By Maggie LaCoste
If there are any more long-distance bike routes developed in France, I am definitely going to need to relocate so that I have more time to explore all of them! This summer has already seen the grand opening of La Velodyssee, the Atlantic Coast route which I wrote about for 2 weeks in May. Now, the much talked about Paris-Mont-Saint-Michel route has introduced a new name, a new website, and significant improvements to the route. The new website for La Veloscenie is only in French, good for my French readers, but not for the rest of us. So here are some key details about this itinerary in case you want to consider it for a future trip.
Called “L’Itineraire Grand Spectacle” La Veloscenie connects two of France’s biggest attractions: Paris and Mont-Saint-Michel. With these two attractions at each end, it’s not surprising that this route could become one of the most popular in France. With attractions ranging from Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur, Chartres, the spa town of Bagnoles, the Chateau of Carrouges, Maintenon and Rambouillet, the medieval town of Domfront and the Valley of the Eure, this route is full of hidden treasures waiting to be discovered.
The itinerary as it currently exists is 442 km long and travels through 4 regions, 8 departments and three regional national parks. The route is a combination of voie verte or greenways and veloroute or shared lanes and some provisional sections in areas under development. Greenways currently comprise almost 200 km of the route and are located in Massey Paris, around Chartres, Conde-sur-Huisne in Alencon and Domfront to Mont-Saint-Michel. Expansion of greenways will continue as improvements to provisional sections are made. With the exception of the segments that are greenways, the itinerary is rated intermediate, with one section rated expert.
The route is divided into 7 sections with the provisional/temporary roads in the Paris to Epernon segment, and the Alencon to Domfront segment. There are no route markings on the provisional sections, so it is recommended that you obtain a route map for these sections from the closest tourism office. Here is a rundown on each stage:
Paris to Epernon 80.6 km.
Many people choose to forgo this segment of the route while it is in development stage, choosing to take the train from Paris to Rambouillet (34 minutes) or Epernon (45 minutes). Both trains are from Gare Montparnasse and are regional trains that allow bicycles. If you plan to cycle this segment, be sure that you pick up the route directions for the Massey-Epernon section as there is currently no signposting on this part of the route.
For cyclists, this segment starts with a 18.7 km greenway that runs from Paris to Massey along the TGV Atlantique train path. In Massey you can pick up the deviation to Versailles, which would be a perfect short weekend bike trip on its own! From Massey, the route is provisional or a temporary route on suburban streets and roads that connect to a new greenway section near the Skytrain. From Limours the provisional route continues, ultimately leading to the gorgeous forest of Rambouillet and its 60 km of bike paths. From Rambouillet to Epernon, the route follows quiet roads to the town of Epernon, located on the Drouette and Guesle Rivers.
Epernon to Chartres 37.5 km
For those who take the train from Paris to Epernon, the journey on La Veloscenie will begin here. From Epernon to Chartres, cyclists follow a veloroute or shared lane route to Maintenon with its beautiful castle and Vauban aquaduct. Edging closer to Chartres, the Eure Valley offers spectacular scenery and picturesque villages, ultimately bringing cyclists to a greenway leading into Chartres with its spectacular cathedral. Depending on how you plan your trip, this is the perfect place to spend the night, exploring the cathedral and the back streets of town. There is a train station in Chartres with regional express service from Paris Montparnasse, so you can also begin this itinerary in Chartres.
Chartres to Nogent-le-Routrou 75.2 km
As you leave Chartres, you are treated to a continuing greenway along the Eure River until the town of Fontenay-sur-Eure. From this point, cyclists ride on a veloroute along quiet country and agricultural roads leading to the beautiful village of Illiers-Combray, home to the Marcel Proust Museum and a perfect location for a picnic. The route continues though primarily farmland ultimately arriving in Nogent-le-Routrou, home of Chateau Saint Jean. This is primarily a stage through an agricultural area, so be sure to stock up on water and snacks before leaving Chartres or Illiers-Combray. It is also a long stage for recreational cyclists, so be sure to also make lodging plans in advance as there are limited options, especially during the busy summer season. There is regional express train service to Nogent-le-Routrou from Paris Montparnasse, making it easy to start this itinerary here if you are short on time.
Nogent-le-Routrou to Alencon 77.5 km
Cyclists are in for a real treat along this section of the route as it is almost entirely a green route running along the River Huisne and the Perche Regional National Park. The scenery along this stage is some of the most spectacular of La Veloscenie. This is a perfect stage for families with children as there is so much to explore and the cycling is safe and easy with no traffic to worry about. The route is lined with many villages, mills and mansions and history. This stage ends in the town of Alencon, home to the famous pont d’Alencon lace and birthplace of St. Therese of Lisueux.
Alencon to Domfront 74.2 km
For this segment, La Veloscenie runs along country roads to the castle of Carrickfergus, the Park Headquarters of Normandie-Maine. Cyclists enjoy beautiful views over the forest before arriving in Carrouges. This part of the route is provisional/temporary, has no route markings and is considered expert or intermediate level. A road guide for this area is available online or from the tourism offices in the area. Cyclists are encouraged to be sure to have a copy of the road guide to help navigate through the stage. From Carrouge to the spa town of Bagnoles de l’Orne, the route follows country and forest roads until arrival in the medieval town of Domfront. Remember that most medieval towns are perched towns, so save some energy for the ride up to Domfront at the end of the day! There is also a deviation in Domfront that goes to Flers, through the valley of La Varenne.
This is currently the largest segment with provisional and unmarked roads. Stay tuned for updates on new greenways and veloroute as they are added to this segment. For those not interested in navigating the unmarked route, there is train service available from Alencon to Domfront. It takes about 2 1/2 hours and does require a change of trains, but the service is on regional express trains that allow bicycles.
Domfront to Ducey 66 km
This segment is a great relief to cyclists who successfully navigated the last stage, as it is a greenway all the way to Ducey. The greenway on this segment used to be a railway track leading to Mont-Saint-Michel. Be prepared for busy roads departing from Domfront, but be patient as the greenway will quickly be in sight. Be prepared for some rolling hills on this segment as you ride through apple and pear orchards. As you ride this stage the anticipation of your first sighting of Mont-Saint-Michel is almost uncontrollable. By the time you reach the port town of Ducey you know that the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel is very close. Despite your excitement to ride on, be sure to visit Ducey’s imposing 17th century Castle of Montgomery.
Ducey to Mont-Saint-Michel 31.1 km
It’s a really great thing this last stage is short! By this time, you know that you are really close, and it is only a matter of time before you see the first images from afar. This segment begins as a greenway from Ducey and runs to Portabault where you cycle on a shared road to just past La Greve. By this time, Mont-Saint-Michel is towering in front of you and you will need to concentrate to keep your eyes on the traffic and pedestrians. From La Greve, you are traveling on a car-free greenway until you reach the parking lot for Mont-Saint-Michel. I have been told that there are new bicycle parking locations so be sure to watch for signs that say “aire de stationnement de velos”.
When you pass Portabault, you may notice a sign indicating a route deviation to Avranches. This is the closest train station to Mont-Saint-Michel unless you are going on to either Rennes or Saint Malo. If you plan to go back to Paris via Avranches, be sure to plan ahead as you will need to travel on a regional express if you are taking a bike.
I will look forward to keeping you up to date on improvements on this route and I hope to receive some trip reports from those fortunate enough to ride this route this summer!