What's Northern France like?

Discussion in 'EMEA' started by bnordgren, Feb 17, 2013.

  1. bnordgren

    bnordgren Curmudgin

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    Hey guys,

    I'm doing this a little backwards. Instead of picking somewhere I want to go and then going there, work is shipping me off to the Saclay/Orsay area, just outside of Paris, for up to 75 days, starting at the end of March. I have hermit DNA in my system, and being that close to a major metropolitan area for an extended period of time is probably going to cause a vein to pop. So I know I'm buying a TDM 850 from wheatwhacker, and I need to contact Doug about insurance. What I don't know is where I should go?

    I'm looking for scenic backroads, low population, low traffic "therapy routes" which are essentially day trips or weekend trips starting and ending in Orsay. Lots of boring agricultural land is fine. If I can get to mountains, I'd like to do that too. I want to avoid routes which just take me from one town to the next at low speeds due to all the intersections and traffic. Town bad. Country good. Low stress riding is the name of the game. I'd prefer camping over hotels, and I don't even need a developed campsite as long as throwing down a tent in the woods is ok over there. Variety is good. A different route every weekend would be awesome. This is probably the stuff that is too mundane to be part of a trip that is planned months in advance and costing a transatlantic plane ticket.

    So does anyone have suggestions?

    Bryce

    PS: Oh. I also don't speak French, if that makes a difference.
    #1
  2. Wildman

    Wildman In my castle

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    Got to go a long way to find very interesting stuff but there's some green lanes around Rambouillet and some decent weekend rides out past Chartres. Others may know more.

    Oh and learn French. Just the basics. It really helps.
    #2
  3. QSrider

    QSrider Adventurer

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    Hello Bryce,

    I'm from France and actually northern France. Instead of giving you places to go to right now... There are so many that could be weekend ride... I'm going to give you an example and tips that will work for the entire country.

    Here is a Google link for a trip from where you will be to "Le Mont Saint Michel". You should go there by the way, google it.

    https://maps.google.com/maps?saddr=Saclay,+France&daddr=D976&hl=en&ll=48.936935,0.214233&spn=1.836635,4.938354&sll=48.628824,-1.515255&sspn=0.028875,0.077162&geocode=Faip5wIdwkMhACk3sviF1HjmRzHhmZGKhaeaYg%3BFX0C5gIdUv3o_w&oq=Sac&mra=ls&t=m&z=8

    Google gives you 2 options and based on what you're saying, you should do none of them. On this exemple, Google takes you there via toll freeway (Autoroute) A13 or A11.
    So, first thing for you to do is stay off the roads with red rectangles Ax, Axx or Axxx designation.
    Now you have a bunch of yellow colored roads left on the map. They can be still divided in 2 groups. If you zoom in, you will see some have red rectangles with Nx, Nxx or Nxxx (Route Nationale). These roads are free to tavel on but smaller and slower than Autoroutes. Some are larger than others and go through towns.
    The roads from the 3rd group are the yellow rectangles with Dx, Dxx or Dxxx designation (Routes Départementales). They are the small roads going through towns, little villages, farm lands. Lot slower speed limits but scenic and more fun if you're not in a hurry.

    Based on that, here is the new link for the same trip, but planned with small roads:

    https://maps.google.com/maps?saddr=Saclay,+France&daddr=Chevreuse,+France+to:Rambouillet,+France+to:%C3%89pernon,+France+to:Chartres,+France+to:Courville-sur-Eure,+France+to:Mamers,+France+to:Le+Teilleul,+France+to:D976&hl=en&ie=UTF8&sll=48.699119,1.945953&sspn=0.230675,0.617294&geocode=Faip5wIdwkMhACk3sviF1HjmRzHhmZGKhaeaYg%3BFZU45wIdUCMfAClZYddDLoDmRzGNonuFmATq0g%3BFRw_5gId1-gbACknAYugxCbkRzEQOYxow4ILBA%3BFQi75QIde5YZACm9eQ6N_BjkRzGggTkF18gNBA%3BFc4x4wIddLgWACmL4fEkRAzkRzEp7cdTSIhjeA%3BFbxE4wIdFOwSACk_bbRFNfLjRzFpYA21dxf98g%3BFde54QId4poFACk1Mx-srUHiRzFAxgoeUjcNBA%3BFb-m5AId3avy_ylh4q9Wk28JSDGcibCsJIg7EQ%3BFX0C5gIdUv3o_w&oq=Chevreuse&mra=ls&t=m&z=8

    So, pretty much, take a point A and point B and then reroute the way you would like. Just keep in mind it's a lot longer time wise. When you're happy with the time and your drive through locations, then load it to your GPS and don't miss a turn... That's what I do when I'm over there. It takes some getting used to, because the turns are coming quickly sometimes and are easy to miss even with a GPS.
    From where you will be, depending on the type of riding you want to do and saddle time you can take, everything in France is a weekend trip away.
    During that time of the year it could be rainy though. And the northern part of France can get really wet... light rain for days... That's why it's so green.
    The mountains will still have a lot of snow. The west coast is really nice too. From there, you are a ferry ride away from England. Further south the weather will be nicer.

    Everywhere in France now, watch your speed. Freeways, small road, little town will have speed cameras. When you know what to look for, you'll see them. They don't hide them.
    Another thing that gets my wife (she is from the U.S.)... Meals, if you don't want to eat chain fast food, you have to eat at meal times or there will be no lunch (at 3pm). Restaurants/brasseries/local joints close between meals. It would be a shame to miss the local gastronomy... :dg
    There are several motel/cheaper but clean hotel chains in France (Formule 1, Kyriad...). Not bad for short nights and a shower. That's one of the first thing I do... When I see one on day one, anywhere, I stop and grab one of their updated booklet with all their locations and phone numbers. That way later on a trip, mid afternoon after deciding where we will be stoping, while grabbing a coffee, we can call them and make a reservation (no need for wifi that way).

    One of our best ride was "Les Chateaux de la Loire". You don't have to go in to enjoy them... just pick a route that takes you next to all of them and enjoy...
    Here is a link: http://www.loire-valley-tours.com/en/france/loire-valley.html

    If you really want the small roads, you gotta have a GPS or you will be pulling over every 5 minutes to look at your map. You won't regret spending the money.

    I hope this bit of info will be helpful.

    Have a great trip and great rides.
    Please, post some pictures and make me homesick :lurk

    If only my work could send me over there for 75 days... :cry

    Eric.
    #3
  4. justin.

    justin. n00b

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    south east Belgium is lovely, as is Luxembourg and Germany around that area.
    there are some great roads between dijon and geneva(sorry, bit vague)
    lots of ww1 stuff and ww2 stuff roughly along the border between France and Belgium if you're interested(verdun, cambrai, arras). ypres in Belgium is worth a trip.

    and learn some french...if the first words out of your mouth are 'do you speak english', even if they can, they probably wont. just the basics will do, if you try, so will they.(my mrs is french).
    #4
  5. RTLover

    RTLover Long timer

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    I lived in Paris proper for six years and I didn't ride much because just getting out of Paris metro is a PITA. You're a bit luckier than I was. Day trips for you won't get you very into scenic but weekends will. Normandy, Loire Valley, Brittany. As you can see those areas are west mostly, the east and north of Paris being very boring overall. My first suggestion is to get familiar with this site, viamichelin.com. Very good maps and the most helpful for me in trip planning is to look for the roads highlighted in green, scenic. If you follow them, you won't do high mileage but they'll be as good as it gets. Wild camping isn't strictly prohibited but you can do it with a lot of discretion and being aware that certain locations such as near national monuments or on private property. Lots of small hotels everywhere that are inexpensive, again via.michelin an help you.
    Bon voyages.
    #5
  6. bnordgren

    bnordgren Curmudgin

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    Wow, thanks for all the tips! Especially thanks to QSrider for the tutorial on route planning! You are correct, Google routed around what I would probably want to see. Just out of curiousity, what are the "Exxx" roads?

    A few weeks ago I did buy the "teach yourself french" software by instant immersion. I'm picking up fragmented words here and there, but my 40 year old brain is more comfortable with the 3 years of german I took in high school (and never used again) than the new language requiring different sounds that I'm trying to jam in there now. I also train less than I should because it requires I reboot into windows. :wink: Should've taken French in high school, I guess.

    I can see I should be prepared for something different. And by "be prepared", I mean buy toys. GPS in particular. Not a whole lot of call for that in Montana, since I can see where the sun is, and I generally know which way home is. Last time I messed with GPS, it was a Garmin Etrex in '99. Black and white, couldn't load maps, couldn't load tracks, added absolutely no value to any hikes. This may be a dumb question, but do both google maps and the viamichelin site support an export to GPS function? Or is "loading tracks" a function of software that comes bundled with the device? I suppose I can harass the salesperson with those kinds of questions. :D Sorry.

    Thanks again for all your help! You're all lifesavers!
    #6
  7. Wildman

    Wildman In my castle

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    There's a simple way to learn basic French that'll give you the essentials you need to have some dialogue with locals. There's two tough bits but they're not that bad.

    Lesson No.1 (the first tough bit): Learn to conjugate the verbs "avoir", "etre" and "aller" so you know them forwards, backwards and upside down. Don't try to do anything else. Give you lesson No.2 when you've done that. :D
    #7
  8. QSrider

    QSrider Adventurer

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    You're more than welcome.
    The Exxx road are the same as the Axxx roads in France, but the green Exxx are their European designation, which would be carried over on road signs and maps across the borders in Europe.

    As for trip planning, I could do it on my Garmin sofware, but I always do it on Google Maps and when I'm happy with the trip I re-enter it in my GPS. There is a lot more info available on Google Map that I use while planning, like satellite view, street view, even photos that were loaded up.
    If you don't really care about planning and just want to ride... You can set up your GPS to not route you using freeways, toll roads... Mine even has a scenic option. Start your GPS, select your destination and navigate the small roads. It could be that easy.

    As for the language, if you need someone who speaks english, teenagers and 20 some are your best bet. They all have/had to learn it in school.

    Eric.
    #8
  9. bnordgren

    bnordgren Curmudgin

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    Conjugate?! That sounds dirty. I'm in! I'll poke around the software to locate conjugation. So far we're just building vocabulary, I guess. When am I ever going to use the word "Kangaroo"?

    Picked up a garmin montana 650t today. Took it and the dog for a walk as soon as I got home. The dog kicked my fat butt all the way up the hill until I collapsed in a snowbank. Downloading citynav europe now. I think I'm still missing the part where I make routes on the computer for download later.

    Boy gps-es sure have come a long way. Compass and barometer and touchscreen, oh my!
    #9
  10. QSrider

    QSrider Adventurer

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    You most likely need to download Garmin RoadTrip (if you have Mac) on to your computer. If you have a PC, I think it's called something different. Other will hopefully chime-in.
    #10
  11. TassieMark

    TassieMark Been here awhile

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    Bonjour Bryce, (hows that for a bit of French, albiet with an Aussie accent),

    I concur with Justin, great scenery around SE Belgium, especially around SPA, a weekend trip to the classic bike meet might appeal. Last year it was held in late June, I don't know when this year. Liege to Luxemburg on secondary roads and the black forest in SW Germany is an enjoyable ride and has fantastic scenery,
    Like everything else, a GPS has advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are obvious, but without one you do meet a lot of people when seeking directions which can be good fun. After having gone 50kms in the wrong direction in the rain in England last year, I swore I would get one, but I've settled for a hand held compass for my next trip. But then I'm not into these fandangled gizmos, I don't even have a mobile phone.

    Au revoir, (gotta keep practising that French)
    Mark.
    #11
  12. WIBO

    WIBO Will it buff out?

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    PS: Oh. I also don't speak French, if that makes a difference.

    Try www.michelthomas.com

    You can download it or get the CD's from your local library no doubt.

    Michel Thomas trained field agents in WW2 to learn French so if they were stopped by any Germans they could get by at being questioned.

    Excellent concept of learning French....no writing...just listening and repeating whether it be in your car or at home....a brilliant method of getting to know another language just from the way it's structured.....very clever in fact.

    :)

    .
    #12
  13. bnordgren

    bnordgren Curmudgin

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    Found it. It's called BaseCamp for the PC. Cynical me was looking around for more stuff to buy. It was off in the free section.

    The "instant immersion" language software is kind of similar. You play games which are usually of the form where the computer says something and you click on the thing that matches. I'm not sure I'll be able to read French after this, but the picture-sound link is starting to form. Oh, and I looked around everywhere in the software. It seems that there's no section on grammar rules at all.
    #13
  14. pip_muenster

    pip_muenster curious

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  15. bartvanrth

    bartvanrth Lord of the rims

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    Hi Bryce,

    Northern France is my "bike-playground" i live 230 km north of Paris. The countryside in France is very nice for biking. My suggestion is to buy Michelin-maps and make your routes on that map. Once you're 30 km out of aris area try to take the yellow & white roads and avoid all the rest. Load those routes in a gps and off you go. If that's too much work then let your gps calculate 'shortest route' it will take you through the backroads of France. When you go west (coast of Normandy & Bretagne" try to avoid weekends (if possible) because many people who live in Paris go there to escape the city in weekends, so many traffic on coastal roads in weekends. No fun at all. Almost everywhere 50km/h restriction and many speedtraps. But it's a must-do because it's very beautiful. Now when you go east, let's say direction Verdun - Reims - Colmar, that's real bikers paradise. No traffic, less tourism, cheaper, authentic, twists and mountains, casttles, small forgotten villages.... Go to Michelin.com and look at the map. Zoom in. The roads marked with a green line are very nice scenic roads. Take those.
    South-east is very nice too. The Bourgogne-area (direction Avalon - Dijon - Beaune). Same there: take the small routes
    If you don't mind camping and the weather is nice take your tent. :-) I've been travelling for years all around europe. France is the easiest country to camp because you have nice and cheap community-campings (camping municipale) everywhere. Most of the camping municipales are at walking distance of the village. Most villages have bakery (croissants!) and nice terraces. People in the country are less arrogant than in Paris. They're very sociable and biker-friendly.
    If you need more information don't hesitate to ask. Have fun!
    #15
  16. Wildman

    Wildman In my castle

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    That approach sucks!
    #16
  17. sasho

    sasho Dual Personality

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    You gotta switch to drinking wine :D It's easier to understand and speak French that way. Non of that Moose Drool $hit :1drink
    #17
  18. bnordgren

    bnordgren Curmudgin

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    Since I'm only going to have weekends: West bad. East good. Got it. Your description of what lies east is exactly what I'm looking for.

    Sweet! Poking around on the internet, I was starting to get the impression that "camping" in france involved swimming pools, showers, and electricity (!?). Seemed more geared to RVs than tents. I'm going to burn the words "camping municipale" into my brain. Mmmmmm...croissants....
    #18
  19. bartvanrth

    bartvanrth Lord of the rims

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    You can have a look here http://www.camping-municipal.org/
    Click on the map. Good area's are : Bourgogne (south east of Paris), Champagne-Ardennes, Lorraine. Don't take the campings with only one star. All the rest will be good and cheap. Since those campings are run by the community the reception might only be open for few hours in off season. In that case don't worry. With a bike you can easely pass the gate, put your tent anyway and check in later.
    #19
  20. John933

    John933 GSX 1400

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    Be careful of camp site's. I got stung at one, it said out side pitch 7 euro's a night. Turn's out they wanted money to put a tent up more for the bike park. And two euro's for a gate key per night just to go in and out. I never got an answer to what do I get for just 7 euro's. Sound's like it was just the space. Which I could not use.
    John933
    #20