A Local's View
After leaving a stressful London life behind, Teresa Harte enjoys running a cycling holiday company
How did you come to settle in St-Jean-en-Royans?
Roger, my late husband, finished the last two years of his international cycling career with a French team called Vélo Club Romanais Peageois, based in Romans-surIsère, back in 1989 and immediately fell in love with the area. I joined him in 1990 and having borrowed an old shopping bike from the directeur sportif of his team, set off to explore the region while he was out training. I felt liberated and couldn’t get enough of the quiet, pothole-free roads and I found the huge diversity of terrain so exciting. We considered staying in France after he finished his contract, but at the age of 24 I felt I needed to get back to London and ‘get a real job’. It wasn’t until 2007 that we decided to move to France having had enough of the stresses of London life.
What attracted you to the Vercors?
We knew it was an undiscovered gem for cyclists with its spectacular landscape, routes, quiet roads and clement climate.
Did you find it easy to find a property?
We set our sights on St-Jean-en-Royans as we had some good Australian friends who spent three months every year there. We contacted Monique Clément ( see our interview on page 26), a local estate agent in St-Jean and set a date to view some properties. The property we bought was the second property we viewed and the moment I visited the former wood mill, I knew I would be very happy to live here. The fact that the property had three gîtes was a bonus and gave us the idea to set up a specialist cycling holiday base. Over the years we’ve added B&B rooms, an outside barn for guests to relax and eat, and designed a wonderful garden and potager.
What led you to set up Vélo Vercors?
As an ex-international rider with 13 years of riding in Europe and representing GB as a top amateur, Roger knew what makes a great cycling holiday. He was also passionate about the Vercors and wanted to make it a cycling destination for cyclists from all around the world. I had the marketing and PR skills (prior to moving to France I was marketing manager at Virgin Records), so we complemented each other very well. However, there was no strategic plan and Vélo Vercors was born out of an organic process, year-on-year continually renovating the old wood mill, converting the caves into B&B rooms and continually addressing the needs of our guests. The 10th anniversary of Vélo Vercors is in 2018 and we have achieved our goal of making the Vercors a ‘destination’ for cyclists.
Describe your local landscape – what makes it so enjoyable to cycle there?
The Vercors is home to some of the most impressive roads in France with spectacular scenery from soaring limestone cliffs, vertiginous drops to the valleys below, gorges, canyons, rivers and grassy plateaux. Within a very short distance, the terrain changes from Alpine cols, to the rolling hills of the Drôme, to the flatter Isère valley roads, and the choice of routes is huge. Roads are very quiet with only local traffic, no potholes and a smooth tarmac finish. The Tour de France has visited the region on numerous occasions and there are many local cycling events to enjoy.
What do you most enjoy about living in the Vercors?
There are so many things I love about this area: the spectacular scenery, the tranquil roads, the weather, the fact that it’s a working French region inhabited by mainly French nationals. I love the fact that our friends meet up to make things like wild boar sausages and pâté.
Is there a special place in the Vercors that you particularly like to visit?
Any bike ride in the Vercors is special but the descent down the Combe Laval gorge is spectacular and exhilarating and it was my husband’s favourite. In his memory, the community of St-Jean-en-Royans have erected a bench in a beautiful spot where former guests can stop to pause for a little while and remember him, so it’s even more special now.
Teresa Harte ( second from left) with the Vélo Vercors team, who organise tours for cyclists of all levels