By Maggie LaCoste
The more I read about La Velodyssey, the more excited I get about biking the cycle path in less than 2 months! Like me, few cyclists will probably ride the entire 1,200 km route from Roscoff to the Spanish border. When planning a trip, not only do you have the main cycle route, but there are also hundreds of km of cycle paths to explore that are just off of the main route, areas like the Medoc, the Royan area, Arcachon Bay, the islands of Re, Oleron and Aix. This is really serious biking territory, and all of it is perfectly suited to recreational cyclists!
If you are thinking about planning a bike trip to La Velodyssey, the route can easily be divided into three segments. So whether you want to bike for a day out of La Rochelle, Royan, Bordeaux, Bayonne or Arcachon Bay, whether you want to bike for a weekend, a week or longer, you can choose to start and end your trip wherever it suits your plans. Train service is available in most major towns along the route, making it easy to get back to your origination point.
The first section of La Velodyssey starts in Roscoff and goes to Nantes at the mouth of the Loire River and the last major city on the eastern edge of EuroVelo 6. This segment is a perfect starting place for cyclists coming over on the ferry from England. Riders on this section of the route will be treated to a ride along the Bay of Morlaix and through the Parc Naturel Regional d’Armorique, the Quenecan forest, along the shores of Lake Guerledan, and the banks of the Nantes-Brest Canal with a lock series between Saint-Gerand and Rohan. Ultimately the route arrives in Nantes, a major cultural center and home to the Jules Verne Museum and the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne. Those wishing to deviate from this segment of La Velodyssey can visit Quimper, the medieval town of Dinan and the island of Belle Ile en Mer, all within easy reach of the route.
The second segment of the cycle path runs from Nantes to the famous seaside town of Royan, one of the most charming towns on the Atlantic Coast. I will begin my bicycling adventure in Nantes. This area is characterized by “carrelets”, huts on stilts that are used for fishing, and they dot the coastal areas. As the path progresses south, the weather gets warmer and the area is characterized by salt marshes, sand dunes and pine forests.
The route actually crosses the Dunes de Jaunay as the route reconnects with the ocean and cyclists ride on a path between the forest and the salt marsh, ultimately arriving at the Bay of Aiguillon. I can already smell the salt air in the breeze! Side trips to the islands of Re, Oleron and Aix are very popular deviations. I will definitely visit the Ille de Re, accessible by a bridge from La Rochelle, and if time permits, I will also visit Aix to explore the island once popular with Napoleon.
One of the many highlights of this section will be exploring the many oyster farms in the area of Marennes-Oleron, home of some of the best oysters in the world. Oyster farms are amazing to visit and the process of farming is fascinating whether you are 10 years old or 80. I can’t wait to take photos of this part of the route and learn more about the attractions for upcoming e-guides on this area. Based on the attractions, terrific cycle path, food and weather in this area, La Velodyssey is certain to become one of the most popular bike routes in France.
The third segment of the route runs from Royan to Hendaye in Basque country. From Royan, there is a ferry that takes cyclists across the Gironde Estuary to the famous vineyards of the Medoc. Needless to say, this is an area just begging to be explored. Cyclists can take a day or two or more to explore the many vineyards of the Medoc, or even take a side trip into the gorgeous city of Bordeaux. There is a dedicated bike path that runs from Lacanau on the Velodyssey all the way into Bordeaux. I will take this deviation to spend several days biking the many routes around Bordeaux, such as the Roger Lapabie Trail.
Once you cross over the Gironde, the route runs parallel to the coast, passing a succession of charming seaside villages. Depending on the time of year, these beach towns may be swarming with tourists enjoying some of the best beaches in France. If you don’t like crowds, I would recommend not biking this segment in July or August!
The Bay of Arcachon is packed with small port villages, incredible scenery and even more oyster villages. This area is vacation central for families with practically every attraction that makes for a perfect holiday. A popular family excursion is cycling around the Bay, stopping at the many attractions along the way. Not to be missed is the Dune du Pilat, the largest dune in Europe.
South of Arcachon, the cycle route becomes enveloped by the Landes Forest, the biggest forest in Europe. Cyclists are treated to gorgeous little villages and natural areas as they make their way toward Basque country. The route turns inland to the citadel of Bayonne, a must on anyone’s touring list. After Bayonne, the route heads for the sea and the very fashionable resort of Biarritz. I’ve never been there, so it should be a fun adventure. The two towns that I can’t wait to visit are Saint Jean de Luz and the small village of Hendaye very close to the Spanish border.
With less than 2 months till this trip, I already know that it will be chocked full of great adventures and wonderful memories. With a route full of so many options, I will certainly be challenged with many choices of which path to take!
I have been told by tourism officials that there will be a fully functional website in place by early July, so watch for more news on this.