In the three-and-a-half years I’ve been travelling from Devon to Die, I think I’ve made the trip seventeen times. I think I’ve driven it seven times, trained it entirely twice, cycled there and flown back once, and since mid-2014 have flown to Paris Charles de Gaulle from Exeter then trained it from there to Die. That’s probably enough to give some perspective on relative merits, at least from a personal perspective – it might also be helpful for others travelling to the area, or elsewhere in the Alps, with bikes, or for Bike-Related Activities. I’ll give some thoughts on each method.
Firstly, driving. This has the distinct advantage that you go door-to-door, with everything chucked in the car one end, and removed the other. If you are taking bikes, you can put them on a rack (I’d highly recommend the cheap-but-cheerful-but strong-as-a tank Halfords towbar-mounted bike carrier if you are taking more than one bike.) The big downsides of going this way are the amount of driving (it’s about 19 hours for the 850 miles on a good trip from Devon), and the expense (including 150 euros in tolls if you go on the autoroutes from Calais – the quickest and easiest way). And unless you are going to stop overnight, you’ll need at least two drivers: with two drivers it’s still hard work, with three or four, it’s a doddle. And there’s the rub – if you can get a group of three or four together, it’s cheap, do-able within a long day if you time it right (you need to avoid the traffic on the M25 and at Lyon), and convenient. And it has the very big bonus that you don’t have to worry about boxing up bikes and making sure you can take them on various transports: once you’re set up with the towbar and rack (it’s worth the investment, even for one trip), you’re sorted. I think the cost is about £400 all in, but excluding wear-and-tear. So a bargain if three or four are going.
Secondly, train the entire way. From Devon this is a very long haul: the killer is the four or five hours you need to allow to get to St Pancras. I’ve done this twice, without bike, and it’s do-able, not too stressful (much less so if you change at Lille rather than Paris Gare du nord/Gare de Lyon), but these days you need to check very carefully about bike transport. I have the luxury of having a bike down in Die already, so it’s just me and a rucksack to worry about. The cost for me has been about £260 all in, if memory serves correctly.
Thirdly: plane/train. The stark fact is that when I train all the way, the train from Lille stops at Charles de Gaulle airport: it’s taken me seven hours and about £100 to get there. There are daily flights from Exeter that get me there for about £60 in 90 minutes, or, from my front door, cycling to the airport, in three hours, all in. Again, I’m not worrying about anything other than hand luggage, and added bike and hold luggage would change the calculation, but being able to get off the plane and be in the TGV station within 20 minutes is good going. It’s a bit frustrating that the last 60km from Valence to Die can be tricky for timing (the last train or bus is about 7pm), and with Flybe’s change of flight times from Easter I’ve had to resort to cheap hotels in Paris or Valence to make the timings work, but actual moving time is reduced to about 5.5 hours from Die to Exeter. For this year’s Easter trip the cost of flights and trains is about £160, and another £70 for two nights in handy hotels.
Lastly, cycling there and flying back. This was when there were flights back to Exeter from Avignon (alas, no more). It was a wonderful trip, and certainly worth considering as a one-off, if you can sort the logistics. But cycling lightweight and unaided is not a cheap way of getting there, as you are reliant on B&Bs and buying as you go as necessary. And all those restaurants, when you’re burning thousands of calories a day, are far too tempting.
So, there you are, some options. Of these, I think that, for the distance, if you can get a group together, driving is the best option, if you want to take your own bikes. If you are happy to hire bikes (there’s a decent service provided by Vélodrôme in Die) and you’re near London, there’s probably not a lot of difference between train and fly/train. If you’re away from London, and there’s a decent flight service to an airport not too far from Die (e.g., Geneva, Lyon, Nice, Avignon), then that’s certainly an option worth considering.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, two of the joys of Die are its location (weather and scenery), and its relatively off-the-beaten-track quality, so you have to do a bit of work to get there. But it’s definitely worth it. I might have made the trip seventeen times (bang goes my carbon footprint credentials), but I’ve already got the next three trips booked and paid for.
Oh, if you want a photo or two, a quick snap from yesterday’s snatched ride before departure, and more appropriately, one of Valence TGV station from this morning. A friend of mine wondered if taking photos of train stations qualified me as “the full bonkers barmy”; but I like Valence TGV station, and the light this morning was nice. So there. But I’ll also accept I might be slightly barmy too.