Travel: Meet France From Inside Tours
PEZ takes a look at the FranceFromInside.com cycling tour company in the South of France. We asked owner and avid cyclist Allan Reeves about his Pyrenees Cycling Challenge, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and back, totaling 1000 miles and 94,000 ft in 12 days of riding. Then we discovered he hosts cycling vacations at a family chateau in the Bordeaux wine region. Sign us up!
The col du Soulor features its own kind of road furniture.
What makes France From Inside different from other tour companies?
Allan: We’re a small tour company that focuses on the niche of biking in the southwest of France. I strive to offer a unique experience to really see France “from the inside.” Not only are you visiting France, but you’re also being hosted by my French family in our Chateau and led by me the French American nephew. How many other companies can wine and dine you in a family Chateau, which has its own winery, and provide guided cycling tours with someone who has ridden there every summer for over 15 years? The idea for us is to receive our guests like old friends and to make them feel comfortable and relaxed, and not worry about a thing. So far so good, as all our clients claim that the trips have far exceeded their expectations – possibly because we provide all the wine you can drink at the chateau. The group sizes are small from 4 to 8 clients at the chateau, and 10 for the Pyrenees.
Guests stay in the Chateau Pitray – a bonafide French chateau – just like you see on the TDF tv coverage every year.
PEZ: You focus your trips in a specific area of France – the Dordogne valley, Bordeaux wine region and the Pyrenees mountains. When so many other travel companies seem to cover all of France, or even Europe – why do you stick to such a small region?
Allan: I focus on this small region because this is the area that I know like the back of my hand, my home away from home so to speak, not to mention the beauty and variety of the countryside. This is where my family is from and continues to live, and this is the area that I have been exploring on a bike for the past 16 years. When people come on my bike trips they enjoy and benefit from my experience and knowledge of the area. I’m like a guide in the mountains who knows all trails and short cuts, and who can adapt to the changing conditions and needs of his clients as he shepherds them throw the mountain passes. I focus on the back-roads and the best routes, roads that no one would know without having themselves invested years discovering. In the end this small region is vast when you stop to enjoy all the details. I’ve been discovering it for years, and yet I often times feel as though I have only begun to know the place.
Turns out there’s a fair amount of that ‘road furniture’ around the Chateau…
PEZ SEZ: Nothing says “you’re in France” like staying in a ‘chateau’ – and you base many of your trips at the Chateau Pitray – which is in fact owned by your aunt and uncle. How did you convince them to start hosting climbing-mad cyclists?
Allan: I didn’t have to convince them so much as take advantage of their decision to start a Bed and Breakfast at the Chateau. I knew from my own experience that the cycling around the Chateau is amazing, so when the opportunity came up to host cyclists at the Chateau I jumped. My clients, unlike the other B&B guests, also get to enjoy lunches and dinners at the chateau with my aunt and uncle, so that they truly get the feel of what it is like to live in a Chateau for a week, with the proprietors of the chateau. I think it is safe to say that all my clients have been received like personal friends, and they told me of their particular pleasure and gratitude for such a reception.
You’ve devoted a fair amount of your website to this incredible place…
Allan: Chateau de Pitray has been in the family for over 400 years. The existing Chateau was built in 1868. My mother, along with her sister (my aunt), spent much of her childhood here. This is the family home, though not occupied during the winters. Throughout my life I would come and stay at the chateau in the summers while visiting my grandparents, the Count and Countesse de Pitray (they are deceased). Today my aunt and uncle, Monsieur and Madame Count de Boigne, own the Chateau and live there most of the year. They have 3 grown children, my first cousins, of which the youngest Jean de Boigne, operates and manages the winery.
Typical small country road near the Chateau de Pitray.
What makes France such a good place for cycling?
Allan: Countless perfectly paved small country roads, beautiful landscapes, and variety of terrain! The small roads meander all over the place and they have very little road traffic, which means that there are always a dozen options for routes from point A to point B. Layer on top of that the rich history and evidence of civilization that goes back 2000 years, with Roman ruins and medieval villages, along with French cuisine, wine and much more. It really is spectacular. One day I hope to move there permanently just to take advantage of the cycling.
The village of Saint Emilion, classified as a World Heritage Site by Unesco.
What would you tell someone who has never visited this part of France?
Allan: Let me put it this way, the French themselves claim that the Bordeaux, Dordogne and Pyrenees regions are some of the most beautiful of France. But I’d add that it will take more than one visit to satisfy your enjoyment of this area. The southwest of France is known for its food and wine, beautiful landscapes, along with a rich history of architecture and medieval villages, roman ruins, and even pre-historic artifacts.
Guests Charles, Ron and Craig cycling through the French Pyrenees.
PEZ SEZ: Now let’s talk Pyrenees. Even for hardcore cyclists, a 14 day tour is a long haul even with 2 rest days. Your ‘Ride Across the French Pyrenees’ trip sounds epic – what kind of rider does the trip attract, and what kind of rider is it best suited to?
Allan: This trip is for experienced cyclists, people who love to ride their bikes and do so at every chance they get. This trip is not for a beginner or even an intermediate rider. The type of rider that does well and that has completed this trip is experienced and fit. Generally speaking I am looking for someone who has ridden a lot of centuries, knows how to ride in a group to conserve energy and up their speed, and loves challenging rides. I want riders who are in tune with their bodies and minds and know how to push themselves. This trip will work your legs, push your limits, enthrall your mind, and blow you away. It truly is a quest and awesome accomplishment. It is not a race, but it is a journey.
Day 5: five passes, 12,000 feet, 92 miles.
Have you offered this trip before and what inspired it?
Allan: I have done this trip 4 times now. I only offer it once a year, at the end of summer when the weather is best in the Pyrenees and the summer vacation crowds are gone. The inspiration for this trip came from my own adventures riding in the Pyrenees. I would organize 3 and 4 days trips in the Pyrenees and recruit my parents to do sag-wagon support. The Pyrenees are beautiful, so it was as much a treat for my parents to explore the mountains by car as it was for me on a bike. Eventually I decided to put together an itinerary that would take me coast to coast, Atlantic to Mediterranean. The Pyrenees mountains are the perfect venue for an epic challenge, practically taunting cyclist to try and ride coast to coast. I designed the stages from my experience, what I thought was “doable” in terms of distance and climbing per day, and that’s where the genesis of this ride came from.
The eastern end of the Pyrenees, a couple more passes to the Mediterranean.
PEZ SEZ: The roads shown on your website of the Pyrenees trip are incredibly small, and you even claim there’s not one pothole… it sounds like cycling nirvana. Are they really that good – and how did you find them?
Allan: Without a doubt the roads are that good, and while it may be a stretch to say that there is not one pothole, it is not that far from the truth either. The French maintain their roads, no matter how small or off the beaten path, so cycling in the Pyrenees, and for that matter about the Chateau de Pitray region, is a real treat. It took some time and a lot of riding but I got to the point where I could properly put into perspective what an 80 mile ride with 10,000 feet of climbing demanded in the Pyrenees. It may not sound like much, but I have logged over 50 days of riding in the Pyrenees, and I can say that it is some of the most challenging and spectacular riding you could ever hope for.
Are all your trips designed for serious cyclists?
Allan: The Pyrenees trip is the only trip designed for serious cyclists, and for obvious reasons. The trips at the Chateau de Pitray can accommodate all levels of cycling because the terrain is moderate with rolling hills and flats. Trips at Chateau Pitray are also accommodating to couples where one partner doesn’t bike, as the trips do not revolve only around biking. The non-cycling partner can enjoy relaxing at the Chateau during the time that the cyclists are out riding, and then regroup with everyone for the remainder of the day to enjoy meals and the other site seeing activities planned for the day.
In the heart of the Bordeaux wine country.
What other activities are there for your guests, perhaps for spouses who do not cycle?
Allan: The other activities that both the cycling and non-cycling guests will enjoy are wine tasting, winery tours, guided visits to historical sites and medieval towns, canoeing on the Dordogne river, meals at Chateau Pitray and restaurants in near by villages, such as Saint Emilion (a world heritage site classified by Unesco), and other local seasonal events.
Why should someone choose a trip with you?
Allan: Someone should choose to come on my trip if they want a unique and personal experience, with a lot of hospitality and good cheer. If you want elegant dining, great food, all the wine you can drink, life in a Chateau and some of the best cycling roads in all of France, then come on my trips, especially if you enjoy a family atmosphere and want a real inside view of France. For those who come on the Pyrenees trip it is all about riding with non-stop sag support, mom-pop hotels and a real immersion into the mountains along with a substantial riding accomplishment.
In addition to the Ride Across the French Pyrenees trip, check out other yearly trips:
• Tour de France at the Chateau-Pitray – when the Tour comes into the region
• The Pro Criterium de Castillon bike race at Chateau Pitray – July 30 to August 5, 2011.
• The Fall Wine Harvest at Chateau-Pitray – September 14 to 20, 2011.
Meet The Man In Charge
PEZ: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into leading cycling tours.
Allan: I’ve been riding road and mountain bikes for more than 15 years. Riding bikes is my passion, as is my work and background – exercise physiology and biomechanics – so the sport of cycling is a dominating force in my life along with France. The simplest way to put things is to say, “I like to ride, and I ride a lot.”
I was born in France, but I was raised and educated in the San Francisco Bay Area and I continue to live there today. I have been fortunate to return to France throughout my life – I am both a French and American citizen and I speak French and English fluently. When I got into cycling, France became a true paradise as my summers could now be spent cycling in France while visiting family. And that’s what I did, I rode my bike all over the place in the south of France and the Pyrenees, for hours and miles at a time all by myself. The net result is that I have become extremely familiar with France, particularly the southwest region where both my parents’ families come from, and the Pyrenees mountains. I realized that I had an opportunity to offer bike tours in France when it became clear to me that I could provide people with a unique and personal experience of France by taking advantage of my contacts, French family, expertise and knowledge of France, my American background, and fluency in English and French. Who better to enjoy France than with locals? And, what if those locals have a Chateau and winery? Those locals are my family, and the Chateau de Pitray estate has been in our family 400 years.
Here’s Allan & Vino – you never know who you’ll meet at the Pro Criterium.