OUR TOP PARKS FOR CYCLINGCavendish and Froome...? You don’t need to be a world-beating, hyper-fit Tour de France hero to revel in the joys of cycling. You needn’t pack a yellow jersey either. Just your shorts and t-shirt will do. And forget slogging up vertical hills in the boiling sun, jammed in the peloton, hotly pursued by tooting cars. The family cycle ways close to Al Fresco Holiday parks are gentle, serene, pleasant and quiet, smooth as the sole of a slipper, with plenty of room to ride abreast in comfort. You get a wide choice of machines too, one to suit all ages, shapes and sizes. You can even book on site in many cases, with specialist teams ready to help at the end of the phone. So if you don’t like to sit beside the pool all day, there are plenty of opportunities to get some fresh air up your nostrils and enjoy the ride...
With the sparkling harbour of fabulous Frejus only 3 miles away, and the same for historic, old Saint Raphael, who could resist a lazy pedal by bike, breathing in the classic Cote D’Azur countryside over the jolly old handlebars? The routes are safe and sound, needless to say, so you can take your eyes off the kids from time to time to concentrate on the scenery. The mighty Esterel Forest is on the doorstep as well, featuring a labyrinth of paths weaving through the trees, offering cool shade and fresh pine aromas. The hiring is done off site, but staff will help you with the necessary booking details.
Of course, many visitors choose this prestigious park for its proximity to Disneyland. But you can make your own amusements here en velo (by bike). Pick your steed from the purpose-built cycle centre and head for the trail. In other words, sort yourselves out with the perfect bike – they have all shapes and sizes here from tot-mobiles with stabilisers, through to knobbly-tyre teen machines and trendy, modern tandems. The trails too are varied to suit all styles – you can pop into the fabulous forest, like many families do, or try a more sedate route around the park itself. You won’t need to change gear much – the cycle paths are smooth and flat, ideal for a gentle potter through the pristine gardens to the lake, riverside or from pool to pool.
If the youngsters don’t want to wander with mum and dad along the park’s pleasant, level roads breathing in the bracing Brittany air, they can always stick to their own Bicross track, hurling the BMX over and under crazy undulations. There are plenty of bikes to choose from here, simply take your pick and head for the coast. And what a coast it is. You’re only 1.5 miles from Carnac Plage (even closer to the famous stones) and pretty, old La Trinite Sur Mer is only a 2 mile stretch – just far enough to warrant parking the bikes and munching a crepe or two by the quayside. NB: park personnel will remind you to keep to the right as you pedal down the ‘highway’.
Mum, dad, teen, tot... they’ve got a bike to suit the lot. Mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, tandems, trailers, even scooters for those less confident in the saddle. You can hire bikes daily or weekly direct on site too, which is nice. Plus, for extra peace of mind, if in the unlikely event that you need assistance with minor repairs en route, the camp equipe will despatch help. Now what could be better than that? Well, stunning scenery for a start; which you will certainly find here, including the classic Canal du Midi, and the astonishing ‘Thau Pond’ lagoon, famous for its fabulous fish and oysters. The Marseillan-Sete route (soft, sandy track in parts, smooth tarmac in others) is extremely well travelled, signed and very safe for youngsters.
This luxurious park is not only close to the fascinating fishing village of Port Grimaud, it is also at the heart of a network of wonderful cycling paths, which feed into the many and varied delights of the Cote d’Azur. Places such as the palm-shaded corniche of Saint-Maxime, or the superstar sights and sounds of glitzy ‘St-Trop’. Best of all, you can access the tree-lined, super-smooth tarmac trails from your own doorstep. And you needn’t worry about getting lost – all are well-signed, or if you prefer to go with a guide, the park offers nice-n-easy organised tours in and around the glorious Golf de St Tropez.
If you fancy a change of scenery that does not include Mickey Mouse and his gang, then you can always hop on a bike at Paris-Est and take in the local colour and spectacle of quite a different kind. This park offers cycle hire and numerous itineraries ‘en velo’ to suit riders of all ages and abilities. Of course, the pretty, activity-packed Parc de Tremblay (75 hectares) is a mere 100m shuffle away along super-smooth paths, or you can venture further afield into the lush, green Bois de Vincennes, ease along the banks of the rippling Marne, or head for the myriad, fabled delights of the French capital itself – just 7 miles away.
Sanguli is a firm favourite with families for all sorts of reasons, not least of which is the easy way to see the surrounding area by bike. And what an area it is – take sizzling Salou, just a 20-minute tootle, with its famous PortAventura and Aquopolis theme parks. Then there’s quaint old Cambrils, a 40-minute breeze. Both are worth a look - and the safe, beach-side paths take in the cracking coastline, dotted by ice cream stops to keep you well topped up along the gentle journey. Bike hire is off-park, though Sanguli will help with all the necessary booking arrangements, like child seats and helmets, and you have the freedom to choose to keep the bikes anything between an hour and a week.
Set in the splendid grounds (45 hectares) of a wonderfully restored chateau, you are surrounded here by beautiful shrubs and trees that line the many and varied paths just crying out for exploration by bicycle. You can hire them from the park, whose team will furnish you with a map of easy routes. Once you’ve warmed up your cycling legs, you will probably want to venture down quiet, country roads to places such as Marennes (3 miles), where hungry riders can fill up on the famously succulent oysters. Or perhaps you’d like to go a little further and visit the forest of La Coubre – a cyclist’s dreamland, criss-crossed by gently undulating paths that snake through the maritime pines. Catch the lighthouse at La Coubre Point, and on the way back pop into La Palmyre Zoo. Serious riders may attempt the 100km circuit around the Island of Oleron.
This is a five-star park, so you would expect a five-star ‘Bike Park Team’ to go with it wouldn’t you – and you get one! Here the dedicated equipe is on hand to offer not only expert advice, but also provide you with all the back-up and service you need – just like being in the Tour de France...Well, the pace you choose might not be quite that extreme. But you’ll find the ideal bike for all the family amongst the 500 models available, from teeny wooden, pedal-less tot trundlers to thoroughbred mountain machines to tandems to velos de ville to the bizarre ELLIPTIGO. Whichever you plump for, you’ll find the satin-smooth, ultra-wide paths are perfect for lazy wheeling along to the Rue de Commerce for the morning croissants...you even have a bike basket to plonk your pastries in.