Building new bicycle paths can be slow and expensive, especially when they stretch over an entire French Region. Such is the case with the highly anticipated ViaRhona route. I first reported on this route two years ago when it was called the Geneva to the Sea Route. Much progress has been made since then, but there is still a long way to go until this route is ready for recreational cyclists. When completed, this 743 km route will enable cyclists to go from the shores of Lake Geneva to the warm and always sunny beaches of the Mediterranean.
When I was in Provence this summer, I cycled on the Greenway of Caderousse, just outside of Avignon. This greenway is a short link to connect to the ViaRhona. Bicyclists in the Vaucluse are very proactive in encouraging local officials to increase their financial commitment to this project, but the cost of building/improving bicycle routes is often not a top priority in local government budgets these days. So the progress moves on, just slowly. Currently, most of ViaRhona is in a provisional state, suited for experienced cyclists only. Much of the terrain, especially in the section coming from Geneva is very hilly, terrain that most recreational cyclists will not prefer.
ViaRhona is divided into 5 sections: Geneva to Lyon, 232.5 km rated mostly expert and intermediate, Lyon to Valence, 127 km rated expert with several family stages, Valence to Avignon, 72 km rated intermediate, Avignon-Sete, 140 km, this section is not developed nor rated yet, and Avignon to Port-St-Louis-du-Rhone, 169 km also not developed nor rated. Total distance from Geneva to the sea: 700 km. Current provisional itinerary from Geneva to Point-Saint-Esprit: 450 km. I personally cannot wait for further development of the sections from Point-Saint-Esprit south, through the heart of Provence and several of my favorite towns, Orange, Avignon, Arles and Montpellier, as well as through the heart of the Cotes du Rhone wine region.
Here’s an update on ViaRhona, and where to go for additional information, should you be thinking about trying out some stages along the route. Remember that most of the route is currently in a provisional/in-development state. Provisional sections may follow unsignposted roads, roads with uneven surfaces and/or busy roads, some with narrow shoulders. If you are planning a trip along ViaRhona, be sure to refer to the interactive map on the website where you can learn more about conditions for specific stages of the route.
By clicking on a section of the interactive map, you will get an in-depth map with specific route information for that stage. Be sure to use the full-screen version, and enlarge the map so that you get the best details. From the intereactive map you will can obtain detailed information on each section and stage. GPS route information can be downloaded for each stage.
While most of the ViaRhona in a provisional or in-development state, there are sections of greenways along the route that offer short, safe paths suitable for recreational cyclists and families alike. These greenways are very popular and give a hint of what cyclists can expect when the entire Via Rhona is complete. Cyclists are urged to refer to the stage information where these greenways are located, as many of them are located in expert rated sections of the route. Here is a listing of locations for completed greenway segments:
- Greenway Chanaz–Belley, 12 km in the Geneva–Lyon section. More information at stage Seyssel–Chanaz-Beiley
- Greenway Belley–Virignin, 5.5 km in the Geneva–Lyon section. More information at stage Belley–Groslee
- Greenway La Balme–St-Genix-sur-Guiers, 14 km, in the Geneva–Lyon section. More information at stage Belley–Groslee
- Greenway Bregnier–Cordon–Groslee, 12 km, in the Geneva–Lyon section. More information at stage Belley–Groslee
- Greenway Jons–Lyon, 29 km, very popular route on the outskirts of Lyon. More information at stage Jons–Lyon
- Greenway Loire-sur-Rhone–St-Romain-en-Gal, 7 km in the Lyon–Valence section. More information at stage Lyon–Saint-Romain-en-Gal
- Greenway St-Romain-en-Gal–Sablons, 33 km in the Lyon–Valence section. More information at stage Saint-Romain-en-Gal–Sablons
- Greenway Tain-L’Hermitage–Valence, 21 km in the Lyon–Valence section. More information at stage Tain-l’Hermitage–Valence
- Greenway La-Voulte-sur-Rhone–Le Pousin, 6 km in the Valence–Avignon section. More information at stage Valence–Saulce-sur-Rhone
- Greenway Rochemaure–Viviers, 12.5 km in Valence–Avignon section. More information at stage Saulce-sur-Rhone–Chateauneuf-du-Rhone
Signposting is in place for the following segments of ViaRhona:
- From Switzerland to France: Geneva to Chancy
- In Haute-Savoie: Chancy to Seyssel
- In Savoie: La Loi (Culoz) to Chanaz and from La Balme to Champagnieu
- In Ain: Chanaz to Virignin and from Champagnieu to Groslee
- In Isere: Saint-Pierre-de-Boeuf to Saint-Rambert-d’Albon
- In Rhone: Loire-sur-Rhone to Condrieu
- In Loire: Condrieu to Saint-Pierre-de-Boeuf
- In Drome: Complete signposting
- Ardeche: No signposting
- Vaucluse: Lapalud to Pont-Saint-Esprit
- Bouches-du-Rhone: No signposting
- Gard: No signposting
Because of the current inconsistency of signage along ViaRhona, cyclists along the route are cautioned to always have a good map, and to download GPS tracks for each stage. It is also advised that cyclists refer to the Travel and Works Section on the website. This section provides the most current information on construction going on along the route, including information on segments that may be closed.
As a side note for those experienced cyclists who enjoy the challenge of hilly terrain, you may want to consider exploring the Swiss side of ViaRhona, called La Route du Rhone. It runs around the northern bank of Lake Geneva, crosses the Valais Region, leading up to the source of the Rhone at Andermatt. The Swiss Route du Rhone covers 350 km and is signposted the entire length. The route is mostly rated easy and intermediate with several difficult stretches, La Furka Pass and the stretch from Ernen to Morel. Detailed information on each stage of the route as well as elevation charts can be found at the terrific Cycling In Switzerland website.
For me, ViaRhona will be going on the back burner for now, but I will keep a watchful eye on progress for the future. With ViaRhona out of the picture for 2014, it’s time to reveal my top 5 routes to consider for the upcoming year. So stay tuned for this list on my next post! Should any of you have the opportunity to explore part of ViaRhona, please send me a note so that I can include your experiences in my Reader Update Section!