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Category: Europe Cycling 2012

Holiday cycling in Europe – Munchen to Craon

Things cycle tourers rarely discuss

Things cycle tourers rarely discuss

Cyclists need to rinse or wash their clothes every night and always look at how an accommodation can be used to wash and dry clothes (washbasin, plug, hangers). You can hang your wet stuff in the shower or in various other spots (we have been forced to hang them on the bicycles).

Things balance out. When it is hot, the breeze from the front will help to keep you cooler. When it rains the heat your body creates from the exercise will warm you up. You inevitably develop sore spots. Some of these may be a sore wrist, sore aching muscles and saddle sores. On the flip-side your body also adapts and become more effective each day.

Food tastes better when your body really needs it. Many cyclists drink beer. Beer provides carbohydrates and alcohol and liquid. Beer is a triple whammy that makes your body purr after you have done a days cycling.

You need fewer belongings and simple stuff become more valuable, like rope and tape. You depend on your bicycle, so the state of your bicycle becomes important. This is common to all cyclists, so it is very normal for inn-keepers to initiate the first interaction by saying they have a place where you can lock your bicycle. Conversely it is reassuring that you can replace your whole bike for a few hundred dollars if you need to (for the cost of renting a car for a week or two). It seems like the hotel community is keen on cyclists. Cyclists leave early and they drink a lot of beer. They will also eat almost any food after a ride.

You become adaptable. If you travel by bicycle and you are finding your own way and accommodation, days can be a little chaotic at times. Random things happen. A kid in a very small village threw stones at us. We used water bottles to store left-over red wine. A sip of wine is useful to improve the mood when you a close to your destination but you are struggling. Bicycles and equipment break. The towns where you planned to stay may not have suitable accommodation. The people you stay at or road users may behave in an unexpected manner. Your main source of locomotion is your body, which may have an injury or feel off. Some days you will get lost while you are trying to find accommodation. You learn that life is not on rails. Your stable job and the next five years of your planned life is a chimera.

When you cycle tour every day you start dreaming regularly at night. I discussed this phenomenon with a fellow cycling psychiatrist. He reckoned it is because the brain has received many inputs during the day which it has not had a chance to process, There are decisions about routes, interactions with other road users and glimpses of interesting surroundings. Cyclists think about their bicycle, bodies, and contemplative thoughts on a straight stretches. Your mind tries to catch up with the processing by staging varied dreams

Kiwi bicycle tourism

Kiwi bicycle tourism

We have toured the South Island by car many years ago but after recent NZ marketing we decided to tour the South Island by bicycle.
Basically, touring cyclists require an environment where you can cycle anywhere safely and where accommodation is readily available. NZ fails dismally as a cycle destination.

In Europe a lot of the routes have separate roads for cyclists.
In NZ none of this exists (of course). The next option would be to have shoulders on the roads. Most roads in NZ do not have road shoulder. The situation in NZ is much more dangerous than no shoulders. Perversely the dangerous roads with little visibility have no shoulders and the straight roads have shoulders.
This sets a dangerous precedence as motorists may be conditioned into thinking that their behaviour to cyclists can assume shoulders, exactly in scenarios where it should not.

The majority of drivers are well behaved towards cyclists. Unfortunately, some trucks think they own the roads (might is right), and demonstrate this by driving past you as close as possible.

Cycle road planning in NZ is hilarious. There are some goat tracks that have been created, or have been rebranded as cycle tracks. So the local tourist office may typically advertise paid pickups and transfer of luggage. This may be good for the occasional family outing on mountain bikes, but if you attempt this on a typical haul of 80 km between accommodation possibilities, you will be midway, repairing your bicycle when it gets dark.
It seems like the NZ bicycling strategy has been planned by a 10 year old. Sorry, I have to apologise. A 10 year old would do much better.

I would advise cycle tourists to avoid New Zealand.

22 July (Sunday) – The End of our Ride – Family Reunion in Craon

22 July (Sunday) – The End of our Ride – Family Reunion in Craon

Gretel, Fergus, Elsbeth and Liam arrived in Craon from UK on Saturday evening. We cycled down from Laval (55km) to join them on Sunday.

Our departure was delayed by Kris’s bike breaking a spoke again on the outskirts of Laval – the second in two days.

The route was along another one of the Voie Verte cycle routes – along an old railway line again – nice and shaded and away from the traffic.

Kris and I stopped at the small supermarket in Craon to get a few supplies before meeting up with the family. We had a wonderful surprise when we suddenly saw Gretel and Fergus, also just entering the supermarket! So we shopped together and followed them back to the Gite (holiday house).

The first thing we saw was Elsbeth waiting at the gate, looking very well, and Liam riding around on his bike. He seemed happy with the Meccano gift and I was impressed with his dexterity in putting the motor together and making a simple model – a grass cutting device.

We had a wonderful family evening chatting over a braai. We all missed Lilette’s presence – she was unable to join us due to delays getting her British passport.

20-21 July – Stopped in Laval

20-21 July – Stopped in Laval

We spent Friday in Laval making arrangements and doing chores. Kris’s bike needed a new tyre, as his rear tyre had worn through to the canvas. We also had the chain changed on my bike. Once again we had good service from Declathon, with the mechanic doing extra checks and adjustments for us.

We researched a train to Paris, to catch our flight home, and decided on a hire car instead. We also bought a gift for nephew Liam. Kris’s bike also broke a spoke in the afternoon. So it was a busy day.

We spent Saturday exploring the town of Laval. It is a city with a bit of everything for the tourist – including an old city, a river, remains of castle ramparts and a chateau.

The highlight for me was the Laval Museum of Naive Art. The museum was created in homage to painter Douanier Rousseau, who was a native of Laval, and boasts that it has Europe’s finest collection of Naive Art. Many of the paintings showed scenes of Laval or French countryside, though there were also some gorgeous naive paintings from Eastern Europe, done on glass.

I was thrilled to see two paintings by Séraphine, as I was so moved by the French film about her life (it is a must see – ref


19 July – A Train Track and a Canal

19 July – A Train Track and a Canal

Today was the last long ride of our tour, before we meet up with Gretel and family at Craon. We rode 85km to Laval, the city closest to Craon.

Once again we were well served by the Voie Vertes (green ways), being off road for most of the journey. We traveled for around 20km on country roads to the start of the Voie Verte. On the way we stopped at the small town of Céauce and bought a sausage in a baguette from an outdoor market – it was just like boerewors and delicious.

The next 20km were along an old railway line. The railway tracks are still in place in parts. People can hire rail cycle cars to ride up and down the tracks at Saint-Loup-du-Gast. We turned off the track here to look at the town, as it boasts that it has won awards for its street flower decor. It was very small but pretty.

We stopped again at the city of Mayenne to look around. The city is on the Mayenne river with a bridge and Chateau overlooking the river. We explored the outside of the Chateau and the church. We enjoyed the river views from the ramparts while eating our midday snack.

The next part of the ride from Mayenne to Laval was all along the Mayenne canal. What is notable about the Mayenne canal locks is that three of them house restaurants or bars. One had lots of people seated at tables outside it when we passed. Two of the locks had old flour mills attached to the weir (‘barrage’ in French). A number also had micro power generators attached to the weirs.

The road was very sandy and we arrived covered in grit. Coming in along a canal is a good way to enter a city. We just had to cross a bridge and we were in Laval. We spent a bit of time at the Office de Tourisme finding accommodation. Most of the bed and breakfasts could not accommodate us for three nights. Eventually we found one, which is nice but not good value.

We have now done more than 5600km since we started in mid May.

18 July – a Norman castle

18 July – a Norman castle

This morning we were warned over breakfast that the route to Domfront would be up and down. Obviously the people issuing the warnings were not cyclists. There is a Voie Verte (Green Route) cycle path about 70km long all the way to Domfront on an old railway track. Although the countryside was hilly, the track was graded the whole way. Furthermore the vegetation next to the track creates a green belt all the way to Domfront. So we had a lovely ride on a quiet shaded track with no cars. We only stopped a few time for restorative traditional shortbread biscuits and peaches.

We arrived in Domfront around 1pm. The medieval castle and town are on a hill, which involved a long hill climb in low gears. We are now in Normandy and this is a defensive position looking out over Brittany.

We arranged our accommodation about 10km out of town at the Office de Tourisme. The lady there was personable and was doing a tour in English from 3-5pm, so we decided to join this tour after buying our food.

The tour was very informative and entertaining. She first took us through the castle, which is all in ruins – part of the keep and battlements remain (see Then we went through the old city learning about the architecture of the different houses – the oldest are timber framed. Quite a few of the city walls and towers remain, some of them are now part of houses. We were also shown where the Americans mistakenly bombed streets in the second world war. The town is known for underground cellars which interconnect.

We rode around 4km out of our way struggling to find our accommodation (in all we did 92km). We eventually back tracked to the town of Torchamp and got directions from a local elderly couple. Once again the Office de Tourisme directions were inadequate.

The accommodation is a very cute cottage next to the river and the hosts house. She has a lovely garden full of flowers along the banks. The cottage is like a dolls house. We very much enjoyed our breakfast the next day (as we were given eggs) and chat with our hostess, although her English is limited. Her husband farms in the area, they have 40 cows (compared to NZ where most herds are over 200).

17 July – Mont Saint-Michel

17 July – Mont Saint-Michel

It was good to be back on the road again, after three nights in Dinan.

Today we had a rambling country ride in overcast conditions. Our route took us through Lyvet, Pleudihen-sur-Rance, Miniac, Le Tronchet, Epiniac, La Boussac, Pleine Fougeres, to Pontorson.

The first part of our ride was on the Canal d’lle-et-Rance cycle path again to Lyvet – nice and peaceful in the early morning. We made good time, passing through mostly farmland (corn, cows and wheat) but also some forest (Foret du Mesnil). We arrived in Pontorson before noon and arranged our accommodation and bought some food.

Then we cycled along the “Moulin” cycle route to Mont-Saint-Michel. It was magical seeing the Saint-Michel monastery appear on the otherwise flat coastal horizon. We also stopped at an old windmill, that was actually turning in the breeze. There were panoramic views of the coast and monastery from here.

The Mont-Saint-Michel monastery and old town is unique in that it is built on a island attached to the land by a walkway and mostly surrounded by water at high tide (see At low tide the land around it is mostly exposed and people can walk across the bay with guides.

When we got there it was low tide.

The first thing you get to are huge car parks. Then there are thousands of people walking along a road, with some buses too. We rode along with our bikes but were turned back when we reached  the entrance to the mount. We decided not to walk back without our bikes as it was too far at a few km and too crowded. There were also earth moving works happening on all sides, as the land around the island is slowly silting up and there are various projects on the go to reverse this.

We decided that the mont is better viewed from a distance, as all the romance is spoilt by the combination of construction work and crowds close up.

On the way to our accommodation we met a Korean couple walking along the road wheeling their suitcases behind them. The road had no shoulder and cars had to veer out to avoid them. They were looking for a specific Auberge that they had booked over the Internet. We helped them with directions and then soon passed the Auberge on our bikes. Kris pedaled back to reassure them that it was there and they were very relieved.

Our bed and breakfast was in the small settlement of Courtils, about 7km from the Mont. It is near a well known lookout on the beach which we visited first. The bed and breakfast was great – we had a huge room and the use of a kitchen and dining area downstairs, so we could make a proper meal with meat and veges. After our meal we went for another bike ride and enjoyed the quiet roads in the evening light, with the Mont on the horizon.

In all we did 101km.

15-16 July – Rest days in Dinan

15-16 July – Rest days in Dinan

We love Dinan so much, and our accommodation here is so comfy, that we decided to spend an extra day.

This is one of the towns with the most historic and natural beauty we have found (see The medieval city is large and enclosed by the most extensive ramparts we have seen so far. You can walk along them. As the city is on a hill, you look down from the ramparts onto the Dinan port, viaduct bridge, river and farmlands below.

The medieval city itself is full of stone and wooden frame houses, mostly tourist shops, créperies and bars. There is also a castle on the ramparts. The Basilica of Saint-Sauveur was first constructed in the 12th century by a knight returning from the crusades. The is also a church of Saint Malo (15th century) that has some of the most beautiful stained glass windows we have seen.

We went down to the Dinan port on Sunday afternoon to see part of the ‘Nautical Jousting’ contest. Opposing boats were propelled towards each other by six oarsmen. Each boat had a platform attached on which a jouster stands with a lance. As the boats pass each other, the two jousters try to knock each other off with the lance. This continues until one falls in the water. (See for photos).

There was a carnaval atmosphere with the opposing teams in fancy dress – there were blue smurfs and also snow white and the seven dwalves. Loud music played as the boats faced each other off and the results were announced by a master of ceremonies. The contestants were in good spirits, drinking beer and dancing on the sidelines. In between the jousting there were also races on inflated inner tubes. We enjoyed some crépes and cider from a charity food stall.

We took a short ride out to the nearby port of Lyvet on Monday. Just before the port, there is a small sign saying “Menhir” pointing down a farm track. We went to have a look and found a large menhir sitting at a slant in the ground in a field. There was a sign in English that explained that it was dated to 2500-3000BC. There were indistinct markings carved on it. The local legend it that this is one of three menhirs that block the entry to Hell.

Port Lyvet has a mariner which is entered via a lock – this was created because the river is tidal. We enjoyed watching 4 yachts exit the lock. Part of the road bridge over the river swings out when the lock opens to allow the masted yachts to pass through.

We found a good bike track back to Dinan port, through a nature reserve alongside the river.

14 July (Saturday) – Country ride to Dinan

14 July (Saturday) – Country ride to Dinan

Today we managed to stay on smaller, less busy country roads by avoiding crowded coastal routes and the bigger towns. The rain also stayed away until late in the afternoon and there was even a bit of sun in the morning. In all we did 86km.

We first spent a bit of time exploring the old city of St Brieuc, there was a Saturday morning market on at the center. We then found a bike route to Hillan. It gave us some lovely views of the coast and river inlet from up on the hills amongst the corn fields.

After Hillan we took country roads through the towns of Morieux,Planguenoual, St-Alban, La Bouillie, Hénanbihen and  Plancoet. All the towns had churches with tall steeples in the middle and stone buildings all round. Plancoet was the largest town we passed through and we stopped for coffee here. It is gorgeous with stone buildings looking onto the Arguenon river banks which are green with gardens on either side. We sat outside at the cafe overlooking the river. The cafe was not full and we were entertained when a older couple with two young boys pushed two small tables together. The cafe owner objected and separated them out again. The family then left to go to the cafe across the road (good for them).

From Plancoet the road seemed promising with a separate bike path. However this disappeared as soon as we left the town. This caused us to blunder onto a couple of side roads that then petered out looking for a bike path. After about 5km on a busy road, we were pleased to turn off onto a quiet secondary rood (after Corseul). This took us to Dinan via Quevert. The entry into Dinan was so painless that we were surprised when we saw a sign saying we were only 3km from Dinan.

True to form it started to drizzle (first rain of the day) as we entered Dinan. It was busy in the center with lots of slow traffic and pedestrians; being late on Saturday afternoon.

We were lucky to find a bed and breakfast on the outskirts of town with a private entrance and kitchenette and plenty of space. We went back into town in the evening but soon returned as it started to rain again.