Kicking off our Ultimate Trip series is Jimmy Carroll's London to Monaco ride.
Starting in London, this ride heads out across the Kent hills to Folkestone, crosses the Channel, and traverses France north to south starting in its northern lowlands, passing through its undulating wine country, and then crossing the Alps before descending down to the sea.
The ride earns a place in our top 10 rides in Europe for its variety of terrain, its stunning landscapes and...of course...the exceptional gastronomie of our nearest neighbours.
Riding the length of France and seeing the spectacular changes in its landscape
★ ★ ★
When to go
Mid August - mid September
Why is it Europe's best?
| The fantastic cycling culture in France, the mountains, the sea, and everything in between|
A few years ago, Jimmy had an idea. He loved cycling and he loved the planet. He was working for a company, Winch Design, which designed yachts and wanted to host a large charity cycle. So he created the London to Monaco ride. It would raise money for the Blue Marine Foundation which works to save our seas, it would involve crossing France on two wheels, and it would arrive in Monaco in time for the Yacht Show.
Now gearing up for its third edition, this trip first took place in 2016 with 40 riders. Over 10 days they passed through three countries, were welcomed to two palaces, cycled a combined 15,000km with 16,000m of elevation and burned 3 million calories between them. To top it all off, they were seen off from the Tower of London by Duran Duran's Simon Le Bon and were welcomed to Monaco by none other than Albert, Prince of Monaco at his palace. And to top that, Tiffany Cromwell - one of Australia's top female road cyclists - tagged along too. The undoubted highlight though? The camaraderie of 10 days in the saddle as a group (and raising £250,000 for the charity).
Jimmy, an experienced cycle adventurer with a few tours under his belt - including trips to Paris and around Iceland - but says that plenty of novices joined in this trip. Physical fitness is definitely key but the main thing is to be able to cycle at least one 80km and one 100km ride in training and to get going at the right pace. London to Monaco had a couple of groups riding at different paces: one at a 31km/h (ish) pace, and the other at 25km/h.
After a gentle ride through the Kent countryside and a quick hop, skip and a jump over the Channel, the group started in earnest with a blast through the flat northern France. A few long days in the saddle saw the group cover several hundred kilometres over just a few days as they powered east of Paris and down through the cities of Troyes, Dijon and Mâcon.
With a great team of support riders and drivers, the team arrived at lunch stops to find tables of food (and we know that France does great food) laid out to await their arrival. Sore muscles could also have some respite on the massage tables. Sounds bliss!
With a good number of kilometres under their belts already, the team hit the hilly, and then mountainous, Rhône Alps and Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur regions. The Rhône Alps provided a great warm-up for what was to come, and lead the team past countless vineyards. Cycling in the middle of September also meant that the group coincided with France's annual 'vendanges' season - when students and other seasonal workers from France and across Europe descend on the regions vineyards to help with the grape harvest. Encountering these jolly groups across the hillsides was one of Jimmy's big trip highlights.
After hitting Provence, the team headed up the 'beast' that is Mont Ventoux. At 1,912m it is the region's tallest mountain and has gained notoriety thanks to its inclusion in the Tour de France. It even makes it into Red Bull's 'World's hardest cycling climbs' and, with no trees at the top, is home to some pretty powerful wind.
A tough challenge late in the ride but a must-do and see, and from there all that remained was the final stretch to the coast.
With every one of the 40 riders making it to Monaco, the group passed the finish line tired but triumphant after an epic ride. Still enough energy for a fist bump with Al though!
What a trip! If this has whet your appetite for a Gallic adventure, keep an eye out for a dynamic route of this ride in our app later in the spring. If you fancy taking part in the 2018 edition of the London to Monaco Blue Marine ride, there's still time to sign up. It will take place September 19-25 2018 and Jimmy's mixing things up a bit to incorporate a couple more countries. Provisional itinerary:
Day 1: London - Dover (134km / 84 miles)
Day 2: Dunkirk - Roubaix (120km / 75 miles )
Day 3: Mondorf - Strasbourg (189km / 118 miles )
Day 4: Strasbourg - Basel (139km / 86 miles)
Day 5: Martigny- Ivrea (170km / 106 Miles)
Day 6: Ivrea - Albenga (185km / 115 miles)
Day 7: Albenga – Monte Carlo (96km / 60 miles)
Day 8: Travel Home
Follow our blog for the next couple of months as we write about the other nine top adventures in Europe.