Posted by: Jennifer Sage | December 5, 2007

Cycling in Europe and other beautiful places

Cycling in Alsace in the vineyards

Greetings fellow cyclists!

Cycling in Europe! Just the thought of it causes many people to float into a reverie, dreaming about pedaling down a country lane from chateau to chateau. My goal is to use these pages to chat about my favorite rides in Europe, the best places to stay, the out-of-the-way incredible restaurants, treasured picnic spots and other secret-finds one encounters while cycling through some of the most beautiful scenery and villages in the world.

To me there’s nothing better than staying in either a charming Chambre d’Hotes (French B&B) or Agriturismo (Italian B&B or Farm Stay), and after a delicious breakfast with home-made breads, cheese and jams, jumping on your bike to take the whole day if desired exploring cute village after cute village on your bike. (But I’ll admit it, I love staying in a luxury 4* hotels from time to time)! Years ago I did the self-supported thing, cycling 2,500 miles in Europe (1988), 1,500 in New Zealand (1990) and 600 in Corsica (1999), carrying almost 45 lbs of gear including tent, sleeping bag and cookstove. Been there, done that! I will never trade those memories for anything, but these days, I want the comfort and charm of a hotel or B&B, I want someone else to make my meals for me, and I don’t want my bike loaded down.

Being an avid cyclist, I like to find the challenging hills, including the highest and steepest famous cols of the Alpes, Pyrenees or Dolomites to add them to my list of accomplishments. But there’s also a place for a purely relaxing ride through the countryside, avoiding the hills when possible, and instead seeking the charms of each village, spending time to poke around the nooks and crannies of the tiny cobblestone streets and castles and keeps of medieval villages.Provence, Burgundy, Dordogne, The Alpes, the Loire, Alsace, the Pyrenees, Tuscany, Umbria, The Dolomites, Switzerland and more! I have ridden in all these places and more, and plan on adding northern Spain to my list next summer.

I’ve worked for several high-end bicycle tour companies beginning in 1989, both leading and organizing luxury bicycle tours to Europe, and have taken my experience and created my own bicycle tour company Viva Travels  in 2003, and it has slowly and steadily grown since then.

Although I do several guided tours each year, I specialize in self-guided tours through a service I call The Vélo Concierge. In short, I make all the reservations based on your desires and budget, and create a customized tour, giving you everything you need to know to do this on your own in total confidence.Vélo Concierge tours are different from other self-guided tours. Most will give you bikes (you never know how well they will fit or how good they will be), and carry your luggage from place to place, but you are totally on their time schedule. If it’s a transfer day, and it rains or storms or you are really fatigued, you still have to ride to the next hotel. And, you don’t get many options for accommodations – they decide for you.

With the Vélo Concierge, you get total flexibility. Most of my clients bring their own bikes (it’s easier than you think – we provide you with all the tips on how to do it). But in some markets I do have access to good rental bikes. Also, you’ll rent a car (I’ll help you out there) so you have complete and total flexibility. This way, if it rains, or you’re completely fatigued or just don’t feel like riding much, you can decide to take a day off and explore villages.

Or, perhaps there’s a fabulous ride about 30-60 minutes away, too far to ride to and get back in the same day and still do that ride. Well, just like at home, you put your bike in the car, I tell you how to get there and where to park, you do this awesome ride, and then maybe have dinner there and drive back. No other bike tour company does this, and therefore, misses out on some incredible rides because they’re off the beaten path. Often times, these are the rides that local cyclists go out of their way for, maybe to chateau ruins, a narrow river gorge, or a fabulous climb.

The Vélo Concierge system is a Hub and Spoke system, where you stay a little longer in each hotel (3-5 days, depending on your goals and the region) and really get to know the area. Most of the rides are out your door, and some are a short drive away. You aren’t constantly packing and unpacking. After riding in Europe since 1988, let me tell you, this method is sooooo nice! I’ve done it both ways, and I much prefer this way. From my experience and after talking to a lot of cyclists who have ridden in Europe, so do many others, especially the more independent-minded ones.

I create a tour based on your desires and your abilities, and your pocket book. You want a luxury hotel in the first Hub and a B&B in the second? Great! I know just the places.

You want to add wine tasting, chateau visits or shopping to your list of activities? I’ll tell you how and where. I’ll even make special arrangements for guided vineyard or chateau visits, and can suggest activities like cooking classes, or watching how they make goat cheese or fois gras.

If you read about a very special restaurant or place you want to visit, I’ll put it in the mix, even if it’s off my regular routes.

Your spouse or partner isn’t into the same cycling challenge that you are? No problem, I will tell you how to mix abilities. Perhaps you do a shorter ride together in the morning and one person explores the town in the afternoon and the other goes and tackles that big climb. Or one can decide to sag for the other. Almost every ride has options to shorten or lengthen them. This is far more attractive than being totally on someone else’s schedule.

In Europe, your day of cycling must be planned around lunch. American cyclists, I’ve discovered, have a tendency to just keep on riding, thinking, “I’ll stop for lunch later,” and then they get stuck, because everything is closed when they finally decide to stop. It’s better to know in advance where the best towns are en route that have the best cafés or restaurants. My guides and I have noted the best of the best on every route and share that with you. We’ll even warn you when you might be entering a section of road where restaurants or shops might be few and far between, so you know in advance to be prepared with food in your pockets and a full water bottle before heading out there. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard of stories of people getting stuck without food or water when they needed it the most!

When cycling, nothing beats a fabulous picnic à la Français, overlooking a river or next to a chateau ruin or medieval tower. A crusty baguette, amazingly fresh tomatoes, aged goat cheese and perhaps some saucisson or rillettes, or another local specialty from that region. Oh, and if desired, a bottle of wine you picked up at that last little vineyard you just cycled by. Ahh, this is the life! It helps to know all the tips for creating such a memorable meal and getting the insider tips of the best picnic spot en route! That’s what I specialize in.

So share with me your favorite places to ride in Europe and I’ll share with you some of my tips on cycling in Europe. We’ll help each other out on these pages!

A bientot mes amis!

Jennifer Sage

P.S. email me for more information on my bicycle tours!

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  1. hi jennifer….this is great!!!

  2. Jenn A Fair!

    I love your site and what you do…can you switch places with me for a summer? Nice clean air in Prescott, AZ with two cute kids (4 and 5) and I’ll debrouille myself in the mountains?

    Thanks for sharing!

    🙂 PS

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