A new month means a new interview! This month The Hub chats with Teresa of Velo Vercors, who together with her husband Roger, run a cycling center in the Vercors National Park which specializes in group training weeks, sportives, and cycling holidays in France.
Ciao Teresa, great to meet you and thanks for the chat! Can you give us a bit of history on Velo Vercors? How did you start and how have you evolved over the years?
Roger Dunne, my husband was a Top Amateur cyclist for 12 years riding for GB and teams based in Luxembourg (ACC Conterne) and in France (VPRC) for the last 2 years of his career. When I finally agreed to give up London there was only one place we were headed for and that was France – The Rhone Alps – Vercors, Drome, Isere.
What are the highlights of the Vercors region of France from a cycling perspective?
The absolute joy of this region is the spectacular landscapes and the huge contrast in terrain within short distances of each other; from Alpine climbs, sheer faced limestone cliffs, lush green plateau to rolling hills and valley roads.
Such diversity offers cyclists of all levels a great choice of routes. To boot roads are well surfaced, quiet with local traffic and generally courteous drivers who respect and know how to pass cyclists safely. I suppose it’s because cycling is such a popular sport in this region, hosting The Critérium du Dauphiné and regularly featuring in the Tour de France.
For those looking for a real challenge, the Vercors, has over 20 Alpine Climbs reaching 1600m with gradients ranging from 1-10% and the majority between 3-6%.
It is also home to the Combe Laval – Europe’s largest Gorge with the road cut into the side of the cliffs – we call it our James Bond road which you’ll know why if you take a look at this video:
For families, we have routes along the flatter valley roads of the Isere Valley ranging from 10km to as long as they want. Each route incorporates other activities or fun places to visit such as a boat trip along the Isere river, jumping off waterfalls, wild swimming, a chance to go trout fishing, so kids and teenagers have a great time.
For the enthusiast convert who only wants to climb Cols on a couple of days we have routes heading west to the rolling hills of the Drome to visit Mediaeval hilltop villages, including St.Antoine de L’Abbaye – one of France’s prettiest villages.
You offer very unique accommodations to guests, several cottages and a B&B style house with central lounge area. Tell us a bit about your property.
This is our 5th year and when we first arrived we put a lot of work into renovating the existing self-catering gites with power showers, well equipped kitchens and comfortable beds. Each one has a private terrace with BBQ facilities with a canal carrying water from the high Vercors running alongside, so its a pretty, calm environment.
Then last year we converted a stone ‘cave’ into 2 ensuite bedrooms with independent access from our garden which has opened up the opportunity for guests to visit us for a shorter period of time. Saying that, they have become so popular we have guests staying there for a week at a time.
We also have a very large ‘Grange’ (outdoor lounge) overlooking the garden with comfortable sofas and WiFi offering a great space for guests to eat, socialize and chill. Other facilities include a large and private garden with a massive plunge pool and a range of massage and reflexology.
We offer home-cooked evening meals and encourage guests, particularly on the day of their arrival to join us as its a good opportunity for us to meet them and discuss what they want out of the week ahead and also for them to meet other guests over a glass of the local Cotes de Rhone wine.
Based in the charming St. Jean-en-Royans with its cafes, restaurants, boutique shops, bakers, butchers and weekly market means time off the bike and for non-cycling partners is a chilled back affair with the opportunity to get to know real rural France.
So instead of the usual cycling tour formula of transferring to a new hotel every night, you offer a comfortable home base with varied routes throughout the region. It sounds perfect for a club or group training week.
We’ve found that guests enjoy our ‘one stop’ set up and like the idea of settling in immediately so they can concentrate on cycling and get a ‘real feel’ of what the region has to offer. With such a huge choice of routes to chose from they generally only scratch the surface of what’s on offer first time round, leaving more for them to come back for.
We can accommodate up to 18 people. We have welcomed couples, groups, cycling clubs, families and individuals from all around the globe.
What level of cyclist do you cater to?
All cyclists, at any level of fitness! We’ve had Olympians, National and World champions to those who have just discovered the joys of cycling.
Do you do day trips to other popular cycling routes?
The Vercors is a perfect mid-way point between the High Alps and Mont Ventoux and we offer day trips to Alpe d’Huez and the ‘Beast of Provence’ which are very popular. We also offer a ‘Tour of the High Alps’ – an 8 day tour taking in the Vercors, famous Tour de France climbs and Drome Provence.
What sportives do you have on schedule for this year?
There are 4 local sportives we support; Vercors Challenge in May, L’ Ardechois in June, Vercors Drome in August and La Dromoise in September. All are well organised, on rolling closed roads with technical backup. The atmosphere is electric with local towns and villages providing music, food and a party atmosphere.
Tell us about your Tour de France week, what stages will guests get to ride and watch?
Well as we all know this is the 100th Anniversary of the tour – the mother of all Tours de France and we’ll be taking guests to see 2 of the epic stages; Alpe d’Huez and Mont Ventoux. We’ll aim to cycle both climbs before the tour comes through and then just recover on the side of the mountain taking in the spectacular colors, sounds and atmosphere. Can’t wait!
Are these your personal favorites as well? What is your fondest Tour de France memory?
Every year brings its own special memories but for Roger The 1978 Tour at Alpe d’Huez had an everlasting affect and fundamentally changed the course of his life.
Share a few of your local French secrets with us – what are some unique and special things guests can do when they’re not on the bike?
If you fancy some urban culture head off to the cities of Grenoble or Valence or if you like shopping, our nearest biggest town of St. Romans-sur-Isere is the ‘shoe capital of France’. There’s tons of other things to do such as paragliding, canyoning, walking, horseriding. The Drome is also home to the largest number of organic producers in France and each year they have an ‘open day’ where you get to taste their wonderful produce.
What do you and your crew do in the off-season? Are you in the region year round?
Its just Roger and myself running the show and up until now we’ve been here all year round. We’ve made some lovely French friends who are also cyclists and have introduced us to cross county skiing which is the perfect cardio training for the winter. Shame its so hard to keep upright!
We’re also just in the process of setting up a cycling ‘hub’ (hope you don’t mind referring to it by this name) in Leitrim, the west of Ireland where my parents originated from. Like the Vercors, its a hidden cycling gem. Hope to give you more details in the next couple of months.
Can’t wait to hear more about it! Thanks Teresa for sharing an inside view of Velo Vercors and have a great rest of your season!
Have you joined Velo Vercors for a cycling holiday in France? Share some of your experiences in the comments!
Photos courtesy of Velo Vercors.