Maps on our self-guided bike tours

November 30, 2014 by · Comments Off on Maps on our self-guided bike tours
Filed under: Cycling Holidays in France, France 

Our maps for our self-guided bike tours

The maps on our self-guided bike tours maps fit in the top of the supplied handlebar bag inside a clear plastic wallet. They are numbered and attached together so you can flip them over in order, there is also a larger overall map of the total route with distance marker points.

Our first map was an A4 paper based folded in two to fit inside the bar bag. Great, except our first day of our first tour it was raining and the maps got wet and the colour of the marked routes ran over the rest of the map and then gradually disintegrated. I spent the first morning waiting in the minibus at each turn giving directions. Smaller maps, laminating and waterproofing soon followed.

Over the eight years of running our tours we have changed and developed them, continually learning where guests took wrong turns and adjusting to make sure this cannot happen?

Personally I now think we have come to an impasse, I don’t think we can improve anymore without going totally digital and providing a Satnav for all our self-guided tours. I believe that gradually our biking guests are losing their ability to read a map! Our earliest guests had few problems, but now with the continual use of a Satnav in their cars they are losing their map reading skills. On top of this some guests start to use their own GPS map via their smartphone, this to me is a dangerous precedent. We have often seen cars driving down the wide footpath near our house that is marked via Google maps as a road!
I’ve tried Garmin, TomTom and Google maps to provide extra help and details for our self-guided tour maps but there is always something wrong or not quite right.

Self-guided bike tour map

Self-guided bike tour map











Richard over the winter is taking a fresh look at our maps and maybe we’ll combine the two systems?

We are open to suggestions?

Our maps for our self-guided French bike tours

Autumn in the Lot, South West France

November 24, 2014 by · Comments Off on Autumn in the Lot, South West France
Filed under: France 

Autumn in the Lot Department

So far autumn in the Lot has been really mild with daytime temperatures reaching 20c (68f for our US friends) with mostly clear blue skies and sunny. It’s colder at night but only dropping to around 12c, the mornings are colder at around 10c.

So my morning runs still do not require long sleeves or leggings as I don’t feel the cold when running. I also usually have a dip in our unheated pool after my run, it acts as an ice bath and helps reduce and in fact stop any muscle fatigue. Water temperature at the moment is about 11c (52f) not cold after my run and I can walk straight in. Aileen and I actually think being cold is good for you and don’t mind just getting in the pool for around fifteen minutes, we both feel better for it.
Guardian article on the Benefits of Cold Water Swimming.

Autumn is the time of year I am busy cutting wood for our log burner, we are entirely self-sufficient in wood. We have the forest backing onto our cycling base which we own parts of, to enable us to fell our own trees. The forest is mainly oak which is very tough to cut, I go through lots and lots of chainsaw chains and am in fact on my third chainsaw, they just burn out with the hardness of the wood. I have to cut down our trees about two years before we need to burn them as they need to season and dry out. I normally fell the trees about now, but the forest has still not lost all the leaves, as cutting with the leaves on is not good for the wood as it means the sap is still high up in the trunk. This is according to our French neighbour Bernard whose family have been felling trees for years over many generations, so who am I to argue.

Autumn in the Lot

Autumn at Mas de Flory










Gourdon our nearest town is now a lot quieter with most of the local restaurants now only opening at the weekend. Market day on each Saturday morning is still very busy and still difficult to park with all the cafés very busy both inside and out as the weather is so mild.

Night time entertainment apart from our local cinema is very scarce apart from one nearby village called Lherm. The centre of which is the Bar à Trucs which is a communal run bar, café, shop and venue. They have lots of things going on usually at the weekends, including blues, jazz, classical and traditional types of music.

Looking forward to Xmas and evenings around our log fire.

Autumn in the Lot

Living in rural France

November 13, 2014 by · Comments Off on Living in rural France
Filed under: France 

Why rural France is so relaxing

We first moved to the Lot department in September 2006 having decided this was a beautiful place to set up our cycling holidays. We previously lived in Exeter in the south west of England where we thought the pace of life was fairly relaxed.

Well even though I have French relatives and have lived and worked in France before, I have never lived in such a rural area like the Lot. Relaxed is not the word, they say mañana is a bit hasty here!

The French here in rural France tend to only work the minimum necessary to enjoy their life – work to live, not live to work. I know some artisans (masons, electricians, plumbers) who are on a particular tax regime that allows no accounts kept and a flat tax rate up to a certain amount. They try to complete most of their work before August and then take the rest of the year off. Some don’t make it by august but still take it off anyway. If you ask for an estimate for work to be started between September and the end of the year they will give you an incredibly high estimate to dissuade you using them. Of course some Brits have asked them to go ahead thus the fueling of high prices for French builders working for expats.

All our local shops close for a two hour lunch, the only exceptions are the very large supermarkets.
This really confuses some of our English speaking cycling guests as they cannot understand why they close. The boulangeries all close for lunch even though they sell sandwiches, quiche etc. You have an idea of what you want for lunch and buy it before they close.

There are a lot of restaurants cafés that have a menu ouvrier (workman’s menu) this is normally a four course meal with wine included for about twelve euros.

Rural France Auberge

4 Courses for 12€ including wine!










So the French in rural France have a two hour break for lunch, only work about thirty five hours a week or have a couple of months off.

They are relaxed because they are not chasing money, they just don’t care or want to increase business if it impinges on their calm lifestyle, and why should they. Look at the south west of France and their health and their lower rate of heart attack despite high fat intake and red wine!

I have to say that we are now as relaxed and calm as the French. On the rare occasions I go back to the UK I am on edge and confused why everyone is in such a rush.

Why rural France is so relaxing

Running in the French countryside

November 8, 2014 by · Comments Off on Running in the French countryside
Filed under: France, Living in Rural France 

Running on the forest trails in the French countryside

We are very lucky in that when we bought Mas de flory (our cycling base) we thought it was good that we backed onto a forest. We didn’t actually realise how lucky we were. The forest has ancient tracks crisscrossing all over and has lots of deer tracks.

There is a proper marked trail that used to be a route leading to the main St Jacques de Compostelle pilgrim trail, but it’s since been rerouted two kilometres further west. It’s now downgraded to a local route.

I’ve been running throughout the forest since we moved here some none years ago and can say I have only just discovered all the trails. Mind you that includes all the overgrown routes from the ancient horse and cart routes from the seventeenth century. The forest is relatively new consisting of mainly oak with some chestnuts but until the late eighteen eighties it was mostly grape vines. Then disease hit and the trees self-generated to what they are now and thus some paths and old trails became overgrown.

Anyway I’m supposed to be running!
I normally run first thing in the morning with our two dogs Flossie and Jessie who get really excited when I have my running gear on. I run between twenty and forty five minutes and only run longer in the summer whilst waiting for biking guests to arrive at the end of their ride. Just once in a while I’ll do a long run of about an hour and a half but I find the dogs get confused and tired out.
I didn’t realise that humans can outrun all other animals, I just thought I was super fit and my dogs weren’t. I’ve since read how hunters used to run down animals until they were exhausted in the book:

The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease by Daniel E. Lieberman.

Running barefoot is natural!

Running barefoot is natural!













I’ve also changed my running style and bought “barefoot” shoes, these have zero drop heels and wide toe to allow your foot to spread and grip naturally and I now run mostly using my toes and not my heels. I also now wear these type of shoes during the day as well as they just seem more comfortable and natural. Why wear shoes with a heel?

Try reading:
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall for a full explanation and also a gripping true story of natural barefoot runners.

Born to run barefoot?

Born to run barefoot?













The French countryside around us is really peaceful and I have only ever once, in the last nine years bumped into anyone else in the forest on my morning runs. Perhaps another run tomorrow?

Running in the French countryside

Coffee, why can’t the French make it?

November 3, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: France 

French coffee is always a disappointment to me!

I’ve been living in France now for nearly nine years and the only places I’ve managed to have a decent coffee served is by foreign run bars/cafés.

That’s actually not totally true as I have made my own coffee in French run bars whilst demonstrating how to make a coffee properly.

Maybe it’s different in other parts of France, but I doubt it. I’ve been visiting and working in France since I was about nineteen and I don’t remember a decent cup – anywhere.
So am I a really fussy snobbish coffee bore? I don’t think so. What I do expect though is:
A decent crema
Good strength – not too weak
If with milk a nice head either frothed or smooth.

So when you watch a French person make a coffee the first thing normally seen is the beans are already ground ready for the whole day (if not the week).

Two flicks under the grinder into the groupset (the silver container with a handle) and then a split second press with the grinders built in press.
(I have never seen a tamper ever used). This obviously results in the pressurised water from the machine pouring straight through the coffee making it fairly tasteless and with little crema.

They have the equipment! When I stayed near Biarritz in the Basque country the Basque run cafés made decent coffee and also over the border in Spain.
Milk: How not to prepare milk for a coffee (all types).
Only put the minimum amount of milk necessary to make the order.
Put it under the milk spout on full then walk away and do something else whilst the milk over froths. If there’s lots of bubbles in your milk it’s not been frothed correctly whether you want a café au lait or a cappuccino.

How the French should make coffee.
Put the coffee freshly ground into the groupset, press firmly with either the built in tamper or ideally a correct sized individual tamper.
The pressurised hot water should then pour slowly through the coffee grains. (Depending on lots of things but about eighteen seconds for an espresso).

Fill a metal jug with milk sufficiently for at least double if not triple the amount you need for one cup. Or two thirds full for a small jug (ideally bell shaped with a sprout). Then place the milk wand into the jug and turn on and either lift jug gently up and down or as I do create a vortex with milk until the correct consistency is reached. It starts off bubbly and gradually turns to a nice smooth mousse.
Pour and enjoy.

French coffee made by me!

French coffee made by me!











Further reading:

Coffee, why can’t the French make it?

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