Tips on cycling and bike rides in the Poitou-Charentes, south-west France
The great Belgian rider Eddy Merckx said: 'Ride as much or as little or as long or as short as you feel...but ride.'
Exactly - especially if you do it when living or staying in the Poitou-Charentes. When we used to come here for our holidays we used to love cycling off to the bakers in the mornings to get our croissants and French bread. Only a short ride, but with hardly any cars on the roads it was something we could all do as a family and it was great fun.
Cycling round here is fantastic and the lack of traffic makes it just so pleasant. But even when you do see a car the drivers are – nine times out of ten - so careful and accepting. Maybe that's because cycling is looked upon as being a national sport. In fact since I have been cycling in France I have never been sworn at or had empty coke cans or bottles chucked at me from a passing car.
The Poitou-Charentes is a large region. It offers a bit of everything apart from mountains. We have flat bits and hilly bits, many rivers, canals, coastline, islands, forests, vineyards. It really is quite a beautiful and varied region. Some of the riding on the flat in the winter with a cold northerly wind can be tough going but the same ride in the spring or the summer will be a real joy.
For example the road from Lezay to Rom in the Deux-Sèvres can be so cold that it literally takes your breath away but when I hear the first sounds of spring with the birds singing and when the sunflowers are out in the summer, it is just amazing.
For the rivers and the hills I tend to pedal over towards the Charente and the Vienne. Some nice places to try and include on your ride could be Vouleme, St Macoux and Comporte. There is usually a race here sometime in August which coincides with an annual fair and brocante.
One of my favourite routes takes in Taizé-Aizie, Bioussac, Nanteuil, Aizecq and Verteuil. The views when you turn off the D740 to head to Aizecq are stunning and get better and better as you approach Verteuil and the château. Other places that are a joy to cycle through in the Charente are around Poursac, Manot, Aunac and Bayers. I could go on and on.
The area south east of Angoulême for example is also very beautiful and deserves a mention - as are plenty of others I am sure. One thing that I have noticed over the last couple of years is a number of signs appearing marking various cycle routes. These seem very well marked out and I am sure that further information will be available from local tourist offices.
Alternatively just start exploring the area around where you live or where you are staying. There are so many little roads and it is quite easy to plot routes with a Michelin map. When my children were younger we used to do a route which was only 16 km or about 10 miles and in the summer holidays they would quite often be saying 'dad, dad can we do the 10 mile cycle?' And guess what - it's free.
If you are setting off on a longish ride always try and go into the wind to start with. There's lots to look out for which you will discover. You will notice the changing seasons and the wildlife. There are plenty of cycling clubs in the area. Most clubs cater for racers, cycle tourists and mountain bikers.
Apart from the regular races throughout the area there are also randonnées both on and off road, usually with a choice of distances; I think either 20, 40 or 80 kms. The routes are well marked out and easy to follow and anyone can come along and do as much or as little or as long or as short as they feel. These are not races and you can do them at whatever pace you feel like.
Me, I race during the summer. If you fancy it you could always come along and offer your support or alternatively you can follow me on Twitter as cyclistinfrance or on Facebook as The English Cyclist In France.
All support is appreciated.