France, Switzerland, UK
- 15 days
About the challenge
Setting off from London, we pass through picturesque Kent countryside, cross the Channel and continue through the small villages and medieval market towns of Northern France to Paris and the evocative landmark of the Eiffel Tower. After a day to rest, we head through rolling fields of wheat and sunflowers, and the famous vineyards around Chablis. The landscape is dotted with small medieval towns and sleepy villages, and the rolling hills provide the perfect preparation for the hair-pin bends of the Col de la Faucille (1323m) – a climb in the Jura mountains that has featured many times in the Tour de France. A wonderful descent takes us into Switzerland and down to beautiful lakeside Geneva. Another rest day sees us raring to go! We set off through the Alps to Provence, riding through beautiful scenery of towering mountain peaks, spectacular limestone cliffs and gorges, dense forests and lavender fields. With long, challenging days in the saddle, the magnificence of the landscapes motivates us to keep pedalling! Our unforgettable ride ends with a fabulous descent from the hills through the Gorge du Loup to Nice and the beach, where we have time to relax and appreciate our huge achievement.
Dates & prices
|Departs||Days||Charity||Availability||Registration fee||Fundraising target||Payment option|
|10 Jun 2015||15||Open challenge||Spaces||£349||+||£4500||Or||£2250||Book now|
|02 Sep 2015||15||Open challenge||Spaces||£349||+||£4500||£2250||Book now|
|08 Jun 2016||15||Open challenge||Spaces||£349||+||£4800||£2400||Book now|
|31 Aug 2016||15||Open challenge||Spaces||£349||+||£4800||£2400||Book now|
Day 1: London – Calais
Cycle approx 125km (80 miles)
An early start from Blackheath Common allows us to avoid the morning traffic as we pass through the outskirts of London onto quieter roads. It is not long before we are among the rolling fields and villages of rural Kent, passing orchards and traditional oast houses where hops are stored. We head through Tonbridge and follow country roads across the hills of the North Downs to Dover and the coast. Taking the ferry to Calais, we have dinner on board and cycle the short distance to our hotel in Calais. Night hotel. (Dinner on ferry not included).
Day 2: Calais – Arras
Cycle approx 125km (80 miles)
After a hearty breakfast, we head south through beautiful French countryside. Our route takes us along small, quiet roads through villages and small towns. During the afternoon we ride past small War Cemeteries such as at Noordpeene and Gauchin, a reminder of the remarkable history of this region. The terrain is reasonably flat to begin with but becomes more undulating as we travel south. We spend the night in Arras. Night hotel.
Day 3: Arras – Compiègne
Cycle approx 125 km (80 miles)
This morning, after a couple of long days in the saddle, our legs may feel a little tired. We continue south through villages and along quiet undulating French roads to the more forested region around Compiègne, where we spend the night. This attractive town lies on the banks of the River Oise. Night hotel.
Day 4: Compiègne – Paris
Cycle approx 96 km (60 miles)
Our final day's cycling takes us southwest, initially through small villages and woodland before we meet the outskirts of Paris. Needless to say, the volume of traffic increases but our destination and the finish is in sight! We cycle through the Parisian streets, sweeping around the Arc de Triomphe and down the famed Champs-Elysées to our finish beneath the lofty arches of the Eiffel Tower. We head to our hotel and get ready for a celebration meal to mark our achievement. Night hotel.
Day 5: Rest Day Paris
After breakfast you are free to explore the city; why not go up the Eiffel Tower or visit renowned attractions such as the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre and Notre-Dame Cathedral. Those ending their cycle ride in Paris will leave by train later in the day, while we meet again for dinner and a briefing, and meet our new group members who have arrived today. Night hotel. (Lunch not included)
Day 6: Paris – Sens
Cycle approx 125km (80 miles)
Our first day in the saddle! We start early so we can negotiate Paris’s busy streets before rush-hour, and ride along the boulevards of the capital’s Left Bank, roughly following the course of the River Seine. It doesn’t seem long before we are riding through open, agricultural landscapes, passing villages with squat Norman churches, colourful shuttered houses and tree-lined market squares. After passing on wide shaded roads through the extensive green forests of Fontainebleau, formerly a royal hunting park, our route becomes a little hillier as we ride over gently rolling chalk downs. There are no tough climbs on this first day, but we’ll no doubt be pleased to cross the River Yonne into the lovely medieval Burgundy town of Sens, complete with its beautiful town hall and gothic cathedral. Night hotel.
Day 7: Sens – Semur-en-Auxois
Cycle approx 125km (80 miles)
Today takes us further into rural Burgundy, over rolling hills with gentle inclines that open up to wonderful views over this typically French countryside. We leave our hotel on quiet, flat roads, passing small villages and open fields of barley and wheat. After about 15km we have a long, winding climb which flattens out to a striking tree-lined avenue through the fields. We start to pass fields of sunflowers and sections of woodland, and ride through some very picturesque villages with old churches and striking town halls. Some miles before our lunch-stop at Chablis – which gives its name to one of France’s most famous white wines – we come to the vineyards: rows upon rows of vines, mainly pinot noir and chardonnay, on the south-facing slopes. We pass several old wineries before riding right through the pretty old town of Chablis itself, then cycle on small, quiet country lanes connecting the abundant farms and villages that dot the landscape. As we approach the end of the day’s ride, our road brings us out at a wonderful viewpoint over the picturesque medieval hill-top town of Semur-en-Auxois; our hotel is only a short distance away. Night hotel.
Day 8: Semur-en-Auxois – Lons-le-Saunier
Cycle approx 158km (98 miles)
Our longest day is a day of two halves, separated by our most significant climb so far! This morning we continue predominantly south-east on quiet rolling roads, riding through picturesque towns and villages; some of the churches have the distinctive coloured roof-tiles typical of Burgundy. We pass fields of sunflowers, corn and small pockets of woodland and ride for a short stretch alongside the Canal de Bourgogne. We come to the picturesque town of Bligny-sur-Ouche, which lies at the foot of our most challenging climb so far – a 6km ascent which twists up through woodland before the road straightens out and an easier gradient takes us through pastures at the top. Our treat for conquering the climb is the wonderful descent that follows – at twice the length of the climb, we definitely tackle this hill from the best direction! Wide sweeping bends takes us through fields and woodland, passing small villages, right down into the town of Beaune below us. It’s an exhilarating descent with wonderful views of the countryside around us, and we’ll be buzzing when we reach lunch shortly afterwards. We cross the River Saône, heading towards Verdun, and the rest of our day is fairly flat. As we enter the Jura region we can see the ridge of mountains looming on the horizon, though they still look quite distant. Our last few miles see a few gentle uphill sections through lovely quiet woodland and we finally reach the Roman spa town of Lons-le-Saunier, pleased to be saving the real climbs for tomorrow! Night hotel.
Day 9: Lons-le-Saunier – Geneva
Cycle approx 110km (70 miles)
A shorter day today, but our big challenge looms as we cross the Jura Mountains into Switzerland! We set off from Lons-le-Saunier and start climbing almost straightaway. This is the steepest hill we’ve experienced so far, so it’s important to pace yourself and not over-do it. The climb levels out after roughly 3km and we are suddenly in more mountainous scenery, with cow-bells clanging from the pastures around us. Following a flattish road – one of very few flat sections today! – through a beautiful valley surrounded by verdant wooded slopes, we reach the village of Orgelet with its pretty church, and then start to climb again gradually. Our road takes us through a scenic gorge and we cross the beautiful aquamarine Lac de Vouglans, a narrow sinuous reservoir hemmed in by the rocky cliffs around it. We climb for roughly 20km through lovely scenery; the gradient is not steep and there are some flatter sections. We then have a wonderful descent into the picturesque town of Saint-Claude; with its colourful buildings and its wonderful location tucked in between the mountains, this is worth a café-stop just to admire the views! After Saint-Claude our climbing starts in earnest – we ascend gradually on hair-pin bends through trees, passing waterfalls and gushing streams. As we get higher up we reach pastures and the terrain levels out more; we pass a giant model of a bike which pays homage to the popularity of cycling in this region: this climb has featured in the Tour de France on many occasions. Shortly after this, the road plunges downhill into a secluded valley, then hair-pin bends take us once more through forest. These are our last miles uphill, and although it is steep in places we know the end is in sight! We finally reach the Col de la Faucille (1323m), and gather for a group photo before our big descent. We have time to savour this – we should be feeling justly proud of ourselves for reaching the summit. In clear weather we should get great views of the Mont Blanc massif, and there are wonderful views over Lake Geneva as we descend the 12km to Gex, the small Swiss village at the foot of the mountain. We pass through the international border with Switzerland, and cruise on flat roads with cycle lanes to our lakeside finish point in Geneva. This evening we enjoy a great celebration! Night hotel. (Dinner not included).
Day 10: Rest Day Geneva
The day is free to explore the clean streets of cosmopolitan Geneva, or head for the lovely lakeside gardens and famous fountain. Those ending their cycle ride here will fly out later today, while we meet again for dinner and a briefing, and meet our new group members who have arrived today. Night hotel. (Lunch not included)
Day 11: Geneva – Allevard
Cycle approx 132km (85 miles)
Heading south out of Geneva, we leave Switzerland and the Geneva Valley behind us. A gentle climb on quiet back-roads takes us back into France. Beautiful views of the Alps accompany us almost the entire time today. We ride south to the beautiful town of Annecy, a lakeside jewel nestled among mountain peaks. We cycle alongside the shores of crystal-clear Lake Annecy for a few miles before continuing south on an undulating road through the forests and quiet villages of the Massif des Bauges. A steady, gradual ascent through lovely scenery takes us to the Col du Frêne – at 950m not a high mountain pass, and not a steep climb, but hair-pin bends nevertheless! We descend via more sweeping bends to the Isère river, crossing it and climbing again on a quiet road up to Allevard, a lovely village partway up the mountain-slopes. Night hotel.
Day 12: Allevard – Corps
Cycle approx 132km (85 miles)
Starting the day with a gentle descent back to the Isère valley, we pedal parallel to the river for some time before approaching the historic city of Grenoble. Situated in a broad valley between mountains, the terrain is flat for many miles, though new views of the surrounding peaks continually open up to us. Skirting the city, we follow quiet roads which steer us between the high ridges but give us only a few lumpy undulations to tackle! We climb a gently sloping hill to Roissard, pausing to appreciate the spectacular views of the twists and turns of the lovely Drac river, before continuing through to the small village of Mens. A stretch of more rolling road takes us to the shores of the lovely Lac du Sautet; we then have a short climb up into the small town of Corps. Tomorrow we will start riding on the Route Napoleon, a classic stretch of road that traces Napoleon’s route from Elba in 1815, and you can’t fail to notice that Corps is proud of its position on the route – there are references everywhere. Night hotel.
Day 13: Corps – Digne-les-Bains
Cycle approx 144 km (90 miles)
Leaving Corps behind us, we continue our journey south through the southern Alps. Many of the roads we ride on today have featured regularly in the Tour de France. Our morning’s ride takes us predominantly along the scenic, hilly Route Napoleon: look out for the flying-eagle road markers that commemorate the route. Striking out on back roads for a short while, we climb the relatively gentle gradient of the Col de Manse (1268m) – before reaching the Alpine town of Gap. Continuing south on back-roads, the landscape around us gradually changes to thickly-forested limestone hills and sheer cliffs – spectacular scenery. Entering Provence, we reach the ancient, picturesque town of Sisteron, situated in beautiful scenery on the riverbank between towering mountain ridges. From here it becomes more and more evident that we are leaving the high mountains behind, as we ride east to the lovely old spa town of Digne-les-Bains. Night hotel.
Day 14: Digne-les-Bains – Nice
Cycle approx 140 km (88 miles)
Today is a long day, and a hilly one, but it’s also our last day of cycling so we enjoy every kilometre of beautiful countryside! Setting off from Digne, our day starts on a quiet rolling road which warms us up nicely before the Col de Corobin (1230m), which sees up pedalling uphill for almost 10km. The well-earned descent is wonderful, and you’ll be glad to know it’s steeper than the side we ascended! Rejoining the Route Napoleon, we tackle several more testing climbs and descents as the road winds through stunning hilly scenery, passing the lovely town of Castellane on the river Verdon en route. Taking our leave of our historic companion, the Route Napoleon, we head east on very quiet back-roads through small villages. The landscape is made up of rocky outcrops and ridges, verdant forests and deep blue rivers, and provides a breathtaking backdrop to our final day. We reach the photogenic medieval hilltop town of Gréolières, perched high up in the hills behind the coast, and then we can freewheel almost all the way on quiet roads right to the coast! Our descent takes us through the stunningly beautiful Gorge de Loup, before reaching sea level; we join a lovely flat cycle path and pedal our way on the famed Promenade des Anglaises into the heart of Nice. We finish this long day and our incredible challenge beside the Mediterranean Sea. Night hotel. (Dinner not included)
Day 15: Nice - London
After a leisurely breakfast, we have time to relax on the beach or wander the Promenade until it’s time to transfer to the airport. (Lunch not included)
Discover Adventure reserves the right to change the route or itinerary for safety reasons should local conditions dictate.
All accommodation is included, as well as ferry transport to France, transfers and all meals except six as specified in the itinerary. It also includes full trip support of experienced Discover Adventure leaders, drivers and mechanics. Your airport transfer at the end of the trip is also included. We will provide at least one transfer (depending on group size) and will provide you with further details on registration.
The tour cost does not include your homebound flight, a bicycle, personal travel insurance, six meals as specified, transport around Paris on your rest day, drinks, personal items or entry to any optional tourist sites you may wish to visit. It also does not include any bike carriage fee that may be levied by the airline. Remember to allow extra for drinks, snacks, souvenirs and other personal expenses. Please note that costs may fluctuate and we have no control over any changes. We strongly recommend you carry a credit card in case of personal emergency.
Flight & Transfer Information
We do not arrange a homebound flight for this challenge, enabling you to take advantage of the many competitive fares between Nice and different UK cities. Airlines include British Airways, Air France, Bmibaby, Flybe and Easyjet. We recommend you book flights that depart Nice in the morning. The best deals are usually open to those who book early, but bear in mind that we do need a minimum number for this trip to run, and booking your flight before you are advised the trip is guaranteed is entirely at your own risk. Please be aware that the best deals usually allow little flexibility if you need to change them. Please ensure that you inform your airline that you will be travelling with your bike when you book. It may not be possible for them to guarantee bike carriage at a later date. Most airlines charge a bike carriage fee, which you are responsible for paying. We can provide you with guidelines on packing a bike for flight, but it’s best to check the airline’s specific instructions. We will arrange at least one transfer from the hotel to the airport, depending on the group size. Exact time(s) may be determined by the times of the majority of the group and will be communicated nearer to trip departure.
Accommodation is in 2-3* hotels, picked for their proximity to our route. The hotels are comfortable with en suite facilities; standards may vary between the hotels.
All food is included except six meals where specified. Lunches are generous buffet-style with plenty of energy food to keep you going! Dinners are generally eaten in the hotel.
Being vegetarian or having other dietary requirements is not usually a problem provided you let us know well in advance. Bear in mind that being vegetarian is not generally well-understood in France, so meals may not be as varied as you are used to. If you know there are plenty of foods you cannot eat you may wish to bring extra snacks from home so you can top up your energy supply. Please feel free to ask us for advice. Any meals not included are listed in the itinerary and are generally when we are in towns or cities, where you are free to explore and
Discover Adventure Crew
Your trip will be led by experienced Discover Adventure leaders. Our leaders are selected for their experience in harsh wilderness environments, knowledge of travel in remote areas, friendliness and approachability, sense of humour and ability to safely and effectively deal with any situation that arises. They are also trained in expedition first-aid. You are in very safe hands with a Discover Adventure leader.
All our leaders are from the UK or other English-speaking countries. Most work for us on an ad-hoc basis and have ‘real’ jobs in-between trips! We never send our leaders to the same destination for months on end – we want them to be as enthusiastic about your trip as you are.
The number of crew and support vehicles looking after you will depend on the final size of your group, but the team will be looking after every aspect of your trip whether that’s transporting your luggage, ensuring your route is well-marked, making you lunch and sorting out any mechanical problems. At Discover Adventure we pride ourselves on our high leader: cyclist ratio and believe it leads to greater trip enjoyment as well as excellent trip safety.
Support vehicles are with the group all of the time. All luggage and spares will be carried in them. Space is limited and hard-sided luggage is not suitable, so it is essential that your kit is packed in a soft sailing bag, rucksack or expedition kitbag. Ask us about our specially-designed low-cost kitbags if you don’t have one already. You should also bring a small daypack or large waist-pack to carry for items needed during the day as you will not have access to your main luggage until the evening. On your return journey, your bike can be flown back with you (airlines usually charge a small fee for this) – you will need to bring a cardboard bike box or bike bag with you to pack your bike for flight. If you have an expensive or delicate frame, you may prefer to bring extra lagging to protect it more. Alternatively, we can drive it back in our vehicles (no bike box required; they will be well-packed and protected during transit though by all means bring extra lagging) and return it to you using our bike courier service. Further details and costs will be sent to you nearer the time.
Your safety, and that of the rest of the group, is our highest priority. Our trips are designed and planned with safety in mind. Your crew will be equipped with radios and emergency mobile phones, first-aid kits and other safety apparatus where necessary. They always have access to our 24-hour emergency back-up in the UK. Our leaders are responsible for safety on the trip, and will make any changes to the itinerary they deem necessary should local conditions dictate. Pre-trip administration – such as compulsory medical questionnaires and travel insurance – is all done with your safety in mind.
Preparing for the challenge
Our route varies from small country roads and flat valley roads to ascents of low-to mid-range mountains. Traffic is light most of the time but you must be vigilant for traffic and other cyclists, especially in poor visibility or on narrow mountain roads. The Route Napoleon is a classic drive, but we generally avoid the busiest sections. Watch out for traffic overtaking on mountain descents as you are riding up – they may be on your side of the road. French drivers are generally far more considerate to cyclists than here in the UK. Distances are fairly long, averaging 130km per day; you should make sure you are fit enough to manage these distances confidently. The Col de la Faucille and Col de Manse are the two toughest climbs. Using Tour de France terminology, they are usually rated 2nd and 3rd Category respectively, which designates them official mountain climbs (though not the hardest end of the 5 categories used). Climbs like this will give you an unbeatable sense of achievement but you must have trained for them, be used to cycling and very familiar with the range of your gears. You cycle approximately 1550km on this trip overall! We are always happy to talk through the trip in more detail with you if you are worried about your fitness at any stage.
We strongly recommend that you ride a road/racing bike (rather than a mountain bike) for this trip due to the long distances involved on well-surfaced roads. It’s really important that you ride the bike you have been training on so you are used to it. Although training in the gym is useful, there is no substitute for getting out into all weathers and really getting to know your bike – especially the range of your gears as you climb. However Discover Adventure can provide hybrid or mountain bikes at an extra cost if you wish.
There will be a range of spares in the vehicle along with a full tool kit. However it is impossible for us to carry spares for every eventuality so it is vital that when bringing your own bike it is in good order before departure.
Clothing & Equipment
We could be exposed to bad weather at any time. The information below gives you an idea of the climate, but be prepared for all weathers and temperatures and remember that weather conditions can change quickly. We provide you with a detailed packing kit-list on registration, as well as details on useful discounts you are entitled to as a Discover Adventure customer. We are always available if you need advice. It is imperative that you supply your own helmet and wear it at all times while cycling, with the straps done up.
The climate of northern France is very similar to that of southern England. As we ride further southeast, the climate is generally warmer though temperatures can vary widely and weather conditions can be unsettled. Rain is always a possibility and it may be windy in flatter areas or in the valleys. As you climb you may start with a tail-wind and end with a head-wind! The weather and temperature can change dramatically with elevation; higher up it may be foggy, cloudy or much colder. The weather can change rapidly.
Our challenges attract people of all levels of experience and fitness, all ages and backgrounds. We expect all participants to train hard in advance to achieve this challenge, but we respect everyone’s limits. We design our challenges so that everyone can go at their own pace: this is not a race. For logistical and safety reasons we sometimes need to re-group, so the front-runners will find themselves waiting for the slower ones. Please relax, and remember that this is a team effort that enables people to achieve their personal goals and earn sponsorship.
Passport & Visa
A valid ten-year passport is essential; it must be valid for at least six months after entry into France and Switzerland. There is no visa requirement for UK citizens. Other nationalities should check entry requirements.
We insist that you have had a Tetanus injection in the last ten years, and highly recommend protection against Polio. You should always check with a GP or travel clinic for up-to-date travel health advice as it does change.
Worldwide Sustainable Tourism
Long before ‘Responsible Tourism’ became a recognised phrase, we designed and ran our trips to ensure they made minimum impact on the environment and a positive impact on the local communities we pass through.
Discover Adventure Projects
We are supporting a tree-planting project in Peru and a children’s home in Tanzania on a long-term basis. If you would like to ‘give something back’ please consider donating £5 to our projects when you sign up.
We encourage all our customers to offset emissions connected with their trip. You can offset at any time in the lead-up to departure by visiting Climate Care via our website and making a donation to a worthwhile project supported by them. Alternatively, if you wish to take more practical action in the UK you can volunteer for a day with TCV and work on an environmental project local to you. Work may include construction footpaths, dry stone walling, creating wildlife habitats or planting trees in your community. Volunteer today at www.tcv.org or call 01302 388883.
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