I was talking with a friend of mine the other day about my bike adventures in France. He told me that he would love to take a weekend bike trip during an upcoming trip to Paris, but that he feared he wasn’t fit enough to bike overseas. I guess this was a perfect conversation to be involved in, because it made me think that there are probably a lot of people who feel the same way. So I’d like to share some insight with you about biking in France and why it is perfectly suited to everyone, regardless of age and fitness level. If you can walk down the street, follow road signs, and ride a bike, you can take a bike excursion in France.
Biking on one of Slow Travel Adventures’ recommended routes in France is definitely not the kind of biking that people endured ten years ago: cars whizzing by at 60+ mph, narrow paths for bikes which were full of gravel, an accident waiting to happen. Major road biking still exists, and it’s preferred by the lycra and spandex crowd because it facilitates biking at top speeds. But due to the efforts of the French government over the last several years, there is now a new alternative–the greenway.
Over the last several years, regional and local governments in France have invested millions of Euros developing a fantastic national biking network. Seven of the major Eurovelo routes run through France. In addition, there are currently nearly 3,000 km of flat, safe, car-free bike paths in France with more being added every month. Voie verte, or car-free greenways exist in every region of France, and they provide the ultimate in a safe and relaxing exploration of the French countryside. Most of these greenways are from 10-40 km in length. Longer bike routes are called veloroutes, bikeways with very limited car traffic–a maximum of 300 cars a day. These greenways and limited car bikeways are safe and well marked in both directions. There is a growing network of accommodations, bike rental and repair services making it easy to rent a bike, and find a place to stay along the route. Increasingly there are more and better maps and route guides available in English, so if you want to ride independent of a tour company, there are resources to help you plan your trip.
While long distance biking in the US may still be the domain of more experienced biking enthusiasts, in Europe, everyone bikes: young and old, families with small children in bike strollers, and families with teens and everything in between. Biking is the green way to see the world and France is leading the way with its expansive network of safe, flat and sign posted bike paths. You can ride on these paths along quiet country lanes, and peaceful canals and towpaths, with no worry about speeding cars and vanishing medians. This summer my husband and I met a husband and wife towing 3 small children in a bike trailer. They camped every night, cooked most of their own food, and were biking the Loire River all the way to Istanbul! They spoke as if it was the most normal thing in the world. We also met an 81 year old woman to goes to France every year to bike a section of the Loire and eat great food, and drink great wine. I’ve adopted her as my role model!
I understand that the idea of biking in a foreign country can seem a little daunting, but don’t discount the idea just because you think you need to be a top notch athlete. Start small. Pick a section of one of my featured routes and make a weekend trip of it. Or better yet, stay tuned for an upcoming post on weekend bike trips less than 2 hours from Paris. Plan a trip where you can savor the experience rather than just covering miles. Ten years ago, I never would have imagined that biking in Europe would be my favorite passion. But the new bike network in France has changed all of that. So think about giving it a try. It may change how you think about vacations for the rest of your life too!