No tourist in Paris could ever claim to have nothing to do. The city is full of little (and large) wonders – from the most famous of its museums to the impromptu bands playing on the streets. When I visited Paris this time, however, I was looking for something different, something I hadn’t done before, and something that didn’t necessarily stick me within the borders of the City of Lights. I found this little treasure in the pamphlets that were scattered in the lounge of my hotel – bike tours! Or more specifically, the Versailles bike tour.
What’s the brouhaha all about?
Bike tours are quite popular across the world, and Paris is no stranger to them. There are several tour groups advertising them, and nearly all of them have a tour dedicated to the town of Versailles. The historic town, with its iconic Château, is not usually a single-day affair. In fact, you could end up spending several days on the Palace itself if you don’t remember to pace yourself. Bikes are a nice way to get round that limitation and actually experience the town as well. Most tour operators dedicate an entire day to show you around Versailles on bike, and it’s definitely more fun than sitting in a bus and clicking away with your camera (or more likely, your smartphone camera).
Does the prospect of cycling for hours on end seem daunting? Well, it shouldn’t. You might want to start doing some cardio in preparation though. Some tour operators do give the option of e-bikes, which make things much easier, but those are mostly provided for longer tours, such as the Champagne tour (another great option, if you are looking for something more rural than what I’m normally comfortable with).
What to look out for?
Most tours cover the various scenic and historic areas in Versailles – the Royal Gardens, the farmer’s market, the forest and the Grand Canal, Marie Antoinette’s village and, of course, the iconic Château de Versailles. Cycling through these areas is a simple pleasure, enhanced further by the natural and cultivated beauty of the natural environment.
The Château is an imposing edifice, and walking through its halls will get a nod of approval from even the hardest-to-please. The hall of mirrors, royal apartments, royal chapel and more can fuel your imagination for months on end. Check with your tour operator to find out whether your tour includes audio-guides for the Palace. They’ll definitely come in handy.
How do I get there?
Every tour has a designated meeting spot. Most often, they are a recognisable landmark close to a station in Paris that will link you up with the Paris RER line C. You go to-and-fro by train, and your bikes will be waiting for you once you get off. Round-trip train tickets are usually also part of the tour package, so no worries.
What about food cravings?
Apart from any cravings for snacks you may have, lunch is the only meal you’ll have to worry about. There are several cafés, bistros, restaurants and food stalls you can buy a variety of foods from. You can go traditional French with breads, cheese, pastries and wine, or you can pick the fast-food options that seem to be a staple everywhere you go.
Any other tips?
Prices for the tours vary, but should not normally exceed €90-100.Having a valid Paris Museum Pass could net you a discount while booking a tour. Since the pass gets you in several museums across the city, it’s a wise investment for those interested. Apart from this, you (obviously) must know how to cycle. Stay in your group and don’t lose yourself in clicking selfies. If you have any questions, ask your guide, and don’t be too concerned if you can’t speak French. Most tour guides will definitely speak English. Oh, and go do some cardio!