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Route Planning Where to go, when, what are the interesting places to see
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  #1  
Old 10 Apr 2004
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Routes South Thru Eastern France

Hello all.

I'm about to go biking down to Spain via the French Riviera. I was just going to go (tomorrow - unemployed again) without an awful lot of planning and wing it - I've done a few hitch-hiking, train-bunking trips in my youth this way and had fun doing it. But now I'm starting to enjoy the planning of it all so I'm putting it off till Tuesday with a more measured approach.

So, what I'm thinking is:

1) To go down the eastern side of France from Calais, passing east of Paris taking motorways at least as far as Troyes to get the northern part out of the way quickish.

2) From there I'm a bit vague as to what is good roads for this time of year etc., but am looking to take it slower from there and head towards the Nice, St Tropez area.

3) Then head west along the Med coast towards Spain and Barcelona and the Costa del Sol, maybe picking up a bit of early seasonal work and lingering for a bit.

4) When I leave there head back thru central Spain towards the western Pyrenees and heading back north thru Aquitaine/Bordeaux regions.

All this is gonna be done solo on a CB500 with screen and hard panniers.

So any advice on any aspect of a trip like this? Any websites with good routes? I really need some suggestions on the eastern France leg, what roads, what good things to stop and see etc. I want to do it all on the cheap and make my cash last as long as possible, though there's no real time limit on the trip.

Any replies greatly appreciated.
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Old 11 Apr 2004
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Ouff! Where do I start? Lets begin with the big picture:

A great trip you've got planned there! I wish I could come, too...

Looking at the forecast, you may want to postpone the trip for another few days: snow to 500m pretty much everywhere.

Firstly, I'd like to point you to a couple of useful sites:

www.viamichelin.com Resizeable maps online. The green lines are the scenic routes.

http://rp.bison-fute.equipement.gouv...tions/index.do F Govt. site. This link will take you directly to the page with the info about mountain passes. It's in French, but all you need to do is choose a Département and you get a list of all passes, showing Ouvert (=open) or Fermé.

In any case, I suggest you arm yourself with a stack of yellow Michelin maps. They show every road there is with number plus lots of things to see.

In the East of France you've got the Vosges, the Jura and then the Alps, mountains almost all the way to the coast. Trouble is, about half of the passes are still closed. There is still some good riding to be had, though.

In the Vosges there is the "Route des Crêtes", the summit road. Goes the length of it. Not to be missed. Check the map for castles here and there.

From there to the Jura I tend to use a bit of motorway to Montbéliard. These days I give Switzerland a miss: too much traffic, the going is often very slow. There are some very good backroads, though, and if the weather is good and you haven't been there yet go to the Berner Oberland just for the architecture in wood. Great scenery, of course.

If you decide to go through the French Jura instead you will easily be able to pick a route off a map.

Further South, all the high passes are still closed, so pass West of Grenoble (avoid the city). You come to the Parc de Vercors. Check out two spectacular sites: Les Gorges de la Bourne and La Combe Laval.

Going South, as you pass through the summit tunel of the Col de Rousset you will notice an abrupt change in Vegetation: you are entering Le Midi, the Mediterranean Region with a much drier climate. There is a magic place to stay South of Die: L'Abbaye de Valcroissant, an ancient Abbey, now a farm and Hostel. We stay there whenever we can. Great walks, too.

Continuing SE you will almost have to pass through Sisteron, as again all the passes to the East are fermés. Sisteron has a very large castle, which I'm ashamed to say I haven't checked out yet. You could go and tell me whether it's worth seeing!

After that, and absolutely not to be missed: Le Grand Canyon du Verdon. I suggest you ride right around it clockwise. Note that the Northern Corniche is one way.

You arrive now in our back yard :-}
Some of the highlights I recommend:

The road through St. Auban to Entreveaux (spectacular fortifications).

From Puget-Théniers SE to the Col St. Raphael. Hang a left and follow the tiny road. On a clear day turn left 1 km after Toudon and ride almost to the top of Mt. Vial (1549m). You walk up the last 200 m and you have an almost 360° view.

The Gorges du Daluis and Gorges du Cians make a nice loop. Absolutely superb scenery through red rock country. Do it anti-clockwise to get more views and less tunnels.

Generally I advise people to avoid the coast itself, except to pop in at our place for a cuppa, of course. It's only a slight exaggeration to say that a city stretches from San Remo in Italy all the way to Gibraltar, interrupted by small bits of steep coast line. The traffic is horrendous most of the time. There are often scenic routes you can take a small distance inland.

On the way to Spain don't miss Carcassonne. For me it's THE medieval city, despite the hordes of tourists.

As for accommodation in France look out for the small green and yellow sign "Gîte d'Etape" in scenic areas. This is usually cheap and often rustic, i.e. bunk rooms (but not always). Then there are Youth Hostels. Get a listing from your local YHA. There is also a website somewhere. The equivalent to B&B is called "Chambre d'Hote", but this is not really cheap. Then there is camping, but it's still a little cold in the moutains for that.

In Spain I found YHs to be notoriously unreliable, to the point where they have either closed down (but are still listed) or haven't been built yet! Near Algeciras in S Spain I suggest you check out our friend Linda; see the entry http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/ubb...ML/000044.html She has travelled extensively in Spain, so she might have better info.

Hope to meet you soon and ride safely.

------------------
Salut from Southern France, the bikers' paradise,

Peter.
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Old 11 Apr 2004
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Superb! thx m8, exactly what I needed (printer whirrs, hard copy goes in with maps, electronic copies go off to like-minded mates).

That's really helpful, m8, very much appreciated. Especially that site on mountain passes (checks phrasebook for French word for 'snow').

That said, now I'm thinking of holding off for a bit in the hope of catching the better weather, and maybe more chance of seasonal work in Spain. Realistically, though, 3 weeks is the most I can delay it. Do you think the weather down there would improve over the next 3 weeks? It doesn't seem to be too bad now with temperatures being around the 15d C mark. But something more like 20 wouldn't hurt . Would 3 weeks make that difference?

Hehe, haven't been to South of France for years, and never been to mainland Spain at all. This is gonna be cool . I shall go purchase the Michelin books for France and Spain directly - money's too tight for the full suite of regional maps unfortunately, though I already have a more detailed one of the French Riviera.

All your help much appreciated m8.
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Old 12 Apr 2004
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You're welcome.

3 days could make all the difference, just keep an eye on the long-range forecast. Last week it was up to 20°C right through France, but then it dropped again for Easter.

If you can afford it I suggest you get the yellow maps for Eastern France at least, otherwise you won't find the prettiest roads. You can print off viamichelin, of course, but it'll be cumbersome and probably just as expensive in ink for the printer (b1w won't do). You'll probably get the maps slightly cheaper in France. They also do large yellow maps (same scale). They are probably cheaper, but not very convenient on a bike.

Another thought: a pass being closed doesn't necessarily mean you can't pass it. If there's no barrier across the road you can ignore the "Closed - No Entry" signs and go up to the snow. If the road is clear you can cross, if not you turn around.

On the high meadows look out for marmots. Sitting still they resemble stones, so are hard to see, but moving traffic doesn't bother them, so you might see them moving around. In that case you stop and sit still by the side of the road and with a bit of luck you might get to see some close up. Very cute.

------------------
Salut from Southern France, the bikers' paradise,

Peter.
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