Cycling The Tour de Manche

The Tour de Manche is a great choice to kick off my top 5 cycling itinerary series for 2014.  It’s perfect for those of us who have a difficult time deciding which itinerary to choose, as it offers a totally unique experience encompassing British and French history, culture, attractions and food.  The Tour de Manche offers two complete itineraries in one, the full tour and a shorter petit tour, both full of spectacular sites.  Along the way, bicyclists have the opportunity to discover exceptional attractions such as Morlaix Bay, the Pink Granite Coast, Mont Saint Michel, the Jurassic Coast and Dartmoor National Park, just to name a few.  This completely signposted circular bike route links Southwest England to Northern France via the English Channel and is accessible to cyclists of all abilities.

Tour de Manche in blue, Petit Tour de Manche in red
Tour de Manche in blue, Petit Tour de Manche in red

This exciting new itinerary is a perfect example of the benefits of cooperation:  the Tour de Manche is a collaboration of 17 French and British partners and is part of the Cycle West project.  While the Tour de Manche was only officially introduced last summer it has quickly risen to the top of the to-do list of cyclists from around the world. So let’s take a look at what makes this itinerary so special.

The Tour de Manche is a 1000 km long signposted itinerary that crosses 2 regions and 5 departments of France:  Brittany and Normandy andthe departments of La Manche, Le Calvados, L’Ille et Vilaine, Les Cotes d’ Armor, Le Finistere as well as two of the loveliest counties in Southwest England, Dorset and Devon.  From Cherbourg through the lush landscape of Normandy through the Vire Valley to Mont Saint Michel, St Malo, the Cote d’ Emeraude and Roscoff, then across the Channel to Plymouth, the Jurassic Coast, the Roman city of Exeter, Dorchester and the natural harbor of Poole, this itinerary is full of gorgeous scenery, history, charming villages, great places to stay and incredible food!

Great signage guides cyclists along the itinerary

The Tour de Manche itinerary utilizes parts of EuroVelo 4 as well as parts of the new Veloscenic route which goes from Paris to Mont Saint Michel, so bicyclists shouldn’t be surprised to see signage that reflects both of these routes along the way. The full Tour de Manche itinerary includes 15 sections with 260 km rated family, 480 km rated intermediate and 225 rated expert.  Approximately 400 km of the Tour de Manche itinerary are on car-free greenways. Here are the sections and ratings of each:

  • Cherbourg–Carentan section:  79.7 km, all family rated
  • Carentan–La Ferriere-Harang: 79.7 family rated, 15 km intermediate
  • La Ferriere-Harang to Mortain:  42.4 km family rated, 18.4 km intermediate
  • La Bocage Mortainais (Mortain to Ducey): 14.9 km family rated, 19 km intermediate
Quiet car-free bike paths
  • Baie of Mont-Saint-Michel: 31.1 km intermediate rated
  • Mont-Saint-Michel to St Malo: 28.8 km family rated, 38.8 expert rated from Le Vivier-sur-Mer–Cancale–St Malo
  • St Malo–St. Brieuc: 69.2 km intermediate rated, 29.2 km from Erquy to Yffiniac expert rated
  • St-Brieuc to Paimpol:  13.2  km family rated, 24.2 km intermediate and 35.2 km from St-Brieuc to Plouha expert rated
  • Paimpol to Lannion:  23.6 km family rated, 44.1 km intermediate and 23.6 km from Perros-Guirec to Trebeurden expert rated
  • Lannion to Morlaix:  24.4 km intermediate rated from Lannion to Plestin-les-Greves.  Recommend train from Lannion–Morlaix
  • Morlaix–Roscoff:  30.8 km intermediate rated
  • Plymouth England to Okehamption:  67 km intermediate rated
  • Okehamption to Axminster:  35.8 intermediate rated, 65.3 km from Exeter-Sidmouth-Axminster rated expert
  • Axminster to Dorchester:  25.1 km intermediate rated, 30.7 km from Bridport to Dorchester expert rated
  • Dorset–Weymouth to Poole:  75 km intermediate rated

Detailed information on each section as well as trip planning tools and GPS links can be found on the website for the Tour de Manche.

If you are looking for a shorter cycling itinerary, you are in luck, because the Tour de Manche has a sister itinerary, the Petit Tour de Manche that could be a perfect alternative for you.  Only 450 km in length, the Petit Tour de Manche offers a taste of the full itinerary and still includes visits to some of the most spectacular sites of the full tour:  the Jurassic Coast, Exeter Cathedral, Okehampton Castle, France’s Emerald Coast, Mont St Michel, the Vire Valley and Cotenin Regional National Park.

Dorset, starting point in England for Petit Tour de Manche (Cycle West photo)
Dorset, starting point in England for Petit Tour de Manche (Cycle West photo)

The Petit Tour de Manche includes the Dorset section in England and then 5 sections in France from Cherbourg to Saint Malo. More than half of the Petit Tour is on traffic-free greenways, making it a perfect choice for recreational cyclists of all ability levels.  It is also a perfect itinerary to link up to two other itineraries on my list of top routes for 2014:  the Veloscenic and the D-Day Beaches to Mont Saint Michel.

St-Malo, ending point for the Petit Tour de Manche (Cycle West Photo)
St-Malo, ending point for the Petit Tour de Manche
(Cycle West Photo)

The Petit Tour de Manche also offers the opportunity to visit Jersey, just 14 miles from the coast of France.  Jersey is the largest of the Channel Islands and enjoys a unique blend of British and French cultures.  With over 150 km of cycling paths on the island, this could be a perfect place to spend an afternoon or several days exploring and enjoying the great seafood!  Ferry service is available on Condor Ferries from St Malo to St Helier and takes about 1 1/2 hours.

Hopefully this information has piqued your interest a bit and you want more information on this itinerary and the areas that it covers.  If so, here are some additional resources that you may want to look at:

Tour de Manche

Normandy Tourism

La Manche, West Normandy Tourism

Calvados Tourism in Normandy

Brittany Tourism

Morbihan Tourism, Southern Brittany

Finistere, Western Brittany Tourism

Dorset Tourism

Devon Tourism

Condor Ferries

Brittany Ferries

If you have an opportunity to bicycle this itinerary, I’d love to hear you thoughts on the route and your favorite parts!

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