How fit do I need to be for a cycling holiday in France?

Couple overlooking a valley in France during a cycling trip

One of the first questions that we frequently get asked, is how fit one needs to be for a cycling holiday in France.

Some cyclists prefer iconic, leg-breaking Tour de France climbs but many of you do not.

Over the years, we have gotten pretty good at recommending the right tours for our clients.

The years of experience and frequent feedback have honed our ability to guide our travelers towards the right self-guided adventure suited for their needs.

All our tours have a level of difficulty indicated as Casual, Hobby, Active and/or Pro. Some tours fall in between and have different difficulties on different days. 

Keep reading to get a more detailed description of the levels and examples of different tours in each category.

It will help you to understand in which fitness category your level falls.

Casual – Recreational Cyclists

Image from a cycling tour in Amboise, Loire Valley in France. Image taken by one of Discover France's travelers.
Traveler image from Amboise Cycling Loops cycling tour

“Beginners and occasional cyclists. Easiest tours we provide. Typically flatter terrain, no notable hills or anything of a steep gradient.”

When the cycling aspect of the trip is just a part of the day, but not the main activity. 

The Loire Valley is the perfect place to start due to relatively flat profiles and shorter distances. 

Casual tours leave plenty of time to stroll around and enjoy the French “Joie de Vivre” (Joy of living).

It’s perfect for beginner groups that want to ease into cycling tours.

Some of our easiest tours in the Loire Valley have days of about 20-22 miles (32-35km), with very limited elevation gains. Even less experienced riders would not spend more than 3-4h in the saddle during the day, leaving ample time to enjoy the stops along the way. 

For travelers wanting to keep their options open, some of our “Cycling Loops” tours would be ideal. The “Cycling Loops” tours are based out of one single hotel, and you have the choice of choosing your rides on a day-to-day basis.

Two popular, self-guided cycling tours in the Loire Valley

Loire Valley Secret Castles tour (5 days / 4 nights) – Great option with flat-to-rolling terrain that takes you to some of our favorite castles and vineyards. This tour with our standard hotels allows for a nice authentic French experience.

Castles of the Loire Valley Classic Cycle Tour (5 days / 4 nights) – Postcards from the Loire Valley often depict either the Chambord castle, or the Chenonceau castle. On this tour, you get to see both (as well as other castles). If your main interest is in seeing the biggest and greatest of the Loire Valley castles, this tour is for you.

Hobby – regularly riding your bike

“Weekend riders. People with some cycling experience, rolling countryside, possible short climbs.”

Tours in our Hobby category could typically be visiting hilltop villages, where short climbs are necessary, but distances remain relatively short.

The rolling hills in Provence are a typical setting for our Hobby category tours with Provence Secrets – Pont du Gard (featured image) a prime example. 

The tours are not easy but are accessible to all riders that have cycling experience and are ok with spending 3-5 hours of the day on the bike. 

Cycling is an important part of the tour, but sightseeing and enjoying long lunches in quaint town squares are equally appreciated. 

A Brazilian TV host, Juliana Rios, took the Provence Secrets tour last spring and documented it on YouTube

The Hobby/Active level tours are the most popular tours and a great way to have an active vacation, while still having plenty of time to enjoy local culture and cuisine. 

Good examples of Hobby level cycling tours are:

1. Canal du Midi Cycle Tour – From Carcassonne to Sete – A great mix of riding along the famous Canal du Midi and finishing off at the Mediterranean Coast, most known in France for oyster farms and delicious seafood – as well as light rosé wine that is grown in vineyards that have very sandy soil.

2. Loire Valley Castles Deluxe Cycle Tour – This tour is one chosen and remembered for the fantastic hotels and restaurants. 6 nights in castles and domains will give you a glimpse of what life was like for royalty and nobility hundreds of years ago.  

3. Cycle the Coast of Brittany to Mont St Michel Cycle Tour – Ride along the beautiful Emerald Coast and discover Britanny and its breathtaking landscapes! The tour takes you along the coast of Brittany to Cancale, a picturesque fishing village where you can taste the local specialty: the oysters. The tour finishes off with two nights by the Mont Saint Michel.

Active – Weekend warrior, used to longer distances

Traveler image from Bordeaux

“Cyclists with experience on longer rides. Hilly terrain with reasonable amount of climbs and difficulty.”

Active tours are not hard, but they are not easy either.

Typical examples of Active level tours are the Bordeaux Wine Tour, Best of Champagne, or the popular Gordes Cycling Loops in Provence.

The best wine regions in France are generally hilly with great viewpoints and great wines.

These tours are great for e-bikes as well, making the rolling terrain feel like a breeze and allowing more time for wine tastings and long lunches.

Many of our travelers that decide to try an e-bike, stick to them on futures tours as well. The option to choose the level of assistance at any moment, widens the possibilities of covering longer distances and compensating for tired legs.

Our e-bikes are equipped with the latest generation technology and frequently earn the praises of our travelers.

Good examples of Active tours are:

  1. Bordeaux Wine & Cycle Tour – A great option for clients looking for a mix of quiet countryside scenery and busier cities and villages. The wines are fantastic, and cycling through the vineyards of Bordeaux Grand Cru and Saint Emilion gives a whole new appreciation for the wines.
  2. Best of Champagne Cycle Tour – Perfect mix of the key cities in the region, and quiet countryside charm. The vineyards in Champagne are a spectacular sight all year round and Reims is just over an hour from Paris by train. The rich history is markedly present in the beautiful domains, and you can feel that Champagne as an area is just as special as Champagne wine.
  3. Gordes Provencal Escape Cycle Tour – The history of the region goes back thousands of years, and the perched hilltop villages radiate the Provencal lifestyle that is still the same. Hilltop villages mean there are hills to conquer – but the views and cold rosé wine make it worthwhile.

Pro – always up for a challenge

Tour de France

“Avid cyclists, ride every week and love long and challenging rides. Dream of riding the Tour de France cols.”

Switchbacks and long Alpine climbs is your definition of fun. You see the image above and your heart skips a beat, imagining yourself in the crowd watching the Tour de France.

Your ideal trip is one where cycling is the main activity, and other activities are secondary. At the end of each day, you might go through the GPS data, while sipping a cold beer as a reward for having finished the distance.

Our “Pro-level” tours are suitable for riders that regularly ride their bikes, and know how to pace their efforts to handle repeated climbs and longer distances.

You do not have to be a professional to take these tours. It is however advised that you are comfortable with the distances and climbs.

Not all pro-level tours are in the mountains though. One pro-level option is the “Brittany Challenging” tour, which takes you from Rennes to Ploubazlanec on the Atlantic Coast.

Despite being away from all major mountains, the elevation gain adds up. The longest day is 137km with 1550m+ of elevation gain – which is almost the equivalent of climbing Mont Ventoux.

For aspiring cyclists, the pro-level cycling tours are really rewarding and can be a great motivation for training and staying fit.

Some of our favorites are:

  1. Alps & Mont Ventoux Cycle Tour – experiencing two very different environments in the Alps and Provence. Perfect trip to experience several Tour de France climbs in a short time.
  2. The French Pyrenees Cycle Tour – You can expect to share the road with cows, sheep, and donkeys while riding in lush green mountains. Not as touristic as the Alps, but the riding is just amazing.
  3. Guadeloupe Island Guided Cycle Tour – It may be winter in the Northern Hemisphere, but the sun is shining in Guadeloupe. The riding is fantastic with the added benefit of being in a tropical paradise at the same time.

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