF trip. By train or via rental car you will have numerous choices here. If driving in Switzerland be aware that the Swiss require a permit/sticker that allows you to drive on their Autoroute—it costs about $27-30 USD and if you rent in Switzerland the car should have the sticker already. If you’re driving into Switzerland in a vehicle without the sticker you’ll need to plan on paying the charge. Geneva to Bourg d’ Oisans is just over 210 Kilometers and should take about 3 hours. Geneva is a good choice if you chose to stay somewhere like Albertville or Annecy instead of Bourg d’ Oisans or Les Deux Alpes.


If you plan on starting your trip in the Pyrenees and don’t want the 8-hour drive from Paris, then Toulouse is your airport. About 2 hours from most of the towns you’ll use base for the Pyrenees, the Toulouse airport is large enough to accommodate bigger planes and has plenty of amenities like car rentals and such. On checking I found about 23 arrivals in Toulouse daily from Paris de Gaulle and Orly.

Having some experience in Toulouse I can say that within 10k of the Airport are unspoiled country roads and some incredible riding. I spent two days here in 2004 and wished I had more as during July rolling hills are combined with summer wheat and beautiful sunflower fields. One idea for those with some time would be to fly in and spend a few days acclimating to the time change and enjoying magnificent rides in the area.


Located in the Pyrenees, Pau would be the closest airport to most of the big climbs of region and therefore the race action. Unlike Toulouse though the airport is smaller and has only shows 4 flights arriving daily from Paris currently.

Bike Shops

Bike Shops

Making a trip to the French bike shop is a little different than the states but if I know my audience well I know you’ll enjoy. Depending on the exchange the prices aren’t always cheap. The fun part is you’ll always find one or two things you like to take back for friends.
One cool thing about France is that you may find European models and colors you can’t buy in the states. Some shops have their own kits and these seem to be the best sellers among the tourists.

Paris—Cycles Laurent. With 3 visits under my belt Cycles Laurent qualifies as one of my “worth a visit” shops. It’s small and won’t blow you away but is run by the 3 generations of cyclists. They know in July to have kits available. Also be aware they always try to give you one size too big (laughs). As for complete bikes I seem to recall Scott, Cyfac, and some limited Assos clothing in stock.

9 Boulevard Voltaire - à 100 mètres de la Place de la République – Metro Stop use Republique or Obekampt.

Paris—Velo et Oxygen. With a chain store atmosphere this shop isn’t on my favorites list but if you need something they have a good selection and the staff seemed nice. This shop is not far from the Arc de Triomphe on the Avenue of the Grande Armee. If you’re into motorcycles the area around the shop will be heaven as it seems every brand of Moto is sold on shops on this street.

72 ave de la Grande Armée, 75016, PARIS, 01 45 74 27 38

Paris—Cycles La Gazelle-Etoile. I probably would not send anyone out of their way to visit but it is just down the street from the Velo et Oxygen so maybe you’d like to stop. The shop was very small with only 2 frames and 3 complete bikes in stock. You will find Bianchi, Colnago, and Stephan Roche brands here and a tiny selection of accessories.

13 ave de la Grande Armée, 75116

Lourdes – Cycles Arbes. I have visited this shop on 3 occasions and have been more than satisfied every time. The owner is very helpful and it is worth the visit. The shop is not directly in town but more on the outskirts. Walking will take 20 minutes each way from town. Cycles Arbes has had a nice selection of high-end Pinarello and Look bicycles as well as a good selection of nice clothing including Castelli.
Tél. 05 62 94 05 51, 51 Bis, Avenue Alexandre Marquis, Lourdes

Bourg D'Oisans—Cycles et Sports. Another worth spot to visit--If you like team kits this is your place as they have them from floor to ceiling and they also have several versions of their own kits. They don’t have too many bikes for sale—more accessories but they do have large service area so if you’re having mechanical issues perhaps they could help. Located in the heart of Bourg d’ Oisans the store is busy in July and best of all is right next door to an artisan chocolate shop.
Place du Doctuer FAURE 38529 Bourg d’ Oisans 0033 04 76 79 16 79

Decathlon—Chain With locations all over France you’ll see plenty of Decathlons during your travels. They are a sporting goods chain that has a bike department so don’t count on them for all items. If you need a tire, tubes, sports drinks, then they are your place. Think of them more of a back-up spot than a primary destination on the “must see” list. If you plan on camping than Decathlon can be a helpful place as well.

Packing, money, internet, calling home, shopping


Duality is the key to packing. Anything that can be used for riding and daily travel is a plus. Also think dark colors that mix and match. With a broad range of weather and lots of outdoor exposure packing for Le Tour can be a challenge. Factor in that you often won’t have lots of extra room in rentals and the drudgery of toting heavy luggage. When I pack there are a few things I have learned that help immensely.

In one large hard side case I pack my clothes and one empty riding pack along with another empty soft tote bag. The extra bags allow me to separate out riding clothes and dirty clothes from clean once I arrive. It also helps my organization and transfers knowing all my bike clothes are in one space. On early mornings where I’ll drive and ride to the course I can quickly grab the day bags and go. I pack dryer sheets in my luggage to keep the clothes smelling nice.
I try and pack a lot of performance style fabric shirts and shorts that are available at most outdoor stores. They pack well and can be washed and dried overnight in your hotel rooms. I also go for cargo style pockets in shorts as it makes the job of thieves/pickpockets harder.
Clothes List (what I carry for a month!)

3 Wickable Tee’s (breathable, wickable shirts)
3 Pairs of Nylon or cotton Cargo shorts
1 Pair of cotton cargo pants or jeans
1 Dress shirt
1 Fleece pullover
1 Nylon/gore-tex waterproof jacket
3 cotton undershirts
1 pair sandals/flip-flops
1 pair dress shoes
1 pair running shoes
7 Days worth of socks/undergarments

Don’t carry too many things like detergent on your flight over. I typically purchase soap/detergent and things like baby wipes once I arrive as they tend to bust open and make a huge mess—baby wipes can serve poor mans bath on long transfer days. Some of my bike items could be helpful on colder non-cycling days so make sure and look at what items could double up.

Bike Clothes List

3 Jerseys
3 Bib shorts
2 Thin undertshirt/baselayers
1 Pair arm warmers
1 Pair Leg warmers
1 Inexpensive clear rain cape (good for cold descents, rain, windstopper)
1 Pair short finger gloves
1 Pair long finger gloves for cold days on and off bike
1 Cloth cap
1 Pair neoprene toe warmers
1 Helmet

The list is looks long but can be shortened if you know you won’t be riding in the mountains/colder weather or if you won’t ride in rain. Because I guide, I have to be prepared for the worst.

Along with the above I try and carry along extras like a few empty plastic grocery sacks for carry items that can’t get wet in my daypack. Also carry along any necessary Pepto/Ammodium/Tagament style medicines and ibuprofen. European food preparation techniques can differ from those you use in your own kitchen. Also, think about carrying clothespins ands a string that can serve as your clothesline.

Getting News and Calling Home

Because you’ll be on the road getting the news can be tough. Keep an eye out for Tabac’s and Presse shops. They are places that you will see in every big town and small village. The Tabac’s will sell the Telecarte Phone cards that you use in the French Phones to call back home—EVEN IF you bought a calling card at home or use a calling card you still need a Telecarte to place your call.

They come in units and have a metal “Smart” chip on the front. The phones will have a credit card slot for the Telecarte’s and the phone gives you instructions on an LCD screen on how to place the call. Before getting started look for a button on the phone with a flag. This button will allow you to change the language of the calling instructions. JJust be aware that not every phone has the capability, as some older phones don’t offer the language assistance.

A Presse is a newsstand and will serve to keep you up on race and world goings on. In most Presse shops you can find at least one English language newspaper. This is important as if you need weather information or GC status, or just want to know what happens back home. The International Herald Tribune is the most common though USA Today can sometimes be found in bigger cities. Also be ready for the race action with a copy of L’Equipe—the official newspaper of Le Tour and even if you don’t read French you can pick up the vitals of the race.

Internet and getting connected

If you want to connect occasionally I suggest internet cafes. Just be ready for the unique keyboard as it will often frustrate first time users. Ask your hotel if any are nearby or know that sometimes a nicer hotel will have business centers or computers that you can use.

Be aware that you will need a bevy of adapters and such to use the laptop. Your power cord won’t plug in so you will need a power adapter/converter for that as well—I always carry two of these to be safe. Carry an extra network cable some hotels have network connection in rooms or in spots you can plug-in. .

WI-FI it is becoming more common and on more recent visits I was able to use pay WI-FI in several newer hotels—just beware it isn’t free. Paris had great WI-FI Access but as you can imagine the smaller, more rural spots didn’t. Most of the time my access through Orange a French cell company.  They offered WI-FI access to the tune of $10 Euros for 2 hours of use. I was able to use the 2 hours during a 24 hour period that started from the time I signed up. If you need to connect daily you can also purchase extended plans through Orange for the length of your stay. 

Make sure to have a back-up plan if you can’t connect. I always carry extra floppies/cd’s to burn in case I lose my modem/Network card. That way I can use the net café’s to transmit. There are several online resources for the adapters and cafe's

Money and Documents

When I travel Le Tour I live via Credit Cards and cash via ATM’s. It can be a common misconception that Travelers Checks are the best. I have found that they can be a hassle. When you arrive you may find it difficult to spend them and then find it necessary to have them converted to cash so you can spend. I use my ATM/Visa debit instead to withdraw money a once or twice a week.

ATM’s are everywhere and regulated enough that the exchange you get will be based on true bank exchange rates. Many of the currency changing spots will gouge and are not regulated as closely. They also take a transaction fees etc that will add up. The more touristy the area the more you’ll give up in fees. When trading cash or travelers checks try to find a walk-in bank as they are safer and honest to deal with. Though it’s widely publicized French Post Office is place to change money, it has been my experience that only the larger ones offer the service. Larger hotels sometimes offer changing services too.

Before I leave I make copies of important documents and keep them in several places just in case. Remember that a passport copy can save you if you lose your passport as the Embassy can assist you in replacing the passport much quicker. Also leave copies at with someone you trust that will be able to fax them to you/authorities if necessary. In the section below I’ll list some common bank names in France. Just like many French businesses they aren’t always open during times you’d expect, so try to anticipate/plan bank trips ahead of time. There are many banks in France but below are a few names to look for if you need to trade money. All of these banks have walk-in and ATM capabilities. I have no distinct fondness for any specific bank as I have only had to use the walk-in services a few times.

Credit Agricole—To cycling fans this name is tied to the name of the French team they sponsor.
Credit Lyonnais—Another name tied to the Tour de France as an official partner of the Tour de France and the sponsor of the yellow jersey
Banques Populaires—Another bank you’ll see along the way.


Inevitably you’ll find that you’ve forgotten something or you just want to go shopping. The following list is of some places that could be beneficial. To some degree some of these stores destroy the spirit the local artisans that make France so special. Everyone should take time to visit local markets and stores in the small villages when possible just for the experience. You should know that many of the stores (especially the small ones) will have shorter hours than at home. For instance, making a trip to the bike shop requires some pre-planning as they’ll close for lunch, which is common in France.

Hardware and Tools

Mr. Bricolage and Castorama are chain stores throughout France much like Lowe’s or Home Depot. They are great if you need tools or small hardware. I’ve bought everything from spare allen wrenches to cheap plastic organizing bins for food here.

Food Stores and Super Centers

All over France you’ll see chains of Super Markets (Supermarche) like Champion, Casino and many more. For those on a budget and just about everyone else these stores are a staple of travel. What I like best about them is that most have an entire dedicated section of healthy grab and go foods that are prepared. Unlike the bad fried chicken at the local grocery deli in the States you’ll find foods that will fuel you for riding, save time when on a tight schedule, and most of all save money.

Just like Walmart Supercenter or Super Kmart the French will have enormous super stores called Hypermarches. My favorite is called Carrefour and they serve as a one-stop shop. One trend is for this type of store is to have a mall built around it—typically called a Centre Commercial. Auchon is another name you’ll se along with Hyper U.

Stage Viewing Tips

Mountain stages are most complicated type of stage to plan for in the sense that the crowds are typically thickest and the roads getting you there are sparse. Often this means one road in and one road out for millions of people. The timelines I’ll give you below are based on my experience, but have been padded a bit to err on the side of caution. I’ve tried to keep the next few paragraphs simple, but even that is a challenge. If I gave you every time scenario you’re head would swim with confusion.

First things first, never count on driving up a major finishing climb (finishing climb=last climb in which the stage finishes on top) in your car on race day. I’m not saying it’s 100% impossible but very unlikely at best. The fans lining the roads get there days in advance. The good news is the roads leading to the climb should be open long enough in the morning to get you to the base so you can park and then walk up.

For riding a bike, my basic guideline is to plan on arriving to a major mountain stage finish no later than 11 a.m. Being there earlier won’t cause you problems in case you’re wondering. If driving, I would aim for an 8 a.m. arrival to avoid road closures and give you time to walk up. It may sound early but viewing a crowded tour mountain stage is an all day affair.

On days with multiple mountain passes you can count on larger crowds on the mountain passes falling later in the stage. The earlier your mountain falls in the stage the earlier you have to arrive. This is the very reason why the published timetables are a must have. The upside to the earlier passes is that they typically are much less crowded than the last climb of the day.

Think about is using a lightweight daypack as you will have hours between when you arrive and the racers do. I try to carry the bare minimum in a small pack so that I have some dry clothing to wear, and some flip-flops. I then hang my clothes in the sun to dry, or drape them over my bike along the roadside.

Often the French Authorities will post signs stating approximate road closure times—these signs are just that, an approximation. Things like traffic flow and crowds often dictate that roads are closed sooner so don’t take the signs posted in advance as gospel. LEAVE EARLY!

Flat Stages/Stage Starts

For flat finishes or viewing stage starts you’ll usually have a much easier time. Stage starts offer a nice alternative to the all day commitment you’ll have for mountain stages. They are a great chance to get up close to the teams and riders. For the autograph seekers and photographers it is easy to get some nice shots.

Seeing a sprint stage finish is a nice day as well. Typically you should plan on arriving 3-4 hours before the race and you can enjoy watching unfolding race action on the big screen. Within 2-3 hours the barricades will start to fill so if you have to be on the front row plan on camping at your spot and don’t step away or the spot will be gone. Sometimes the stages will start and finish is towns so large that you’ll need some extra help finding what part of town the riders are leaving from. In these cases I recommend emailing the Office of Tourism a few months before leaving to inquire about the location of the Depart Village (where riders sign in and the race will leave from) for the race.

Viewing on the Champs-Elysées

Get started early as the barricades will fill up by 10-10:30 and if you want to inhabit a large amount of space for a group I suggest getting there earlier. (Like 8-9 am) It will be a long day, so plan accordingly. If you can get your hands on items like small folding chairs or seats your feet will love you. Though Sunday is typically a quiet day in Paris, many shops will be open along the Champs-Elysées.

Vendors are also selling food and drinks. If you are alone or in a small group don’t leave a choice barrier spot unguarded or it will be gone the second you go away. Bony elbows help. Be prepared to carry an umbrella (for sun and rain) and once the race ends don’t go home—the best part of the event occurs when all of the riders take a parade lap around the Champs-Elysee.

Remember the Sun moves throughout the day so shade early doesn’t mean shade all day. The link sbelow should help you get an idea of the metro stops on the Champs-Elysées. Be sure to get off the Metro before these stops as they are closed on race Sunday.

George V, Franklin D Roosevelt, and Champs-Elysees Clemenceau

I need to note that the stops listed above are available to use to cross from one side of the Champs-Elysées to the other. You can’t cross the Champs-Elysees at street level once the barricades are up so plan on going underground if you need to get to the other side. You will have to have a Metro ticket to get through so be prepared. If you get off the metro at the Charles de Gaulle Etoile exit, you can pick either side of the Champs-Elysées as this stop is near the course turnaround at the Arc de Triomphe. (A great English language site with Metro maps)

Seeing the Stars

Because you are so close to the racers seeing the race along the road is a thing of beauty. After the stage and before the stage is another matter. Fans often like to stake out the team hotels and with enormous team buses it’s not hard to figure out where most are staying. The racers don’t loiter around as they have much to do. You’re more likely to get to see the race support mechanisms in action like mechanics, soignuers etc. Still if you’re patient you can get autographs and such. Security around the race starts and finishes is pretty tight. The crowd is thick so you have to arrive ahead of time or get lucky.

Car/RV Rentals, Driving Information, Roads Used by LeTour

With so much public transportation in France I often get bombarded with the question of whether or not a rental car is truly needed. Unless you’ve traveled sans car (aka bike touring/backpacking) a lot or have traveled in France before using public transportation I would say most people need a car.

Some days you’ll use the car to get closer to a destination and then ride your bike the rest of the way to the race. Other days you can cycle from your hotel. Long transfers are where the car is key, as you may be making your way to some obscure town not served by mass transportation.

Vehicles and roads are smaller, so things like packing and organization are critical. In a section below called Driving Basics I’ll go into detail about driving itself, but speaking from experience most people can get comfortable quickly when it comes to driving in France. As for licensing I’ve found that an international driving permit can easily be had at any AAA Travel location. It will allow you to rent and drive abroad in European countries, most of the time all you need is your regular license the International permit isn’t bad safety net.

Where to rent is often a question, but for most travelers they feel comfortable using recognizable names that also do business in the States. The company Europcar seems to have a good presence in France so perhaps give them a look too. Another company I’ve used is and claims it will find the best rate amongst multiple companies such as Avis and Europcar. The feature I found most helpful about was that it clearly explained what I was paying for and what I wasn’t so there would be no surprise fees.

Also be aware that some automakers have long-term rental programs that allow you to “rent” a car for trips longer than two weeks. Basically it’s a way to get you into one of their cars and then they can sell it used when you’re done. What is appealing is the fact that most guarantee you the EXACT car you choose—something that is important if you’re traveling with others. I arrived in Paris for instance and picked-up a 0 mile, factory fresh car with GPS Navigation. If you’re interested check out You’re reservations need to be completed within 3-4 weeks before leaving but you deal with their helpful New York office which I’ve found to be simple.

Camper Rentals

For those of you who want the ultimate European Tour de France experience consider a camper/RV rental. The roads of Le Tour are lined with camper vans, and they provide those of you who want to follow the race closely the ultimate in flexibility. The cost initially may seem like it is more but you won’t have issues booking hotel rooms, which is often the single most challenging aspect of planning a Tour de France vacation.

Outside the Tour de France, July is a huge month for French vacations so add this to the extreme demand put on the smaller cities visited by Le Tour, and it’s easy to see how rooms are at a premium. I’ve read more than one place that Germany offers the lowest rates for RV renters and my online price checking seems to confirm this.

If you can plan some extra time pick-up in Germany and plan your drop-off in Paris. A good starting point for research and camper rental is Idea Merge. I’ll also note that they rent VW Camper vans that can carry (up to 4, recommended for 2). You can rent an optional bike rack with the VW.

Driving Basics

Driving in France can be more time consuming and challenging than in the States. Many of the trips will involve passing through small village after small village. Slower speeds and multiple changes of direction can test your mettle.

Driving to the stage inevitably will take longer than you expect so I always try to build an extra hour of “padding” into my figures. Unless you’re on the Autoroute only count on covering 60-70 Kilometers an hour—add in mountain passes and this figure drops quickly. The Autoroute is typically 130 KPH speed limits but remember that you’ll have some toll stations slowing matters.

The auto rentals are small so packing light is a must, also count on driving a standard transmission automobile. Making large transfers across France will involve using the Autoroute, which is similar to the interstate. Count on toll charges on the Autoroute and remember when buying gas, the price listed is in liters (3.79 Liters=1 gallon). Most rentals are diesel and you’ll be thankful when it comes time to gas up, one helpful tip to know is that diesel is referred to as gasoil or gazoil at the pump.

The roadside rest stops on the Autoroute offer a nice way to relax a little or take a break. The larger stops have nice lunch stops and surprisingly good cuisine at times. On the smaller roads stop and have a picnic. I always recommend carrying some snacks and water in your car as I have been in some pretty long traffic jams at times.

Pay attention to speed and always wear your seatbelt. Newly enacted seat belt laws force you to pay a $200 fine on the spot or your auto will held until you make restitution. In 2003 I witnessed Police using high-power long-range lenses/binoculars to catch offenders. Also be aware that the blood alcohol limit is very low and in the past few years they have begun to aggressively pursue DUI.

Also be aware that speeding is often enforced via radar cameras on the Autoroute. I have had a few friends tell me they were speeding on the Autoroute passing an underpass and noticed a bright flash go off. I’m not sure in a rental how you’d be tracked down but keep this in mind. For all of you techno buffs know that my Renault rental/lease cars in the past have had the GPS and show me on the navigation system where the speed/radar cameras are before I pass them.

The website is an invaluable resource for information as it relates to European and French driving. For instance if you go to the site you can find examples of road signs, traffic regulations, common traffic phrases translated, and even how to get BBC on your radio.

Another great site is which will map distances between cities and more importantly figure drive times and toll charges you’ll incur. Be careful about using this for cycling because it will often map the Autoroute, which you CANNOT ride your bike on.

Road Designations

When driving and planning it is important to understand the road designations. The better you understand the roads you’ve picked, the less likely you to have travel pitfalls. At the beginning of Section two we will discuss the mapping further.

A=Autoroute (tolls apply) or Motorway such as A7. They have the feel similar to the Interstate in the U.S. and most of all don’t plan on cycling here!

N=National: A road such as N91 from Grenoble to Bourg d Oisans. An “N” is a major road that can be as small as one lane each direction. Occasionally you can cycle these roads though don’t target them as primary cycling routes when other routes exist. The N91 mentioned above as it’s the only road from Grenoble to the base of many famous climbs of the Alps. So it’s a favorite of cyclists.

D=Departmental: A smaller road like the D100 near Hautacam in the Pyrenees. These are less trafficked and cycling is fine or often great on “D” roads. You’ll ride them often.

C= Communal The smallest roads which are very quiet but also very rustic and often not so well marked. In the States many would only pass for a golf cart path as they can be very narrow. I personally enjoy them but be aware that because they are used by farmers that you can have fecal mess to dodge….

How to Find the Exact Roads Used by Le Tour

The roads used are now published on the Tour website (www.Le in June, or you can also pick-up a copy the 2007 VeloNews Guide to the Tour de France—it has the same timetables and roads used for the race. It will have the roads used in the route as well as what time organization estimates the race will be on that road. If you’re following on your own this information is ESSENTIAL. Just be aware that the VeloNews guide won’t be available typically until June and in 2005 didn’t have the same amount of detail as the online version available for free.

This info is a necessary resource, but don’t panic if it’s late to arrive. The 2004 version came late and caused some panic and doubt—the organizers must document the information so patience is needed as it pertains to this document. In past years this info has been available in May. Just know the delivery date is not concrete and can fluctuate.

Food and Eating Considerations

The key to planning any meal in France is to understand and be respectful of cultural differences. Just because the Tour is nearby doesn’t guarantee a restaurant will serve food all day. Meals are not a quick, hasty, thing in France so if you’re in hurry put yourself in a winning situation by planning well. Another tip is on tipping itself. In France just about every waiter is paid a good living wage and part of the reason is that the service is INCLUDED in the price on the menu. The term “service compris” is one you’ll see on the menu and means service included.

Just because you don’t see it on a menu doesn’t mean that service isn’t included. Be aware that you can still tip if you’ve been well served and feel that the server deserves something extra.
If you stay in a hotel you often have the option of paying for breakfast that is as part of the price of the room—sometimes the breakfast is included automatically. A typical 3-Star hotel spread will include: Cereals, fruit, coffee, yogurt, pastries, self-serve egg boilers, ham, salami, cheeses, baguettes and more. It’s a great way to fill up for those that have a budget. One tip I learned from a pro soigneur is to use the buffet style set-up to make your lunch for the road. You have to be sneaky but if you’re willing to risk it you can make a sandwich or two to take along.

Other ways to save on lunch is to make stops at the many supermarkets and shops you’ll find along the road. As for hauling it up the mountain you’ll have to get creative and pick things that can be carried in a small daypack or on your bike. One idea is to use a larger capacity bike specific hydration pack. They now make them in a small daypack sizes that will allow you to carry water and your goods. I typically wait to buy until arriving to near my destination to buy—in smaller villages be aware that this may mean some items sell out though, baguettes for sandwiches go quickly.

You can also count on nice food options from the many vendors and café’s that will line the roads. On a big stage in the mountains typically you’ll see a food vendor every kilometer or so. As a general rule there is not Super Bowl style price gouging. Look for nice café’s with a Plat du Jour offering ($6-12 lunch). Something I have learned in my travels is that France doesn’t mean traditional French food is the best choice. In many cases I have found great tasting meals in ethnic restaurants and mom ‘n pop bars. Away from the tour if a restaurant looks busy and full of locals than it’s probably a great place to eat.

Eating on the go Guide

Boulangerie/Patisserie is a bread/pastry shop where you can find breakfast and typically lunch as well. These are spots where you can grab good food quickly and be on your way.

Brasserie is a small lunch/dinner spot where you’ll be served a sit-down meal that is less formal, less expensive, and more quickly. They are very popular spots during Le Tour as they typically don’t close between dining periods.

Anywhere bar--The anywhere bar is a term I coined for the hundreds of bars along the road that you will pass on your journey It seems every village I visit has one, and when I go in it’s just the same as the last one I visited. Often these bars are a great lunch spot--look for the Plat du jour and keep in mind that not every bar has a menu or kitchen. If the locals look at you funny then it’s don’t be alarmed. If you just hang around and mind your own business people will stop staring after a while.

Supermarche I’ll talk more about in my shopping section about French Supermarkets but know that they have great, healthy, food perfect for long days in the saddle. You find great pre-prepared foods and most have a dedicated section.

Local Market Day Market day in French villages is very common. As you ride you’ll often stumble through a village having market day. If you want to experience France at its best try to stop and enjoy. Local delicacies are everywhere and the stop is worth the time.

A simple Google of dining in France will find net some good articles by European travel guru Rick Steves and others. The site below has a free travel tips section with some valuable info on food and more.

Riding, Bike Set-up, Getting Lost, TdF Etiquette, Obstacles of the Road

As you’d expect riding in France offers advantages and challenges compared to riding in the States. Hopefully you’ll enjoy the beauty of Le Tour on a bike. Gearing for the mountains is essential—I climb well with a 12-23 cassette on the steep hills in Austin but the hardest thing to simulate is the length of the mountain climbs in France so at a minimum I use a 12-27. Many of my guests believe their 12-25 will cut it and end up making a trip to a French bike shop midway through a trip. A triple is also a very good option but more costly.

You should also consider the new bevy of compact 50/34 cranksets on the market from companies like FSA , Campagnolo, and Shimano. The last two years I’ve found my climbing far more comfortable with a 50/34 upfront, mated to a 12-25 in the back. The cost is substantially less than reconfiguring for a triple. If you run Campagnolo components invest in a 13-29 rear cassette and spin away up the climbs.

Many of you also may be wondering about finding your way around France on a bike. In later articles I share information on a Michelin map book that you can use to plan driving and riding routes. It’s available in stores and online plus the pages can be easily photocopied prior to leaving the States so that you have maps on the bike.

TdF Specific Riding Tips/Etiquette

1. Even though the pros rides on closed roads most of the time you won’t. French drivers will be annoyed at the behavior of cyclists riding in the middle of narrow roads and blocking traffic. Europeans are much more tolerant of cyclists, but there are limits. Use common sense when riding and watch how others behave. Following the local customs will keep you from harms way.

2. Be careful about walking in a roadside bar, café, or restaurant and using their bathrooms. It is customary for bathrooms to be served for patrons only. So make some attempt to buy something. In most small towns you can find a public restroom called WC or Toilettes. Also many places have pay restrooms with an attendant at the door. In France you will often see people relieving themselves along the road—it is not viewed as an act of poor taste as in the other parts of the world.

3. Descending on a bike is an art form and much of what you see pros do on TV should be forgotten when riding downhill on your own. Factors like narrower roads, slippery diesel fuel, and fast drivers to contribute to the complicated nature of riding on 1 inch tires at 50mph. Relax and ride within your means—if it feels like the bike will take forever to stop, then it will.

4. If the French Police say get off your bike, do it ASAP. At certain times they will choose to no longer allow riding on roads (especially in the mountains)when the crowds swell too large. It may seem silly now but wait and it will all make sense. Be alert and never assume that people on foot are going to move for you. With so much visual pageantry and alcohol pedestrian’s brains turn off. This is most important as you descend. If someone steps in your way politely call out attention (Zah-tahn-ssyon). It should help alert them.

If You’re Lost ( Je suis perdu )

As much as I hate to put fear into your mind, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share the following information about what to do if you’re lost. During one Tour I was working as a guide one of our guests was enjoying the scenery so much he rode right past one of the designated turns on our map. The guest made a few mistakes in the following hours, and before the ride left that would have avoided a very anxiety filled afternoon for all parties involved.

Always carry an emergency contact card—if possible make them before you leave and laminate them. Carry one on your body and one in your seatbag on the bike. List numbers to call including your hotel, U.S. Embassy, home, physician etc. Sometimes you won’t have the hotel number until you arrive but make sure to include them. On the card write Je suis perdu (I’m lost) and Je voudrais appeler s’il vous plait (I would like to call please). Also include Je reste à (I am staying Hotel Name ) and list any medical allergies. You'll also need a French Telecarte, a phone card with metal smartchip used as form of payement for the numerous payphones in France.

If you are lost there are a few places to search out for aid but the first is the Police, known as the Gendarmerie. The next would be the Fire Station—Maison de Pompiers, or look for the local Office of Tourism—Office de Tourisme, or Bureau de Tourisme as they are often helpful AND multi-lingual.

U.S. Embassy (1) 42 96 12 02
Ambulance 15
Fire 18
Police 17

The fire, police, and ambulance can be used from any payphone for free. (No Telecarte needed)

I hope you don’t have to use the links below but they are good for the information. The first is a list of contact info for the U.S. consulates and embassy in France. The second is your rights if you happen to be arrested.

Unique Obstacles of French Roads

Roundabouts—These are undoubtedly the most unique aspect for most American cyclists as it pertains to riding in France. If you’ve never seen one think paved circle with multiple roads intersecting and radiating off of the circle. When riding YIELD to traffic in the circle coming from your left and slow down when approaching. If you’re in a group signal to those behind so they know your intentions. If the traffic lane/circle is clear proceed and stay to the right. If not, wait until there is sufficient opening, then proceed. Most accidents occur here when you assume the car or rider in front of you is going to enter the circle and they don’t.

Tunnels—In the mountains you may often ride through tunnels. Some have lighting but some don’t. I don’t think it’s such a bad idea to carry a rear flasher and if you have poor vision perhaps a basic battery operated headlight. Most tunnels are short enough that you can see the other side but sometimes they are longer. The diesel fumes can hang in the air and the road surface can be damp and extra slick. Be careful.

Descents—I know I already talked descending but it needs another mention, as it is the most hazardous thing you will do. Be ready for the fact that often no guardrails exist. Livestock will use the roads to move and accordingly will leave fecal matter on the road. Try not to tense up and relax your body by changing hand positions from drops to the brake hoods occasionally. The more aero you are the faster you go, but sitting up taller and letting the wind help keep your speed in check is a good way to stay safe. Never assume people in front of you can hear your voice—especially others on bikes. I’ve noticed that riders overtaking other riders often pass too close and pick inopportune times like blind curves to do so. Apply even brake pressure when descending. Don’t ride them too much either as they’ll heat up and lose stopping power.

Cobbles/Pavestones/Painted Stripes—Unlike the roads used during the Paris Roubaix, most cobbles on French roads are pretty tame. They often use cobbles on the perimeter of roundabouts but again they are not as much of bone-jarring danger as a slippery danger. Just like the U.S. painted stripes are extra slick when wet.

Bike Lanes/Bike paths—In smaller towns and larger urban areas it is not uncommon to see frequent bike lanes. They are often signified with green paint and cyclist symbol painted inside the lane. In bigger cities it is not uncommon for the bike lane to be a shared lane with the bus lane. From time to time you’ll often see bike paths or Piste Cyclable. Sometimes they are multi-use and often they follow canals, rivers, and the Autoroute. Because of the multi-use nature of the Piste you should not plan on a hammerfest of a ride, in fact some even have posted limits.

Stoplights—I feel relatively certain that most of you can get the hang of this, but know most of the time French stop lights are not on the OPPOSITE side of an intersection like in the states. When driving and riding don’t pull up too far or you can’t see the light change. Also know that in most of France most stoplight poles have low mounted lights at eye level.

Dealing with Your Bike on Trains

Just so were on the same page I’ll refer the SNCF below which is the French Train authority. Often there is a bit of miscommunication on whether bikes can be taken on trains. The answer is yes and no. For the most part the answer is yes, but it takes some special planning in some instances depending on your final destination.

As much as I wish I could give you all of the exact details in a succinct manner I think I could easily confuse you if I posted all of the possible scenarios. I traveled extensively in 2005 without a rental car so hopefully the time spent will help translate into useable knowledge in the following paragraphs. The good news is there are some terrific online resources (listed below) that will offer you all of the exact information to help you with all the specifics of your vacation.


Here are some general rules to help your travel plans. When traveling by TGV (high speed bullet train) you must use a softside bag named a housse (pronounced hoose) for the bike, or your hard case—this allows you to travel free with the bike as part of your carry on luggage. A housse differs from a softside case in the fact that it typically doesn't have anything inside to hold the bike in place.
The TGV does not serve all of France but is an easy way to get to and from to the major travel destinations of France. On some trains traveling south from Paris to the Mediterranean, you can reserve a spot for your bike if it’s built—in fact to get this space you must make a reservation and the fee is 10 euros. Also beware that the listed dimensions for a hard case or housse is 120X90x60cm….I can only assume that said dimensions are Length x height x width.

Between two cars on the TGV is a luggage rack big enough to bicycle. One tip is get on the train quickly before these racks fill with luggage.


The next type of train is called a Corrail, which is a slower train that is more common, and affordable than the TGV. Some Corrail trains offer bike hooks, which allow you to load your built bike without a housse (or case) and free of charge. When viewing a Corrail schedule you’ll often see a bicycle symbol denoted, which indicates what trains offer this service. The number of spaces provided is limited (from 2-6) depending on the train. If you’re planning on traveling with a larger group and need to use the train it may be in your best interest to contact the SNCF in advance.

One important note is that IF you have a housse, or case you can carry your bike on ANY Corrail train. For this reason I typically always have my bike in a housse when traveling by any Corrail or slower train. The practical advantage is that I can get on just about any train running at any time and not have to worry—when planning around the tight time schedules of Letour this is essential. Also pay attention for corrail trains with a bicycle symbol on the side of the train as they are the ones that offer hooks. The picture at the top of the post is a Corrail with bike symbol.


The next type of train is a TER, or regional train. These trains are often older 70’s era trains that are more basic but recently the SNCF has made an effort to modernize the older trains and put new ones into service. A TER would often be used to make a shorter, for example like getting you from your hotel/base to a town you could ride from to see the stage. The trick is to make sure that you can make it back after the stage ends, and get back on a train to the hotel/base.
An example was the opening time trial in 2005 when I took the TER from Nantes, to a small village about 40 kilometers from the start. I knew in advance by checking the train schedules the day before at the customer service office of the Nantes train station that I would not be able to make a return via train after the stage ended at 7pm ( 7 is unusually late for a stage to end) . Using the TER in the morning saved my legs for the 80k ride home. When traveling on the TER one can usually load the bike without the housse and just lean it in the storage section in the back of the last train car. Again, you should always be able to carry bike on in housse or in a case.
Bikes on Train Websites

During the last few year’s two sites have appeared that shed far more detail on the subject of bike/train travel than I do in the guide. The sites below can give you EXACTS that may necessary for your specific itinerary along with numerous photo examples of what to look for. The two links have a general URL and below the URL of the exact page I found the train info. (English Language site, full of detail and helpful info)

Luggage/Bike transport

The SNCF also has a luggage transport division named SERNAM that will transport your bike but you have to deliver it to them 2 days before you leave in order for it to be at your destination when you arrive.

Trains Sans Bike

Even if you are traveling without your bike don’t hesitate to use the French train system to maneuver throughout the country as the system runs very well. Beware when booking tickets online that what initially seems simple can become somewhat complex as far as picking trains and understanding the schedules. TGV tickets must be reserved and prepaid typically and many good travel agencies in the U.S. can help with the task.

Dealing with Your Bike--Packing, Renting,Flying

If you’re a cyclist you’ll want to bring your bike for the trip. Remember to accommodate for the bike in your rental car (rentals are often small in France) and that you’ll have to pack it and unpack it for your flight. Many airlines charge extra for bikes on international though they haven’t in the past. The sub-section below will help you plan.

Riding to a stage is far more advantageous than taking a car. I can’t tell you how many of my friends have left their bike at home and regretted the decision once they arrived. If you’re on the fence then hopefully what I’ve said will give you the nudge you need. Seeing the crowds and riding the same route as the racers is a magical experience and one you’ll never forget.

Flying with a Bike

This really isn’t as much of a hassle as I’ll make it sound, I’d just rather share the potential pitfalls upfront. When picking your airlines be sure to research their policy on international flights with a bicycle. In the world of airlines items like bicycles have become a new way make more revenue. Companies that once allowed free bike transportation internationally now charge.

One thing that may help is checking only one bag and one bike per traveler. If the airlines claim to have free international bike travel be sure to pay close attention to the dimensions and weight restrictions they put on the bike box. In some cases the free bike allowance is based on a box size that is too small to fit most adult bicycles.

I suggest printing copies of the airlines’ bicycle policy and taking them with you to the airport. If gate agents are stumped, or try to overcharge, you have the policy to help pleas your case. If you call and the booking agents tells you your bike flies free, make sure you have them NOTE your travel itinerary.

Don’t try and skirt the airlines policies by fibbing about the contents of your bike box. It’s a terrible mistake to make in the post 9/11 world of air travel. If you’d like to ship your bike, that too is a possibility, but in my book somewhat less appealing because the cost will be higher. Plus, you would need to send it well in advance of leaving. It has been my experience that Fed-Ex is the most effective mainstream carrier.

There is also a company named Sports Express that will handle all of the shipping arrangements for you. I don’t have any personal experience with them but have known people that have used their service the United States in the past with good results. From what I know their service is pricey.

Packing the Bike

Packing your bike is something that you can do yourself or have a local bike shop handle for you. Hard side travel cases offer the most protection from overzealous/careless airline employees and many times cases can be rented from local shops. In a pinch you can pack your bike in a normal corrugated cardboard bike box from the shop, but I would advise against unless your bike is disposable to you.

When packing make sure to tether anything in the box to keep it from banging around and use plenty of packing padded packing materials. One easy way to protect the bike is to use foam pipe insulation available from hardware stores that you can cut to fit your frame.

Pack some extra rags inside for cleaning and don’t pack CO2 canisters—they are not allowed, but can be easily purchased in France. Also pack extra zip ties for the return trip home. If your pedals have an allen key fitting on the back of the spindle use it instead of a pedal wrench as it will save weight

If you fly into and out of the same destination ask your hotel in advance if they will hold your bike box in a luggage room or storage area while you travel. In some cases they will be able to accommodate you and save you some hassle.

I travel with a case from Crate Works ( and I have nothing but complete praise for the box. The box is corrugated heavy duty plastic and can be folded completely flat—a huge advantage when space is a premium. I’ve even used the box under my tent and sleeping bag when camping in France.

Renting a Bike

Over the last few years I have received quite a few e-mails about bicycle rentals in France. Beware that some rentals I have come across are more of the “townie” style of bicycle that is not suited for the longer rides you’ll need. Mountain bikes (called a VTT in French) are sometimes an option but overall you’re best choice is bringing a bike.

Finding a rental during peak times like the Tour is very tough. The ones I’ve seen aren’t always well kept, including the road bikes I’ve come across. One exception to what I have heard is from a company named Veloloco (, which rents bikes (hires) in the Pyrenees and will even deliver to your hotel for a fee if you pre-arrange it. Their website is in English and seems to be very useful in terms of cycling travel info. Another option is which is sort of like a travel agency for cyclists in France. The English- speaking owner Bruno can help you find rental bikes in different areas of France.

Carrying the Bike on Your Rental Car

Many of you will arrive and transfer to your destination via rental car. Since rentals are small, space is an issue and in the past I have suggested purchasing an inexpensive rack to fit the back of your rental. All over France you’ll see stores such as the Decathlon chain of sporting goods stores. These are the types of places to look for the racks as well as powdered drink mixes, food bars, and even camping supplies if you need. Consider the $100 part of the expense of using the bike but also know that your bike will save you time, headaches, and most of all allow you to see the Tour the way the riders do.

You could also try to purchase a rack such as a Saris Model named “Bones” in the States and take it with you. I suggest this model purely based on the fact that they are compact, fairly light, and fit a broad range of automobiles.

For those considering renting a camper or RV, investigate whether the rental company offers a bike rack option. I have seen come cases in which they do. There is more information in later pages on RV rentals.

Getting Started, TdF Travel Basics, Lodging

I find that many people let small details overwhelm them and talk themselves out of planning their own trip. Worries over language, driving, and other misconceptions cloud their minds, but with good planning traveling on your own is very realistic even for first-timers.
Whether you need 5-Star treatment, or budget options, the blog entries are tailored to help you get the most out of what you can spend.

Do-it-Yourself Formula

The details and work you put in can make all the difference. The more work you do yourself the more you can save. Book hotels and rentals yourself, or use a travel agent to help you. The first thing you should do once you decide on travel dates is to start booking hotels as soon as you can—rooms fill up or get blocked off as Tour companies fill the rooms. This info is especially crucial for mountain stages and stages in smaller cities.

Different people plan on following the race in different ways. In my stage-by-stage descriptions that will follow I try my best to present multiple viewing options, as some hardcore types want more Tour and less leisure, others will want the opposite. Chasing the race is not just an everyday French vacation. I suggest that most people trying to actively follow the tour use a method employed by most of the tour companies.

The companies do this by keying on the specific stages they want to see and picking a town that is centrally located to their key stages use as a “base of operations”. A good example is Lourdes in the Pyrenees. Just about every year you can book a room in Lourdes around the Tour and use that room to for 2-3 stages.

The base method gives you time to relax a bit more. If you’re a road warrior moving everyday can be done—just plan on less sleep and in some cases much less sleep. 

But I Don’t Speak French

I am sure you’ve had this thought or perhaps been tortured by it. My travels over the years have taught me travel French but the first day I stepped foot in the country I only spoke Spanish. I survived. In fact I surprised myself in how well I did. The key is being patient and polite. When you walk in a store or shop a polite bonjour (good day) or bonsoir (good evening) is customary. An Au revoir (goodbye) when you leave.

Just following simple steps like this will help ease the blow along with learning some basic phrases. There are lots of great books at the bookstore to help with language and etiquette. The misconception that the French are rude or impolite is just that, a misconception. Their daily lives are often spent dealing with same issues we do—taxes, raising kids, getting to work on time.

I have seen and felt amazing acts of kindness from the French in my years. You’ll almost always get back what you put in so embrace the differences and shrug off issues if you run into someone that you don’t see eye to eye with. While you’re at the Tour you’ll feel a bond I call “The Spirit of The Mountain”. People from diverse backgrounds will come together offering to share their lunch or a drink. Embrace those around you as you can meet amazing people and have great conversations, even if they are in broken French.

During the last few years I’ve heard people worry over safety. The Tour has always been a very safe and comfortable place for me. You’ll see diverse groups of fans so pick a spot to watch where you feel comfortable with the fans and people around you. One great thing about the Tour is people are pretty clear about their nationalities and team affiliations. If you’re the only person rooting for your favorite rider amongst 100 drunken Basque it’s easy to figure out, and usually not hard to fix as you walk around the next turn to find something different.


Most of you will want to stay in as they offer the most straightforward, predictable travel experience. In later pages of Section one you’ll see that alternate lodging choices like camping, RV’s, etc will be discussed. Hotels are fairly straightforward and are priced according to a 5-Star rating system—the higher the number the higher amenities and costs.

A 2 star is a budget minded place that may not have air-conditioning or a private bathroom for that matter. A 3 star will offer more luxury, bigger rooms, more services, and better food. A 4-star should mean a great place to stay with many luxuries, great food, services etc. A 5-Star means “if you have to ask, you probably can’t” ….well, you get the drift.

A straightforward Starting price would be from $40-60 Euros for basic, no frills 2-star without air conditioning. If you have any doubts about the quality of the hotel when checking in ask to see a room first. Don’t assume things like air-conditioning are included in the budget places (called Climatiseur, or Climatisee). You’ll see a lot chain names when you search. I like the Novotel chain, as they tend to be highly standardized and typically 3-star.


As the race travels around France so do tent villages of devotees that follow along. The camping is ample and often free as villages hosting the race turn more of a blind eye to the hordes. When deciding where to camp don’t ever assume you can put your tent just anywhere. Often village’s pop-up and you’ll know camping is okay, but if no tents are up being the first bandit could get you in some hot-water.

Also know that you can count on numerous sanctioned pay campsites along the route—I’ve read that France is the number one camping destination in Europe and has 11,000 pay campsites. You will have absolutely no problem camping and will save a lot of money doing it. The bandit campsites are packed tightly the closer you are to the race so don’t expect acres of camping space to yourself. Know that sometimes the Europeans enjoy all night parties. If you’re a light sleeper things could get rough.

As for temps it will range, in the mountains for example, you can get some pretty cold and foul weather at times and lots of heat at other times. Be prepared for rain, as showers will happen. Basically, just know weather changes fast in the mountains. If you’re worried about taking all your gear on a plane consider buying as many disposable items you can once you arrive.

If you are a true road warrior that plans on using hotels but moving everyday you may consider buying an inexpensive tent to carry in your car. I have been surprised by a road closure when a mountain pass was full of fans and couldn’t make it to my hotel. On Bastille Day 2000 I had to pitching tent in the valley below the Col d’ Izoard. I had one of my most memorable tour experiences ever. Having my tent made my travels much more flexible.

The sites below are excellent resources for planning and can help you pick campsites in advance. It has been my experience and observation though that even without tons of pre-planning camping is one way to always wing-it and come out okay. (English Language Friendly)

When is comes to bandit camping the French authorities look the other way if the Tour de
France is in the area. Here is a campsite on the Tourmalet in the Pyrenees the day before
stage finished at the ski station of La Mongie near the top.

Gites, Hostels, Chambres d’Hotes

Another popular place to stay for those on a budget are called Gites. They are vaguely similar to a hostel (typically much nicer) or bed and breakfast. They are usually family owned and some even specialize by catering to groups and outdoor enthusiasts such as cyclists—these Gites are called Gites de Etape and have their own section on the Gites website. The only trick to the Gites is that you will probably need to be able to speak some basic French. When booking use a google language translator.

A nice Gite that provides breakfast and home cooked dinner will run around $25-30 Euros a night and I’ve had tremendous success staying at Gites-de-Etape. If you are traveling in a group (or alone for that matter) Gites-de-Etape are also good alternatives to hotels because many have large multiple guest bunkrooms. When viewing the site know that Gites are rated with stalks of wheat (one, two, three, etc.).

In Gite-de-Etapes sometimes you’ll have the choice of just using the lodging only and paying for no meals, though from a value standpoint paying an extra 10-12 Euros will get you a simple continental breakfast and full dinner with wine at night. The Tour occurs during peak travel season so many Gites will require the more expensive plan, occasionally though you can get the to owner to waive it.

Some Gites-de-Etape that offer the no meals option have a full kitchen for your use. It is a fun way to experiment if you like to cook. You must clean up after yourself so don’t expect to be fully pampered. This is part of what saves in cost. Most Gites-de-Etape will also have a clothes washing machine that can be used by guests. In 2005 I paid around 3 euros a load. The links below are fine example of a great Gites-de-Etape in the Pyrenees.

One thing to note is a story that may help ease some of your irrational fears. It was relayed to me from a travel partner upon his return trip and had a dinner with some friends. He said the one question that kept coming up was what other kind of people stayed in Gites, noting that one dinner guest had some hang-ups over social class. My experiences have all been great In fact I’ve met doctors and many other professionals in my stays but mostly I’ve observed that the people love the outdoors and in that we have common ground. Staying in Gites is certainly more adventurous than a hotel but I feel like Gites get you closer to the French culture in their daily life because families run them. (close to Lourdes Hautucam, Tourmalet, Luz Ardiden) (a cycling specific friendly British owned B&B in the Pyrenees) (Located on the climb to Alpe d’ Huez L’Ancolie is both a Gite AND a Hotel. Proprietor is friendly, accommodating and speaks English)

To book or for more info go to

Chambres d’Hotes

A Chambres d’Hotes is the French equivalent to a Bed and Breakfast. Often the living space you’ll get is in the house of the proprietor and sometimes it’s a separate house on family property. According to the website, where Chambre d’Hotes rooms can be rented, there are 8500 locations in France. The links below serve as good examples of Chambres d’ Hotes. (Near Pau the owner Jean-Pierre is great host and speaks some English) ( a beautiful B&B about 12k south of Avignon, last 1k of trip to La Dame is on a dirt road but well worth the small inconvenience )  Located in Venosc, near Les Deux Alps and Alpe d' Huez this Gite is english language friendly and very easy to deal with for cyclists.