Here is the wonderful bicycle I used for touring in the Loire region. It is a Gitane Mississippi ladies' bicycle and it came all set up with the mudguards and 3-pronged strong rear carrier. It was just so wonderful to ride. I noticed this bike was quite common in France, especially for groups that had hired touring bikes, but also in bike shops and amongst cycle commuters on the street.
Notice the out-of-focus photo of the seat! The bike came with this super comfortable "Selle Royale". I always thought my seat at home was fairly comfortable but it is hard as rocks compared to this one, on which I could ride for hours very comfortably!!
The gears on this bike were super easy to operate as well.
If you want to read more about my cycle tour in the Loire region in France, try reading from Mid-May until the end of June on my travel blog: http://kiwinomad06.blogspot.com/
or you could read some reflections on the cycle leg of my trip at: http://kiwinomad06.blogspot.com/2006/09/trip-reflections-cycling-in-france.html
PS: I thought that I would investigate getting a proper touring bike here in New Zealand and went to my local bike shop yesterday. I would have to say they were hopeless - eg I was shown a photo of a bike with only 8 gears. I googled and found a place in Chch though that has ex-hire bikes all set up for touring. Worth investigating more when I am down there: I will take my bicycle holder for the tow bar down with me!