French adventures on wheels


The roads of Southern France can soften the heart of even the most hardened motorcyclist. With rented wheels, you can start your adventure from the airport.

The long-lasting thrill of cycling begins to fade as the confusing French highway signs lead us twice to the airport when we are trying to find the city centre. At this point, it’s worth remembering that a motorcycle trip is a great adventure, during which one will inevitably lose one’s way at some point. A positive attitude is especially important in a country that assumes road users know where the main cities are located – sans the assistance of signposts.

In any case, the French love motorcycles and motorcyclists love France. This is evident from the number of motorbikes on the road and from the behaviour of the traffic. It’s considered self-evident that motorcyclists will move to the front of a queue of cars. And they park in designated parking spaces or by the curb when there’s enough space, leaving normal parking places for cars.

Don't cut corners

Hiring a motorcycle on arrival is an easy alternative for those who don’t want to transport their own bike. Compared to renting a car, travelling by motorcycle is easier, as you need not worry about finding parking places. And in a car you never experience the warmth, smells and atmosphere in the same way as on a cycle.

Trying to cut corners on rental costs is not advisable, especially if there are two people riding the bike. The one on the back will enjoy the trip much more if the machine offers a comfortable sitting position and a chance to lean back.

Along the shoreline, it’s worth visiting Monaco, Antibes, Cannes and St Tropez at least. Of these, the most different from the others in atmosphere are Monaco, just east of Nice, and Antibes to the west. While Monaco is a bewildering conglomerate of outdoor escalators, fenced-off Formula One areas and odd architecture, Antibes is a laid-back beach town with an appealing old-time feel.

Peace in the canyons

It’s well worth spending at least a day or two driving in the nearby mountains. Along the way, you can visit the old perfume factories around Grasse, with free admission. The perfume factories, with their test tubes and huge vats, are just as interesting for men as women.

The mountains offer a complete contrast to the visual overload of the coast. The inland landscape is grey, steep and craggy. At the higher elevations you can see piles of snow. Driving here is a highly active experience, testing motoring skills even if you stay under the speed limits.

Anyone making a mountain trek should not miss the picturesque town of Castellane, with its attractive cafés and ancient houses, their windows decorated with shutters or lace curtains.

Its narrow lanes can – at least theoretically – be negotiated on a motorcycle. The local landmark is the Chapelle Notre-Dame du Roc, located atop a breathtaking incline.

Near Castellane there’s a canyon area that makes a big impression – at least on anyone who hasn’t watched a sunset at the Grand Canyon du Verdon. The mountains seem to be poised to crush anyone who ventures along the route.

Using Nice as a base, here are three different suggestions for day trips by motorcycle:

Route 1: Nice - Vence - Grasse - Castellane - Grand Canyon du Verdon

Route 2: Nice - Grasse - Draguignan - St Tropez - St Raphael - Cannes - Nice

Route 3: Nice - Aix-en-Provence - Arles - Comargue - Arles - Nice

Text by Elina Karemo
Photo by Juha Salminen
A version of this article was previously published in Finnair´s Blue Wings magazine (September 2009).


Published August 2, 2011

Category: Local features