Easy does it in the Dordogne

You don't have to wear a yellow jersey to go cycling in France. Kate Simon and family took the 'Softie' option
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The Independent Travel

It wasn't looking good. Just 10 minutes into our pastoral idyll, a bicycle tour of the Dordogne, and Quincy, our seven-year-old son, had thrown down his bike in a temper. "I can't do it. I don't want to do it. I want to go back to the hotel!" he cried.

I looked at my partner, Dean. We grimaced. This was the moment to be assertive parents, to make him bend to our will. "You can do it," demanded Dad. "I've seen you play football for five hours on the trot. You're just being lazy. We're on a cycling holiday. You've got no choice." Fun then!

This was the first day of our two-wheeled tour and we hadn't even meant to be serious in our endeavours. We were merely trying out our bikes on a circuit of the countryside around our base for the first two nights, the Hostellerie des Ducs in the chateau-topped town of Duras.

Our host, Susi Madron's Cycling for Softies, recommends an extended stay at the first port of call for just such a test drive. Thus bikes can be adjusted to ensure that they suit the rider. And a good job, too, because we'd requested a trail-a-long bike for our son, a genius invention that creates a makeshift tandem which would allow him to pedal or not as the fancy took him, preventing the possibility of tantrums. Yet once the contraption was hooked on to an adult bike, its unwieldiness became all too obvious. And a 30-second wobble out of the bike shed, which saw father head left and son veer right followed by the inevitable collapse into a tangle of legs and wheels, put paid to the idea.

Fortunately, Tim, the Cycling for Softies rep in the Dordogne, had long been unconvinced of the trail-a-long's merits and had purchased a child's bike, which Quincy deemed far preferable. As well as averting crises and being handy with a spanner, Tim's other jobs included supplying maps, pointing out the best routes and telling us about local events that might enhance our rural sojourn. He was also on hand to transfer our bags between hotels, although panniers are provided so thriftier cyclists can travel light.

We had picked a five-day Gentle Tourer, starting and finishing in Duras and calling at Agnac and St Radegonde along the way. Cycling for Softies – the clue is in the name – aims to provide fair-weather cyclists pleasurable pedal-powered tours. So each one is graded according to the challenge presented by the topography, leaving cyclists to select the itinerary most suited to their abilities. Ours would be largely on the flat.

Over a glass of Côtes de Duras – a decent wine with the misfortune to be produced just down the road from all the Bordeaux greats – Tim helped us trace a route across the floor of the Dropt valley to Agnac that would ensure minimum exposure to main roads. The following morning we set off. Quincy's mood had thankfully improved and he was raring to go.

The downside of cycling on the flat is the inevitably uninspiring landscape. We had to wait until we had passed Le Vieux Pont, the old Roman bridge two-thirds of the way to our destination, before we found relief from arable tedium, diving down to the woods on the water's edge and meandering along the riverbank to the pretty bastide of Eymet, where we ate a late lunch on the square.

Our bed for the night was just a mile out of town and up a short hill in the Chateau de Pechalbet, a very quiet spot where we struggled to entertain ourselves. Cycling for Softies' other strength is to find accommodation that rewards cyclists' efforts each evening with a gourmet experience. But the housekeeper's menu of duck followed by duck followed by prunes was a difficult meal to ask a seven-year-old to swallow. Fortunately, the fare offered at the Duras hotel was far superior (more than making up for the lino floor in the bedroom) and the à la carte selection offered the following night at the Chateau de Sanse in St Radegonde was quite superb.

To get to St Radegonde meant returning to Duras and continuing north for as many miles again. We retraced our tracks, taking a detour into the village of Allemans-du-Dropt. But by the time we reached Duras, Quincy's little legs had given up. By now he'd clocked up an astonishing 45 miles.

Dad – the real cyclist in the family – decided to go on, while mum and son took up Tim's offer of a lift to St Radegonde and back to Duras the next morning. Some of us just can't help being "Softies".

How to get there

Rail Europe (08708 304 862; raileurope.co.uk) offers return fares from London to Libourne via Lille from £99 per adult, £84 per child aged 4-11 years, and £89 per youth, aged 12-26 years.

Further information

Susi Madron's Cycling for Softies (0161-248 8282; cycling-for-softies.co.uk) offers a five-day Gentle Tourer, taking in Duras and Agnac or St Radegonde from £680 per adult and £605 per child, based on two sharing. That includes bed, breakfast, gourmet evening meals, bike hire, maps and the services of a local representative. Bicycle insurance, transfers to and from the station and luggage transfers cost extra. Itineraries of varying lengths, across the French regions, are also available.

How to get there

Rail Europe (08708 304 862; raileurope.co.uk) offers return fares from London to Libourne via Lille from £99 per adult, £84 per child aged 4-11 years, and £89 per youth, aged 12-26 years.

Further information

Susi Madron's Cycling for Softies (0161-248 8282; cycling-for-softies.co.uk) offers a five-day Gentle Tourer, taking in Duras and Agnac or St Radegonde from £680 per adult and £605 per child, based on two sharing. That includes bed, breakfast, gourmet evening meals, bike hire, maps and the services of a local representative. Bicycle insurance, transfers to and from the station and luggage transfers cost extra. Itineraries of varying lengths, across the French regions, are also available.

Further reading: 'The Rough Guide to The Dordogne & the Lot', by Jan Dodd, price £9.99

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