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Hey guys, I'm trying to find out what maps people take with them on their trips. I'm doing a trip from the UK through France and Spain and possibly into Portugal, what maps would you use for this?
What do you do about finding accomodation and petrol stations? I've never been anywhere yet without booking in advance (I'm a newbie) so it's still a pretty scary thought at the moment, how do you find campsites/b&b's/hostels on the road (what if you can't find anywhere)?
The maps I've looked at so far don't show campsites and are either too big for the tank bag pocket or so detailed that I'd need to carry way too many, where am I going wrong?!
It depends how flexible you need to be. GPS BTW is brilliant and avoid loads of hassle, but as the question was maps....
I carry a red Michelin that'll cover the whole of France, or a yellow one if only heading for a small area (WH Smiths etc. sell them). I use that to write myself a set of directions for each day or to find a general direction. You can't read a map in the tank bag unless it's that big it'll cover ten minutes riding. At each junction assume the next one horse town up the road will be the only one signposted, anything like a big city or Paris is a bonus that confirms you are/aren't heading roughly the right way. Don't forget to include E road numbers as well as A/N/D-???, the signmakers use whatever they feel like.
Finding accomodation is a case of either pulling up in a town and looking round, getting to the local tourist office or following signs at the side of the road (Pension/Gitte/Chambre etc). Some towns have a little board as you enter with accomodation listed and usually a street plan. You need pen and paper to copy that down. It can also be useful to use Google maps or similar to get to-the-door instructions ready for any place you know you'll go. Campsites I'd find online before I set off, or just follow signs as you see them.
I use Michelin and IGN maps. Michelin's Red map covers the whole of France, and you can get them for Spain, Portugal etc. IGN (like the French Ordinance Survey) do an Orange series where you get a quarter of France per map.
For accomodation if you've got a rough idea of where you'd like to go then the best bet is to try the region's or department's tourist offices. Usually you can find these online.
Oh and Viamichelin.com is good too, you can use it to find not just routes (selecting the bicycle option often reveals interesting backroads) but also some accomodation, tourist info too, and it'll link to other sites.
Finally try Bike Club France it's an expats bikers in France site, well worth a visit as I'm sure you'll get loads of hints of where to go, stay, eat, and possibly even an offer or two of a bed/camping pitch for the night.
I did a similar trip in March and used the Michelin Red folding maps also, the scenic routes marked in green are particularly useful.
As for accomodation then I stayed in some Hostals in Spain, cheap and clean, either ask at the local petrol station or just ride around looking for a Hostal sign.
Is there something particular you want to see do in France? you might want to look at the Portsmouth/Plymouth - Santander ferry, gets you right to the great roads in northern Spain and normally works out cheaper than riding through France.
We've never really seen France so we'd like to do that, try some of the food etc, also want to see the Millau bridge and visit some friends. We also want to see the Pyrenees but I'm not sure of the best routes to do this yet, I have a lot of research to do! :P
Oh you are now Gary, mind you I never tweet anything interesting, so don't expect world shattering news. I got the Michelin A4 Spiral bound European Atlas and it'll just squeeze in my tank bag. The scales vary depending on how important they think your country is, but obviously France is in fairly decent 1:600,000 as opposed to the AA's 1:2,500,000. I actually bought the tank bag to match the map's size - 28.4 x 21.6 x 1.8 cm. Great advantage to an Atlas over a map of course is that you've got an index of towns and it doesn't go blowing across the dual-carriageway.
You could look at the Portsmouth/Plymouth-Santander ferry as a way to get home. That way you can ride leisurely down through France into and around Spain and then use the ferry to get you back without having to ride all the way back again.
The Pyrenees are fantastic, I've never ridden through them, but a few years ago spent three weeks cycling (very slowly) all over them.
Hope you're watching the Tour de France too, it's a great way to spot towns you'd like to visit.
Don't beat yourself up trying to find a good map that will fit in the pocket of your tankbag, they don't exist. You need to find a map you like, well atlas really, michelin do one that covers the whole of Europe that's about an inch bigger than A4 allowing for the ring binding. Then you need to get a waterproof map case, ortleib do a nice one, and strap it on top of your tankbag. Then you've got a big detailed map that covers a decent mileage on a page. Once you're there buy the Michelin Regional folding maps of the areas you want to look at in more detail, they're sold everywhere. They show campsites and areas of interest.
I never book anywhere as I like to go at my own pace. Having to be somewhere on a particular day just puts pressure on you to do the miles. The trick is to make sure you're in an area that is likely to have camping. If it's near a big lake or the sea then it's more likely there will be camping. In the mountains there are plenty as people go on walking holidays. The exception to this is the French Municipal sites which are in most towns, I wouldn't like to say all, and in my experience are very good. So basicly just head off into the unknown and you'll be fine. Fuel isn't a real problem if you have a decent range 150-200 miles. If you're on a Ducati then you'll need to be careful! Sundays can be fun in rural France and they have a lot of holiday Mondays too when a lot of petrol stations will be closed. Supermarkets are usually open though and I've never had any trouble getting fuel even on Bastille day if you get on the Autoroute.
It happens to be Bastille Day today! Bon Fete Nationale!
Good luck with your trip, you'll love it. The food will be amazing and you'll come back to Blighty and wonder where all the cars have appeared from and why our tomatoes taste like cardboard.
All very sensible advice so far, I too would definitely go with the folding Michelin maps, you'd need a couple of national red ones (no. 722 for France) and maybe an yellow/orange for a region if you end up basing yourself somewhere, as they're nice and compact. Make sure you use a recent one as French roads recently went through a bit of a renumbering. As has been said already Michelin maps are great as they also shade (in green) the best/most scenic roads which helps you select great routes between any 2 points.
We regularly take trips down to Europe, and are off for southern France, Catalonia, Italy, the Alps and Germany next week. We never book ahead and have never had a problem finding somewhere to stay whether staying in Gites or camping. You can find sites as has been mentioned at any town or info centre but locals and farmers will often give you somewhere to pitch if you ask nicely! We've even been invited to eat with them before which suits us as our trips tend to turn into gastronomic tours anyway!!
Our only rule is to have a very rough idea of where we're heading (ie south) and then stick to the B roads and make the rest up as we go along so we can enjoy the bits of France too easily missed on the major routes. It really does give that feeling of freedom that got you biking in the first place. If you end up on really small roads that don't appear on the map, so what?! We've often found the best places when we're been off the map/lost, and anway you'll know roughly where you are and the roads are still well signed.
Make sure you pop in a village shop to get lunch supplies before midday or all the shops tend to close so you can park up somewhere to enjoy it! Also, try and get your petrol at the supermarkets (cheaper).
It might all seem daunting sitting at home but once on the road it really is dead easy, just ride at your own pace without any real plan and stop for the day when you're ready, be it in the evening or much earlier if you chance upon some pretty village/location and there will always be somewhere to stay.
The ride down through central France is lovely, and Millau Bridge is amazing but as has been said elsewhere on the Hubb, the best view of it is from the village below (stopping on the bridge means a big fine and you can't see that much). There's also supposed to be a very nice little campsite in Millau village.
Ultimately, just head off, you'll have a great time and by day 2 will certainly wonder why you ever worried in the first place!
Wow, loads of great information here now, thanks guys!
Originally Posted by Flyingdoctor
Fuel isn't a real problem if you have a decent range 150-200 miles. If you're on a Ducati then you'll need to be careful! Sundays can be fun in rural France and they have a lot of holiday Mondays too when a lot of petrol stations will be closed.
Doh, forgot to update my profile, I've got a V-Strom 650 now! My other half has a Gladius so we're limited by her range but it's still a good 160ish miles!
I'm deffinitely on board with taking our time, I want to be able to visit places without worrying about sticking to schedule so nothing will be pre-booked! If we fancy going down a road that goes in the wrong direction, we'll go down it!
Only thing we were worried about was finding somewhere to stay every night but you've all given some fantastic tips, much appretiated!
+1 on Bobduro's advice, you can often get a place in a field/garden if you ask nicely in rural communities. One thing is to head for the busiest looking bar with the most tractors parked nearby. A useful phrase is
"Avez-vous un peu d'espace dans un champ ou je peux mettre un tente?"
I've asked on plenty of occasions and usually been lucky and sometimes been treated like a long lost relative and eaten with the family, used their showers and even had breakfast brought to my tent in the morning.
Also check out Couchsurfing if you haven't already. There's a couple of good bikers' groups, regional groups and also fairly new a bunch of rural couchsurfing groups. Well worth having a peak at even if it's just to get advice and maybe the odd contact for coffees or emergencies.
And if your looking for the municipal campsites in France head for either the "Mairie" or the "Hotel de Ville", the town hall basically. They should be able to help.
Oh and if you're coming through Brittany let me know.
Our only rule is to have a very rough idea of where we're heading (ie south) and then stick to the B roads and make the rest up as we go along so we can enjoy the bits of France too easily missed on the major routes. It really does give that feeling of freedom that got you biking in the first place. If you end up on really small roads that don't appear on the map, so what?!
There used to be loads of "secret roads through France" type books on the market years ago trying to convince you to slow down and enjoy the journey rather than just be head down on the Provence autoroute. Unfortunately they seem to be a bit thin on the ground these days and I haven't had much luck finding the internet equivalent.
I suppose it's because the days of trundling along at 30mph with a baguette in one hand and a camembert in the other, viewing tree lined countryside through a haze of vin rouge fumes are long gone.
I've got a trip to the alps coming up in a few weeks and it would be nice to enjoy the journey rather than endure it, particularly as all I've got to look forward to is a week of DIY once I get there. Maybe my local Oxfam bookshop will come up with some rose tinted 60's guidebook before I leave.
I've toured France many times, and have only ever camped. The sites are plentiful and very good, even the 'council' ones.
I too used the Michelin maps, and simply rode in a vague direction for as long as I felt like (usually 5pm), and then looked in the Michelin camp site guide to find somewhere to stay.
As a brief guide, Nothern France is pretty dull and flat. The West Coast from Biscarosse down is a nice place to visit, but the real gems are the foothills of thr Pyranees, and the Alps. You will constantly renew your verdict of 'best road ever' as you ride them.
....Northern France is pretty dull and flat. The West Coast from Biscarosse down is a nice place to visit, but the real gems are the foothills of thr Pyrenees, and the Alps....
Cough, splutter. You mean the Pas de Calais and North-eastern France? Once you get west of Le Mans things start rising and falling a bit, and by the time you get to Brittany, you've got countryside with many more ups and downs, very like the South-west of England (but with baguettes and boules).
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