Cycling tours and winter sun
ASK JOAN:All your travel questions answered
Which cycle company to use
We are a couple in our mid-30s who cycle a few kilometres every day to work and like to cycle at weekends but not competitively or on racers. Cycling to Howth and back on a Sunday for fish and chips would be our kind of thing, or covering every inch of Phoenix Park in an hour or so.
We want to start going on cycling holidays abroad and, as I have heard a little about it, I wanted to ask if the Canal du Midi was a good first option. More importantly, would you be able to recommend some good agents we can contact for this trip? I can see many online, so I value your opinion on which one to go with. – LOG, Dublin
The Canal du Midi is a great place to start cycling in France as the landscape is mainly flat, the scenery is lovely and there are plenty of places to stop along the way to stay and eat. You also have the train line running near the canal, and can use it to cover a lot of ground. Bicycle carriage is free on the trains.
Start by getting a copy of Declan Lyons’s book, Cycling the Canal du Midi; it is published by cicerone.co.ukand is available in electronic format, or you may find a second-hand copy on Amazon or in a second-hand bookshop.
The next thing is to decide if you will take your own bikes – carriage will be about €100 return – hire a bike, or join an organised tour. The Canal du Midi runs from Toulouse to Sète on the Mediterranean coast. The principal access airports from Ireland are Toulouse with Aer Lingus and Carcassonne with Ryanair.
If you rent bikes you will need panniers to carry your stuff, rentals will be about €65-€100 per week. In Toulouse, see maisonduvelotoulouse.com, and near Carcassonne, mellowvelos.comand carcassonne.generation.vtt.com.
The staff at Mellow Velos speak English and it is well recommended for advice on exploring the Canal du Midi and it also has a holiday home near Paraza, where you can base yourself and explore the region by bike each day.
Discoverfrance.comorganises cycling tours all around the country and has a Carcassonne to Sète tour that might be just a thing for you. You can travel independently and your luggage will be transferred from place to place, or with a group. The itinerary includes bike hire, accommodation, some meals and good maps. Flights are extra.
France has really taken to cycling and there are now 15 EuroVéloroutes all over the country. One of the most recent sections to open is in Aquitaine along the coast from Royan to Hendaye in the Basque country, see velodyssey.com. For the complete list of Véloroutes and Voies Verts (Green Ways) around France, see AF3V.org.