“After a PVT in Australia and the shock of the fires that ravaged the country, I decided to change my way of traveling. My next adventure will be by bike and in Europe, to meet the actors of sustainable tourism: the Eurovélo project was born.”Clément Thonneau, founder of Xplore Autrement
Europe, so far away, so close… Why do we go to the other side of the world when there are so many beautiful places to discover on our beautiful continent?
Clément Thonneau, better known as Xplore Autrement on the web, is a committed travel designer and bicycle explorer. He set off on the road of Europe, to meet committed tourism professionals.
An original way to combine sustainable tourism and sports adventure.
(On the roads of Europe ©Clément Thonneau)
“Eurovélo is nearly 20,000 km, divided into 10 stages over 3 years.”
It is in September 2021 in La Rochelle, that Clément, 24 years old, pushes the first pedal stroke which was to take him to the borders of Europe: Russia, Georgia.
However, the crisis and the war in Ukraine forced him to rethink his itinerary: he drove to Istanbul, the symbolic bridge between Europe and Asia.
South of France, Italy, Slovenia… The journey has only just begun but it is already rich in meetings and lessons on sustainable tourism.
“I am going to discover our old continent, focusing on certain areas that still suffer from clichés that damage their image and slow down their tourism development.“
After a first stage in the Gironde, Clément goes to Toulouse and takes the famous Canal du Midi which leads him to Sète.
He then took the road to Italy via the Camargue, Marseille, Toulon and the French Riviera.
More than 1500 kilometers during which Clément was able to observe different relationships with bicycle touring.
Let yourself be carried away in this extraordinary adventure…
Travelling in Italy by bike is very complicated… The trains are not adapted for it and the roads and cities are rather dangerous for cyclists!
Clément crossed several big Italian cities, Genoa, Florence, Venice … his observation: they are poorly equipped with bike lanes and therefore very dangerous for cyclists.
Good to know : bicycles are not allowed in Venice! You will have to park your bike in the parking at the entrance of the city.
(The Italian Adriatic coast by bike ©Clément Thonneau)
On the other hand, the north of the country and the Adriatic coast are particularly well equipped with bicycle paths.
Between the north of the country and Slovenia, there is a fantastic bicycle path that crosses the Julian Alps. Despite the mountains, it is made in such a way that the difference in altitude is not too great, between 2% and 5% maximum. The trail is completely away from cars, between the mountains and the river. Some passages even make us cross old railroad tunnels. To resume, a paradise for cyclists and nature lovers!
“Slovenia is one of those off-the-beaten-track destinations that are slowly coming into their own since the crisis. And for the bike traveler, it’s perfect!”
This small European country is particularly well equipped for bicycle travel, a practice already well established in the daily life of Slovenians. Bicycle paths irrigate the territory through the main roads of the country.
For example, you can experience the Bike Slovenia Green, “the world’s first bike tour that exclusively connects destinations with the sustainability label.”
(Lake Bled in Slovenia ©Clément Thonneau)
Clément was able to ride the 750 kilometers of the Canal des Deux Mers, a mythical cycling route that links the Atlantic to the Mediterranean along the Gironde Estuary, the Canal de la Garonne and the Canal du Midi, a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Once arrived in Sète where the Canal du Midi ends, and after a small accident, Clément takes the way of the Camargue, a territory very well adapted and arranged for the practice of the bicycle, in particular via the Green Way and the Voie Verte and the Via Rhôna.
We also invite you to read our article on cycling roads in Occitania !
(Camargue by bike ©Clément Thonneau)
It’s after that things get wrong !
“Between Fos-Sur-Mer and Toulouse, there were no bike paths! In Marseille I had to ride on the highway!”
Once past this passage, the French Riviera is very pleasant for the traveler by bike.
You can for example take the Eurovélo 8 (the Mediterranean cycle route), the Voie Verte Toulon – Hyères or the one of the du Golfe de Saint-Tropez.
Such an odyssey cannot be improvised. Well, not really.
For Clément, the challenge was to plan an itinerary that would allow him to meet with sustainable tourism professionals and partners… like the day he came to visit us in Toulouse! While leaving himself enough room to maneuver to manage the hazards of the adventure.
For the creation of the route, he recommends the following application:
“Knowing your itinerary is essential because it also means knowing the duration of the trip and therefore being able to estimate a budget and plan where to sleep.”
Clément made a rather audacious choice… After having worked in a bike store for 6 months in order to know all the workings of the bike, he chose a vintage bike from the 80’s that he completely restored. An obvious choice for our adventurer who wanted to reduce his impact on the environment as much as possible with a recycled bike.
“Riding a vintage bike with 40 kg of luggage, I must admit that it is very complicated, especially on mountain roads because the bike is not adapted.
It’s an additional difficulty.”
For the casual person who would like to embark on such a journey, here are a few tips that Clement gives us:
However, before your departure, we advise you to ask the advice of a professional who will be able to inform you on the most adapted material for your travel project.
Afterwards, if you have a taste for risk, nothing prevents you from choosing a vintage bike like Clément… at your own risk but we warned you!
(The Vélodyssée ©Clément Thonneau)
“Prepared or not, there will always be problems you don’t anticipate: a chain that jumps, a tire that blows out, getting stuck in traffic… so my advice would be: go for it!”
Is bicycle travel really inaccessible to the less athletic among us? No ! Well not really…
For Clément, traveling by bike is first of all a mental challenge. For the rest, everything is adaptable. If an adventure like this requires a very good physical condition and a previous training, there are bike routes and adaptations for all levels!
Clément gives us the example of the Vélodyssée, the famous bicycle route that runs from Brittany to the Basque Country, along the Atlantic coast.
By doing only a part of it, on a week of vacations for example, it is totally accessible.
Talking about this, we invite you to listen to the podcast we recorded with France Vélo Tourisme to learn more about bike tourism in France and the different possibilities of itineraries for all tastes and all levels.
For Clément, the most important thing is to go from strength to strength. For example, start with 20/30 km per day to give your body time to learn and adapt.
“As long as we’re having fun that’s what’s important, no matter how fit we are. 80% of the time it’s great times, and that trumps everything else.”
Clément has only one word in his mouth…Warmshowers !
What is it? An application that allows you to meet cyclists who can host you afterwards.
“Out of 40 nights of roaming, I used this application 21 times! The rest of the time it was 50% wild camping and the rest… camping, partners or hotels found on the road!”
Clément’s other favorite accommodation ? The Villa des Hespérides in Grimaud.
This eco-hotel in the heart of the Gulf of Saint-Tropez is a paradise for the bicycle traveler and the responsible tourist.
(The Villa des Hespérides in Port Grimaud ©Clément Thonneau)
The Villa des Hespérides, it is 6 accommodations, a natural swimming pool (functioning with a filtration system by plants) and a whole policy of organic and local consumption… and of moving by bike! Upon arrival, each tourist is given a bicycle to get around the Gulf of Saint-Tropez.
“The place is in total rupture with the image of Saint-Tropez. The gap is quite crazy. It’s great to see that sustainable tourism is developing even where you wouldn’t expect it, thanks to committed personalities like Corine and Jean-Claude.”
“One day, the legend says, there was a huge forest fire. All the terrified and dismayed animals watched helplessly as the disaster unfolded. Only the little hummingbird was active, fetching a few drops of water in its beak to throw on the fire. After a while, the armadillo, annoyed by his derisory actions, said to him:
” Hummingbird ! You are not insane? You think that it is with these drops of water that you will extinguish the fire?
The hummingbird replied: “I know that, but I’m doing my part.
The legend says that each animal felt concerned, “did its part”, each in its own way and that the forest was saved.”
The journey by bike is not a long quiet river. An overestimated route, modified according to the externalities… A complicated but committed Odyssey!
So, to conclude this article, we wanted to know what kept Clément motivated despite the difficulties.
(Clément et Patrick, un warmshower ©Clément Thonneau)
“I cycled the countryside of Venice, where no one goes. One part is very pretty and the other is 100 miles of industrial desert. It allows you to see the backstage of postcards that you don’t usually see.”
“Traveling by bike is learning contemplation again and through contemplation comes respect. Seeing nature every day, living to the rhythm of birdsong, it forces respect.”