|A Week of Biking & Barging in France|
|We enjoyed a lovely week biking and barging on the Seine and Loing rivers from Paris to Montargis.|
There are many options for biking and barging routes in France. We enjoyed a wonderful week on board a comfortable canal barge named Fleur, arranged by International Bicycle Tours, Inc. (USA), leaving from Paris and ending in Montargis (map).
Although only 111 kilometers (69 miles) by road, we biked 170 kilometers (106 miles) over 5 days to make the journey.
Here's a day-by-day summary of our adventures, to give you one idea of what a barging and biking trip will be like.
Yours will be different, of course.
Long or Short Trip?
You may choose a longer trip or more strenuous biking, or you may be in a totally different region of France, but this will give you some idea of what to expect. We lucked out with the weather, cool at the start of the week, blistering hot on the last day, but no rain. That may or may not be your experience—we have friends who hit a week of rain.
Here's a general idea of our biking itinerary (map). It doesn't reflect all of the bike paths or detours, but it gives an idea of where we went and our major stops.
Day 1 - Paris
We arrived in Paris and met the group at the barge Fleur, moored at the Quai de Bercy. We settled into our comfortable cabin, met the others of our group, and enjoyed a delicious dinner. After dinner a walk across the Simone de Beauvoir footbridge provided lovely views and a lively restaurant scene on a summer evening.
Day 2 - Paris & Cruising
A bit of sightseeing in Paris, with a fascinating guided tour of the Père Lachaise Cemetery. Although we had been there before, we saw and learned a lot with our excellent guide. Free time in the afternoon to enjoy Paris or take in a museum.
Back to the barge by 16:00 (4 pm) as we cast off and set sail. We quickly left the heart of Paris and went through more industrial areas. We also got to experience the first of several canal locks (écluses) that the Fleur would navigate. We headed upstream (south) on the Seine for a couple of hours and then moored for the night.
Day 3 - Évry to Melun
While the barge continued its journey to Évry, our guide, Odile, explained the French rules of the road, described the IBT "corner system," and provided tips for safe bicycling. She also described our route for the day.
At Évry we had "bike fitting," and once everyone's bike was adjusted, we donned our helmets and set off on the bikes. We started in town and quickly learned to negotiate corners, a traffic circle (rond point), and traffic.
For part of the day we rode through the Forêt Régionale de Rougeau, a beautiful wooded bike path. At other times we rode on two lane roads, and we went through a few other villages.
Our goal was the lovely Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. We enjoyed a guided visit there and then hopped back on the bikes for a short ride to nearby Melun. Tired but fulfilled after biking 25 miles/40 kilometers, we were ready for dinner. An evening stroll in Melun allowed us to appreciate this small town.
Day 4 - Melun to Moret-sur-Loing
After breakfast we enthusiastically set off for Moret-sur-Loing. This was another long day of biking (24 miles/39 kilometers) through beautiful countryside.
We followed the Seine for much of the morning, meandering along the beautiful river, and later turned to continue our journey along the Loing River. Along the way, we caught sight of the Fleur as it continued its voyage—fun! We were delighted to find a small café and a boulangerie/patisserie (bakery) in the tiny village of Samoreau and enjoyed a break there. Then it was back on the bikes to Moret-sur-Loing, a beautiful medieval village.
Moret was the home of Impressionist landscape painter Alfred Sisley, and we had a guided tour of many of the places where he painted.
Next stop: the Bicycle Museum! We enjoyed seeing some historic bicycles, and the museum director even rode a "penny-farthing," or high-wheeler bicycle. A short ride on our own bikes got us back to the Fleur, moored overnight in Moret-sur-Loing.
Day 5 - Moret to Nemours
After two long days, we were happy to set off on a shorter ride today, "only" 16 miles (26 kilometers).
We were on our own for lunch, choosing from among a variety of restaurants near the château, or buying sandwiches from a local bakery.
Then back in the saddle and on to the next stop, Grez-sur-Loing, a small village with a lovely stone bridge that has long been a popular subject for painters. From Grez-sur-Loing we continued to Nemours, another small town with a château dating from the 12th century and flower-bedecked bridges. We enjoyed a lovely stroll through town and along the canal.
Day 6 - Nemours to Néronville
The day started as we passed through an extremely narrow lock in Nemours, with only inches to spare on the sides. The skilled crew of the Fleur took us through smoothly, and we quickly unloaded the bikes on the other side and started out.
We biked to Égreville for a wonderful guided visit of the sculpture garden of Antoine Bourdelle, a sculptor who worked with Rodin and also produced a large number of beautiful works. It was a lovely place to learn more about this artist and enjoy the beautiful gardens.
We then biked to the center of town and enjoyed fresh sandwiches while sitting in the shadow of the beautiful church. Our afternoon break was in the lovely hilltop village of Château Landon. We opted to walk up the steps to the village rather than biking, and we enjoyed lovely views and a refreshing ice cream! This was a long day, 25 miles and several significant hills, so we really enjoyed the breaks.
Soon it was back in the saddle and on to Néronville, where we really were out in the middle of nowhere—beautiful lush countryside, with swans who enjoyed tapping at our canal-barge windows. Nowhere to go at night except a short stroll along the canal, listening to the birds and keeping ahead of the mosquitoes!
Day 7 - Néronville to Montargis
Our last biking day, and a relatively short one at 16 miles, which we much appreciated since the temperature got to almost 38°C (100°F)!
We started out biking along the lovely Canal du Loing, and soon arrived at the Glass Museum in Dordives. Here we learned about the history of glass and watched a skilled glass blower create a decorative vase. This small museum provides a fascinating account of the glass industry, which was traditionally very important to this region.
A short detour took us to a memorial to American aviators who had died on June 19, 1944, trying to bring supplies to the French Resistance. This moving memorial was a reminder of the impact of World War II in France, and Franco-American cooperation.
Our lunch break was in Ferrières-en-Gâtinais, a small village with a 12th century abbey. We happened to arrive on market day so could admire the offerings in the market, and the local bakery provided delicious sandwiches and pastries for a picnic.
Then it was on to our last stop, Montargis. After the tiny villages we had been in, it felt like a big city! We successfully negotiated the various rond-points and intersections and arrived at the dock just before the Fleur did. We had time to visit the charming old town of Montargis and sample the delicious pralins, a combination of almonds and caramelized sugar invented in this area. Our farewell dinner was festive—a four-course French repast of lentils, duck confit, cheese, and tarte tatin. Yum!
Day 8 - Montargis - CDG Airport
An early departure (06:15 am) for most participants, to Charles DeGaulle Airport for their homeward journies. Since we were spending more time in Paris, we opted to take the train from Montargis to Paris.
What a week! 106 miles/170 kilometers of biking, two châteaux, several medieval villages, a wonderful and knowledgeable tour guide, plus expert guides at the various places we visited, excellent crew, comfortable accommodations, and a congenial group of people.
There are lots of ways to experience the beauty, history, and gastronomy of France. Biking and barging is one way, and within that broad description there are many options—joining a group tour, as we did; hiring your own barge (with bikes); putting more emphasis on biking and less on sightseeing—or vice versa.
Here's a description of a typical day on a barge.