I’ve written a lot about day tours and how much I enjoy them. Rather than committing to a week long, herded around like lemmings kind of experience, a well done walking or day tour can add a lot of value to a trip. One style of day trip I had never considered was a bike tour through a new town. I’m not sure why I hadn’t considered them, I can after all ride a bike and I don’t crash too often. But still, I had never been on one before my visit to the Atlantic coastal town of La Rochelle, France and now I’m hooked.
I met my bike guide near a rack of bright yellow bikes in the middle of town. As I learned, La Rochelle is very progressive when it comes to green technology and there are many laws in place designed to limit emissions. The bikes are part of that plan, they’re free for the first two hours and anyone can use them. They’re also one of the best ways to get around town.
My guide that day has lived in La Rochelle for more than a decade, although she’s originally from Paris. She loves her newly adopted city though and has even written a series of historical children’s books all set in the ancient coastal town.
The calendar said late May, but the weather had decided that February was preferable. It was shockingly cold and the rain threatened throughout the weekend. I dressed for summer and many a passerby stared at my tropical inspired clothes as they folded their parkas tightly around their body. As soon as the bike tour started though, my corporal concerns fled immediately.
It was just the two of us, so we could do whatever we wanted. Since it was my first visit to the city, I asked her to show me what she felt was most important to see in the city. She smiled and biked off, leaving me to catch up in her wake.
We skirted along the banks of the bay, watching the boats bobbing along in the marina awaiting their owners to return for the summer boating season. With infinite ease and speed we cut through a park and entered the old town itself. This is what I loved most about the bike tour, our ability to see such disparate sections of town easily and without wasting a lot of time. There’s no way a three-hour walking tour would have been able to accomplish this and I couldn’t have been happier.
We biked down medieval alleys to reveal long forgotten courtyards and Templar Knights barracks. We stopped at the weekly farmer’s market to sample the wares and smell the fresh veggies on sale that morning. More than a lot of sights, which we certainly enjoyed, it was about capturing the feeling of the city. On bike I began to understand the ebb and flow of La Rochelle and a deep appreciation began to grow. Instead of my conspicuous tourist self, I could pretend I was a local on a bike, if even for a couple of hours.
The tour concluded just as the rain began to start in earnest, as if Mother Nature had been waiting for my visit to end. The bike tour was one of my favorite experiences in France not just for everything I learned and saw, which was substantial, but for the experience of the tour itself. I think I’ve found a new favorite way to explore new destinations; one that’s healthy and responsible. Even if it’s not the way you normally see a new city, when you’re in La Rochelle there’s no better way to learn more about this fascinating city’s history.