Enjoy great food as you cycle around one of France's most beautiful regions, suggests SARAH O'MEARA
A 300-MILE bicycle ride in the searing summer heat of southern France, with only a bottle of Fanta and a banana for fuel is few people's idea of a civilised holiday.
But when your boyfriend wistfully describes such an adventure over a bottle of Burgundy in the garden on a hot night, it's easy to get carried away.
And so I accidentally agreed to go on my first cycling holiday.
Frantically looking for advice online I came upon Headwater Holidays, which specialises in trips for enthusiastic amateurs, and booked their Dordogne Gastronomic Cycling trip.
Touring the Périgueux prefecture of France's Dordogne region for seven days, we would change hotel every couple of nights, our luggage following safely behind in a van. The scariest moment would be counting the calories in the hotel's home-made crème brûlée.
The Dordogne Gastronomic Cycling trip has been running for 10 years and pedalled into perfection.
Our itinerary gave a choice of two routes each day. Depending on our energy, and how much red wine we'd had the night before, we would cycle anything from 12 to 25 miles per day.
Our rep, sweetly, gave us a real topographic map. But in reality, printed instructions with diagrams from Headwater were far too userfriendly to resist.
This part of France, favoured by emigrating Brits, is ideal for those new to cycling holidays. The routes are quiet and almost entirely on back roads, farm tracks and cycle paths.
There are also plenty of hills of varying difficulties. Once I'd discovered the joy of
cycling up a hill, getting a hit of endorphins and then whooping my way down the other side, there was no stopping me.
Even without a bike, the Dordogne is a luxurious, magical place to visit. But flying along under a sharp blue sky, surrounded by green fields filled with walnut trees, we felt as though we were absorbing, rather than observing, the landscape.
Châteaux seemed to float into view from behind trees and mist as we glided past medieval hill villages. We felt nothing but smug pity for tourists piling out of people-carriers, shuffling around cobbled streets, straining their necks to enjoy the views.
Our only real responsibility was to find the hotel marked in the itinerary. And that wasn't difficult.
Cycling for four hours every day also meant that we'd happily consume a large dish of pan-fried duck with olives from a roadside restaurant at lunch, before sitting down to four courses in the evening, just hours later.
When we needed a break from our saddles there was usually something a bit special ahead.
For example, this area is the original home of Cro-Magnon man, one of the earliest recorded humans. Many will already know of Lascaux. The site, near Montignac, is where 17,000-year-old cave paintings were discovered almost 70 years ago. Unfortunately for tourists, these prehistoric images are now carefully protected and only copies are on public display.
However, l'Abri Du Cap Blanc, a 15,000-year-old frieze excavation near the town of Les Eyzies, is open to the public.
Another treasure is the Château de Commarque, a few miles down the road. Buried in undergrowth in the heart of a wood it has the magic of Sleeping Beauty's tower.
Visiting in September, we were lucky with the weather, although occasionally we had to cope with some rain and wind. As a first-time cyclist I was keen to be as comfortable as possible, and it paid off.
We also took our own bikes. Admittedly, my Specialized carbon-fibre racing bike was an indulgence (weighing fractionally more than my handbag) but it did make me feel a little like an Olympian.