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The best French regions for cycling and wine

Posted 01 Jan 2016

Love wine? How to enjoy it more on your cycling holiday in France

It was a bit of a dilemma deciding what to call this blogpost without setting ourselves up for a load of jokes. Suffice to say, you don't need us to tell you how to buy a bottle and drink it. But, if you'd like to enjoy a bit of the ceremony around wine while cycling in France, here's our advice:

1. Choose a wine-growing region

It is heavenly to sit on a warm terrace sipping some delicious vintage while looking out over the rows of vines whence it came. While it's a tad obvious to say, do make sure you choose a wine-growing region if you're looking for that sort of experience on your cycling holiday. Not everywhere is.

Among the best places in France for wine and cycling are: 

Burgundy - Its vines were first planted by the Romans and its winegrowers are seekingUNESCO world heritage status for their most important plots. Cycling has been made simple by the introduction of the Voie Verte and Voie Bleue cycle routes. These traffic-free paths follow the Saône river and avoid the more challenging inclines. 

Alsace - The Alsace Wine Route takes you through stunning countryside with vines, chateaux and chocolate box villages. Cycling is ridiulously easy with short distances and hardly a blip on the contour map.  If you retain a touch of snobbery about Alsatian and German wines then you're missing out big time. A decent glass of crisp, deeply aromatic Reisling is one of life's purest pleasures. 

Dordogne - Another world-famous region where almost everybody with a bit of land has a few vines, even just for their own use. Many of the producers are based in stunning châteaux, such as Monbazilliac. But, then again, so are many of our hotels. You'll find the cycling occasionally hilly, but away from the main routes it's wonderfully quiet and the views more than make up for the odd puff.  

The Loire - Use the Loire à Vélo cycle path to pedal between châteaux, vineyards and fabulous little medieval towns.  You'll also find signposted circuits to take you round the most popular wineries.  

2. Don't just stick to the big names

Many excellent French wines are snaffled up by the locals long you can say Duty Free. If you're on their home turf it's your chance to find out what the French have been keeping to themselves. 

Hotels and restaurants know all the best producers nearby. That amazing sauvingnon blanc you had last night probably came within cycling distance of where you're staying. Ask your hoteliers for a really good off-the-map wine-tasting experience. They may even offer to arrange it for you.

That's not to say there isn't a valid place for the larger producers. You'll find the big co-operatives have more choice and more reliable opening hours. But in our experience what makes your holiday is the chance encounter with the wizened Monsieur who, deciding you're worthy, reaches under the counter for his extra-special bottle.

3. Find a festival

The vendange, when the new grapes are picked and crushed, takes place late September or early October. The exact time depends upon the season and the instincts of the grower, which makes it tricky to plan a holiday around it. 

There are a wealth of brilliant summer festivals throughout France, however, that combine wine, food and music to very merry effect. Among our favourites are the grand tablées de Saumur Champigny in the Loire, which takes place this year on 5- 6 August and the winegrowers' festival at Eguisheim, Alsace, which is the 29-30 August. For next year look out for the Francos Gourmandes festival in Tournus, Burgundy in June. 

4. Do it sensibly

If you're among the 99.98% of the population that can't bear to spit out the wine then  - please - don't attempt a 25km cycle ride in the hot sun afterwards. Neither sunstroke, falling off your bike, being hit by a car or being arrested by the gendarmes will enahnce your holiday. 

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