Category Archives: Languages

Getting to St Magnance

After stopping overnight at Pouilly-en-Auxios, we continued northwards along the same canal that we had followed the day before.

The weather was balmy, there was not a breath of wind and the scenery nothing short of spectacular. All along the waterway, buildings and bushland were mirrored in absolute perfection, disturbed only when a boat quietly moved past.

Canal harbour

Mirror image reflections

There were a number of people using the canal trail, but nowhere near as many as the day before. We were quite surprised at the popularity of the route for joggers, cyclists, walkers and serious hikers. Everyone was very friendly and cheery greetings were exchanged with each meeting.

I was intrigued by the lock-keeper’s cottages – small houses located at each lock, now mostly owned by people who worked elsewhere, not on the canal. Most were impeccably cared for and the gardens were just lovely. I was determined to get a photo of at least one of these beautiful buildings as we rode by, but this was not as easy as I had hoped. There was inevitably something in the way, or the setting was just not quite right.  But finally, I was lucky enough to find one that had a perfect reflection in the water and was just what I had been looking for.

Lock-keeper’s cottage

We left the canal trail at Villeneuve and rode on the roads to Semur-en-Auxios, where we stopped for lunch. The magnificent weather suddenly changed in the afternoon and became grey, chilly and overcast. It also coincided with a change in topography, as we exchanged easy, relatively flat riding with some rather more challenging hills.

Our choice of route had been largely non-negotiable, as we were headed west for our next stop in St Magnance. Whereas this is an easy place to get to in a motor vehicle, bikes are illegal on the very busy highways in France so those routes were out. The alternative was a legal, but very busy main road, which did not sound very attractive or enjoyable. So the hilly route was the way to go. But the extra effort kept us warm and we were very delighted at the way the trail bikes dealt easily with the uphills (the downs were also no problem :-)).

Our stop for the night was a really lovely B&B in St Magnance. Our delightful hosts treated us to an awesome dinner in front of an open fire. The attention to detail in this establishment was amazing and this was extended to the garden, which was impeccably tended and very beautiful. Our hosts took the time to chat with us for quite some time, explaining a lot of the French culture and teaching us useful new words and phrases to use as we went on through our holiday.

Beautiful garden

Lovely house in a pretty setting

My spoken French was full of mistakes :-), but I realised after speaking with our hosts at our first two B&Bs, that what I knew was sufficient to have a reasonably sensible conversation with the locals. The French people love to hear foreigners attempting to speak their language and will go to a lot of trouble to speak slowly and repeat themselves if necessary, so that you can follow their conversation.

At this stage of our tour, I stopped worrying so much about getting the verbs and sentence structure right and started to enjoy using the language spontaneously instead. It was wonderful.

(Follow this link for the itinerary and details for our Tour of France)

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Challenges of planning a ‘Tour de France’

I have always wanted to go to France. Not a short stay in a major city, but a tour through rural areas, going to places where the locals only speak French and rarely encounter tourists. Inspired some years ago, by the beautiful TV footage of the real Tour de France, we brushed the dust off the high school French grammar texts and started planning how to get our bikes to France.

For those who live in Europe or the UK, getting to France would probably not seem to be much of a challenge, as the distances are not that great. However, we had never travelled anywhere with our bikes and here we were, planning to take ours almost half way around the world! We made a few fundamental errors, but mostly, it all came together beautifully.

There were two major challenges/questions that we faced in the planning stages. The first was one all travellers have to consider – where to go and what to see (in the 5 weeks that we had available). The second was whether we took our own bikes and if so, how to get the them intact into and out of France. This post will cover the answer to the first of these questions.

Pot luck decisions!
Where to go was by far the easier question. We spent a lot of time looking at bike tours and bike trails on the internet, and then set up some criteria:
– Stay away from the serious mountains (the fellows on the real Tour de France make them look easy, but we know the truth!)
– Avoid big cities like Paris (we would be riding on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, so figured avoiding a lot of traffic made a lot of sense!)
– The starting point and end point had to have cycle friendly rail access (in France, this is quite a challenge, as different rail companies have different ‘rules’ for taking bikes, and these also change according to the time of day!)

The superfast train which travels between Paris & Dijon. Only bikes in ‘housses’ permitted.

Where to start? We took pot luck and decided to start in Dijon. I liked the sound of the city and it was conveniently located on a major fast rail link from Paris. As the bikes would still be in their airline ‘housses’ (a French cycle bag), we would be able to get on this train with no problems. Dijon was also in relatively flat country and we were a bit nervous about our capability to carry all our gear up and down hilly terrain, never having toured before.

There is also a fabulous canal trail which starts in Dijon. (The photo at the top of this blog is taken along this trail.) We mapped a route along the canal trail for about 140km, then used the minor back roads to get across to the Loire River Valley. We set an average of 60km each day (we wanted to see some of the tourist attractions as well and enjoy the scenery, so covering long distances was not important).

Dijon. Cycle trails are abundant, especially along the many canals

The route we chose followed the river a long way, through Giens, then up to Orleans and down to Blois. From Blois, we again boarded a train to get back to Paris. This time, though, the bikes were not packed, as we decided to ride in Paris after all!

Where to stay
We had thought about camping, but decided against this, as we had no idea what the facilities were like and it involved taking a lot more gear. Also, the idea of a hot shower, a comfortable bed, somewhere to dry off on wet days and a hot, home cooked meal, sounded rather attractive. B&Bs also gave us the opportunity to meet the locals and practice our French!

The ‘Gîtes de France’ website was invaluable to find bed and breakfast accommodation along our route. I hauled out my dog eared dictionary and sent emails off to the owners of our chosen establishments. My emails written in rusty French may well have created much merriment at their destination, but the recipients were, without exception, absolutely delightful. Our potential hosts were very obliging about providing places to store our bikes overnight, tolerant of vague arrival times, and happy to wait for payment until we arrived to stay. This made the whole thing very easy. In the few instances where B&Bs were not available, we found hotels instead.

The final touches were to select an hotel in Paris for when we arrived and somewhere to pack the bikes for their trip back to the Antipodes. We also booked a hotel near the station in Dijon where we could assemble the bikes, ready for our big adventure!

(Follow this link for the itinerary and details for our Tour of France)