though few would disagree that the tour de france has become something of an overblown cycling circus, it would take someone possessed of greater stoicism than i to ignore its presence for those three weeks in july. granted, i make a strenuous effort each year to avoid making mention of the race while it is in progress, but that's purely because i have your best interests at heart. with the mainstream press happy to feature every twist and turn, eurosport and itv 4 providing tv coverage that borders on the endless, while a scattering of monthly magazines are each keen to provide their punditry, stage maps and top tips for paris, i feel it my duty to provide a viable alternative.
it's a hard furrow to plough, but i'm willing to suffer for your art on at least one occasion per year.
but for those who have an overwhelming need to take matters into their own hands by actually travelling to french france, land of the baguette, brie and deplorable coffee, there is the not inconsiderable difficulty of where to stay while hoping to catch at least a small particle of pelotonic action. with the route of each year's event being announced a good nine months or so in advance, there's always the fear that the choice accommodation has already fallen prey to the euro exchange rate and it now seems mostly to be a choice between a tent or the ubiquitous motorhome.
or maybe not. maybe, just maybe there's a prominent link in these black and yellow pixels that might lead to a thoroughly enjoyable and luxurious time away from the grindstone, riding in the tyre tracks of your immediate heroes and consuming delectables just a tad more salubrious than a baguette smeared with brie. and the man who might just be able to assist you with this apparent pipedream is james dow.
for james is one of life's luckier individuals, being possessor of an undeniably attractive chalet in the aforementioned french france. and just to add more brownie points to his armoury, he would be more than happy to rent it out to you during the tour de france, or any particular period of time that better suits your holiday entitlement. but first things first; many of us will have dreamt about owning a chalet in the land of the tour, yet james actually does. how the heck did that happen?
"Well, I love mountains and initially I just wanted to be able to go ski-ing more often and have a bit of an investment as well. I quickly realised that the ski-ing season is so short (and I wanted to use a couple of the most popular weeks) that this only made sense if the place was suitable for summer as well. Although I love cycling and mountain walking and climbing, most ski resorts are pretty dismal in summer, so we looked for something different that would be nice all year round and potentially allow us to live there at some point in the future."
don't tell me you're not jealous? however, france is a more than generously proportioned country with an impressive cachet of bumpy bits that might cater to the winter sports brigade as well as those more partial to lazing by the pool in glorious sunshine. so to place the chalet col de aravis in a more precis geographical location, where exactly is this home from home?
"It's on a hillside overlooking a lovely quiet village called Flumet, which is just along the valley from Megeve. In cycling terms it's at the foot of the Col des Saisies and the Col des Aravis. In mountain terms it's just south of Mont Blanc, between the Beaufortain and Aravis ranges."
those of you familiar with my total lack of geographical precision will realise that the above helps me not one whit, not until i can fire up google maps to have a good look around. i have a rough idea where provence is, having visited there once and i know where marseilles lives, but i cannot deny that i flounder with anything that isn't them. however, i believe i am correct in assuming that my reader is far better educated in such matters and will already have recalled the precise roadway that runs adjacent to the chalet. if you find yourself midway between numpty and expert, perhaps james might educate as as to just how we'd get there from here(ish)?
"Megeve is basically (tied with Chamonix) the nearest resort to Geneva airport and also the nearest from the motorway from Calais. The chalet is 1 hour 20 minutes from Geneva, about an eight and a half hour drive from Calais (We've done it in in that time. Most of our friends are quicker, but we usually take several stops and take a bit longer).
"There are also plenty of train stations nearby (you can take a TGV to Bellegarde, Chambery, Annecy or Albertville and rent a car)."
there's no denying that the velo club peloton has increased substantially of late. granted all things are relative of course, but in place of the mere four who used to ply islay's highways and byeways, on a good day, if everyone's at home and possessed of sunday morning free time, there can be up to ten of us nowadays. though that's a number i'd be happy to refer to as a peloton, i'm well aware that mainland servings are generally on the larger side. however, within those larger pelotons there are usually several factions, friends who form a sub group of the greater good. and those friends are apt to arrange cycling holidays together; you have to admit, it's a bit of pain if you can't all fit in the same cupboard.
so how many can chalet de aravis sleep? "Eight people (two twins and two doubles). And there's a sauna too.
relating directly to velominati rule number 12, the correct number of bicycles to own is n+1. and i'm sure we all know of individuals who will make every effort to take as great a proportion of those 'n bicycles as it's possible to manage. thus, while james' chalet will comfortably cater to eight lycra-clad individuals, that's no guarantee that the number of bicycles in tow will equate to the same. so, as a matter of great interest, is there somewhere secure to store the velocipedes, other than in the bedrooms (just kidding)?
"There's a bike/ski storage room with racks to hang four bikes and space for a couple more at a pinch, though not in the bedrooms please! Additionally, we have a large covered terrace for bike maintenance. There's also a carport which doesn't lock, but crime is pretty non-existent in the village."
as mentioned to the point of irritation, i managed to cycle from london to paris under the care of hot chillee on two separate occasions. on those particular rides, not only were we protected by motorcycle outriders, but following us on our weary way was a van filled with spare bits, spare wheels and a mechanic that had a pretty good clue as to where all those bits went. a solo venture, even when accompanied by the possibility of seven others, is unlikely to have access to such mechanical luxuries. in which case, are there any bike shops close by, should spares or repairs be required?
"The villages nearby have at least one basic bike shop and there are high-end ones around 20 miles away at Thones (Cycl'Aravis) and Albertville (Cultur Velo). As well as having spares, they also rent out decent bikes (Cannondale Synapse carbon or Trek Madone, respectively) and the local shops rent bikes of the aluminium frame/tiagra variety. Mavic HQ is 30 miles away in Annecy."
but let's not forget (as paul sherwen would say), that the whole reason we're her in the first place is to watch some world tour, top class cycling. and in the light of this year's tour de france parcours, which particular stages would we be likely to witness in reasonable proximity to the chalet aravis?
"Stages 18, 19, 20 at the end of the race on July 21-23. Stage 18 is a 17km time trial up the hill (Cote de Domancy) from Sallanches to Megeve (just along the road; coincidentally I rode this route last year as part of a Saturday morning ride with some local friends).
"Stage 19 is 146km from Albertville to Saint Gervais. It comes down the col des Saisies and into Flumet then onto Megeve and Saint Gervias.
"Stage 20 is the same distance from Megeve to Morzine. It comes back down the valley from Megeve into Flumet again and up the col des Aravis.
"After that it's straight on to the Champs Elysees, so IÕm hoping these stages will be critical."
while there is no doubt that the majority of us are totally enwrapped in our own obsessive cognoscenti-hood, intent on a french holiday filled to overbrimming with the minutiae of cycling from both an active and visual point of view, it behoves us well to realise that there are those who have not yet reached enlightenment. though happy to accompany us to the depths of the continent, the last thing on their minds involves blokes on two wheels. while we patiently wait for them to realise the error of their ways, are there any activities in the area that might keep them otherwise occupied while the others get on with real stuff?
"Yes, firstly it's a spacious, quiet house in a lovely location with a nice garden. They can enjoy swimming in the village's swimming lake, walking, (climbing, mountaineering and via Ferrata if so inclined), high-wire activities for children (and adults). They can visit local villages and churches that often have cultural programmes, festivals and markets. For example, the Megeve Jazz festival and Blues festivals.
"They can play golf or if they're feeling flush, take a hot air balloon ride. Megeve also has a plenty of chic boutiques and cafés. But Flumet and the other small villages nearby are much quieter and more rustic. Italy's only a 1 hour 20 minute drive through the tunnel, for those in need of a proper cup of coffee."
at the end of a particularly long and enjoyable day, whether velocipedinally inflected or otherwise, restoring all those spent calories in the ultimate culinary manner would seem the only decent thing to do. but whither those culinary delights?
"The local cheeses are Beaufort and Tomme, among others. There is an amazing cheese shop in Flumet with a good selection of local wines. The same family also owns the excellent butcher's with home-made saucisson (salami).
"There's a local who leads guided nature walks in the mountain, finishing with dinner in his mountain chalet that he cooks himself using local produce.
"Genepy is the local after dinner drink (a strong alcohol flavoured with juniper berries). Many of the local bakeries have excellent patisserie (tarts and pastries) and there are dozens of very nice restaurants nearby, ranging from cosy mountain refuges to nice small local restaurants. Megeve is also well known for several extremely fancy expensive restaurants."
so there we have it. cancel the papers and the milk for the specified days in july, get the car serviced or quickly navigate to expedia's website to book flights, then tell her or him indoors what a wonderful time you're about to have during those three weeks in july. and don't forget to phone the members of your compact and bijou peloton who will obviously be desperate to join in.
the advert is directly below.
friday 10 june 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................