Aussie family’s French adventure on a road less travelled

Trying to decide on a family holiday that older children will enjoy too can be hard. In this special guest post, Philippa Shelley-Jones, creator of the family tourism app Kid Tracks, tells us about her family cycling trip in Provence.

In early April this year, my family of 5  (husband David, my 18 and 12 year old daughters and 14 year old son), took off on our 8 day family cycling trip, Provence Backroads, run by UTracks, a division of World Expeditions, but without all the frills.

Philippa Shelley-Jones and her family on their Provence Backroads adventure.

Philippa Shelley-Jones and her family on their Provence Backroads cycling adventure.

As we were meeting up with my 18 year old who was (and still is) working in a UK school on a gap year, doing something active outside of the UK for a week seemed like a great way to reconnect before visiting where she was working.

This tour was in the ‘introductory’ category which meant we were travelling an average of about 25km or so a day. It was self-guided, which is what appealed to us. However, it allowed us to cycle in comfort.

For an upfront, all inclusive fee, we were provided with everything we needed, except lunch and drinks. This included:

  • sturdy, geared bikes with panniers, repair kits plus optional helmets.
  • a set of detailed maps for each leg of the journey
  • accommodation in family-run, 2-3 star hotels (The French rating system is different, so I would put them as 3-4 star Aussie)
  • breakfast and a three course dinner either at the hotel or nearby
  • our bags transported for us each day.

Overall, it was well organised and we only had the tiniest, occasional issues relating to directions. But we always managed to work it out without too much trouble.

The hotels (with the exception of one which let the side down a bit) were fabulous and run by the friendliest people. The meals were fantastic – we ate some beautiful French food, including WAY too many croissants, pastries and baguettes.

So many gorgeous cafes to choose from - but at least the cycling made up for it.

So many gorgeous cafes to choose from – but at least the cycling made up for it.

Our trip started at a village just outside Avignon, travelling through to Tarascon, Arles, Les Baux-de-Provence and St Remy-de-Provence. Les Baux-de-Provence was definitely the favourite – just gorgeous.

We always ended up with enough time to have a decent look around our destination, either when we got there or the next morning before we set off.

The riding itself was mainly on smaller roads and lanes, including on the original Roman road Via Aurelia, which was pretty cool. Sometimes we were on busy roads, but not for very long and the French drivers were always very considerate – we were like the Von Trapp family in our long line!

Enjoying time together as a family in rural France - magnifique.

Enjoying time together as a family in rural France – magnifique.

Mostly it was not challenging in terms of slope, but getting up to Les Baux-de-Provence – wow! It was straight up! We knew it was coming, as we’d been warned and the map showed the gradient, but let’s just say there was a lot of walking the bikes up despite lots of valiant effort not to give in!

The next day to St Remy-de-Provence was no picnic either – we could see on the map that it was over Les Alpilles but we were not prepared for the steep hills that day! My 18 year old daughter was the only one who did both steep hills that day without stopping. I had my gears set to the easiest and so my legs were pumping at a million miles an hour but I think at one point I might actually have been going backwards!

There were lots of ooohhh and aaahhhh moments as you can imagine. Lots of fields of almond and apricot trees, olives and grapes. Villas and gorgeous villages galore. Castles and abbeys to visit. Pastries to eat…..and pastries to eat….and did I say, pastries to eat?

This holiday provided us with a wonderful family bonding experience. What was great was that everyone in the family could enjoy it on the same level. We laughed a lot and were together all day doing something we could all get something out of.

Philippa said their biking adventure helped their family reconnect.

Philippa said their biking adventure helped their family reconnect.

Not having to worry about our bags, accommodation and meals (except for lunch which was more often than not, you guessed it – pastries) was a real bonus. As was not having a hire car and needing to drive on the wrong side of the road.

It was really relaxing for me in particular, as the family’s driver, shopper, cook, planner, etc, not having to worry about anything the entire time other than reading the map and guiding us (and maybe which pastry to choose for lunch).

I think it was all good value too. About $1,600 per person over 12 (half price for our 12 year old) for pretty much everything – including the pastries and wine.

All in all I would highly recommend it to any family with older children looking to reconnect, but without wanting the fuss of organising accommodation, hire cars, and food preparation.

Kid Tracks is an app developed by Philippa to help children have an interactive experience at many major attractions, currently in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Hobart. As well as learning about where they are visiting, they can gain points and win prizes.

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