Cyclo-Touring the French Countryside

The Early Morning Cyclist has returned from abroad! As we’re wont to do, our journeys are frequently made afoot or upon two wheels. In my opinion, the best way to see and get to know a place is slowly. Without meaning to do so, our selected itinerary took us to regions of France that are off the beaten path for Americans. So while we happily hobnobbed with folks from around the globe who, like us, were thoroughly enjoying the Alsace and Bourgogne regions, American voices were quite few and far between.

This (above) is what I had hoped to see as we meandered about, but we were ten days into the journey before stumbling across a beausaged example of vintage randonneur style of bike. Sadly, it seems France has embraced hybrid bikes. To my distress I observed ample evidence of a nearly complete abandonment of traditional frames in favor of these uncomfortable (but cheap, I guess) bikes that sport mountain bike gears and awkward flat bars. Tragic to see a loss of character as well as aesthetic in mainstream bicycle designs.

The majority of our time was dedicated to small villages and beautiful countryside. Turning any random corner often yielded a nice surprise. For me, these were often a photo op and I found myself stopping and starting to take advantage of each opportunity.


 

 

I have great difficulty not romanticizing the place, so I’ll try to temper my enthusiasm. That caveat in place, imagine a verdant countryside of lush vineyards linking one small village after another every few kilometers.

 

Once in a village, one discovers roads that, like those in the country, are in an excellent state of repair even though they are often cobbled. Buildings are mostly hundreds of years old, many dating to medieval times.

 

 

The charm and picturesque nature is overwhelming. I feel as though I’m on a calendar photo shoot for Hallmark and cannot stop making images of whatever place I find myself in. Everywhere is wonderful!

 

 

One of my favorite places was our first “base camp,” a medieval village named Eguisheim (above).

 

We were fortunate enough to be in Eguisheim for the village’s annual flea market. The entire village is wall-to-wall with tables and there’s a day-long celebration with all proceeds benefitting the incredible historic church building at the village center. At one booth we came across our host from the vineyard we were staying at. He plied us with wine and sat on a bench next to a fountain sipping the local product and eating tarte flambé. Ah! This is definitely the life!

 

Rather than shipping bikes, we hired them after arriving. This was definitely more convenient, but the trade off was that our “hosses” were the hybrid design I so despise (above). And after tallying the costs of several days rental, it is clear that even paying the extortion rates the airlines charge for shipping, we’d still have been spending less bringing our own bikes.

 

Further down the road is an incredible restoration underway of the 13th century structure at Chateau du Haut Koeningsbourg.

 

One day, struggling to make a long and steep climb, we paused beneath the shade of a grove of cherry trees for a rest. Along with a few other cyclists of like minds, we plucked handfuls of the ripe fruit, staining our hands – and I my white shirt. Enjoying the shade and a cool breeze, we were startled to hear the roar of a powerful engine coming down the mountain in our direction. Suddenly a Ferrari burst around the corner and zoomed by. It was followed immediately by another, and then another racing beauty. For the next half hour we watched as one exotic sports car after another raced past our spot and downward toward the village.

 

In Alsace, this sort of bike could be found in abundance.

 

Dining upon wine and charcuterie, we enjoyed the ambiance of the vineyard, studied maps, and made sketches. I’ll share those after I get a chance to scan them in next week.

 

I am unapologetically taken by simple charm and elegance. As a teacher I am also horrified that we no longer teach children penmanship, so receiving a lovely handwritten receipt at dinner was something I appreciated more than I could express to our hostess.


 

Although I searched diligently for vintage cycling gear, there was little to be found. I especially hoped to locate a bell or two – but alas! It was not to be. I came across the housing for a pair of tail lights, some interesting photographs of Tour riders, and a few bicycle-related toys. But that was the extent of my discoveries.

 

 

 

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One thought on “Cyclo-Touring the French Countryside

  1. Welcome home “mon ami”! It sounds like you had a wonderful trip. Yes, the modern hybrid has wreaked havic on Europe with the same disregard as did the budget-minded ‘ten speed’ in North America a few decades back. Each replacing traditional ‘city bikes’ that are much more enjoyable and efficient to ride. Fashion as they say is a fickle mistress and cycling is not immune to her “l’air du temps”.
    Mark

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