When it comes to cycling, there’s probably one country you think of straight away. France is the world’s number one cycling country since it became the host country of the biggest bike race in the world, the Tour de France. In women’s cycling, there are also quite some races in France, although none of those in existence at the moment have ever reached the same prestige level as the Tour de France. But even without races, France is a magnificent country to visit by bike. Not just the Alps or the Pyrenees, also in the flatter parts of the country France is doing everything to attract cyclists of all kinds of level.
With a country as big as France, there are many cycling routes, all of which are basically a collection of shorter cycling routes, since most of them are too long to cycle in one day. No problem though – this gives so many more options to spend a holiday in France by bike! We present you with some of the best cycling routes France has to offer.
The French Ardennes: Voie Verte TransArdennes
The Ardennes are most famous for the part that is situated in Belgium, with steep climbs like the Redoute and the Stockeu. But, in the upper northern part of France there’s a section of the Ardennes too. In between the hills, there’s the flat cycling route of the Voie Verte TransArdennes, or ‘Green Road’. It starts in Dinant, Belgium and goes south towards Charleville-Mézières in France. This cycle path is 100 kilometers in length and follows the Maas River. There are no cars allowed on any part of the route, which makes it really cycle-friendly! Since it follows the Maas River, the surroundings you go through are very green (hence the name of the route) and there are almost no hills, except for when you go north of Givet.
Since spring, twenty to thirty kilometers have been added to the south end of the Voie Verte. From Charleville-Mézières, the route follows south through le pays Sedanais, to Remilly-Aillicourt. Because this part of the route is new, the asphalt is still very nice and clean, which is very comfortable to cycle on. Sedan is actively encouraging people to come there by bike, so there are cycle paths everywhere, and lots of shorter cycling routes can be found too. It’s apparent from everything that cyclists are welcome here. It’s definitely worth visiting this region of France, one which lots of cyclists have yet to discover.
Meer information at voiesvertes.com/htm_partenaire/departementpart08.htm.
Along the Loire River: La Loire à Vélo
The Loire River itself is only slightly longer, but along almost 800 kilometers of this river, there is the cycle route La Loire à Vélo. It goes from Cuffy, a city almost in the dead center of France, to the coastal city of Saint-Brevin-les-Pins. It covers six French departments (Cher, Loiret, Loire-et-Cher, Indre-et-Loire, Maine-et-Loire and Loire-Atlantique) and it doesn’t matter from which direction you start your trip. There are signposts from both ways guiding you in the right direction. Part of the route is covered by special cycle paths, and in other parts you will share the road with cars, but since these are smaller, quiet roads, you won’t be bothered much from traffic.
La Loire à Velo is especially suitable for people who appreciate architecture – castles in particular. You pass no less than seventeen chateaus and one royal abbey along the route, all of which are very much worth a visit. If you are more a lover of nature, you can visit one of the eight gardens and natural parks that are along the route. As you can see, there’s more to do than just cycling, although that could be more than enough already. You pass the Loire Valley, which has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2000. You don’t make that list without meeting several strict requirements, so it’s obvious that the surroundings are nice enough by themselves to travel your way to the Loire.
Meer information at loireavelo.fr.
Following the Atlantic Ocean: La Vélodyssée
A cycle path that follows the Atlantic Ocean, all along the west coast of France… it seems almost impossible to get something like this together, but there is actually a route dotted out! La Vélodyssée is a 1200 kilometer route beginning in Roscoff, Brittany and ending at the Spanish border, in Handaye. The most northern part of the route doesn’t go along the coast, but through the country. From Saint-Brevin-les-Pins (that’s right, where La Loire à Vélo also starts) to the south, the ocean is never far away so you can have a nice picnic at the beach.
When you go southwards, the road has signal posts with the special Vélodyssée logo on it. But you can also download a GPS-file for your bike computer or phone (which is possible with almost all routes we’re presenting here, by the way). If you don’t know which bit of the route is most suitable for you, fill in your preferences on the website and the most suitable tronçon will pop up, of which there are fourteen in total. Or you can choose your preferred part of the route by the places to visit when you’re there, like the Guerlédan Lake, Fort Boyard or the highest dune of Europe, the Dune du Pilat or Pyla.
More information at velodyssey.com.
Along the Rhône: ViaRhôna
When there’s a cycle path along the Loire River, that other big river, more towards the south of France, cannot stay behind. The ViaRhôna has been created along the Rhône River, which takes you from Lake Geneva in Switzerland to the Mediterranean Sea. A big part of this cycle route has not yet officially been finished. You do find the complete route on their website, and of course there are already roads which you can take, but in order to use the special véloroutesthey’re planning to create, you’ll have to wait. They advise untrained people not to ride the part from Lake Geneva to Pont-Saint-Esprit yet (which is about 450 kilometers of the 700 kilometer route), but they don’t specify what it takes for you to become a trained cyclist. Will your average commute be enough to prepare you for this part of the route or do you have to be a fanatic granfondo rider? The information on the website doesn’t specify.
Once the route officially opens, it will form a great contribution to the already existing Cap sur le Rhône, a network of museums, local heritage and ports, which are dotted along the River Rhône. Of course, you can find all information about this network and other interesting places to visit at the website.
More information at viarhona.com.
Normandy and Pays de la Loire: La Vélo Francette
This route is bounded by water on both ends, but doesn’t necessarily follow water along the route. In the north, the route starts at the English Channel, in Ouistreham. At the other end, the Atlantic Ocean stops the route in La Rochelle. In between, 600 kilometers of cycle path take you from one point to the other over the La Vélo Francette route. It calls itself a wonderful place for slow tourism, a type of tourism which isn’t centered around activities, but where rest and relaxation are most important. And relaxation is something you’ll definitely find when you’re cycling this route. You can visit one of several sights or museums about the Second World War, wander through the Medieval town of Domfront, or visit one of the natural parks that you’ll find along the way. You cross eight rivers with La Vélo Francette, which all make perfect opportunities to find some rest during your lunch.
Again, a GPS file is available for you to download and the route is signposted with the jolly Vélo Francette logo in it. Only in the Orne department do several signposts need to be put up, but it’s planned to be completed this month, so you should be able to cycle a fully signposted route now. The route has been divided into five parcours, which make excellent day trips each, since the total distance is 600 kilometers.
More information at lavelofrancette.com.
Burgundy: La Bourgogne à Vélo
Cycling straight through one of the wine regions of France: doesn’t that sound like a wonderful combination? Pay a visit to one of the vineyards and you might even be able to drink a small glass of wine during your lunch, making your cycling trip just that little bit more enjoyable. La Bourgogne à Vélo basically is a collection of smaller cycling routes which you can combine as you wish. In total, there are about 800 kilometers of cycle path throughout this region and an extension of these routes is being planned for the future. Visit the website of La Bourgogne à Vélo to compose your own cycling route and download a GPS file for your bike computer.
The base of the Burgundy cycling routes is formed by a big circle round the Parc Naturel Régional du Morvan. This park is surrounded by the Burgundy Channel, the Centre Channel, the Loire River and the Nivernais Channel, along which the flat routes of La Bourgnogne à Vélo are situated. The website emphasizes that you have to wear a high visibility jacket if you’re going to cycle in the dark or when the weather makes for poor visibility. This has been determined by the Ministry of Transport and therefore applies to the whole of France, but only on this website has this rule has been mentioned specifically.
More information at la-bourgogne-a-velo.com.
Northwest of France and England: Tour de Manche
Finally, a cycling route that doesn’t only take you through Brittany and Normandy in France, but also goes north to lead you along the south coast of England, through counties Dorset and Devon. Doesn’t the English Channel lie in between there? Yes, that’s correct. That’s why part of this route has to be covered by ferry. Of course you can also choose to just do the French part of this route (or stick with the English part).
The Tour de Manche was opened in 2013 and takes you from Roscoff at the Brittany coast, through Normandy to Cherbourg, and along the south coast of England from Poole to Plymouth. Or you can do this route the other way around. Along the way, you encounter famous places like the Mont Saint Michel, the Jurassic Coast, Dartmoor National Park and Morlaix Bay. On the website, you’ll find suggestions for which part of the route is most suitable for the type of cyclist that you are and whether you’re bringing your family with you. There’s also information on booking accommodation, or you can book an all-inclusive cycling package, so you won’t forget anything on your double country cycle trip!
More information at tourdemanche.com.
Plenty of possibilities
As you can see, there’s plenty of choice if you want to take your bike to France and don’t necessarily need those Alps, Pyrenees or Vosges to surmount. Since there’s so much choice you might need to take your time to prepare before you head out to France. But then again, you can also just go there and see where the bike takes you. You now know there are plenty of possibilities to cycle your way through France and that you can do it safely as well! With the winter coming upon us, there’s still almost a year left to plan your next summer holidays. No lack of inspiration anymore, right?
More information on cycling in France can be found at