Eleven thousand cyclists, the rolling, vine-covered hills of Cognac, French cuisine and wine in abundance (not to forget the superb tipple that this region is famous for). This was not going to be an average cycling holiday.
Semaine Federal, or International Federal Cycle Week, is held in France every August. A different city hosts the event each year and highlights the region's food, wine and natural environment.
Meeting up with six other Audax members after the train trip from Paris, I was immediately impressed with the idyllic location of the camping area among Cognac's sprawling vineyards. Unlike most participants who had come in their fully appointed RVs, we huddled in our tiny hike tents among a group of about 100 tents.
The intimacy of our tent area soon fostered much conversation and "happy hours" with cyclists from other countries.
The camp site came fully equipped with toilet and shower blocks, dining pavilions, bars, bottle shop, bakery, various food stalls and even an ice-cream stall. The whole event was cashless, with all transaction via an RFID bracelet that could be pre-loaded and topped up with credit.
The rides were organized in a daisy formation around the city of Cognac, with each day focusing on a different area. Supplied maps gave us a choice of five rides of varying distances each day.
Navigation was simple and with temperatures between 25 and 30 degrees, this was cycling Nirvana.
Cyclists are known for their voracious appetites and regular checkpoints were well stocked with food, and, in the French tradition, beer, cider and wine.
At the end of a day's riding, cyclists gathered at the bar in the camping ground. After the meal was time for partying as the sun went down and the band or DJ started up.
The final gala dinner was a culinary triumph, executed with military precision. As with all the meals we enjoyed, wine was included and bottomless.
Semaine Federale 2020 is from August 2 to 9 in the Valognes region of Normandy. If the idea of organized rides, outstanding catering and great company appeals to you, build a week at Semaine Federal into your cycling travel plans.