Various cycling clubs around France host periodic randonnées, or cycling excursions, and my uncle invited me to join him for two. After living in flat Florida for so many years and never having owned a decent mountain bike, I fell hard for this sport (both literally and figuratively). Both trips had participants cycling through valleys, up mountains, across fields of wheat and orchards of grapes, past castles and old stone maisons, and into forests and pastures. Quite simply, there is no better way to see the patchwork of landscapes that defines southern France. Did I mention this half-day excursion only costs 8€? And if you choose to run or walk the trail instead, it's 4€ (Note: prices may vary depending on the club, but these costs are good estimates). I had the good fortune to borrow a bike, but a rental should run you about 20-30€.
The first randonnée was in Lédenon. We chose the 35 km trail that had us navigating cliffs, stream beds, drop offs, and steep slopes. While I'm clearly no expert when it comes to mountain-biking, the trail was fairly technical. The second in Pont du Gard had us cycling over the centerpiece, the well-preserved Roman aqueduct, and the old stone quarries that were used to construct the aqueduct. Just to emphasize what a good deal this is, admission to Pont du Gard is 18€ per car.
So here we have a half-day excursion that costs next to nothing and takes you through beautiful landscapes and historical monuments, but I haven't even gotten to the best part: the food. If the French are serious about anything more than cycling, it is definitely the food. Your admission to the randonnée includes coffee and biscuits for breakfast before the event starts, fresh fruit, snacks, juice, water, wine, sandwiches, cookies at the pit stop during the race, and more fruit, juice, wine, sandwiches, candy, cakes, cous cous, etc after the race. Basically, you could sign up for a randonnée and not even bike/run the course and still get your money's worth in food! At the Pont du Gard randonnée, we had watermelon, peaches, oranges, tartines, tapenade, quiche, mussels (baked in a fire pit right in front of us), beer, and wine. For better or worse, it was all-you-can-eat. I was in a self-induced food coma.
If you're looking for something to do in France, definitely check out the VTTFrance.com site for events. Don't speak French? They have an English version. This has to be one of the best-kept secrets in France. It was one of the funnest things I've ever done in Europe and a great value.