Last summer, Caroline took on the Avenue Verte London – Paris cycle route. Accompanied by her husband and two teenage boys, aged 13 and 16, she experienced a wonderful family adventure which she shares with us in this interview.

A family of keen cyclists

This little family from the Eure enjoys going out cycling along the county’s  greenways. They often organise biking days out, carrying a picnic in their panniers, plus a camera, as Caroline is a photographer. Their watchwords: breathe in all that fresh air, share moments together and above all take time to appreciate the landscapes! Indeed, Caroline says as much during the interview: ‘‘Cycling along, you can take the time to contemplate nature all around you, whereas when you’re in the car, everything rushes past so fast!’’

“Caroline, what made you want to tackle the Avenue Verte London – Paris cycle route as a family? “

We often head out for the day on cycling outings, along the greenway or towpaths around Vernon. So, when the possibility arose of tackling the Avenue Verte, I thought it could be a great idea to share such an adventure as a family. The Avenue Verte London – Paris à vélo allows you to travel along in a different way, in a much more gentle manner. Out cycling, you can take the time to contemplate nature all around you, whereas when you’re in the car, everything rushes past so fast! Plus, it offered us the chance to spend proper quality time together. Just us and our bikes! Nowadays, it isn’t easy to tear teenagers away from their video games. It’s true, they’re always connected to the internet! The trip also presented the opportunity to discover something different and to enjoy a new experience. We don’t know London, so to go there by bike.

Rejoindre deux capitales européennes via l’Avenue Verte London – Paris

“Five favourite things about your cycling trip? “

Our first favourite thing, and it really was our very best experience, was meeting Madame Bodescot, the owner of the Domaine du Pâtis at Amécourt in the Eure. Her property is quite simply magnificent. The house, the grounds… everything is enchanting. We were greeted like royalty. And we immediately felt at home there. Madame Bodescot is delightful. We experienced a truly warm human encounter. The atmosphere was friendly and genuine – just what we like. In addition, we met an Italian couple and two Anglo-French couples who were also cycling along the Avenue Verte. The shared dinner lasted a good long time! Our second favourite thing was in England, at the Seven Sisters Country Park. The landscapes are breathtaking and the views magnificent, with sheep close to the cliffs that recall Normandy. As a photographer, I found those landscapes incredible, something not to be missed!

Our third favourite thing was the Côte Sainte-Hélène in the county of Oise. You need to leave your bikes behind to climb the slope, but it’s worth it. The views are splendid. It’s a perfect spot to enjoy a rest and have a picnic, if the sun’s out… My fourth favourite thing would be the Hôtel de l’Europe in Dieppe. Sandra and José gave us a wonderful welcome. They make a great team. We had a sea view and we even got on quite well with the seagulls. To be honest, they were more interested in our breakfast! Come nightfall, it was lovely going for a walk along the coast, listening to the sound of the waves.

Dieppe, en Seine-Maritime

My fifth and final favourite thing would be the Langford Hotel in Brighton, the other side of the Channel. As an aside, I should mention that the first hotel that we’d booked turned out to be horrible. We just couldn’t stay there. So, at 7pm, we went looking for a different hotel and we came across the Langford. They quickly sorted us out and we spent one of the best nights of our trip there. 

Parc des Seven Sisters, en Angleterre

“Caroline, as a photographer, please name three spots you particularly enjoyed photographing “

The Moulin de Fourges, in Fourges in the Eure. That mill is just so photogenic. And it’s rare to find a watermill that’ still in operation. The spot is unusual, charming, magical even. Plus, it was an added delight to go paddling in the Epte River. Next, I’d say the Axe Majeur at Cergy in the Val d’Oise. The place is visually stunning and I love it! Once at the top, the views are magnificent. On a clear day, you can make out La Défense [Paris’s sky-scraper business quarter west of the Champs-Elysées]. As a third spot, I’d say London by night. I’d emphasise by night, as the atmosphere is completely different by day. At night, it’s much calmer and I prefer calm. I loved the lights and the reflections along the Thames.

Repos bien mérité au Moulin de Fourges, dans l’Eure

“Could you share an anecdote or memory with us? “

I’m thinking back to the look on my children’s faces when they saw the sign indicating the entrance to Dieppe. There was so much joy and pride on their faces. It really struck them that they’d cycled a bit over 300km. It was written on their faces: ‘‘WE’VE DONE IT !’’ They didn’t believe they could do it. We even managed to cycle more than 60km on one day. It’s so rare to see satisfied teenagers. They were really proud of themselves and that made us proud in turn.

“What difficulties did you encounter on your trip? “

Overall, it went well. That said, there are some areas in which facilities could be improved, in particular as regards points for accessing drinking water to fill water bottles. We tackled the route early August, during a heatwave. Not finding places to fill up on drinking water when it’s very hot was very difficult, and most of the restaurants we passed weren’t keen on us topping up our water bottles. I also noticed how, along some stretches, there’s a lack of bins. Lastly, we did encounter some problems with signposting and some stretches were difficult to cycle along because of gravel or then gates that made it hard to get a trailer through. I’d also say that if you’re cycling with children, you need to remain especially vigilant on parts shared with motorised traffic, as drivers don’t always respect cyclists. 

Sur le front de mer à Dieppe, en Seine-Maritime

“How did you go about finding accommodation? “

Quite simply via the website for the Avenue Verte London – Paris… at least as far as the French half was concerned. I found all those places via the website. What’s more, they were Accueil Vélo accredited, meaning they have facilities suitable for cycling tourists. For the English half of the trip, I made use of a very well-known platform that begins with a B.

I’d like to make special mention of the gîte municipal in Fourges which is particularly well equipped.  

“What advice would you give for ensuring the cycling trip to London goes as smoothly as possible? “

Take a cycling GPS! So, yes, we had our maps and GPS on our smartphones, but we realised that a specialist GPS for cyclists would have been better. It’s much more accurate and suitable for this type of trip. Next, I’d advise that you take the time to prepare your journey well in advance, at least six months ahead… and plan for back-up accommodation, just in case… Also take bike repair kits, in case of a puncture or a mechanical problem. In the heart of the countryside, you’re not necessarily going to find a bike repair shop! I’d also advise against trying to do too much. If you need to take a break, do so. The route is long and some stretches are difficult, for example in the Pays de Bray area, which is very hilly. Lastly, take a little first-aid kit with the essentials, plus, as far as I’m concerned, I’d say to pack baby lotion… for a sore bottom! 

“What was your favourite cycling stage along the route?” 

The stretch along the greenway around GisorsBray-et-Lu was my favourite stage. It’s not because it’s a portion in the Eure, but quite simply because it’s restful, shaded, in unspoilt countryside and very well laid out.

“You’re from the Eure – did you make any discoveries in your own county? “

The Domaine du Pâtis. I’d say that was my greatest favourite. I think it’s a place that represents our Normandy region extremely well. 

Domaine du Pâtis, dans l’Eure

“How was the Channel crossing?” 

Rainy! We were unlucky. We had to stay inside during the crossing and when we got to Newhaven, the weather was very grey. My sister joined us in Dieppe to take on the second half of the cycle route with us. She was unwell for the whole crossing. Apart from that, it went well! The return journey was much nicer. The sun shone. So, we made the most of the deck chairs to get a tan. 

“What were your impressions on arriving in London? “

Overall, once we set foot in England, we felt in another world. Not only because of the language, but also because of the architecture and the atmosphere. That said, the countryside we cycled through did remind us of Normandy. Paradoxically, we felt more elated stepping off the ferry than arriving in London.

“Finally, can you give us three good reasons for taking on the Avenue Verte London – Paris by bike with the family?” 

First, I’d say it’s an incredible experience, linking up two European capitals by bike. It’s a really good challenge. Second, it makes for a great human adventure. It strengthened our family ties; my children helped me and we supported each other. Thanks to this adventure, the kids have a better understanding of the importance of sharing and helping each other. We also encountered some incredible people on our journey. Along the route, we met a Mexican cycling tourist. We spent time chatting together and we’ve kept in contact with her thanks to social media. Lastly, I’d say it’s about enjoying taking your TIME. Cycling allows you to get away from it all and to breathe!

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