By Maggie LaCoste
It’s funny. My Mom often asks me why I need to travel all the way to Europe to ride a bike. While I don’t know if I’ve ever successfully explained the reasons to my Mom, it was really one of the reasons I started Experience France by Bike. Bicycling on this new generation of veloroutes or voies verte in France is different, a type of safe and fun adventure that non-Europeans have no concept of. Not only did I fall in love with these safe bike routes, I also wanted to help spread the word to others who might enjoy the idea of mixing adventure, exercise, history, culture, a love of food and wine and being a goodwill ambassador into an affordable and unique vacation.
I first became familiar with EuroVelo in the mid 90’s when we took our first bicycle trip on the Danube River. While I didn’t know it at the time, our route would become part of the famous EuroVelo 6 route which goes from Nantes on the Atlantic to Istanbul on the Black Sea. This was my first experience traveling on car free or limited traffic bicycle routes and I was hooked from the start. Our adventure along the Danube was so special, that we spent the next two years exploring the route further with our teenage daughters. From the Danube we progressed to itineraries in Germany, and then we discovered France.
As we explored bicycling itineraries in each country, we found a very different attitude towards safe recreational bicycling: miles and miles of safe biking routes along rivers, canals and rural country lanes, by castles and abbeys, beautiful towns and villages with picture perfect inns. Everywhere we bicycled, we were warmly welcomed and made wonderful friends. Every year we would look forward to returning home to share our special experiences with our friends: leisurely days spent bicycling along quiet paths, exploring local attractions, picnic lunches, local wine, beautiful scenery. This vision and attitude toward a safe bicycling experience is very common in Europe.
No where is this attitude more evident than in the EuroVelo organization. The EuroVelo concept started back in 1995 with a vision of creating a network of 12 long-distance bicycling routes crossing Europe. The overall vision advanced, but progress was spotty. In 2007, the European Cyclists’ Federation assumed responsibility for the project, and since that time, there has been no looking back in the effort to build this pan-Europe network. The success of the network and its support by the European Parliament have gained huge momentum since this time, the latest action being a favorable vote to include EuroVelo in the Trans-European Transport Network. This vote is important because it will open up new sources of funds to complete the EuroVelo network by its goal date of 2020.
This European Parliament vote was a perfect end to an already remarkable year for EuroVelo with two new routes added to the network (as reported in on my November 13 post), a new EuroVelo website, and progress on numerous EuroVelo routes. Governments in the European Union are actively encouraging the development of cycling tourism, and more and more countries and local governments are putting money into the expansion of this network. And the price tag for completing this network is huge–estimated somewhere in the vicinity of 1.5-2 billion Euro. And that’s in addition to the millions that have already been spent on the existing 45,000+ completed kilometers…for bicycle trails so that you and I and other cyclotourists can experience Europe on bike, safely! This is the reason why it is important to monitor the success of this innovative organization and its efforts to improve the bicycling infrastructure from the Atlantic Ocean to Moscow.
This European project to develop a cycle route network that crosses and unites the whole European continent has set a new standard for bicycle tourism throughout the world, and is one that will provide new and exciting bicycling adventures for all of us for years to come. While I know my Mom will continue to wonder why I travel across the ocean “just to ride a bike”, the EuroVelo network in France and in Europe is providing more and more reasons why all of us should add a bicycling component to any European vacation!