For decades, the bicycle rode in a two-dimensional universe. That, utilitarian, of rural and urban dwellers who made it a means of transport between point A and point B. And that, sporty, of pro or amateur cyclists, lovers of the dancer or the peak of speed, who straddled their mount to earn a living, shopping or a bit of energy. Then, more than two centuries after its invention, the little queen escaped to new horizons. And the bicycle, derailing its original binarity, is now both an essential part of daily travel for armies of people allergic to the metro, a one-off alternative offering gentle and shared mobility for users of Vélib and others, a friendly ally outings with friends or family, on weekends, in a cyclo-ride or cyclo-sport version…
The bike was a niche, for some it has become a habit. A quasi-way of life. As the number of practitioners continues to grow, it is not surprising that the world of tourism has come to take an interest in this phenomenon. Beyond cities that have multiplied cycle paths and regions that have invested in cycle routes, it is now travel specialists who offer cycling experiences off the beaten track.
“The bicycle responds to a new societal expectation. We get closer to nature, we keep in shape, we can meet new people… it’s ‘slow travel’ while remaining active. We are no longer in the deckchair version in front of a swimming pool on the other side of the world”, explains Jean-Baptiste Le Blan, ex-executive of the Accor group in China who created Gravel Up, a tour operator which allows you to set off on the assault of European trails. “Rather than criss-crossing the desert in a 4×4, you can now do it on a fatbike”, emphasizes for his part Yann Lannezval, former PE teacher in Nouakchott who revived tourism in Mauritania by offering to pedal in the dunes. A completely new feeling.
“The electric bicycle is the greatest invention since the Internet”, laughs Alexandre Lebeuan, who, after a quarter of a century in tourism in Asia, has changed gears. He sold his tour operator which made it possible to cross the world on backfiring Royal Enfield motorcycles to bet on family holidays on a cargo bike from Montélimar. “You don’t need to go to the other side of the planet to be out of your element and recharge your batteries”laughs the one who left India for a southern France that the whole world envies us.
The luxury hotel “La Coquillade” has understood this well, and Nathalie, who is in charge of marketing there, took the opportunity to create, alongside the “Roads of Happiness” which for years have offered car routes linking Relais & Châteaux, a cycling route allowing you to go from the foot of the Eiffel Tower to the summit of Mont Ventoux in a luxury and gastronomic version, with stops in high-end places.
The Mauritanian desert by fatbike
Invented to ride in the snow, the fatbike is just as comfortable in the sand. The proof with the Raid TransMauritania, which offers to climb and descend the dunes of the Mauritanian desert as one would pedal in powder snow. The effort is intense but not superhuman. The wide tires avoid sinking. The feeling of disorientation is total. Apart from the first night in Attar, we then camp every evening in large tents accommodating at least five people. You have to leave early in the morning before the sun gets too hot and zigzag for five or six hours following a GPS track. We cross very few roads. Even fewer people. In six days, we cover almost 300 km through surprisingly varied landscapes.
This incredible route, very far from the beaten track, was imagined by Yann Lannezval, a former PE teacher at the French high school in Nouakchott who was looking for a reason to come back and discover a desert he had criss-crossed in a 4×4. To revive tourism in an area that was closed because it was considered dangerous until 2017, he preferred to bet on cycling rather than running, which does not allow you to travel far enough. The teams led by the guide Boydya take care of everything, set up the village of tents for about thirty people and take care of all the meals. For less than 2,000 euros, flight included from Paris, one has the impression of having gone to another planet.
France of small gravel paths
There was the road bike for the county roads, mountain biking for the mountains… today there is gravel for the paths. “When a natural park meets a mountain range, Gravel Up is there to offer you the opportunity to fill up on nature”, explains Jean-Baptiste Le Blan, who co-founded this travel start-up two years ago. In the four corners of France, from Morvan to Corsica via the Grands Causses, all you have to do is branch off to sink very quickly into the forest and believe you have gone to the other side of the world. Versatile machine, the gravel allows you to travel many kilometers without being trapped on the roads. “We offer cyclists who want to escape traffic to get off tarmac routes and hikers to cover much more distance than on foot”explains the ex-executive of Accor in Asia.
Within a small troupe of about ten people, who very quickly become friends as the effort brings them closer together, we criss-cross a France that few people know. Beyond its five destinations in France, Gravel Up also proposes to set off on an assault on Norway, which is difficult to discover alone, or Andalusia. The longest trip allows you to cross Corsica in seven days, but discovery formats in the Morvan in three days also exist. Count around 400 euros per day, all inclusive. Gravel Up makes a point of unearthing magical corners for breaks as well as for restful nights of sleep.
The family adventure on an electric cargo bike
In the past, we crossed corners of France by renting a donkey capable of carrying luggage and children. Today, you can venture down the same paths on a Yuba electric cargo bike. As a family, one of the parents can carry two children under 10 on his mount, the other can carry a large 130-litre bag. Mustache electric bikes are also available for a teenager who would like to ride solo. And even if you have to pedal, the electric assistance is there to limit the effort for a maximum of 100 km per day. It is thus easy to move forward while taking advantage, along the route traced by the Chemins teams, of various activities allowing you to connect with the Drôme Provençale, the Vercors and part of the Ardèche. Meeting with beekeepers, winegrowers, craftsmen, wine and honey tasting, treasure hunts or mazes… everything has been designed to please adults and children alike.
For the nights, several options to choose from. Tent, suspended cabin, yurt, more or less chic guest rooms… Like the layout, the accommodation is meant to be unusual. You can go as a family or for a business seminar. Thirty cargo bikes are available and an electric Méhari allows those who do not want to pedal at all to follow the rest of the troop.
After twenty-five years of experience in tourism, mainly in India, Breton Alexandre Lebeuan settled near Montélimar, where he founded Chemins to reinvent greener tourism. Launched in the summer of 2022, the company offers stays of two to seven days. Count a little over 2,000 euros per week for a couple with two children.
From the Eiffel Tower to Mont Ventoux, a gastronomic bike tour
Who said you couldn’t join the sporty with the pleasant? For seasoned cyclists ready to swallow a kilometer without wanting to eat anything, the teams of “La Coquillade”, a luxury hotel founded by the former owner of BMC bicycles, a few kilometers from Mont Ventoux (Vaucluse ), imagined an extraordinary course.
Starting from the Eiffel Tower or the Palace of Versailles, we will cross all of France, towards the giant of Provence. Supervised by a team transporting the luggage and playing the role of assistance, the objective is to cover more than 700 km (and almost 6,000 m of elevation gain) in five stages. We sleep every night in a Relais & Châteaux, after feasting in the bistro or at the table of a starred chef, from Bernard Loiseau to Anne-Sophie Pic via Georges Blanc or Jean-Michel Lorain.
The journey costs a little over 7,000 euros… but including a top-of-the-range bike. It can be done with two as with twelve. This Challenge Paris-Coquillade is not a timed race but a challenge initially imagined for the Canal+ triathlon team, which was looking for an original route to descend towards the south. The Relais & Châteaux association already offered “Roads of Happiness” allowing you to go from one establishment to another by car. There is now a bicycle version that could become a school and inspire other countries.
coquillade.fr And www.relaischateaux.com
The mythical collars in a very comfortable version
Rapha, the champion of chic textiles for shock cyclists, wants to allow lovers of the little queen to live experiences halfway between the Etape du Tour – a cyclosportive which each year offers the most motivated enthusiasts the opportunity to ride the same track than the Tour de France pros – and a kind of Club Med for experienced cyclists. Sporty but in a high-end version.
The ex-Rapha Travel having lowered the curtain, it is no longer the teams of the London brand who take care of everything, but the company has decided to partner with the best to offer its customer base experiences unique. For now, Rapha has focused on two strategic partnerships. The first with DuVine, creator of high-end cycling trips, which targets the most athletic. The second with LeBlanq which is aimed more at a clientele seeking to combine landscapes, sporting challenge, comfort and good food.
“We can help bike lovers plan trips they would have trouble doing on their own”, explains François Convercey, the boss of Rapha. The more adventurous can register for the Cent Cols Challenge, which offers ten days and more than ten hours a day in the saddle to tackle the 100 most legendary passes in Europe. A complicated course to organize. With a huge base of active customers and more than 25,000 particularly committed members of the Rapha Cycling Club, the London brand is committed to gradually expanding its offer which, for the moment, is only very high range A week organized by DuVine to conquer the Alps, with nights in large hotels, is thus offered at around 5,000 dollars. Prices not very far from those practiced by LeBlanq, who completes the cycling part with gastronomic meetings with great chefs and debates with pro cyclists like Geraint Thomas, Miguel Indurain or Bradley Wiggins.