Cycle in France, Midi-Pyrenees
When I received the call from the French Tourism bureau in NYC asking me if I’d join a cycling press trip I quickly answered, only if there are NO HILLLS and I was serious. I grew up in Nebraska, where there is not a hill to be found. I like biking in Holland and I detest hillocks, hills and don’t even mention mountains. Plus lets just say that I’m not in perfect shape nor ready to cycle in France.
Yet they assured me that Discover France, their partner and the sponsor of the trip, had electric bikes and a van if I got tired and that the trek was designed to be easy. Still I was worried but I said yes anyway as is my nature. Leading up to my depart date, I was getting more and more anxious about making a fool of myself, of falling off the bike or flipping over it (which I’ve done before) and I was even slightly worried about having a heart attack.
Somehow, I thought, that if I bought everything on Discover France’s prescribed packing list that would save me so I hit up bike shops in Manhattan and Brooklyn and bought gloves, a silly biking hat, 2 biking shirts, 2 pair of biking shorts, snacks for the ride, glide on blister goo, special biking socks and sunblock.
In short, I was preparing for the tour de France. As soon as I arrived in Toulouse and we drove in the Discover France van with Patrick our guide for the week I realized that while normally under-prepared for everything I do, this time the word overkill was coming to mind.
We started off cycling on the canal du Garonne in the Tarn and I quickly noticed when I began pedaling using the electric option, the bike gave me the strength of Lance Armstrong (while doping) and I began to think I was going to make it.
The first hills we climbed in Turbo mode (there are 4 settings from ECO to Turbo) allowed me to ride up the hills with relative ease, and I never had to stand up on the bike and overtax my thighs. Mind you, the bike doesn’t ride you, you ride it and the electricity kicks in on the level you desire as you pedal. It won’t take you up the hill without any effort, it just assists you….and makes you feel you are in great shape, even when you know you are not.
Our first stop was Montauban at the Hotel du Commerce. Boy I was feeling proud of myself as I rode up to the hotel still feeling buoyant. My fellow rider and blogger Erik Trinidad from the Global Trip was riding on his own power as he’s an extreme sports writer and far more athletic than I.
The other two, Kevin and Amanda of KevinandAmanda.com are foodies and serious travelers from Alabama but they and our host from Atout France (the Tourism Bureau) were all using the electric bikes like me, so thankfully I didn’t feel like such a schlub. Dinner that evening was at the Bistro des Capuchins at the Abbey Capuchin a four star hotel in Montauban and I enjoyed a shrimp risotto and some lovely Provencal rosé in a sublime setting.
Day 2 was more difficult. Patrick our guide extraordinarie who is both an excellent biker and ski coach had us going up and down hills all day, but somehow I survived and even thrived. The pace of bike riding is the perfect way to experience both a village or the countryside. The landscape glides slowly past you, you feel one with nature and its simple to stop where you feel like it to snap a photo, smell a flower or gape at an incredible view.
Our agenda was to hit as many Plus Beaux Villages de France in the Midi-Pyrenees region as well as many other darling historic villages as we could squeeze in. Discover France did a wonderful job trekking us through these marvels without us ever feeling we were going out of our way. They find the easiest and least traveled path so we were often on roads without any traffic or people for miles and miles.
It was hot but once you are biking, the wind flows through your hair (as much as possible considering we were wearing helmuts) and you don’t feel too steamy as long as you keep moving or rest in the shade.
This night was spent on the outskirts of Najac, another PBV that is absolutely spectacular. It is nearly perfectly preserved and every owner of the main rue’s medieval houses seems to be in competition with one another as to who can paint their shutters a more cheery color or who can plant the most beautiful window boxes.
Stay tuned for the rest of my biking adventure posting on Wednesday in this space. Enjoy all the amazing photos of my journey and my compatriots posted on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook by using the hashtag #CycleinFrance.