Hannah Reynolds is a journalist and author of the fantastic guide to cycling around France: France en Velo. We caught up with her to pick her brains about cycling to France, training, adventures, the highlights & meeting an old man who was an ex-Tour de France cyclist... maybe. We also have one of her books to give away to one lucky customer. To enter, Tweet, Instagram or Facebook us with the hashtag #franceenvelo with your favourite french word (Keep it clean please!) We'll choose our favourite. Bonne Chance!
N.B This competition has now closed but be sure to follow us on social media or sign up to our mailing list to make sure you are the first to hear about our next giveaway.
And as if riding to France wasn't enough on its own, Hannah is also fitness editor for Cycling Weekly, Cycling Active and Cycling Fitness Magazines, as well as the co-author of Bloomsbury publications "Fitter, Faster, Further", a guide to sportive preparation and "Get on your Bike" an introduction to how to stay safe, get fit and be happy cycling. To find out more about her latest book head to the website www.franceenvelo.cc or follow her on twitter @HannahMReynolds
When and why did you decide to cycle through France?
I first cycled through France 15 years ago. On that trip I was on my own, sleeping in a bivvy bag and exploring with no particular plan. I cycled up lots of mountains, ate a lot of cheese and discovered how diverse the landscape, food and culture is. Even at the relatively slow speeds a touring bike travels at you can see change and variety in your surroundings in the course of a day's ride.
France is in many ways the spiritual home of cycling, me and my bike were warmly welcomed everywhere we went and I met plenty of people with stories to tell and advice to offer.
The aim of writing France en Velo was to share a route that takes cyclists from St Malo to Nice through quiet lanes, alongside rivers, through gorges and beautiful villages so that they can experience the great variety that France has to over.
What was the hardest part of the trip for you and why?
Travelling through France was the easy bit, writing the book was the challenge! Any journey has it's difficult moments, for me it's normally because I'm tired or hungry, and that can be easily solved by a long lazy lunch in true French style! The ups and downs of life on the road is what makes it interesting. Problems and bad moods don't hang around for long as you keep your wheels turning and leave them behind you.
When I cycled to Paris we went through a small French village and stopped for lunch with a exuberant French pub landlord who thought we were doing something akin to the Tour de France. We talked in broken french about cycling with moules frites for about an hour. It was wonderful and perfectly french. What was the best gem (moment or place) that you stumbled across on your bike?
One of the best things about travelling by bike is that you always have a conversation starter. As with your experience people want to know where you are going and where you have been. In France, more often than in the UK I think, people also have an appreciation of the challenges you are undertaking. It's common to hear shouts of 'Bon Courage' from villagers as you cycle through. This makes the whole experience feel special. I once had someone chase me up a mountain in their car to give me a bag of cherries for my supper, simple gestures often make the strongest connection.
I met an elderly and very tipsy Frenchman one morning in a tiny sleepy village. He insistently told me that he had ridden THE Tour de France as a pro racer, he applauded my efforts, clapped me on the back and sent me on my way with a loud shout of 'Bon Voyage!' Cycling away I wondered if he had really ridden the tour or whether he was simply a teller of tall tales over a morning pastis. Either way he told me a good story and I appreciated his enthusiastic support. Where else would you expect to meet a retired hard man of the road other than propping up the bar in a little cafe regaling his audience with tales of courageous breakaways and mountains conquered?
If you would suggest one part of the trip to a distance cycling novice, what would it be?
Getting started is always the hardest part of any journey, once you are on the road you get into a rhythm. There is something really invigorating and exciting about the moment you realise you have ridden so far from home you can't turn round and get back in the same day. That's when the leash is broken and you get a real sense of freedom and the road opens up in front of you. So, with that in mind take a ferry to St Malo as a foot passenger and explore the Brittany coast line. An over night crossing means you will wake up in France ready to pedal off the boat in search of breakfast in St Malo. It will give you a real feeling of adventure and a taste for cycle journeys, plus it is a beautiful coastline with some lovely, relatively flat, riding.
Do you have any training advice for someone thinking about following your route?
My first tip is you don't have to be as physically fit as you might think. If you are happy to sit on your bike and pedal away gently for most of the day you can cover huge distances without having to be in any way athletic. The more important thing is to be comfortable, your bike needs to fit you properly so you are not stretching or straining and you need to wear appropriate clothing, especially cycling shorts. Doing a little bit of training before you go will help it to feel easier once you are there, in particular get used to riding back to back days as that is what you will need to do to complete a long journey. Once on the road make sure you eat and drink well - not hard in France! Each meal will be re-fuelling your muscles and providing energy for the next part of your ride. Eat frequently throughout the day, a little snack every hour or so to keep stores topped up. If you keep eating and keep pedalling you will get there!
Which one french phrase was the most useful?
Je peux passer avec mon velo?
French roads are beautifully maintained but it does mean you often come up against a 'route barre' Most of the time these are passable by bike but occasionally they are not so worth checking before you blunder into a road works. Often the road men will move aside their machinery to let you pass, it just takes a smile and a wave!
Which is your favourite Hill & Ellis bag?
I think my favourite is the Birkdale as its perfect for swinging over your shoulder when you are off the bike and it packs in enough for a light weight weekend away. I like clothes and accessories that work double time, that can be functional on the bike and stylish off it. Whilst it's alright looking like a bike rider when cycling sat in a French cafe I like to look and a feel a little more chic!
Where will your bike take you next?
At the moment I'm in Italy. Tuscany was beautiful and hilly but I've moved onto the south through the Apennine Mountains which have been stunning - if a little tough on the legs! The woods and vineyards have been showing amazing autumn colours, mornings have been cool and the days comfortably warm. Perfect time to visit.
Remember to enter our competition to win one of her books. Tweet, Instagram or Facebook us with the hashtag #franceenvelo with your favourite french word (Keep it clean please!) We'll choose our favourite!
A few more important phrases to know for your cycling trip to France...
une crevaison: a flat, puncture
pneu de velo: bike tire
un pneu creve: a flat tire
freins de velo: bike brakes
chambre a air: inner tube
marchand de velos: bicycle dealer
megasin de cyclos: bicycle shop
pompe a bicyclette: bicycle pump
mon velo est casse: my bike is broken
France en Vélo: The Ultimate Cycle Journey from Channel to Med – St-Malo to Nice by Hannah Reynolds and John Walsh is published by www.wildthingspublishing.co.uk and availablefrom www.franceenvelo.cc. To get your copy for a special introductory price of £13.59, saving 20% off the RRP, enter code SMNV at the checkout, free postage and packaging to UK destinations. For a guided holiday from St- Malo to Nice visit www.skedaddle.co.uk