Cycling Across France: 10 Favorite Places

Amazing doesn’t come close to describing the great summer adventure I had this year bicycling across France.  From Provence to the Camargue, along the coast to Languedoc and Toulouse, through Bordeaux, then up to La Rochelle, the Ile de Re, Marennes, the Medoc vineyards, and back to Bordeaux. This was one fantastic cycling adventure filled with incredible sights, unforgettable people, challenges that changed daily and memories of a lifetime.

Each day of cycling was a festival of sights and scenery, but as the journey evolved, a number of places rose to the top of all-time favorites.  Here is the list of my top 10 favorites from this year’s trip. I’d go back to any of them in a second, and if you’ve never been, you should think about going!

Bike-friendly Avignon

 

I was blown away by how much cycling in Avignon had advanced since 2018!  Whether you’re interested in cycling around town, commuting to work or school, or connecting to longer distance cycle paths, Avignon has quickly become an exciting cycling destination.  With progress continuing on the Via Rhona and La Mediterranee a Velo as well as La Veloroute du Calavon and the Via Venaissia, Avignon is quickly becoming the gateway city for cycling in Provence and beyond.

Avignon and the Vaucluse should definitely be at the top of your list for cycling destinations in 2020 and beyond!  I have just one suggestion:  don’t visit during the annual Avignon Festival!

Aigues Mortes

I love this town with a funny name that sits on the marshes of the Camargue near the Mediterranean.  It’s one of those rare towns that looks exactly like you imagine it looks 500 years ago. There’s no place quite like it. To say that my 2 days here were memorable is an understatement.

Aigues Mortes oozes with charm, warmth and personality.  Of course, the fact that we arrived in town during La Fete de la Saint Louis, the annual medieval festival probably contributed some extra personality!

From the moment my husband and I entered the city gates, we knew this was a very special place. If you ever have the opportunity, spend at least one night here.

Water Jousting Festival in Sete

The Via Rhona ends at Sete Harbor, one of most picturesque, unspoiled seaside towns on the Mediterranean. As we cycled closer to the harbor, we expected a quiet evening on the waterfront, enjoying local wine and oysters. But much to our surprise, our arrival was the last day of the annual Saint Louis Jousting Festival, celebrated in Sete since 1666!

Thousands of people line the Canal Royal to watch this event.  Giant television screens lined the canals, insuring that everyone had the opportunity to view the best water jousting teams in France.  Being in Sete during this event, sharing the excitement with the French crowd was a true highlight of my summer cycling trip!

The Canal de Garonne

This was my first time cycling the Canal de Garonne from Toulouse. It’s definitely a new favorite! This peaceful, well-maintained greenway is lined with gorgeous plane trees that provide welcome shade to summer cyclists.

 

With 53 locks, lots of summer boat traffic, several amazing water bridges and lots of sleepy little towns along the way, the Canal de Garonne is a wonderful itinerary for all levels of cyclists, including families.

Montauban

My husband’s not a fan of taking detours off major itineraries, so he wasn’t thrilled about cycling to Montauban, a 14 km deviation on the Canal de Montech.  But then he saw the city.  Imagine a smaller, more intimate Toulouse with the same pink glow, oozing with history and with one of the most beautiful town squares in southern France, the Place Nationale.

This charming town that most guidebooks don’t even mention was definitely a favorite of mine, and a deviation my husband was glad we took!

Le Dormeur du Val in La Mas d’Argenais

La Mas d’Argenais is a perfect place to end a wonderful day of cycling.  It’s small, has no traffic lights, few tourists and is packed with history, having once been occupied by the Romans. Most tourists who visit come to see the famous Rembrant painting, “Christ on the Cross”, that’s housed in the town’s church.

The stellar attraction in this town for me was a local B&B, Le Dormeur du Val owned by Manuel Rodrigues. The house is over 200 years old, built on medieval ruins.  The house is charming, quirky and memorable, filled with art and artifacts from Manuel’s travel adventures.

Manuel is a one-in-a-million host, the kind of person you know you were very fortunate to meet.  Not only a great story teller and conversationalist, he’s a terrific cook too.  The chef’s choice menu that he prepared for dinner was one of the best meals we had along the Garonne.  Our evening here went by much too fast, but will always be a great memory from cycling the Canal de Garonne.

Bordeaux

Bordeaux is one of my favorite cities in France. Lots to see and do, great food and wine and a growing list of bicycling itineraries that could keep you coming back for several years!  Bordeaux is strategically located on or near several major long distance cycling itineraries including EuroVelo 1 and 3, the  Canal des 2 Mers a Velo(Canal de Garonne and Canal du Midi) and the Tour de Gironde.

 

If you’d prefer to just cycle in the Bordeaux region, just figure out what direction you want to go and follow the signs!  Bordeaux is literally exploding with new bicycling paths.

Whether you want to explore the city for an afternoon, plan a weekend cycling in the Medoc, or head to the beach to enjoy oysters and local seafood, your biggest challenge will be to decide where to go!

The Ile de Re

If you’d like to get an insider’s look at daily life from the eyes of a local, spend a few days enjoying life on the Ile de Re.  Located off the west coast of France near La Rochelle, the Ile de de Re is known for its stunning beaches, charming towns, salt marshes and incredible seafood.  There aren’t enough adjectives to describe the island, but these would lead the list:  laid back, tranquil, low-key, understated, intimate, picture-perfect.  This is where the French come when they want to get away from it all, so don’t come in July and August!

The island is a paradise for bicycling with over 100 km of signposted paths.  All the major towns are connected by bike trails.  You’ll quickly learn that everyone travels by bike, residents included.  Great news for families with kids touring by bike:  a new ferry service from La Rochelle provides an alternative to crossing the bridge, quite a challenge with one or more tag-a-longs!

I spent 2 nights here and it wasn’t nearly enough to experience all that this island has to offer.

Marennes and Oysters

Marennes is one of my favorite towns along the Atlantic Coast of France. This charming town of around 5,000 people is located in the Marennes-Oleron Basin oyster area and also on EuroVelo 1. While most people have never heard of Marennes, it’s world-renowned for its oysters that mature in shallow ponds called “claires”.  This seemingly sleepy town is in the center of one of the largest oyster cultivation areas in all of Europe, accounting for 45% of the French oyster industry!

Spending the night and eating oysters in one of the many oyster shacks is definitely a highlight of any trip to France.

The gorgeous scenery, vibrant colored oyster shacks, incredible seafood and charming places to stay make Marennes a must-see if you’re anywhere near!

Le Coeur des Vignes in Pauillac

It had been a long time since I’d visited the Medoc by bike, so I opted to end this year’s trip with a detour through the region. While the Medoc is still not an easy one to navigate by bike, my stay here was a highlight of my trip.

Le Coeur des Vignes is nestled in the small village of Saint Lambert on the outskirts of the famous wine village of Pauillac. To say that the B&B is a special place is an understatement.  It’s surrounded by vineyards and without great directions from Pascale, you might not find it.

Pascale and Alex are extraordinary hosts, I can’t remember ever staying anywhere that I felt so at home, so welcome. Sharing one of Pascale’s home cooked dinners with more than a dozen French and German runners who had just completed the Medoc Marathon was a highlight of my trip. Thanks to all of them for sharing stories of their adventures during the Marathon du Medoc with my family.  It was a priceless way to end an extraordinary cycling  holiday.

 

 

Posted by Maggie LaCoste

I love the adventure and unpredictability of experiencing France by bike. Cycling in France is the ultimate slow travel adventure, an opportunity to see it through the back door in a way few tourists experience. One week on a bike in France and life takes on a different meaning! I created Experience France By Bike to inspire recreational cyclists to visit France the slow way....by bike, and to be the best source of information for planning the perfect bicycling adventure. I encourage readers to embrace the uncertainty of the road ahead and to take the path less traveled, exploring roads, towns and villages that you would never experience traveling by car.