There’s an old Irish saying, Giorraíonn beirt bother (two people shorten the road), and this is the case certainly with a tandem.
Often, the temptation is to rush around ‘sightseeing’ when you are in a car. Life is very different on a bike, as you get to spend time in a place, with slow explorations around ancient villages, quiet detours through undulating valleys and moments of inspired magic as you while away the hours with a crisp glass of cool white wine under the shade of walnut trees.
So, leave your mobiles at home, get to (re)know your companion and just let your senses come alive!
Join me & discover our favourite places for a gentle cycling holiday in France.
It’s easy to fly into Bergerac or Bordeaux, followed by a quick spin on the train to your destination. For us, it is always Sarlat!
In the blink of an eye you will be pushing your bike through the adorable cobbled streets of Sarlat, while lapping up the tingle of summer sun on your skin. With restaurants on every corner, and the scent of aromatic oak-smoked filled delicacies, this is a place to really take a deep breath and let the feelings of anticipation and promise take over.
We always stay at Hotel Restaurant La Couleuvrine, as it’s set just far enough from the main square to feel as if you can ‘get way’ from the bustle, especially if you are arriving mid-summer. This 13th Century restored fortress is also incredibly romantic, with quirky classically styled rooms, excellent service and fabulous views across the square.
I am always struck by the ease with which I fall into a sense of comfortable familiarity with Sarlat. Its easy to do nothing. To really relax!
You can hang out of the window, watch the world go by, or just sit and follow the secret pathway of doves as they dart in and out of a loft in an adjacent medieval building. With the delicate soft-feathered tones of an evening beginning to stir, it’s possible to let yourself ‘go’ and become immersed in this quintessentially southern experience.
Once settled in, I always spend time just 'shooting the breeze'. With a window left ajar to invite the warm evening breeze, it's possible to enjoy a lapping hot bath while listening to faint sun-kissed chatter from afar. Eventually, cradled in cool old-fashioned turned, pearl white sheets the last breath of night will lull you into a dream filled nourishing sleep.
We always rise refreshed just in time to nip to the market (which is legendary) to gather sun-dried tomatos and fresh olives for the day’s journey.
One of our regular cycles from Sarlat is to the ancient village of Domme (approximately 12km); a stunning walled Bastide that is truly one of the prettiest villages in the whole of France.
How to get there: take the road out of Sarlat to Vitrac. After Vitrac, take a second left turn over the Dordogne River bridge onto the back road toward Cenac, the main village at the bottom of Domme.
Now, there is one little snag with this cycle. Domme is up a really long hill.
There are two ways to ascend Domme. If you are a hardened cyclist take the 1st left. If not, further into the village of Cenac there is another turning to the left (passed a small restaurant). While this requires a steep 20 mins walk, it is much shorter.
You will not be disappointed with this amazing village. It has everything that a French village can offer: medieval architecture, charming little cottages, perigordine roof-tops, delightful restaurants and ancient under ground caves. You can spend hours exploring this little labyrinth of promise, and days gazing the cliffs toward Roque Gageac and the Dordogne river. The perfect slow holiday.
We stayed in the magnificent Hotel L'Esplanade. I love eating outdoors and terrace dinning at the Hotel L’Esplanade is truly spectacular. Culinary surprises, combined with breathtaking views make for a sense filled memorable experience. It is here that I had my first experience of eating truffles. Simply divine!
One of my most treasured moments of visual magic was when the valley was covered in veils of mist. Looking down from the hotel balcony upon this surreal cloudscape was an awe-inspiring life-changing experience; a simple, yet profound blessing that I will never forget.
Where to next?
Upon leaving Domme take the road back to Cenac then once you are over the river turn left to Le Roque-Gageac. Nestled beside the Dordogne, this beautiful riverside village, with it's golden yellow houses is the perfect place to take a boat trip... Simply heaven! Once through the village, take the next left and head towards the insanely attractive village of Daglan, which boasts an amazing restaurant (Le Petit Paris) right in the middle of the village.
This is southern French style cuisine at it’s best: relaxed, local produce, full of colour and flavour.
An alternative route from Domme is not to turn left to Le Roque-Gageac, but to continue on to Vitrac and head to the Cingle de Montfort and on to the Village of Carsac. This is a beautiful run, quiet, with little traffic.
Cycling through glades of soft-patterned light, an orange toned stone Church sits in silent rest, patiently awaiting the presence of your gaze.
100 metres past the village church is a bridge. Your can alight onto the old railway line cycle path that meanders along the Dordogne Valley and avoids traffic. It is so handy and stops just about 3km from Souillac , where you can have an evening stop over and recount the day’s spectacular sojourn.
From Souillac head to Pinsac.
This is a quiet, extremely scenic journey, with some undulations all the way to Meyronne. It follows the valley floor through walnut groves and light-filled fields, sunflowers, birds, butterflies and views of distant chalk bluffs.
We stayed in the lovely Chateaux La Terrasse, which has a wonderful elevated pool & stone interior restaurant. But, it’s possible to continue Saint Sozy, where you can fuel up at the local market, or just sit in the lovely, typically rural French square.
When the heat of the sun has been tamed by time, continue this gorgeous journey to a pretty village called Creysse & stay in the in Hotel Auberge de L'll.
The next day’s journey from Creysse to Carennac ranks 10 out of 10 for an easy, picturesque light-filled cycle route. About 1 km from Creysse take the first right hand turn that goes slightly uphill. Descend all the way past a campsite. Turn right onto the main road and then shortly turn left. This takes you on a very quiet stunning valley road to Floirac.
If you enjoy tree-lined roads dappled in light and shade, this cycle to Carennac is truly an idyllic valley experience. It is largely flat with some small inclines and is just incredibly peaceful. The last time we did this trip there was absolutely no traffic. What more could you ask for?
Now, for our favourite location, one we have stayed many times. Carennac! This has to be one of the most serene places on earth. This is at the top of 'our favourite places for a gentle cycling holiday in France' list.
Classified officially as one of the most beautiful villages in France, this magical oasis of calm makes you want to slow down and reconnect with what is important in life.
For years our favourite spot has been Gîte Le Fournil, just outside the village of Carennac. This little piece of heaven is situated up a rather long hill, but it is well worth the effort. If you love long lazy mornings in bed sipping herbal tea while listening to crickets and listening to greenfinch in song, afternoons watching lizards dart in and out of rockeries and evenings in anticipation of the Hoopoe visit, then is place is for you!
It's possible to meander around off the beaten-track village hill tops, enjoy al fresco evening dinning under walnut trees, and pass time watching the bats fly around the garden while sipping a crisp glass of bergerac in dabbled evening light.
However, to get to this little oasis requires a little bit of pain. It is up the top of a seriously long hill, which requires getting off the bikes and walking the last 2km.
The great thing about Le Fournil is that there are some fantastic cycle routes within a short distance, as long as you can put up with going up the hill at the end of the day.
One fabulous trip is to Saint-Céré.
As you come of Carennac head toward signs to Saint-Céré. Once out of the village, take the second left (you will pass over a small bridge) then meander past a Church toward a cross-roads. Go directly over the cross-road and take the back road to Saint-Céré. With a sky occupied with buzzards, this is a pleasant cycle with next to no traffic, surrounded by meadows, sunflowers and rustic farming. An additional treat along this route are views of the grand Castlenau.
Saint-Céré, a market town in the Lot valley, Midi-Pyrenees, is a lovely little town to either stay for one night, or for a day’s cycling trip from Carennac. The town, shaped around two main squares (the Place du Mercadial and the Place de l'Eglise) has a warren of medieval narrow streets and ancient houses coming off of each square. One of the most attractive features for cyclists is a wonderful sandwich bar that opens even during siesta (opposite the old cinema as you enter the town). It has lovely coffee and very fresh produce. It’s a cool and refreshing little delight for cyclists in the heat of the day.
We stayed for one night at the exceptionally charming Hotel Le Victor Hugo, where the service is one of the best we have experienced in France and an evening meal with all my favourite options: wild flowers, saffron & local homegrown produce. This place is well worth a visit!
Carennac to Loubressac
Another sunny cycling trip, particularly if you are staying at the Gite at the top of the hill, is to traverse the undulating slopes of the valley top, to the stunning village of Loubressac. This village boasts some of the best views of the Dordogne valley. It is well worth visiting Le Relais de Castelnau (situated at the entrance to the village), not just for their excellent food and wine, but to absorb panoramic views of the Château de Castelnau while dining on their terrasse.
Loubressac is an artists paradise: the unusual light coloured stone buildings with terracotta roof tops, set off with stunning burgundy shutters, is truly gorgeous. As if this picturesque scene is not enough, the village has access to lots of walks through stunning countryside. We spent hours lounging, walking, picnicking on fresh bread, salad, apricots and apples, followed by the most delightful crab salad evening meal.
A relaxed cycle back to Carennac in the evening light – what isn’t to like…!
Next trip to Rocamadour via Miers.
Rocamadour is a difficult route for non-cyclists, so get up early, take it slow, with lots of stop-offs and I would stay over in Rocamadour if you are not up to a one day trip.
A mid-cycle ride rest point is a very pleasant old-fashioned village called Miers (Carennac to Miers is approximately 8km). You can fuel up on water or take a leisurely lunch (Le Petit Dragon Rouge) in this typically quaint French village. Lovely hearty stews and plenty of banter with the locals.
From Miers take the road to Alvingnac (5km). There is a steep incline into this village of odd and quirky buildings. It is the perfect stop off point and just before the village is one of my favourite pieces of unusual architecture.
We stayed at the Hotel Du Chateau, memorable due to it's seriously lovely grounds, with a pool, ivy covered stone walls and ancient stone steps into the garden.
From Alvingnac descend into into Rocamadour through undulating hills (10km).
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is on the path to Santiago de Campostela, and has been a place of pilgrimage for over 1000 years. Built on the site of a shrine to a Madonna, Rocamadour it is both famous for its healing powers, as well as being a magnificent hill toped village carved into the side of the cliff above the river Alzou. The religious buildings here include the Chapelle Notre Dame, which is home to the Black Madonna; the basilica Saint-Sauveur; the Saint-Michel chapel and the Palace of the Bishops (Palais des Eveques).
Finally, A Scenic Trip to Estaing.
Take a train from Rocamadour to De Cazaveille, an old mining village. From here it is possible to cycle an extremely scenic route along the river all the way to Estaing via Entragues.
This picture postcard village, located at the foot of the Aubrac Mountains at the entrance to the Lot River, has an unusual church with both a bell tower and steeple, as well as an array of medieval and Renaissance style buildings and a pretty gorgeous 15th Century Chateau. Nestled at the foot of the 15th century castle on the Camino de Santiago, Hotel Aux Armes d’Estaing is the perfect location to end your holiday with their absolutely amazing gourmet menu.
I hope that you have enjoyed our list of 'favourite places for a gentle cycling holiday in France'. Please like, share & comment. If you have any questions email: firstname.lastname@example.org