After our marvellous ride along the Danube River from Passau in Germany to Vienna in Austria last September, we went looking for another European adventure this year. Our first port of call was the Rad + Reisen website. They had supplied the Danube tour which we absolutely loved, and we figured that maybe they offered another ride that would appeal. And they did - riding the Via Rhôna (the Rhone Cycle Route) from Geneva in Switzerland to Lyon in France.
It was wonderful. Better even than riding from Passau to Vienna if that's possible.
Once again we booked the trip through Flight Centre in George, South Africa, consultant Leon van der Bergh doing his thing with flights etc. The Rad + Reisen trips work like a self-drive tour except, instead of a car, you use bicycles. Rad + Reisen book the hotels (in this case on a bed and breakfast basis), arrange to have your luggage transported from one hotel to another, supply maps, turn-by-turn route directions and a pile of travel info. They will also supply GPS tracks if you ask and, in our opinion, these are essential, making navigation just so much easier. We've listed our tracks at the bottom of this ride review.
Rad + Reisen offer a bike hiring service, either conventional bikes or ebikes, but they are fairly basic models, very much in the "sit up and beg" style. Even the ebikes look more like city bikes than something capable of doing 60 plus kilometres a day. They are capable of course, and people, many people, ride them but that are just not we are used to. We elected to supply our own bikes and after much time on the internet, found Bcyclet, with an office in Geneva. What a pleasure dealing with them. Scott E-Scale hard tails were just the thing we needed and they were waiting for us on our arrival at their store about 10km from our hotel.
We arrived in Geneva, staying at Hôtel les Nations, 3 days before our ride was due to start. This gave us time to explore the city, making ample use of the free public transport for anyone staying at a hotel, guest house or campsite. It was fascinating, but hugely expensive - thank heavens for the free transport! We went for boat rides on lake Geneva, munched ice creams while watching the Jet D'Eau, visited the UN, the Big Chair and UNHCR. We walked for hours, peering in bicycle shop windows, marvelling at the selection of bikes and recoiling in horror at the prices. Breakfast was included in the tour price and we pretty much did street food (baguettes, pizza etc) for the rest of the time. Geneva is a fascinating, intriguing city with polite and considerate citizens, and bicycle lanes everywhere.
Day 2: Geneva to Seyssel. 65 km
We set out after breakfast, navigating our way through the city centre and onwards into the suburbs, loosely following the Rhone River. Our Garmin Montanna 650 saved the day (actually it was a blessing on the whole trip). Fellow travellers we met did the ride using the supplied turn-by-turn instructions and while it worked (kind of) the GPS is the way to go. Without a doubt!
We cleared the city and followed the river through the Défilé de l ́Écluse, a narrow river passage through the mountains and came across the first vineyards - a promise of beverages to come. Despite following the river (or pretty much so) we did quite a bit of climbing - achieving about 600m vertical gain for the day.
Riding in October has its plusses and one is that we didn't have to worry about the heat. It was really cold when we set off but it warmed during the day and was actually quite pleasant after a while. Cloudy conditions prevented views of the Alps but c'est la vie!
Our destination was Seyssel and Hôtel Beau Séjour a quaint establishment right on the banks of the Rhone, and offering superb views of the ancient suspension bridge that the little town is famous for. Dinner, our first taste of true French cuisine, was just awesome. And the local wines we washed it down with, even better!
Day 3: Seyssel to Champagneux. 58 km
We were definitely in wine country now, vineyards popping up on both sides of the river. Another very cold start to the ride, the temps hovering around 7°C as we headed out. We dressed in layers so we could peel off jackets and things as the day warmed.
The going was a lot flatter, the excellent cycle paths making the riding quite easy, and we only achieved a total gain of just 200m for the day. We considered stopping for coffee and "lunch" at Chanaz, its charming houses dating back to the end of the Middle Ages, but most places were still closed so we pushed on, stopping at a bench in the middle of nowhere and munched on our apples and rolls from breakfast.
The shortish climb up from the river to Champagneux and the Hôtel des Bergeronnettes was quite steep and we pitied those not on ebikes. We saw a couple of riders pushing the last few metres and they looked exhausted. "Pouvons-nous avoir une bière bien fraîche, un verre de vin blanc et deux baugettes au fromage et au jambon", we asked the young lady at reception?. Beer, wine and baguettes appeared in a flash. Delicious - beyond description. They really can do food in France!
Day 4: Champagneux environs. 24 km
The day dawned cold, grey and rainy so we took a late breakfast and lazed around the hotel hoping the weather would clear. And it did, just after lunch, so we donned our riding kit and headed up to Belvédère des Fils, a view site on top of the mountain behind the hotel. This was a departure from the recommended "panoramic route" but we didn't have enough time available to us anyway, but in the end, we added a little of the specified route to our ride and it was magnificent - wonderful views to the south of the pre-Alps in the distance.
The views from Belvédère des Fils were worth the 655m climb. Far below us the Rhone snaked through the valley and we gazed in awe at the route we'd ridden, tiny farm lands, quaint houses and glorious mountains in the distance. On the way back we stopped off at the little village of Saint-Genix-Les-Villages and peered into its ancient church. So very beautiful and quiet. We sat there a while....
We also found a little restaurant next door (that's overstating it by a magnitude) but we bought a delicious tub of ice cream which we ate in the warm afternoon sun.
The restaurant at Hôtel des Bergeronnettes is quite something. It's been around since 1935 and the food us just amazing. Even in Rand terms, it's good value for money, the 3 course "house menu" costing just €15,00.
Day 5: Champagneux to Pérouges. 78 km
It was a long ride to the medieval town of Pérouges and our overnight accommodation, but the reasonably flat terrain meant it wasn't too arduous. (Perhaps we were a little fitter). We hugged the river for much of the ride, leaving it at Perrozan, cycling through numerous little hamlets until we reached Meximieux. As you get into the main street there is a patisserie and boulangerie by the name of Giroud Boulangerie Patisserie. It's worth a stop. The chicken and mayonnaise baguette was sublime and the pastries, works of art! We were famished and we wolfed down our meal while still standing outside the shop.
Pérouges is just a few kilometres away and Le Grenier à Sel is not so much a hotel as an ancient dwelling, our room in the loft at the end of a very steep staircase. The landlady was charming and the accommodation comfortable.
Pérouges is a walled medieval town on top of a small hill. It's been the location of a number of movies and is quite beautiful. Definitely worth spending a few hours exploring its narrow cobbled streets.
Day 6: Pérouges to Lyon, approx. 57 km
We headed out quite early for our ride to Lyon, the route taking us away from the Rhone initially and along some rather busy regional roads. For the most part the French drivers are very considerate of cyclists, giving one a wide berth as they pass. Still it was a far cry from the past few days of quiet cycle paths and deserted farm roads.
The cycle paths start again in earnest as you reach the outskirts of Lyon and continue right into the city. The GPS made a huge difference navigating into Lyon and our hotel - would hate to do it without one - and we arrived at the Hotel Charlemagne without much grief.
We stayed on in Lyon for a few days to explore, walking much of the time, using the trams occasionally. Alas, unlike Geneva, you have to pay but it's pretty reasonable...
Things we learnt.
- We highly recommend a GPS (we used the Garmin Montana 650) rather than the turn-by-turn instructions supplied by Rad + Reisen - it just makes things a whole lot easier.
- Wear the proper cycling kit - it certainly makes for a more comfortable, easier, safer ride.
- In Geneva if you are on a budget, eat on the streets - baguettes, pizza and the like. Restaurants are $$$$$$. Also, there is wonderful food to be had at the boulangeries in the railway stations. (In Lyon too).
- If you can't take yours, hire a "proper" mountain bike or touring bike - it makes all the difference. Also, take your own saddle with you.
- The bikes are not supplied with front and rear lights - take yours with you.
Route Distance: 282km in total.
Route conditions: For the most part you're on splendid paved cycle paths. There are however excursions onto public roads, some quite busy and so it makes sense to switch your flashing lights on for these sections. There are one or two unpaved sections but nothing technical
Hôtel les Nations, Geneva: N46° 12.928' E6° 07.964'
Hôtel Beau Séjour, Seyssel: N45° 57.462' E5° 50.008'
Hôtel des Bergeronnettes, Champagneux: N45° 37.261' E5° 40.295'
Le Grenier à Sel, Pérouges: N45° 54.202' E5° 10.828'
Hotel Charlemagne, Lyon: N45° 44.757' E4° 49.435'
Bcyclet Bike Shop: N46° 09.965' E6° 06.501'
Download the GPS tracks here:
On 2 of the sections, Rad + Reisen supplied alternative routes and the full Panorama Route from Champagneux. We've included these FYI - but we have not ridden them.