Took a second hand 2008 BMW F800ST off a local forecourt
with 14400 miles on the clock and after only a short
test ride the minimum of preparation decided to ride
it on an 1800-mile tour around France.
Over the past 25 years I have been a regular traveller
to La Belle France. Inevitably I have become blasé
with the things, which were initially a ‘crack’
about our closest neighbour. Their marvellous bread
that showers the table with crust when you break open
a new loaf; the buttery croissant; the smell of fresh
coffee that wafts from open cafés doors; the
iconic pastis label, oh! I forgot the Can Can! Every
region has specialities in food and wine, in the nicest
of ways France to my mind is a huge theme park. The
country possesses mountains, deserts, lakes, rivers,
forests, uncluttered brilliant roads and what is more
they actually love bikers.
It was with this enthusiasm that I entered into the
Around France tour; joined by 35 MSL readers we entered
the ten-day tour with the same spirit.
plan was to zig zag through the countryside on ‘D’
roads to maximise on French country scenes and experience
provincial life stopping at village cafes with one
riding group and then riding off with another - the
way I remember things were before autoroutes.
Having said that we had to jump on the net work of
major roads to get to our starting point in chateau
country of the Loire 320 miles down from Calais. Here
steeped in history is Frances great selection of Renaissance
and medieval chateaux, Chambord, Chenonceaux, Villandry
and of course where our hotel overlooked, Amboise.
With the group complete the road the next morning
lead off past Loches and its wonderful castle that
once saw an encounter with Joan D’Arc.
long into the trip I soon found that the bike needed
some customising, rear view mirrors were as good as
useless – mirror extensions needed.
Here we found France at its best the route cut through
working farms where white Limousine cows grazed lazily
in the pastures undisturbed by the succession of bikes
breaking their calm existence. Local architecture
changes to white houses with grey slate roofs typify
the region. Try the D675 road it will have you crying
for more of the same. But don’t get carried
away by the occasion, farmers are always harvesting
something and the slow moving tractor, lights blazing,
can turn unexpected tractor without warning.
The major mod needed when we got back was to change
the front discs Which were badly warped – a
common fault with BMWs I’m told.
The day’s 140 mile ride ended through the valley
of the Vezere and our arrival at the hotel poised
on the banks of the River Vezere (a tributary of the
Dordogne) was friendly and genuine.
much has changed in this region since the Middle Ages
bastide towns almost out number holiday homes. Our
ancesters came here for almost the same reasons as
us, good climate, food in abundance and places to
stay. They left behind outstanding galleries of prehistoric
art, a hot spot for caves, Lascaux being one of the
oldest and most graphic.
A larger after market screen was an added extra and
improved the overall comfort and I am sure it benefited
the fuel consumption which hovered around the 57-60mpg.
I liked the computer read outs and general
instrumentation which never seemed to be affected
It seemed a while before we made progress from Le
Bugue. The D61 and D25 proved great roads but slow.
White chalky soil gives way to reddish ochre, houses
are of Champagne coloured stone with square
tiled turrets. Now on the D660 joining the D911 at
we picked up the River Lot whose fertile valley produces
that deep red wine (almost black) from the Malbec
grape. The D911 from Cahors to Villefranche de Rouergue
is one of my favourite sections of roads. It follows
the Lot twisting and turning on the road built on
a rock shelf overlooking the river. It passes St Cirq-Lapopie
that claims to be the prettiest mediaeval village
in France. Certainly its narrow streets and steeply
perched old houses are dramatic. Nearby are the caves
of Grotte du Pech Merle one of Europes most important
pre-historic sites where you can see hundreds of perfectly
preserved wall paintings from 20-40000 years ago.
No doubt tyre wear will increase because of the
smooth no snatch belt drive and the bikes rear end
stays clean, I liked the idea.
it get any better I asked? Try the D922 down to Laguepie
a sleepy little town straddling the River Aveyron.
We stopped here for a comfort break and coffee, a
few photographs of the bastide with an atmospheric
red and yellow Occitane flag draped from the chateau
then we were off again. This is a piece of road that
you could never tire of it has every type of bend
in the book including two vicious hairpins just outside
Considering the bike had done 14440miles the suspension
and steering were spot on, the rear needed just a
turn or two on the preload to cope with two up riding
with luggage. They said that the walnut styled panniers
would never be enough but they were – just!
entrance to the walled city of Albi across the River
Tarn is spectacular. The old part of the city is built
of deeply blushing red brick. The great gothic Cathedrale
is built of this same mellow material. Toulouse-Lautrec
was born there and the museum displays many of his
posters and the roundel sofa where the prostitutes
would sit waiting to be selected by the clients.
Our hotel was further south at Castres still in
the Tarn region. However if you come to this region
you do have to be fond of duck. Le Canard comes in
every guise from cassoulet to confit and our hotel
where we were eating for two nights specialises in
meal here would begin without foie gras, (duck liver)
not everyone likes the ‘fat liver’ it’s
a delicacy and a compliment for it to be served. Next
the high point of the chefs own recipe of the famous
cassoulet. Strips of belly pork, Toulouse sausages,
white haricot beans in a delicious liquor. It came
served from brown earthenware terrines. Ice cream
cake finished the meal. Between servings our hosts
served an un ending quantity on Gaillac red wine finishing
with a sweet dessert wine.
Considering that the bike had covered 14400 miles
and had not been particularly cossetted, here and
there it showed signs of hard use. Despite major criticism
of the brakes I thought I’d done quite well
with my purchase. As for France, well she came up
with the goods the weather matched all expectations,
hotels did as asked dix sur dix.
MSL Tours will be running similar tours in 2012 for
more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org www.msltours.co.uk.