“The thing about France is that the French aren’t great at building bike routes, but they don’t need to be because there are endless stunning roads with no traffic – and what little traffic there is, is considerate towards cyclists.”
France is a dream for cycling, after all, it is where the Tour De France was born. With its wealth of virtually car-less backroads, the option of a challenging climb for the sports enthusiasts or a gentle pootle between pretty villages for the more laid-back, freewheeling in France is a joy.
Purpose-built routes allow you to cycle the length of the Loire all the way to the Atlantic, making it irresistibly tempting to hop on a bike and discover a different perspective to this beautiful country. But it’s the locals that really know how to work this wonderful landscape and create epic cycle-routes that show off historical sites and jaw-dropping views. We asked four of our Owners to share with us their favourite routes leaving straight from their front door.
Explore medieval hilltop villages, hone your French in bustling food markets, cram your bags with smelly cheeses, peppery salami, crusty bread and local wine. Over 20 years ago, Alastair Sawday was spending his time doing exactly that. Continue Reading…
There’s nothing better than getting in from a day of adventures on crisp white snow to find the warmth and generosity of an independent chalet host, a roaring fire and dinner made with love and local produce. Continue Reading…
Are we not all seduced by historic buildings? Only exceptionally are they not beautiful. We rarely retain memory of a 60s tower block, or a commercial warehouse, or a shopping centre. So historic buildings are precious, to be dignified with our respect. It is for the old historic centres that we love a city, never for the modern accretions. Continue Reading…
In the Fashoda Incident in 1898, the French and British had a stand-off on the White Nile in the Sudan. The British, surviving on grim army rations, were invited to a dinner of fresh vegetables by the French. They had carried the seeds for 14 months across Africa.
That is why I love the French – for what they consider important: like fresh veg and baguettes, good coffee and good manners, books, cartoons and lampoons, sharp femininity, their own way of doing things. They stick like limpets to their Frenchness. They are French and proud of it.
My early French memories, from the ‘50s, are of empty roads, wine cooling in streams while we picnicked on bread and cheese and tomatoes. A café and bar in every village, farmers, cows, Citroën 2CVs bouncing along with hay-bales, old men in berets, and ineffable charm at every encounter. Ridiculous, of course, to hark back to those days, but they have left their mark on me and early marks survive.
I was introduced early to the châteaux and castles, to the beautiful buildings and villages scattered throughout the country. I thought that Azay Le Rideau was an architectural paradise, a château-jewel in its own lake. I spoke French early, at the urging of a mother who had learned it as a girl, so my connections were alive and nourishing. I felt French, wanted more of it all. Years later I would read JeanGiono and Moliere, take travellers around the country in coaches and then myown mini-bus. I fell in love with French women, idling in Montmartre and underthe bridges of Paris. I took a girlfriend to Les Folies Bergeres – oh how grown-up that was. Paris made me, makes me, think about beauty, about aesthetics, about love.
I have been to Martinique, too, and heard French patois in other islands. I have enjoyed croissants in Pondicherry, and French-style coffee in Kerala, relieved to retreat into nostalgia. France has captured me, and I can see why. I have been touched by Frenchness in so many ways, starting affectionately at a young age. I even taught the language for 5 years, but confess to my love stumbling at the third year of the imperfect subjunctive. However I can still produce it, to startle older French people and mystify young ones. Luckily, we have many ‘older’ owners of our Special Places, and my enjoyment of them is deep. They, too, enjoy their subjunctives.