Bike Touring: France, Germany, Switzerland & the Netherlands (Part 1)

04 Sep

For a good part of June, July and August, I was in Europe touring around by bike, train, and *gasp* a hire car. I have divided the trip up into four parts, because we went to so many places, it’s just too long for one blog post. The bikes are Bike Friday New World Tourist folders, with the Travelcase system, as custom built by Bike Friday.

We flew into Paris via a stopover in Dubai and it was scorchingly hot in both places. While you didn’t notice it in Dubai because everything was well air conditioned, Paris was initially a struggle, with no air conditioning in the airport, or in the trains.

Burj Khalifa - Dubai

The Burj Khalifa - Currently the World's Tallest Skyscraper (Dubai)

Please comment below if you want to see some Paris photos. I will do separate posts for ‘cycling culture’ regarding the cities that we spent significant amounts of time in. Now for the trip diary:

30/6/2011 Train Paris (Montparnesse Station) – Nantes – Challans (ride 5ks to campsite)

Getting ourselves and our luggage (the Bike Fridays in their suitcases) to Montparnesse Station was a bit of a challenge. We decided against taking the metro – all those stairs! We took a bus instead and that turned out to be a good way to go, as we only had to haul ourselves up and down the tiny step from the road onto the bus – all the buses are open plan so there was plenty of room for us.

We had to change trains at Nantes, and didn’t realise that you need to know the end-of-line station in order to find out what platform to change to. It made it a tight change.

When we got to Challans my case wouldn’t open – I may have made an error setting the code as it wasn’t what I thought it was. We tried almost all the combinations until we got it open. It took us a long time to orient ourselves and find the campsite. The campsite was quiet and out of the way – we weren’t quite into the peak summer season of camping so the kiosk wasn’t open and we were left with hardly any food for dinner!

Campsite in Challans

Campsite in Challans


01/07/2011 RIDE Challans – Passage Du Gois (22k)

This was an easy, flat ride, and we did it at an average speed of over 20kph. It was a good introduction to French traffic, they gave us a nice wide berth. There were a lot of ‘camping cars’ with bikes on the back, we mused that they had their houses with bikes on the back, we had our bikes with houses on the back. We ate chocolate donuts as our ride fuel.

Bike Fridays on the Passage

Bike Fridays on the Passage Du Gois

It was very exciting to see all the campers parked on the side of the road. I couldn’t believe we were actually here at the Grand Depart of the Tour de France! When we got there, I wasn’t keen on crossing the Passage as the tide was rushing in – it is a crazy road which is only passable twice every 24 hours, the rest of the time it disappears underneath the ocean.

We met a Dutch guy who was following the tour in his car, and took his advice on stealth camping down a limestone track which ended in some fields. It was our first and only free camp, and we were only disturbed once, very late, by some people who were wandering down the track. When they realised we were there though, they were quiet, and left soon after.

Camping near some fields

Our campsite the night before the Grand Departe

02/07/2011 RIDE Passage Du Gois – Barbatre – Notre Dame De Monts (28k)

The Peleton on the Passage Du Gois

The peleton, neutral over the Passage Du Gois

We had watched the tour on the Passage – the Caravanne was so long that it kept us entertained for hours – the riders went past in a neutralised state, then we crossed over to the island, and had lunch at a bar/pizza place. The heat was stifling. We discovered that the French don’t cut their pizzas, so we had to pull it apart with our hands as there was no cutlery.

We then rode down a big main road for a while – and crossed at the proper bridge back to the mainland – then we joined a cycle network maintained by the Vendee region. It is off road, a sort of limestone track. It was a bit rough at times, but it goes past a lot of Camping Municipale sites. We stopped at one that looked nice. We were the first Australians to have ever stopped there. This was the start of a recurring theme.


our tent

Resting in our little home.

03/07/2011 RIDE Notre Dame De Monts – Olonne Sur Mer (70k)


Breakfast at the beach

We continued on the bike path, and it went along the coast a fair bit. It was pretty and pleasant. When we got to Olonne Sur Mer, we chose the first campsite we arrived at. It was a bit expensive, they put their prices up for peak season. It was pleasant though, there was a common room that we could use to plug in my netbook (which now had a dead battery) and watch the Sarah Connor Chronicles. There were fireworks, and there was a concert on as well – the welcoming party for the Tour.

In the morning we found a good spot to watch from, and got a lot of freebies from the Caravanne. It was still very hot. I was thankful for the bottle of water we got from the Vittel truck.

Olonne Sur Mer Tour De France

The sign at the entrance to town.

The peleton and Olonne Sur Mer

The peleton finally roll past to an appreciative crowd....

04/07/2011 RIDE Olonne Sur Mer – Les Sables – Le Veillion – Talmont-St- Hilare (25k)

After watching the tour go past, we got back on our bikes. We were on the road again, and the road was packed with tourists. An official tour car (may have been media) slowed down when it overtook us and on of the guys leaned out and said ‘bravo, more people should be cycling to follow the tour’.

Ladybug invasion

N's green shirt was very attractive to lady bugs... she missed them when we left the Vendee and there weren't any around

05/07/2011 RIDE Talmont-St-Hilare – Esnandes (73k)

We had a French road-touring atlas and the white roads were the rarely used, narrow ones. Today we did have to ride on some busier roads but they had bike lanes. We were now becoming accustomed to the sight of corn, wheat and sunflowers. Esnandes is a very small place, and the camping ground was probably the cheapest of the whole trip at about 6 euros.

Bike Fridays and Sunflowers

Lunch Break - Bike Fridays and Sunflowers

They had a common area and bar, and there was a TV. We arrived just in time to see the Tour coverage. There were a bunch of older, drunk French guys there who were trying very hard to talk to us. They were excited when they discovered we are Australian. One of them jumped around being a kangaroo. Then they asked who we were going for in the Tour. He said ‘Alberto Contador’, and I made a rasperry and a thumbs down… then he said ‘Cudel Evuns?’ and I said yeah, and gave a thumbs up. That day Cadel beat Contador in an uphill grind to the finish. I wonder if those old guys were thinking of us when ‘Cudel’ finally won the tour.

 06/07/2011 RIDE Esnades – La Rochelle – Rochefort – Pont L’Abbe (80k)

a Chateaux that was closed

Yet another closed Chateaux - we never managed to get inside one!

Navigating through fairly big places like La Rochelle and Rochefort is difficult when you only have a road touring atlas. We got through by picking out landmarks which were on the map and which were signposted – but we had to ride around a bit in order to find useful signs. La Rochelle was OK to navigate through as it as a kind of pleasant place. Rochefort was more industrial, and was where we had to ride up over a massive Viaduct bridge. There was a bike lane which was less than a metre wide, which led to a very close buzz by a bus as we were climbing up. Pont L’Abbe was a charming place, though by the time we got there we were exhausted. We got to the tourism centre before it closed and they directed us to the camp site. The woman in reception at the camp ground insisted that we come and sign the guest book in the morning. We were the first Australians to stay there, once again!

Campsite at Parc de la Gareme, Pont L'Abbe

Campsite at Parc de la Gareme, Pont L'Abbe

We had a beautiful dinner in Pont L’Abbe – even though we only vaguely knew what we were ordering. It was the first time in my life I have ever enjoyed eating prawns, as they were so fresh and came with a delicious dipping sauce.

07/07/2011 RIDE Pont L’Abbe – Jonzac (69k)

This is where the weather deteriorated on us. We got caught in a very heavy shower, which put a damper on the ride through some dense forest. We stopped at a bus shelter with no seat to eat chocolate eclairs and N changed her shirt because she was freezing. My shirt had almost dried but my pants were still wet. We were cold and miserable, and in Jonzac there was only one camp site – it was small and crowded.

checking the map

Checking the map - before we got wet

That is it for now, to be continued, daily, over the next four days. Don’t forget to leave a comment or drop me a line if there’s anything else you would like to know about this trip. For my concise review of my Bike Friday New World Tourist, and the Travelcase trailer, see my review here.

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Posted by on September 4, 2011 in Bike Friday, Folding Bikes, Touring, Touring Bikes


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One response to “Bike Touring: France, Germany, Switzerland & the Netherlands (Part 1)

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