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France e-bike tour: An electrifying cycling trip from Bordeaux to Toulouse

Travel News from Stuff - 28-11-2022 stuff.co.nz

When I first tell friends I'll be spending five days of my European holiday cycling, I'm met with an understandable mix of surprise, confusion, and genuine encouragement.

I am, after all, no cyclist. But it's the allure of fresh air, French wine, and sunflower fields (along with the enthusiasm of my partner and friends) that has me convinced. Oh, and did I mention there's also the promise of a hill conquering e-bike (that's a bike that can be powered by electricity as well as propelled by pedals, for the uninitiated)?

The headlines are dominated by the rise and rise of the electric car but also of electric bikes, with sales booming around the world. In New Zealand, around 75,000 units were imported in 2021, up from 23,000 in 2017.

E-bike enthusiasts contend that they can encourage more people, perhaps like me, to exercise - and even, , embark on a cycling tour of France - ease traffic congestion and reduce vehicle emissions.

In France I'll be joining a burgeoning two-wheeled movement of devotees of all kinds of cycling, propelled by the green-led Paris 2024 Olympics that's seen the French capital transform itself into a Gallic Copenhagen.

Having just watched the final stage of the 2022 Tour de France in Paris, I feel more motivated than ever. My e-bike and I are riding from one of France's most famous wine regions, Bordeaux, to the famous pink city of Toulouse. Most of the journey, which takes me across the cobblestones of French communes and past countless vineyards, runs alongside the Canal de Garonne, an idyllic tree-lined waterway known for its bike path.

Fresh off the two-hour train from Paris, we catch an Uber to the outskirts of Bordeaux to meet Norbert, the owner of O2 Cycles, who we are hiring our four bikes from. Norbert is a character and shows off the power of our e-bikes, jumping on one himself to do a lap of the car park.

"The turbo is crazy," he says, in a thick French accent, taking us through the different settings. Michael and Mark, who spend many mornings running together, have opted out of the e-bike experience, choosing to stick with traditional velos instead.

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We pack our panniers with the essentials and hand the rest of our luggage over to Norbert, who will meet us when we return to Bordeaux by train in five days.

While the weight of our e-bikes takes some getting used to, compared to the boys' light bikes, whatever impracticalities arise are more than made up for whenever Nikitah and I face an incline.

The bikes have four settings – turbo being the highest – and we take our time clicking between them all, coasting between eco (the lowest) and tour (a touch more powerful, but without the same oomph as the sport and turbo settings) most of the way.

I've been warned that today will be the hilliest of the trip as we navigate the roads leading out of Bordeaux, eagerly waiting to get to the famous bike path. Eventually, we find our way, spotting the first of the green signs that line the cycling route the entire way to Toulouse and beyond.

As we move off the country roads, the fields of hay bales that line the path become vineyards and we spot what looks to be a winery, just a short detour off the path. We ride to Chateau La Freynelle, trepidatiously knock on the large wooden door and meet Jade, who welcomes us inside for a tasting.

We learn that the vineyard recently passed into the hands of its first female owner, who swiftly painted the concrete floor of the chateau a bright pink. Of the five wines we taste, it is the owner's personal favourite, a cabernet sauvignon that we all love most.

We admire the field of wildflowers that grow outside the chateau and then head back on the bike path. The day goes quickly as we get used to the bikes and climb hills looking forward to the promise of rolling down the other side, my bike's digital speedometer hitting 50 kilometres at one point.The roads are quiet and by late afternoon we make it to La Reole to check in to La Parenthese in the heart of the sleepy commune.

Despite the e-bike, my legs still feel like jelly, and I imagine how much more pain I'd be in if I'd been tasked with taking on all those hills without it. I'm adequately tired, but not completely exhausted, which I am grateful for on day one of the trip

We meet Lucie, a kind French woman who runs the B&B, which has gorgeous bedrooms, high ceilings, and a neat garden out the back. She tells us the only restaurant open in La Reole tonight is an Italian pizzeria a short walk away.

I'm not sure whether it's the thrill of having made it through our first day or the effort of riding almost 70 kilometres but the basic restaurant, with its plastic tables and chairs, is a pure joy. I'm sure my pizza, complete with thick bubbling cheese and layers of roasted eggplant, wouldn't quite get an Italian chef's tick of approval but it's a meal I will continue to talk about for the next five days.

After a wholesome breakfast of pain au chocolat and a fresh baguette, served with a selection of jams and orange juice, we farewell La Reole, propelled by the promise that we will finally see the Canal de Garonne today. We ride past sunflower fields, stopping to admire flowers with heads bigger than our own.

Eventually, it reveals itself. Tall trees line the canal, which sparkles with the reflection of the overhanging greenery. We start to see more fellow cyclists, most greeting us with a wave and friendly bonjour as we pass. We rarely spot another e-bike, but zoom past cyclists sweating in their head-to-toe Lycra.

Lucie has told us about a lookout near Meilhan-sur-Garonne, so when we see a sign directing us up a tall flight of stairs, we stop. From the top we see a view across the other side of the canal: vineyards, orchards, and kilometres of French countryside.

Continuing along the canal, we pass under and over bridges, as the bike path moves from one side to the other. Eventually, we leave the Garonne to ride through golden cornfields towards Tonneins.

Once in the town, we stop for a drink at a local bar, reaching the part of the trip where people speaking English is no longer an expectation.

We check in to and cook a simple pasta for dinner, joking about how much Italian food we're eating on a tour of France, before getting an early night, our e-bike batteries charging beside our beds.

The thrill of cycling through fields of sunflowers doesn't get old. Today we are travelling with our panniers packed with our haul from a local grocer: French cheeses, ripe tomatoes, and a baguette, which comically pokes out of one of our bike bags.

Feeling ambitious, we decide to make a detour in search of more wine. We stop first at wine store, and after sampling a couple, we ask if there are any wineries nearby and are told about a nearby chateau that has the staff's favourite rose.

We have time to spare, so wind up the hills to , a winery run by a woman named Helene, who doesn't speak English.

Despite our language barrier, we taste (and buy) her rose, give her dachshund a lot of attention, and enjoy our lunch in the shade outside her home. Full of wine and cheese, we still decide to stop at an orchard, buying freshly picked apricots, peaches, and nectarines.It is a day of great detours and we've read that a night at is well worth the time it adds to the journey. To say the house is grand would be an understatement. We pull in on our bikes, just as the sun begins to set and admire the country house with its trailing rose bushes and wooden shutters.

We cycle to Moissac, a small commune an hour and a half ride from Domaine du Noble. Over cobbled streets and road we admire the series of quaint French shopfronts on either side,

There are more places to stop along the canal today and we shop for lunch supplies and then direct our bikes into a park just off the pathway and order fresh juices from a stall, taking our time to enjoy them in the shade. A little way down the road we spot a bus that's been converted into a cafe and order frites, then ice-creams.

Along this portion of the canal there are many locks and we stand close to the water, watching as a boat enters and waits while the water levels empty and fill, before it can continue its journey.

We arrive in Grenade, another small commune, just an hour-drive from Toulouse. At , we park our bikes on the lawn behind the mansion as we freshen up before heading to a local bar.

After the snaking Garonne we let Google Maps guide us on a cross-country route towards Toulouse. We ride through what appears to be private farmland before taking a barely-there path through trees and returning to our beloved cycleway. There are goats wandering the road ahead of us and we suddenly feel far from the hills of Bordeaux.

Riding into Toulouse feels like reconnecting with the real world. There are people on the streets and bustling stores and restaurants. We grab a table at The Sherpa, a creperie, and enjoy our first and only meal in Toulouse before we get the train back to where we started.

We pile our four bikes on the train to Bordeaux, thankful we arrived at the station early. We watch as more cyclists board and find no spot for their bike, then leave to find another carriage with more space. Norbert meets us at the station with our luggage, we farewell our beloved bikes, and promise him that we'll be back in France soon.

Until then, I can't wait to show my incredulous friends and family videos from the trip, then plan our next e-biking adventure.

If you'd prefer to have your luggage with you every night, there are companies that offer daily drop-off and pick-up luggage services and pre-booked accommodation. has a helpful directory of different tours on offer. If you're happy to organise your own route, offers luggage and bike transfers. Our bike and helmet hire, plus luggage storage, from cost €292 (NZ$494) a person. See ; ;

There are many different towns to stay in along the canal. When booking accommodation look at reviews that mention perks like safe bike storage and filling breakfasts which can, signal that it's a popular spot for cyclists. We found all our accommodation through Booking.com, spending between $200 and $345 a night for accommodation for all four of us.

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