Cycling in the UK has soared in popularity in the past few years, encouraged by the cycle to work scheme, the development of our National Cycle Network and investment in bike-safety education within schools.
But no matter how much money and positive press we throw at the situation, British family bike tours will never compete with similar French offerings.
It’s a sad fact, but Britain is not a good place for cycle holidays, and certainly not for family bike tours, when safe, stress-free cycling is essential.
Quaint country roads sabotaged by fast cars; cycle lanes that ‘end’ without warning; abuse from other road users: cycling on home soil is a challenge. We have some superb cycle-paths that are perfect for commuting and fun for weekend rides but, unless you’re into hard-core off-roading, you’ll soon peddle into busy roads and bolshie motorists.
Cycling in France, however, is in a different league.
Nip across the Channel and the first thing you notice is the lack of cars – it’s possible to take cycling holidays in France and go for whole hours without seeing a motor vehicle.
Population density is almost half that of the UK and, with fast cars and big lorries sticking to the peage routes, the cars on France’s picturesque back roads pootle along at a safer pace.
As a parent, this means that you can peddle along with kids in tow, without yelling ‘watch the car’ and ‘look where you’re going’ every few minutes.
Cycling is ingrained in French culture – it’s part of the national psyche and, next year, the Tour de France celebrates its 100th year on the road.
Along with this culture comes a respect for road-cyclists that we lack in England. French motorists overtake cyclists with caution, giving them a wide berth and even offer a friendly pip of the horn on occasion.
Food is another factor. Good grub makes for chirpy children and positive parents – the right ingredients for the perfect family break.
Just like all holidays in France, family bike tours are made all the more appealing by the availability of fresh bread, rich pates, creamy cheeses, crisp fruit and delicious deserts.
Even better, if you’re tempted to drink in the day, it’s customary in France to order half pints, or ‘demis’, which mean a refreshing lunch-time beer doesn’t have to send you off on a wobble.
Tempted? Your only dilemma will be deciding where to go.
There’s so much spectacular cycle terrain to choose from in France, you can’t really go wrong. Choose easy-going tours and windswept coastal paths in the north; fields of sunflowers in the Loire Valley; lavender farms in Provence; the canal paths of Burgundy; the beaches of Bordeaux; mountain passes in the Pyrenees; snow-capped scenery in the Alps… the list goes on.
But for the simplest family bike tours, leave the car at home. Book the family on a ferry or hop on the Eurostar and you could be peddling along the coastal paths of Brittany, through the pleasant pastures of Normandy, or taking in the beautiful beaches of Opal Coast, within a matter of hours.
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