By Maggie LaCoste
Whoever thought of creating a bicycling itinerary sandwiched between Paris and Mont Saint Michel was a genius! The Veloscenic is one of the newest cycle routes in France, offering spectacular sightseeing across 4 regions including the Ile-de-France, Centre-Val de Loire, Pays de la Loire and Lower Normandy as well as 8 departments. Touring cyclists will be treated to some of France’s best: Notre Dame de Paris, the Palace of Versailles, the Cathedral of Chartres, the Eure Valley, the Norman Bocage and Mont Saint-Michel.
The Veloscenic, also known as French Veloroute Nationale No. 40, is 434 km in length, with more than 82% or 360 km currently secured and signposted. There are over 130 km on signed and secured greenways, and another 200 km of shared paths with very low traffic. There are several sections that are still provisional with no signposting, including the section from Paris to Epernon. While it is possible to cycle this provisional section, it is recommended that families and less experienced cyclists take the train to Epernon, and start the route there. Paris-Epernon by train takes about 45 minutes and Paris-Chartres about 1 hour. Bikes are permitted on both trains, so bike rental in Paris is an option, depending on the distance you plan to travel. If you are intent on cycling the route from Paris, a roadbook to help navigating through this section should be on the Veloscenic website by summer.
As is the case with many long distance cycling routes in France, cycling the entire route is recommended for experienced cyclists, but the Veloscenic has stages for everyone from families with children, to recreational cyclists to experienced cyclists. Whether you are looking to spend just a weekend of cycling or longer, the Veloscenic website will help with every part of your trip planning process. My favorite part of the website is the interactive map which directly links you to specific information on each stage of the route. For example, if you are looking for a perfect weekend cycling trip close to Paris, click on Epernon to Chartres to get details on this segment of the itinerary including where to stay, where to eat, where to rent a bike, places to visit, local markets, train station locations, information on greenways and alternate routes. You can also access detailed information on each stage, including elevation, stage rating, special conditions to be aware of and GPS tracks. Using the zoom function, you can get very detailed information to help you navigate along the itinerary.
For example, consulting the stage information before leaving your B&B in the morning can help you navigate your way out of Chartres and back to the Veloscenic.
The resources for the Veloscenic are constantly improving, and there is a very strong commitment to continue to improve the route itself as well as specialized services along the route.
The Veloscenic has 22 stages, 17 if you begin the route in Epernon. From Epernon, there are 8 intermediate stages including:
Epernon to Maintenon, Maintenon to Chartres, Chartres to Illiers-Combray, Illiers-Combray to Thiron-Gardais, Carrouges to Bagnoles-de l’Orne, Bagnoles de-l’Orne to Domfront, St-Hilaire-du-Harcouet to Ducey and Ducey to Mont-Saint-Michel.
There are 2 expert stages: Thiron-Gardais to Nogent-le-Rotrou and Alencon to Carrouges.
There are 7 family stages, mostly on car-free greenways: Nogent-le-Rotrou to Remalard, Ramalard to Montagne-au-Perche, Montagne-au-Perche to Le Mele-sur-Sarthe, Le Mele-sur-Sarthe to Alencon, Domfront to Barenton, Barenton to Mortain and Mortain to St-Hilaire-du-Harcouet.
There is a 77 km family-rated stretch of greenway from, Nogent-le-Rotrou to Alencon that runs through one of the most beautiful sections of the Veloscenic. The only problem is that that it is sandwiched in between two expert stages. The good news is that there is great train service to/from both towns, so cyclists can easily use the train service to get to either end of the greenway, and then use the local train to avoid the expert stages. Also, sections of Alencon to Domfront are still in the process of being signposted. Progress is continuing, and signposting should be completed over the summer. In the meantime, there is a road book for this section available online or at the local tourism offices, should you need it.
From the medieval city of Domfront, the Veloscenic continues to another 100 km to Mont-Saint-Michel. Along this segment of the route, cyclists will enjoy a pleasant greenway from just outside Domfront to the outskirts of Avranches. From this section of the route, it is possible to connect with many deviations for exploring other parts of Normandy or to connect to routes to Rennes and Saint Malo in Brittany. Avranches is also a junction for cyclists interested in traveling north to the Normandy beaches.
Regardless of whether you plan to take any deviations to other destinations, be sure to allow plenty of time for visiting Mont-Saint-Michel and the surrounding area. Nothing can prepare you for your first view of the abbey from afar. Experiencing it by bike is a once in a lifetime opportunity: slow and purposeful with each pedal stroke revealing more and more of Mont-Saint-Michel. You quickly understand why Mont-Saint-Michel is one of the top 4 pilgrimage sites in the world.
While the abbey is the main attraction so too is the tidal basin and the current development effort to restore Mont-Saint-Michel as an island. You can read more about this effort at the website for the restoration project.