I queried one of the regulars on the BNA forums about his recent travels in Europe, particularly his experiences in France. He rides a 2012 Vivente Randonneur, so his comments are relevant to the default bike configuration too. This is what he had to say:
France is an amazing country, period. It’s also very nice to cycle through most of the time.
I rode from N-W Germany to Marseille, taking trains on certain sections due to weather or crappy areas to cycle in.
Unlike Germany, France has a serious lack of dedicated, signed cycle routes. This became an issue for me as I wasn’t riding along the EuroVelo routes (which are mostly dedicated paths and well signed) so I often ended up riding on major roads with lots of high speed, large vehicles.. not an enjoyable experience. Having good quality, well-scaled maps is essential.. but it is difficult when you are crossing 1200km worth of land.
The EuroVelo route from Mulhouse to Dijon is pretty amazing, pretty flat and great scenery. We also rode a 70km path south from Strasbourg to Breisach which followed the Rhone-Rhine canal and it was amazingly good. Very flat path, forest scenery, no cars or traffic, well signed, plenty of camping grounds just off the path etc.
The gearing for the VWR is fine for small hills and flat paths even with a loaded bike.. but obviously take as little gear and weight with you as possible.. every bit of extra weight makes the ride less enjoyable especially if you want to be able to cover a reasonable distance each day (for us it was about 70-85km depending on the hills and weather). However since my knees have spectacularly failed on me and basically ruined my tour (it got to a point where I couldn’t do more than 40km a day near the end) I will most definitely be looking into refining the setup with a smaller granny gear chainring and possibly a cassette with a larger cog as well to be able to spin up hills with the gear.
So basically I strongly recommend the EV paths as they are easier to plan for as they follow a set route, there is lots of dedicated paths that follow rivers and railway lines which are flat and friendly for all levels of touring cyclists, and they often run through scenic areas too. This will be especially good if you are doing this with your Mum. There’s nothing worse than being lost in the middle of backcountry somewhere with no maps, no idea where a camp ground or supermarket is etc. It gets stressful, you have to be a very happy go lucky person to cope with it. Much nicer to know where your going and be able to just cruise along and enjoy the ride instead.
Just had a look at that link [referring to the EuroVelo site at http://www.eurovelo.org/routes/overview-route-database/].. the EV6 was the one I mentioned before. The section from Dole to Mulhouse is a very nice path in a scenic area. The section of canal path south of Strasbourg is the EV15. Basically for a recreational tourer following the EV is a very good idea. For the more adventurous and fitter tourers it would be too easy and boring though, but as I said before being able to just cruise along and enjoy the scenery is really quite nice. Plus they shouldn’t be too hilly either as they are designed to be accessible for all types of people. Go for it!
I found some information on travelling to France, specifically with respect to visas. Check out this web site: http://www.ambafrance-au.org/Frequently-Asked-Questions.
As far as I can tell, if we’re staying for less than 90 days (which we would be, since my long service leave is only three months), we don’t need a visa, because of something called the Schengen Agreement. This applies to other countries in Europe, including Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Spain and Sweden.
But then this page mentions a Schengen Visa: http://www.ambafrance-au.org/General-rules-applying-in-France. If we don’t need a visa, what’s the point of a Schengen Visa? This Yahoo Questions post answers it, I think: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090129062054AAIPq7k. It’s for people who aren’t from a country that’s party to the Schengen Agreement. This site is useful too: http://www.schengenvisa.cc/. It says, “The Schengen visa is a “visitor visa”. It is issued to citizens of countries who are required to obtain a visa before entering Europe.” And since we don’t require a visa, we don’t need to do anything more. I think.
If it turns out we do need a visa (even if it’s just a Schengen Visa), then the whole thing becomes a giant pain in the arse, because they want to know your every movement (hotel booking confirmations, flight booking confirmations) during the stay, proof of means of subsistence (ie you’re not going to work whilst in France), bank account statements, visits to the Embassy in Sydney and god knows what else. The hotel booking part would be impossible to provide, given we intend to camp and just tool about without planning accommodation too far ahead.
But I think we’re OK without a visa. I think.
OMFG flights to France are expensive. I just had a quick look at webjet.com.au and the cheapest return flight to Paris (admittedly using dummy dates) was a touch over $2000 per person, in Cattle Class. With a 20Kg luggage limit. I checked another site, JetAbroad, and it’s not much better there. Maybe Tasmania is a better option after all. 😦