By Maggie LaCoste
EuroVelo, veloroute and voie verte–what they are, and what is the difference between them? This is the number one question I get e-mails on, so I thought I would update and republish a post a wrote in 2011 describing each and what they offer recreational cyclists in France.
EuroVelo is a project to develop a network of high quality cycle routes that links all countries in Europe. The network is overseen by the European Cyclists’ Federation which is an umbrella organization for national cycling organizations throughout Europe.
As of January, 2012, the network is comprised of 14 routes encompassing over 70,000 km, of which over 45,000 km is completed. For those who cycle in France, the EuroVelo name is easily recognized. Of the 14 European routes, six of them go through France: EuroVelo 1, the Atlantic Coast Route, EuroVelo 3, the Pilgrim’s Route, EuroVelo 4 and 5, EuroVelo 6, the Great Rivers Route and EuroVelo 8, the Mediterranean Route.
The routes can be used by long distance cyclists, weekend cyclists or by those just looking for a fun way to spend an afternoon. Itineraries that are part of the EuroVelo network include segments that are greenways, totally car free cycle paths called voie verte in France, and veloroute, low traffic, usually rural cycle paths. All of the routes that I have ridden on are a combination of the two.
In order for a cycle route to be part of the EuroVelo network it must meet the following minimum requirements:
- have no gradient above 6%
- be wide enough for 2 cyclists
- have an average of no more than 1,000 cars a day (although on most routes in France, this number is much lower)
- have a hard surface for more than 80% of its length
- be open for bicyclists year round, have lodging available every 50 km, food every 30 km, and public transit every 150 km
If you are looking for information on EuroVelo, the best information can be found at the website of the European Cyclist’s Federation. As of today, the only routes that have their own websites are EuroVelo 6, the Great Rivers Route and EuroVelo 12, the North Sea Route. For all the other routes, you can find independent websites reporting on the routes or part of the routes, or websites reporting on the routes in particular countries, some of these are helpful, some not. One website that does offer reliable information on EuroVelo routes 5 and 8 is CyclingEurope. To address the need for a central information resource for information on the EuroVelo network, the European Cyclists Federation plans to eventually expand the EuroVelo website with more route information, so watch for more news on this. Experience France by Bike will continue to provide general information on the progress of EuroVelo as well as information on routes that exist within France.
So as you are exploring different bicycling itineraries in France, it might be helpful to understand the difference between veloroute, voies vertes, cycle lanes and cycle paths. It can be a bit confusing, but the great news is that they are all perfectly suited to easy recreational bicycling!
A veloroute is a medium to long distance scenic bicycling path that is normally quite flat. With few exceptions, the gradient will be less than 3% and the number of cars will be less than 1,000 cars a day, but in many instances the volume is much less. Veloroute may be made up of a variety of road types: greenways or voies verte, canal or lakeside paths, quiet country roads, agricultural roads, cycle paths and cycle lanes. Veloroute are not exclusively for bicyclists, they may be shared with other pedestrians like roller-bladers or walkers. Examples of Veloroute in France include itineraries like La Loire a Velo, Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean, the Canal du Midi, Paris to Mont-Saint-Michel and Paris-Strasbourg.
Voies verte are totally car-free paths, reserved for walkers, bicyclists, roller-bladers and people in wheelchairs. Known as greenways in England, radweg in Germany and vias verdes in Spain, they are the most popular recreational cycling paths in France, as well as throughout Europe. Unlike veloroute which are medium to long distance cycle routes, voies verte tend to be shorter in length, usually between 10-50km, and they also tend to be near larger towns and villages, making them perfect for day outings as well as for longer distance cyclists.
Many voies vertes are along canal towpaths, abandoned rail lines or old logging roads that are now dedicated recreational paths. They are flat for the most part–the highest grade is 3%, thus making them the perfect choice for recreational cycling. Voies verte are perfect for family outings or for anyone looking for a peaceful, relaxing cycling adventure without the stress of automobile traffic.
Some of the more popular Voie Verte in France are the routes from Givry to Cluny in Burgundy, which was the very first greenway in France, the greenway around Lake Annecy, from Bordeaux to Lacanau to Arcachon on the Atlantic, from Saumur to Tours on the Loire and from Toulouse to Castelnaudary on the Canal du Midi. Another popular route is the Canal du Centre which I rode and wrote about last summer. A very popular local trail near Bordeaux is the Roger Lapebie Trail. This 50 km trail runs from the edge of Bordeaux to Sauveterre-en-Guyenne and is a very popular weekend route with plenty along the route to see and do, and a perfect addition to a planned trip to the Bordeaux area.
Two other categories that you may see referred to are cycle paths and cycle lanes. Cycle paths are defined by the French Highway Code as one-way or two-way lanes that are separate from the roadway and are reserved exclusively for cyclists. These are common over bridges where bikes are not permitted in the traffic lanes. Cycle Lanes are also defined by the French Highway Code as being only for cyclists. They are identified by the bicycle markings directly on the pavement or road surface, and they are primarily found in urban areas, defining traffic lanes exclusively for bicyclists.
The best current source of information on Voie Verte is the French Association for Green routes and Cycle Routes, commonly referred to as the AF3V. Here you can find up to date maps and a search engine to locate green routes in each department in France. Much of the material is currently only available in French, but you can easily use Google’s Babelfish to translate. Another resource is the Association Francaise des Voies Vertes, but once again the material is in French, but you can use Babelfish to translate.
Hopefully this information will help you understand the differences between these three types of European cycleways. EuroVelo are multinational, and can include veloroute and voie verte. Veloroute in France can include sections of voie verte, as is the case with the Loire a Velo, the Canal du Midi, canal routes in Brittany and several of the Burgundy by Bike routes. The piece de resistance is the voie verte–totally car free, stress free cycling, perfect for families, young and old. These are definitely my favorite bike paths in France, but most routes that I bike are a combination of veloroute and voie verte, both offering a relaxing, peaceful way to explore the French countryside!