Cycling La Velodyssee: Likes, Dislikes and What I Would Do Differently

By Maggie LaCoste

Looking back at my recent bicycling trip along the Atlantic Coast of France, the first word that comes to mind is adventure.  This is funny because that really wasn’t what I had in mind as I embarked on this trip!  This was my first trip to explore “La Velodyssee”, the French portion of EuroVelo 1, stretching from Roscoff to the Spanish border and I really had no idea what to expect as far as the route was concerned.  I researched the route thoroughly, knew which deviations I wanted to take, and, like all cyclists, hoped that the weather would cooperate.

I spent 13 days in late May exploring this route from north of LaRochelle to Hendaye near the Spanish border.  My trip was one month before the “grand opening” of  La Velodyssee.  I made many assumptions about the route that resulted in much more adventure than I anticipated, but looking back, it was the adventure that made this such a memorable trip, and provided some of the best memories.   I hope that my experiences will benefit others planning to explore this route, so I hope you enjoy reading about my favorites, least favorites and what I will do differently when I return to the Atlantic Coast.

Atlantic Route Top 5 Favorites:

The Food–Oysters, mussels, langoustines, crevettes, sardines, Bayonne ham, goat and sheep cheese, gateau basque a la creme, and of course, canele.  I’ve never met a bicyclist that didn’t enjoy great food, and this is definitely an area to indulge!  The selections at the daily markets, at the fish stores and in local restaurants is fantastic.  Just ask for whatever is fresh and you cannot go wrong!

Langoustines at the market

Shopping for oysters

Bayonne ham and peppers

Gateau Basque a la creme

Fantastic Beaches–Even on the rainiest days of the trip, the Atlantic Coast beaches were spectacular, especially at low tide.  It is really amazing that access to beaches on the Atlantic Coast is totally open to the public.  Few high rises or private access areas and some of the best campgrounds in France are located in the best beachfront locations, perfect for cyclocampers!  A few of my favorite beaches in the Charente Maritime include:  Le Bois Plage en Re on the Ile de re, La Palmyre in Royan, the Grand Plage of Saint-Trojan on the Ile d’Oleron.  Take the ferry over the Gironde, and you enter the vast area of Aquitaine beaches.  Aquitaine has the longest stretch of coastline in Europe, and not surprisingly, some of the best beaches.  Some of my favorites:  L’Amerlie in Soulac sur Mer, Hourtin Ocean, Le Grand Plage in St. Jean de Luz, and Grand Crohot near Cap Ferret with some spectacular dunes.  Some of the best surfing beaches are also located in Aquitaine including Hossegor, Anglet and Hendaye near the Spanish border.

Beach near Saint Palais sur Mer

The Hendaye rocks and beach

The Basque Region–a warm and inviting hospitality, great food, beautiful landscape and scenery and a laid back atmosphere make you never want to leave this area!  It was a good thing that we ended our trip here, because if we had started here, we might not have ever left!  I had never been to the Basque region before, and I cannot wait to plan a return visit.  The bicycling in the region is great, but is much more challenging with more hills.  Perhaps my next visit I will need to experiment with an electric bike, quite the rage in Europe these days!  Bayonne, St. Jean de Luz, Hendaye, and a string of beach villages and hill towns make this a perfect area for exploring by bike.  Most of the longer-distance bicycling in this area is on coastal roads and local routes, so it may not be suited to many recreational cyclists.  But with the extensive local train network in the region, it is easy to travel from town to town via train, then bicycle in and around each area, thus avoiding travel on busy roads.

The streets of Bayonne

The mountains near Hendaye close to Spanish border

A view of St-Jean-de-Luz

Low tide in Ciboure

Oyster Villages–I love oyster villages.  These picturesque villages exude charm that is really unique to the Atlantic Coast of France.  The whole process of oyster cultivation is fascinating, and one of the best places to learn more about it is in Marennes, the City of the Oyster.  The Marennes-Oleron area is one of the most famous and by far the largest oyster cultivation area in Europe.  The entire area covers about 15,000 acres and the area accounts for around 45% of the entire French oyster industry.  A visit to an oyster village or ostreicole will certainly be a highlight of your trip.  My favorite oyster areas are Marennes, La Tremblade and the Arcachon Basin, including the oyster villages on Cap Ferret.

La Cayenne in Marennes

Buying oysters in Marennes

On the road to La Tremblade

Oyster farms in Cap Ferret

Laid Back Lifestyle and Fantastic People–There is something about the ocean that creates a perfect relaxing environment for the people who live there and the people who visit.  This is definitely the case all along the Atlantic Coast of France.  The pace is slow and relaxed, conversations are savored, life is celebrated.  The people that we met and the friendships that we made helped make this trip one of our favorites.  The residents and business owners of the Atlantic Coast are the region’s best tourism promotion, helping to make this a region that you want to come back to again and again.

Atlantic Route Top 5 Least Liked:

Lack of Consistent Signposting–The cycle route along the Atlantic Coast of France, now referred to as La Velodyssee is in a transition stage.  Prior to my latest trip, I had assumed that the signposting on this route would be much more advanced, particularly since EuroVelo 1 through France is considered close to complete.  Such was not the case.  Signage on the route was inconsistent making route decisions difficult at times.  Several readers who have ridden parts of this route in the last few weeks report that signposting is improving, but that it is spotty, with some areas still with no directional signs.  Route improvements and sign installation are normally done on a jurisdictional basis, so for the upcoming year, there will continue to be areas with improvements and areas without.  Bottom line, make sure that you are traveling with a good map, monitor the route information on the LaVelodyssee website, and seek out local bicycling information from Tourism offices along the way.

Bicycle Paths that Abruptly Ended–On three different occasions, the bike path that we were riding on abruptly ended.  We had numerous conversations with other cyclists on the route and they expressed similar experiences.  This situation is complicated by inconsistent signage on the route, because every time it happened, we assumed that we had somehow taken a wrong turn, but after consulting our maps, saw that this was not the case.  I would assume that as more uniform signposting improvements are made to the route, this problem will be minimized.

Pine Forests and Sand:  Too much of even good things can get old really fast.  I found this to be the case with pine forests and sand.  After about the 5th day of bicycling through pine forests with an occasional dune or beach sighting, I didn’t want to see any more.  I guess you could compare it to getting tired of too many castles on the Loire.  Since this was my first time cycling this route, this was an important lesson, because it will enable me to make better recommendations to others interested in cycling this region.

Tourism Offices With Little/No Knowledge of Bicycling Routes in the Region–It is always disappointing to me when local tourism offices have little, if any knowledge of regional cycling routes.  I found this to be the case in many instances along the Atlantic Route.  I would hope that as the support services for La Velodyssee continue to grow, that local tourism offices will be provided with resources and training to competently advise visiting bicyclists on routes to explore local communities along the route.

Distances Between Towns on the Route–If you are planning to cycle this route, be sure to plan carefully as there are sections where you may have 25km or more between towns where you can buy water and food supplies.  In some areas, towns are located off the main route, but oftentimes cyclists don’t want to take a 4 km deviation to purchase food or water.

Top 5 Things I Would Do Differently:

Spend More Time Exploring the Ile de Re and Ile d’Oleron–There is so much to see and do on these coastal islands, and great bicycle routes to explore.  These islands are paradise for safe and relaxing bicycling, exploring, relaxing.  Perfect for families, couples or single travelers, these islands merit a week between the two of them!

Spend More Time in Cap Ferret–Between the beaches, oyster towns and villages to explore by bike, great local restaurants and laid back atmosphere, Cap Ferret is an area where you just want to unpack and act like a local for at least a few days.

Cap Ferret Lighthouse

Spend More Time Around Arcachon Bay–It is almost 80 km around the Bay, with one charming town and village after another.  I never imagined that the Bay would be as lovely as it is.  While this area is chaos in July and August and on holiday weekends, a mid-week visit during any other time of the year would be ideal.  Bicycle paths rim the bay and deviations allow explorers to venture off the beaten track, exploring the many attractions of this popular holiday destination.  I did not have time to visit the Parc Ornithologique du Teich, the bird sanctuary in La Teich, but will definitely do so the next time I visit.  It is one of the largest bird sanctuaries in Europe, with over 260 recorded species 80 of which breed in the reserve.

View of Arcachon from the Cap Ferret Ferry

Choose Specific Parts of the Bike Route to Explore–The next time I bike the Atlantic Coast, I will choose several specific areas to explore, rather than biking the entire route.  The type of attractions along this route are very different from other French cycle routes such as the Burgundy Canal, the Loire, the Nantes-Brest Canal or the Canal du Midi.  The Atlantic Coast is an area where the coast and the beach towns and villages are the attraction.  To really get the most out of a bicycling experience in the region, you need to spend a day or two to enjoy the beach, the sand dunes, the oyster farms, and the laid back atmosphere that people travel here to enjoy.  Take a surfing lesson, go to the market, make a new friend.  Simply passing through these areas by bike defeats the purpose of exploring this region of France by bike.

Eat More Oysters–Out of all the food that I enjoyed along the Atlantic Coast, oysters were my favorite.  When I go back, I will learn how to make the special local sauce that brings out the best taste in the oysters.

Tremblade oysters with special sauce

Please let me know if you have any likes or dislikes from a recent trip to the Atlantic Coast, and if there is anything that you would do differently if you did the route again.

Check back often for updates on the Atlantic Coast route/La Velodyssee as the local departments continue to make more improvements to this route.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

  1. Cycling the Atlantic Coast: Likes, Dislikes and What I Would Do … | Bicycle News July 9, 2012 at 3:04 am

    […] the original post: Cycling the Atlantic Coast: Likes, Dislikes and What I Would Do … This entry was posted in Blog Search and tagged back, france, funny, mind, recent, trip, wasn, […]

  2. Terrific. 6 of us will be riding the coastal area of Normandy in late September of this year and we will certainly use this for guidance. We are planning now but will tell Maggie about our trip as it occurs.

    1. That will be great. I will be adding a new section to the website where I can post reports from riders from around the world on their bike experiences in France! So please send me your trip reports, blog links whatever when you take your trip.

      Maggie LaCoste
      Experience France by Bike

  3. Excellent post which I shall bookmark for future trips. Brought back a lot of memories. I’m a big oyster fan myself! I’m including a link to this post in my Wednesday’s blogger round-up tomorrow.

    1. Hi Fraussie!

      Thanks so much for the note! Lots of parts of the route I totally loved, but wasn’t fond of it as a long distance route. Now when I do it again, I will know exactly what areas I want to explore by bike. Hope that some of this information will be of help to other recreational cyclists. I hope that you are having a good summer and that you are having fun with your new house. Please let me know if you explore any new trails. Am going to be adding a new section of the website where I can post reader trip reports!

      Maggie LaCoste
      Experience France by Bike

  4. […] which deviations I wanted to take, and, like all cyclists, hoped that the weather would cooperate. Read more. This entry was posted in Accommodation, Belgium, Cycling, France, Sightseeing, […]

  5. We have cycled, en famille (3 and 9 yr old) in the vendee and loved the safety of the cycle paths, this year we are heading down to Biarritz/st Jean de Luz – your experience suggests that the cycle paths are not so consistant in these parts. Is this correct??? Once these chicks fly the nest we will aim to do a similar cycle in your tracks!

    1. Hi Susan!

      Thanks for the note and I am so excited for your upcoming trip down the Atlantic Coast! I have received some reports from cyclists that the signage on the route has improved since its grand opening the end of June. I hope that you will send information back on this too at the end of your trip. Will you be bicycling with the kids? If so, I would definitely plan to spend extra time around Arcachon. There is much to do, the bike trails are great and the food spectacular. The area down by Biarritz has mostly veloroute/shared road biking, not voie verte/greenways, so if you are traveling with kids this could be challenging. My favorite route in that area is the coastal path ride from Bayonne to Anglet. You can also access this ride from Biarritz. It was one of my favorite routes on the trip. You can read about it here: http://experiencefrancebybike.com/cycling-frances-atlantic-coast-the-coastal-path-from-bayonne/. Then of course, the ride from St.Jean de Luz to Hendaye is nothing less than spectacular, but once again, this route is along the main coastal highway and one that I would not do with children. Have a great trip and please be sure to send me a report of your findings on the route so that I can post it!

      Maggie LaCoste
      Experience France by Bike

  6. I am so happy that your brother passed the website on to you and I’m happy that you are finding it helpful! Hope that you will sign up to receive the posts automatically, and please share the website with your friends too!

    Maggie LaCoste
    Experience France by Bike
    http://www.experiencefrancebybike.com

  7. Hi Maggie,
    We (my wife and I) just returned from a cycling trip (July 1-25) that covered 2000km.
    Starting in Biarritz we cycled along the Atlantic coast to St.Brevin, followed the Loire to Orleans and went up via Paris back home in Holland.
    We also followed the Velodyssee from Biarritz to St.Brevin.
    The things you mentioned in the things “leased like” were also our experience. Although the route was signed properly, in certain bigger towns no signs were found at all. Also tourist information that did not know about the Velodyssee while the route was 20 meters outside their front door, surprised us a lot. Indeed some departments have already good maps of bicycle routes (including the Velodyssee), others don’t. Also the fact that you have to ask for map material at each department tourist information I found a bit strange.
    However, in spite of these flaws we still had a great trip of total of 25 days of cycling and camping.
    I am going to make a report (in Dutch, sorry) of our trip and put it on our website along with photos, like I did with previous trips we did.
    It was nice reading your report and see that experiences are quite the same.
    Regards,
    Rolph Lieverse
    The Netherlands

    1. Dear Rolph,

      Thanks so much for your note and I am very happy to hear that you had such a great time on your cycling trip! Getting reports from fellow riders such as yourselves is really great and helps those who are planning bike excursions to France. Within the next several weeks I will be adding a section to my website where I will include trip reports from reader’s trips. With your permission, I would like to include your comments, and also a link to your website, once you get your trip report done.

      How did you like the route from St. Brevin to Orleans? That is still one of my favorites, even though they still need to improve the signage from major towns back to the Loire.

      Thanks again!

      Maggie Lacoste
      Experience France by Bike
      http://www.experiencefrancebybike.com

      1. Rolph Lieverse July 31, 2012 at 7:36 pm

        Dear Maggie,

        No problem to include my comments on your site. Although I will initially write the report in Dutch, we are now thinking of also making an English version. So when linking to our website , people can read the English version too.

        About the route to Orleans. You can buy maps for it, as this is the Eurovelo6. It can be bought as 6 separate maps for the whole route or individually along the route at the various Tourist Informations in bigger places. Also this route sometimes goes over tracks that are partly gravel/clay. No problem when the weather is nice, but in our case with an afternoon of rain, they turned into muddy slippery tracks not to be cycled anymore. So in those cases, the – sometimes busy – D-roads needed to be used. Also in some cases you are not directly riding next to the Loire but going more into the country as there are no cycling tracks next to the Loire. They are still saying these are temporarily tracks, so I expect this will change in the future.
        Personally I like cycling along the Moesel, Maas or Rijn a lot more. This because on the Loire there are no boat movements (except canoes) and the other ones have.
        The route itself is indicated quite good. Also in bigger cities as Nantes or Tours the route was easy to follow.

        Regards,
        Rolph

        PS For people loving cycling: there are more long routes (also in France). Check out this website http://www.hetfietsweb.nl/

  8. Great post! Really helpful information that isn’t readily available most places….really gives a good overall picture of the area and where to focus time spent!

    1. Happy to hear that you found the post helpful! Hope you have fun planning a trip!

      Maggie LaCoste
      Experience France by Bike
      http://www.experiencefrancebybike.com

  9. Catherine Dempsey September 27, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    Hi Maggie, Just back from an 8 day ride from La Rochelle to the Arcachon Basin then landwards to Bazas in the Landes. Planned our trip according to the weather forecast and only had one afternoon of rain in the Landes fortunately. I agree with you so much about the endless forest tracks, the poor signing, the total lack of clued up information at Tourist board offices, and things haven’t really improved since your trip. Loved Chatellaillon, La Palmyre, Royan and, in particular Soulac. (check out Residence Anna, an absolute find) (and the ferry ride across to Medoc from Royan) Lacanau Ocean is a bit concrete and would appeal only really to the young surfing set. Velodyssee marks the last stage from Hourtin Plage to Lacanau as Expert but doesn’t really say why. We found out! It’s pretty ghastly, long and steep (1 in 10 hills) with scary descents. OK we’re not very fit and in our late 60s but it was not a lot of fun in the latter half of a long day from Soulac to Lacanau. If they want to really attract everyone they’ll have to upgrade the coastal paths. North Eastern Arcachon Basin was a bit of a disappointment. It was shut. This is so typically French (I’ve lived here for over 18 years I can say that!). A Monday just after mid September, absolutely nothing open in Ares to eat lunch. Went to the oyster port to see if the cabanes were open. Shut. We tried the beach area. Shut. Husband, who’s an oyster freak, was distraught. Eventually ended up having a bit of soggy quiche reheated from the bakers. Quite funny in retrospect!
    One important thing I think I should draw to your attention are the biting ‘flies’ in the forest stages at this time of year at any rate. “Mouches plates”, they’re more of a small horsefly (or cleg in the UK.)About the size of an ordinary fly but flatter and light brown in colour, they can stick to you while you’re going downhill at 30kph. And they have a vicious bite which many people react to. I was covered in mosquito repellant but they love that! You have to get a serious insect barrier spray, Insect Ecran is one, pharmacists only, repels mouches plates, mosquitos, ticks, harvest mites (chiggers in US), fleas and probably most things apart from irritated Spaniels (Marennes!). Where were you in Marennes? We were in Marennes Central on Friday 14th September and we had a choice of one restaurant. The tumbleweed was blowing round the street! I probably sound as if I’m whingeing…we covered over 475k and actually had a great time, not as much fun as the Canal du Midi last year.
    All the best
    Catherine Dempsey

    1. Dear Catherine,

      I was so happy to receive your note, but I was disappointed to hear that the route information has not improved significantly since I did this route in May. Some of our experiences with lack of support facilities open was the same as yours, I guess May is not really considered the heart of the season either. This is so different from the Loire, the Burgundy Canal, Brittany etc. where even in November you can find places to stay, eat and buy supplies. Your report is similar to several others that I have received in the last couple of months. With your permission, I would like to reprint your report, along with several others so that we can try to keep people up to date on the progress/lack of progress on the route. So please let me know if this will be OK.

      Thanks again, and please keep me up to date on where you plan to go next!

      Maggie LaCoste
      Experience France by Bike

  10. […] Looking back at my recent bicycling trip along the Atlantic Coast of France, the first word that comes to mind is adventure.  This is funny because that really wasn’t what I had in mind as I embarked on this trip!  This was my first trip to explore “La Velodyssee”, the French portion of EuroVelo 1, stretching from Roscoff to the Spanish border and I really had no idea what to expect as far as the route was concerned.  I researched the route thoroughly, knew which deviations I wanted to take, and, like all cyclists, hoped that the weather would cooperate. Read more. […]