For many visitors to the Loire Valley in France, the historic city of Tours is an attractive starting/stopping point. For many, cycling is proving an increasingly popular way to savour the sights and flavours of the region, with its chateaux, gardens and vineyards, gastronomy, music festivals, troglodytic caves…
Between the Septembers 2017-2018, the number of cyclists coming to Tours increased by 27%. To keep them coming and earn its stripes as a bike friendly destination, the city opened a dedicated centre for cyclists and hikers – Accueil Vélo et Rando – in 2017.
To find out more, Passion4Transport (P4T) caught up with Michel Gillot, vice president, Club des villes et territoires cyclables; deputy mayor, Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire; and president, groupe vélo Tours métropole.
P4T: Why did Tours decide to open the Accueil Vélo et Rando centre?
Michel Gillot: I came up with the idea, although to be honest it’s not so new! I do a lot of sailing, on the Channel between France and England, and really appreciate the harbour master facilities in ports that provide a warm welcome, showers, areas where you can relax, washing-up facilities, and so forth.
Also, since I do quite a lot of bike touring, I thought it would be good to offer other such cyclists arriving in a city the same kinds of services as a harbour master, of course by adjusting them to their specific needs.
The next step was finding the right place for this kind of centre, establishing the dimensions and layout, and the costs, in order to draw up the project and its financing plan.
P4T: What services are provided?
Michel Gillot: Cycling tourists arriving in Tours receive a warm welcome and can:
– change and leave their cycling clothes at the centre while they visit the city;
– use the toilets and showers;
– have a hot drink, heat up food and eat in the relaxation space;
– store their their bike bags and other luggage in the lockers;
– rent bikes nearby for visiting the city;
– fix their bikes in the self-repair workshop;
– pop over to the tourist office just opposite.
Cyclists living locally also use the centre, especially for fixing their bikes and finding out about routes to ride around Tours.
Hikers also visit – either people living in the Touraine region seeking information on walks around Tours, or long-distance hikers, who can use the same services as the cyclists. Note, the city lies on the famous St Jacques de Compostelle route.
P4T: What are the opening hours and how is the centre staffed? What languages do they speak and what about security?
Michel Gillot: There is always a member of staff at reception during the opening hours of 9am to 6pm, Tuesday to November, and every day from 9am to 7pm between May and October.
We recruited a staff of three when the centre opened. They rotate to ensure there are always two present at the centre during the opening hours. English, Spanish, German and French are spoken. As regards security, ID is required when using the lockers.
P4T: Location, location, location…
Michel Gillot: Of course we didn’t choose just anywhere, and finding the right place for the centre took a long time. It is close to the rail station [31 bd Heurteloup], which is ideal for visitors coming from far and wanting to do a cycle tour, or for those just wanting to cycle around Tours, for whom there are plenty of options – long-term bike hire with Vélociti, free floating bikesharing, and on demand provided by operators close by.
P4T: How many people have used the centre to date and where do they come from?
Michel Gillot: In 2018 we had around 10,000 visitors. The number of foreign tourists who came to the centre increased by +47.2% between 2017 and 2018. There were 63 different nationalities. Tous les continents sont représentés. Fifty percent of the foreign visitors come from Europe, especially England, Germany, and Belgium.
The number of French tourists rose by +36.8% between 2017 and 2018, with 20% coming from the Paris region.
Visitors coming from the Tours Métropole Val de Lore (TMVL) region increased by +79.5% between 2017 and 2018.
All in all, between 2017 and 2018 the number of visitors grew by +62.5%.
P4T: How much does it cost to run the centre and who pays?
Michel Gillot: The operating budget is €150,000 a year, of which €85,000 is spent on salaries; €34,000 on rent, the water and electricity bills; €20,000 on organising events like trips and repair workshops; €6,000 on communications; and €5,000 on maintenance. Tours Métropole Val de Loire bears the total cost.
P4T: Are there centres like Accueil Vélo et Rando in other cities in France?
Michel Gillot: While many “maisons du vélo” [cycling centres] do exist in France, they differ in terms of legal status and purpose.
Like a harbour master facility for active mobility in a region lying at the crossroads of major cycle routes, Accueil Vélo et Rando is a first for France and has roused interest and led to visits by other local authorities at all levels. The French cities of Angers and Périgueux have since created similar centres.
We have also welomed visits by foreign authorities from cities including Mulheim in Germany and Takamatsu in Japan.
P4T: What role does cycling play in your life?
Michel Gillot: I use my bike for every day trips and have done so for many years. Whenever possible, I also do 100-150km-long rides along routes in Touraine and, when on holiday, cycle up passes in the Alps and Pyrenées.
P4T: Your views on the French National Cycling Plan, announced in September 2018?
Michel Gillot: It is the first bike plan to be introduced by the State, which has always promised but until now never delivered! It could have been more ambitious since considerable investments are needed, for Tours and throughout France, to encourage more people to get cycling (bike paths, parking facilities, services). It calls for a budget of several million euros, sourced from the State and local authorities. At the same time, we mustn’t ignore the substanital sums also required to maintain the cycling infrastructure already in place.
Nevertheless we must acknowledge this Plan as a first step in the right direction. Here’s hoping it’s the first of many!