France never ceases to amaze me! I say that quite often because it’s true. Last week, Tom and I got back from our trip down south on the Mediterranean Sea where we cycled (on electric bikes) from Collioure, France, to Cadaqués, Spain with Purely Pyrenees. I can’t recommend the experience enough, so if you’re looking for an active cycle Europe trip with gorgeous views, great food, and a comfortable maritime climate, you’ll want to keep reading…
Cycle Europe: What it’s like cycling the Mediterranean with Purely Pyrenees
Before I get started, let me first direct you to this post with my Facebook Lives from the trip so you can see the sights. Also, I’m going to write another post with more photos and info on the destinations themselves for those of you who want to cycle Europe, but to keep this from turning into a giant post, this one is going to focus more on the cycling in France trip and what it was like.
Because we live in the Maine-et-Loire, quite a distance from the start of the trip in Collioure, we left the day before and stayed the night in Toulouse. That way, we only had a couple of hours to drive on Saturday morning before checking in at our hotel.
So let’s get to it.
Details on our cycling in France & Spain tour and where we went:
We did the Cycling the Mediterranean Pyrenees tour at the end of May operated by Purely Pyrenees, which was a 3-night/4-day trip that started in Collioure, France, and ended in Cadaqués, Spain. We each had an electric bike (more on that below) and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
What was covered in the Purely Pyrenees cycling package:
- Accommodations for the 3 nights at a 3-star hotel or above
- Breakfast each morning, 2 out of the 3 dinners (lunch is on your own each day)
- Electric bike rentals, helmets, locks, pump, and road guide (plus optional GPS, which is a must!)
- Luggage transport between hotels each day and transfer back to Collioure on final day (or other arrangements depending on your travel plans).
These were the stops:
Day 1: Collioure, France. You arrive in the afternoon and can do a cycling route in and around Collioure or just visit the town at your leisure.
Day 2: You depart from Collioure and head toward Llanca, Spain.
Day 3: You depart from Llanca and head to Cadaqués, Spain.
Day 4: After breakfast in Cadaqués, the trip is over.
Again, I’ll be telling you more about the destinations and accommodations in a future post.
Here’s a little bit of information about Purely Pyrenees and what it’s like to cycle Europe:
Since 1984, Purely Pyrenees’ parent company La Balaguère has been offering independent walking and cycling holidays to over 13,000 clients each year. Purely Pyrenees was created to focus on providing English language trip itineraries to travelers from all over the world, so not just French trips translated but “itineraries, accommodation, transfers and packages taken apart and reconstructed for the worldwide English-speaking market.”
They explain that French tourists are more likely to vacation in the Pyrenees more than once in their lifetime since they’re already in France, but that’s not the case with English-speaking tourists. For that reason, Purely Pyrenees has packed as many highlights into each trip itinerary as they can. They’re also the oldest and largest tour operator in the area making them experts who live and breathe everything Pyrenees.
Founder Vincent Fonvieille says he “named the company after the warm breeze that blows up from the south – from the Sahara in fact – that gives us such a unique climate making the Pyrenees both warm and green.”
Trips cover the Greater Pyrenees area so some trips are longer and are on the Atlantic Coast, span the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, and even cover Carcassonne, so there are options in terms of location and trip length.
Why choose a cycling trip?
It’s something different and is way more fun than seeing a place by car or bus, in my opinion. If you’re into an active yet leisurely trip, I can’t recommend Purely Pyrenees enough. As I mentioned, these are independent, self-guided tours so that means there’s no tour guide or group — just you and your family getting from one place to the next on your schedule, stopping whenever and wherever you choose… with your bike as your mode of transport along the way.
You can stop at the beach, grab a bite to eat at a restaurant or pack a picnic, pause for photo ops, take a break, or whatever your heart desires. The pace is entirely your choice and days aren’t jam-packed with cycling, so you have more than enough time to enjoy yourself.
Why choose electric bikes?
The short answer: If you’re not an experienced road cyclist, you’ll absolutely want to opt for an electric bike because the hills are challenging. And even if you are in great shape, trust me, the electric bikes will come in handy and help you get from point A to point B each day a little faster and not having you dying to the point of not even enjoying the ride or the scenery.
I have a lot to say about the bikes. In a nutshell, they’re fantastic, so let me tell you why.
Before this trip, I had never used an electric bike and knew very little about how they worked. P.S. I showed you the bikes and talked about some misconceptions in a Facebook Live video I did from Spain, so be sure to watch!
I wasn’t sure if electric bikes, or e-bikes for short, were kind of like motorcycles in that the motor propels you forward and you can put your feet up an basically cruise around. I was afraid of the bike taking off on me or not having control, but I quickly learned how the bikes worked and they were way less complicated and scary than I thought.
But first, the biggest hangup I had about choosing an e-bike was that I thought I was taking the easy way out. As someone who likes to be active and was looking forward to a challenging cycling trip, I was a little hesitant to go with electric bikes because I wanted to make sure I’d get a good workout and not just leisurely pedal. I felt like e-bikes were cheating and I was a little resistant to the idea. After learning about how they worked, I realized we’d still get an amazing workout cycling in France — and we did.
Here’s what you need to know about electric bikes. E-bikes work exactly like regular bikes in that you’re always in control, have to pedal to go forward, and have gears and brakes. If you stop pedaling, the bike will slow down and stop.
But they also have a lithium ion battery (no motor or gas or anything), that when activated by the touch of a button, can seamlessly assist you to make the pedaling a little easier. The power basically makes a hill feel less steep and easier to pedal. Make no mistake about it, despite having the battery, the main source of power is your legs!
Our particular bikes had assistance levels between 1-9. If you leave the assistance on 0, there’s no assistance at all and it functions 100% like a normal bike. Keep in mind that e-bikes are heavier than road bikes because of the battery, so I’d say assistance level 1 on our bikes was the equivalent of climbing up a hill with a regular road bike. We quickly learned what level of assistance we were comfortable with.
Check out these hills! (Thanks to Tom for the photos on the move. I didn’t feel comfortable operating my camera while cycling but he did!)
The first day when we had 42 km to do, we went out strong and didn’t go above level 3 at any time. The roads reminded me of the Pacific Coast Highway if you’ve ever driven the California coast around Big Sur — hills, cliffs, and windy turns. I loved it and the view was incredible.
I wear a heart rate monitor and my heart rate was climbing well into my yellow and even red zone. You can absolutely work incredibly hard on an e-bike, so let me be perfectly clear about that. If you keep the assistance level low, you’re going to be sweating bullets (I was drenched and it was only in the 60’s), breathing heavily, and having legs that are screaming at you. I was in my glory and enjoyed working hard. But keep in mind it’s not comparable to the most difficult stages in the Tour de France either, although the scenery is similar! Everything was manageable.
But on the flip side, if you’re not looking for a challenging workout and just want to cruise along, you can do that well and put the assistance up to 5 or 6. That way, you’re pedaling and making progress on the hill but it’ll feel like you’re still on a flat or near-flat road depending on the level you choose.
You do not have to be in great shape or have cycling experience to be able to handle this trip. An active, reasonably fit person will have no issues. The e-bikes are a tool and if you choose to use them to their full capacity with assistance, you can make things very easy for yourself.
Speaking of making it easy, we upped the assistance for a portion of our journey to level 5 on Day 2 when the skies looked a bit threatening. We wanted to make sure we could get to Cadaques sooner rather than later and not get caught in the rain. It never rained, though, so in retrospect, we could have pushed ourselves or dillydallied a little bit. But it sure was nice to know we could get a move on if we needed to.
The bottom line is that e-bikes will help you get to you destination faster if you so choose and I liked having the option of getting a little help. But you can use them like regular bikes with minimal help, no help or a whole lot of help. It’s entirely up to you — no judgment. If we were on regular road bikes, I think the trip would have taken double the time.
Here’s more about what to expect on an e-bike.
Why choose Purely Pyrenees:
They know what they’re doing and have been running their tour company for over 30 years. As experts, you know you’re getting a top-notch experience from people who live and breath everything Pyrenees. And let’s not forget the variety of trips you can book. Coastal, walking, cycling, long and short, there’s a trip for you.
Also, something else that was important to me was to know we weren’t completely on our own. There’s always someone from the company available to help if you have questions or run into any problems — even after hours or on Sundays. We had a few organizational hiccups which required me to call Purely Pyrenees and the staff was polite, professional, and efficient at getting me the answers we needed. It’s nice to know someone is always there and that you aren’t on your own at any time.
To that end, my biggest tip (other than wear sunscreen) is to make sure you have a functioning cell phone that works in France and Spain. You never know if you’ll need to get in touch with someone along the way.
Something else that’s great is that Purely Pyrenees arranges for your luggage to be transported each day. That way, all you need on the bike is a small backpack and can arrive at your next destination with your bags waiting for you. No one wants a stressful vacation, so knowing that your luggage, accommodations and a good portion of your meals are all arranged for you means you have more time to focus on the sights and for enjoying the trip with your family.
So what’s it like cycling in France along the Mediterranean?
A ton of fun. I don’t have a ton of experience cycling on the road and was a little concerned about cars and motorcycles passing too close or not getting a hang of the bike. Within 20 minutes of being on the bike, I was at ease with both. Cars passed, but 99% of them gave us more than enough space, and there were stretches of time where no cars passed us at all. You’ll be on regular roads with cars and not special bike routes or anything, but it wasn’t a problem.
At the end of May, the road isn’t too busy and the temps were comfortable. There are other cyclists on the road, so you’re never in the middle of nowhere all alone. You also aren’t far from towns with services like the pharmacy, restaurants, hotels, etc. I never felt unsafe at any point either on the bike or with my surroundings.
There are views for days and you’ll find yourself stopping often to take pictures and just breathe in the scenery. The last day, you cycle through the mountains and they’re just as stunning as the coastal views.
The downhills were just as big as the uphill stretches and Tom reveled in speeding down them. I never felt comfortable going over 30 kph but cars never passed him on descents because he was going faster than the cars! He always had to wait for me as I braked the whole way down to keep my speed under 30.
If you have any questions about anything I’ve said here or the Purely Pyrenees experience in general, please get in touch and I’d be happy to give you my thoughts.
Is cycling in France a trip you’d consider? Have you ever set out to cycle Europe?
Thank you to Purely Pyrenees for hosting us on this incredible trip!