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Bike and go, with CroisiVélo

by Mike

30 August 2017 • When earlier this year I got a press release about CroisiEurope's new "CroisVélo" concept, I immediately said: this is something I want to try myself.

River cruising and biking is something I have enjoyed a lot with AmaWaterways. This company always has bikes available on board, to go on your own, or to do one of the excursions 'on wheels'.

The CroisiVélo concept is different. Let me tell you why.

Laurent, our bike leader, and me in front of CAMARGUE

French river cruise operator CroisiEurope works together with an external partner, which is the Swiss company DIGnGO. They create the bicycle routes and they provide the tour leader. They provide the bikes. Or in other words, CroisiEurope runs the cruise and DIGnGO takes care of the bicycle part.

Last week I did a CroisiVélo cruise on the Rhône with the recently rebuilt 104-passenger CAMARGUE, a very fine vessel with a trendy, modern interior.

The interesting thing was that I had been on the Rhône in April, for a great cruise with the AMACELLO from AmaWaterways. Leaving from Lyon. Sailing on the Saône and the Rhône. Calling at places like Vienne, Viviers, Tournon and Arles. Both ships did it. And still, when I look back, I can see two completely different experiences. It was almost as if I was in another area when doing the CroisiVélo cruise.

Read Véronique's report about our previous Rhône cruise here.

Room 210 on CAMARGUE, with my bed facing the floor-to-ceiling windows

Important to know: when booking I have been asked for my length, for the size of the bike. And I also got the option between an e-bike or a normal bike. I picked up the latter.

My super duper bike for the week

Rita and Marc, two Belgians from the bicycle group, said they thought that everybody onboard would be biking. I didn't really think about this. The truth is that on 90 guests only five were part of the CroisiVélo group.

Rita, Marc, Angelique and myself are from Belgium, and Julie is from Australia. We spoke French all the time and admired Julie whose French skills really were impressive. 

First observation: the bike group was in average at least 10 years younger than the other 85 passengers. We sat together at one table, in a nice corner. And we had a great time together; because of the biking experience we shared.

Julie, Angélique, Marc and Rita, in front of lovely Gordes

Our tour guide was Laurent. He did not live onboard the ship. Why? Because he had to drive the logistic support van. Making use of a motorized van results in significant advantages:

-If somebody is tired he can stop biking and step into the van.

-We could put our backpacks with suntan oil, extra pieces of clothing, camera, water etc. in the van.

-On long journeys the ship's galley team prepared a picnic basket with plenty of food, water and a bottle of rosé wine.

The van, and Laurent giving a briefingLaurent is our logistic lifeline. Also for the rosé wine at the picnic.

The extended geographical range was without any doubt the main advantage of having a van. On some days we drove one hour before starting to bike. It allowed us to explore villages and landscapes, which we would not have seen when leaving by bike straight from the quayside.

Preparing the bikes

Here's a day-by-day list of what we did, just to show you the different kind of possibilities in the greater Rhône area (if you have a bike).

Day 1: Embarkation in Lyon

Discovering my room and bathroom

Day 2: Bike-only, 20km, visiting Lyon.

The steep hill towards Notre-Dame de FourvièreInside the basilicaJulie, visibly enjoying the moment

Day 3: Bike + Van.

Bike from ship in Mâcon to Cluny (30km), and return by van.

In Mâcon we depart straight from the shipBiking on the "Voie Verte", which even includes a refreshing ride in Europe's longest bike tunnel (1,600m)Cluny Abbey

Day 4: Van + Bike.

Minibus ride from ship in Vienne to the Pilat Regional Nature Park, followed by a bike ride back to the ship. Including a Côte Rôtie wine tasting after having driven through the vineyards.

First the vineyards, then the tasting

Day 5: Van + Bike.

The ship dropped us off in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and Laurent was waiting with the van. He drove us to the medieval village Les Baux-de-Provence, set atop a rocky outcrop. After a morning visit to Baux and a picnic in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence we biked all the way to Arles, where the ship arrived later during the evening. 

Les Baux-de-ProvencePicnic in St Rémy de ProvenceCroisiEurope prepared us a nice picnicWe were first!Late afternoon arrival in Arles, even before the ship

Day 6: Van + Van.

From Avignon to Gordes by van. More than 60km of biking through the Lubéron, with the beautiful villages of Gordes, Roussillon, Lacoste and Ménerbes. Drive from Gordes to Viviers where the ship was waiting for us.

Remark: because of traffic jams we arrive at 9pm only. No problem: an empty restaurant and a dedicated kitchen team was standby.

Gordes
Gordes
RoussillonPicnic in the shadow of the St Julien bridge

Day 7: Bike-only (for some: Bike + Van)

From Tournon we climbed the road up to the Gorges du Doux. This was the most intensive day. It was hot and the climbing required lots of energy, and water: my consumption was 6 liter per 100km.

One person decided to abandon and jumped into the van.

We stopped in Boucieu-le-Roi for an ice-cream and a drink. Only two of us decided to go back to the ship by bike, yet another 20km. The others returned by van.

Gorges du Doux, and the vélorail belowHow French can it get?Time for a break, in the vélorail station of Boucieu-le-Roi

Some remarks:

Was it annoying to have Laurent following us with the white van? No, because he wasn't there all the time. We never had the impression of being on a bike-behind-a-car. To navigate we all had a Garmin GPS mounted on our handlebars. Every day Laurent uploaded the exact routing. It was marked by a purple line, and each time we had to turn, we were warned by a double beep.

Laurent was waiting for us on some strategic points. Whilst enjoying full freedom, we knew he was never far away. Just in case.

We were five. Different ages. Different physical conditions. Three with an e-bike. Two on muscle power only.

The good thing is that we did not have to stay together. Each and everyone could follow his or her own pace. There was no pressure from anyone. Everybody was free. This aspect is something I really liked: we were a group, and still we enjoyed a 100% freedom. We all enjoyed the two picnic days.

Was it only about biking? Not at all. We were given time to visit places like Cluny, Baux and Gordes, while Laurent was watching our bikes.

Gordes

Conclusion:

I saw a totally different Rhône, when comparing with my previous experience.

Also, we never met any of the non-biking guests. We had a very unique experience.

A group of five was perfect. The biggest group Laurent ever had was nine. More would have required a very different approach.

Of course you never know who will be in your group. We were very lucky, and quickly became friends. It was an advantage that we all could speak French, and I have to thank Julie from Australia to keep on talking in French, persistently. Well done!

And not to forget, it was so nice to have our floating boutique hotel, travelling with us. What a feeling to come back 'home', get a good shower and enjoying the French cuisine on board.

We cruised a lot, from Lyon to Mâcon and back, and then to Arles and up to Lyon again. The moments on the water were as special as on the bike. The sum is a unique, wonderful holiday experience

Final arrival in Lyon on Day 8

Words and pictures: Mike Louagie

Thanks to CroisiEurope for making this report possible.

And, merci beaucoup Laurent, for being such a comitted, relentless tourleader. You were 'parfait'!