If you are traveling to Paris this year and are looking for a memorable bike trip, look no further than the Paris-Mont Saint-Michel veloroute. This national cycle route has been under development for more than 10 years, with developers taking great care to choose a route with cultural and historical interest, routes with the most favorable traffic conditions for cyclists, and routes with a wide variety of support services for touring cyclists. Over 300 km or about 75% of the total route is complete, providing a perfect distance for a long weekend bicycling excursion from Paris.
Several sections of the route close to Paris are not yet complete, but cyclists can take the train to Epernon from Gare Montparnasse and pick up the bike route there. Depending on the time you have available, you can also start the route in Chartres. Paris-Epernon by train takes about 45 minutes, and Paris-Chartres about 1 hour. Bikes are permitted on both trains, thus making bike rental in Paris the best solution. Assuming that you start in Epernon, the first segment of the cycle route–Epernon to Alencon covers over 180 km and passes through the town of Chartres with its famous Gothic cathedral. You can close your eyes and easily imagine cycling toward Chartres with the Cathedral spires as your guide! Called the city of light and perfume, there is much to see and do in Chartres, and it is a great place to spend the night, with many affordable places to eat and sleep.
From Chartres, the route passes though Nogent-le-Retrou, a small town on the Huisne River, dominated by the fortified walls and towers of its 12th century Chateau St Jean. Bicyclists will find a great selection of very affordable places to eat and stay in Nogent-le-Retrou. The next town on the route going west is Mortagne-au-Perche, home of Black Pudding and the most famous pudding festival in France. Each year during the festival, 4-5 km of black pudding are sold! From here, the route continues on to Alencon, home of the worldwide famous Alencon lace, often called the Queen of Lace, made in Alencon since the 1600’s.
The 75 km between Alencon and Domfront is still under development, so travel along parts of this section is still along the highway and without road signs. Other than this segment, the veloroute follows mostly small local roads with light traffic, interspersed with voie verte or greenways. The above map from 2010 shows the route and the completed sections as of that date. I have yet to find an overall route map with any recent updates. The route is signposted in both directions, making travel along the route easy for cyclists.
From the medieval city of Domfront, the cycle route continues for 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 to many route deviations for exploring other parts of Normandy or to connect to routes to Rennes and St. 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 the Mont’s characteristics. 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. A dam was built in 2009 over the Couesnon River to regulate water flow and help send river sediment out to sea. The old car-park is gone and a replacement car-park is being built on the mainland and is to be open by May 1. All of this activity is dramatically changing how you actually get to Mont Saint-Michel. This includes bicyclists. Over the last year, there has been a great deal of local controversy regarding restrictions on where bicyclists can park. Since I don’t read French fluently, I don’t understand the entire debate, but I can direct you to the website where you can get the latest information on access to Mont Saint Michel: www.accueilmontsaintmichel.com. As of today, there is no information on this website, but I have been assured that it will be there by May 1 for the opening of the car park.
Information on the Paris–Mont-Saint Michel veloroute (not be be confused with simply biking highways from Paris to Mont Saint-Michel), is not easily accessible. The best source I have found is a map series available from the Normandy Tourism Office. Called “Cycling Trails-From Paris to the Mont-Saint-Michel”, the brochures are available in English and are downloadable from the website. Of course, you can also pick them up at any of the tourism offices throughout Normandy. Brochures are available for the following stages:
Conde-sur-Huisne to Mortagne-au-Perche
Mortagne-au-Perche to Alencon
Domfront to Romagny
Romagny to Ducey
Ducey to Mont-Saint-Michel
The routes from Alencon to Carrouges and Carrouges to Domfront are awaiting the completion of this segment of the veloroute.
Another map is available for the 115 km from Epernon to Nogent-le-Oetrou from the Uure et Loir Department, but it is in French only, but the maps and lodging information is very useful. It is available online at www.123randonnee.fr. The brochure is called “Paris–Le Mont Saint-Michel en Eure-et-Loir: Epernon-Nogent-le-Rotrou.
At the end of the trip, you can return to Paris via the Pontorson–Mont Saint-Michel train line. TER trains all allow bikes. Depending on the time of departure, it will take from 2-4 hours with 1 or 2 changes of trains. Trains from Pontorson will arrive into Paris St. Lazare station. If you take a side trip to St. Malo, there are several non-stops back to Paris taking 3 hours and arriving into Gare Montparnasse. I like the Deutche Bahn or the Bonjour La France for researching timetables as both of them provide information on which specific trains allow bicycles.
I will update route information as new segments of the route are completed. In the meantime, let me know if you have the opportunity to bike this route and if you have any recommendations that I can include in future updates!