Ever since his early days working as an Exodus overland driver, Phil Normington has travelled extensively. Perhaps surprisingly, some of his favourite trips have been not so far from home…
Over many years working at Exodus I’ve tried many different styles of holiday – overland expeditions, trekking in the Himalayas, sightseeing trips, even expedition cruising to the Antarctic, but I have to say that my favourite is cycling. Road rides, off-road, and self-guided, the choice is there, and over the last few years I seem to have been on most of the self-guided cycling trips.
Self-guided? The idea is simple enough – there’s no group, unless you bring your own. Exodus books the accommodation and provides transport to carry your luggage from one hotel to the next. Bikes are waiting for you at the start (unless you choose to bring your own). All you have to do is get from one hotel to the next, either following the maps and route instructions provided, or by any other route you fancy. Easy.
And that’s another feature of Exodus’ self-guided cycling trips – they are mostly quite easy. If you’re only a casual cyclist, or are worried about keeping up with a group of cyclists, self-guided provides the answer.
One of the best has to be the Cycling the Vineyards of Burgundy trip. After a train journey to Dijon, this trip begins with a ride along the Cote d’Or, the world-famous Burgundy hills, where some of the best wine is produced. Gevrey-Chambertin, Clos de Vougeot, Puligny-Montrachet – names to make the mouth water and empty the wallet! Most surprising was the way the route went right through the vineyards – those legendary grapes are just at the roadside, without even a fence to protect them. The viticulturists potter around in their 2CVs, a Galouise hanging out of the corner of the mouth.
Another delightful feature of self-guided trips is the way you can stop and chat to whoever you meet at the roadside. One such encounter was with a blue overall-clad farmer, when my wife asked directions in her best Oxford French. After giving us far more detail than we really required, the farmer suddenly said: “You’re English, aren’t you? Do you want to buy a house? I’ve got two for sale, I can show you them right now if you want, come and have a look!”
We explained that we were not looking for a cottage at that moment. The farmer’s face dropped. “That’s a pity, we like the English here – they appreciate the food, the wine and the culture (subtext: they spend lots of money): those ******* (he mentioned a certain north European nationality) come down here in their campervans, they bring their potatoes with them and take the peelings home to feed their pigs. Those ***** (another north European nationality) bring their cheese with them. Imagine! Bringing their own cheese! To France!”
We resisted his attempts to introduce us to the French property market and pedalled on. Away from the vineyards the trip continued to be delightful, with quiet roads, and nice mixture of villages, gentle hills and riverside riding.
The accommodation throughout was full of character, none more so than the two nights we spent at Chateauneuf-en-Auxois, where the hotel is part of the castle. The proprietor served superb food and kept us well–entertained (in French) with local stories. It wasn’t until just before we left that she revealed that she was actually from Glasgow…