I’m a planning nut. I spend hours researching itineraries for future bicycling trips. Once I zero in on a potential itinerary, I spend a huge amount of time researching places to stay along the way. For every night of a trip, I spend about 3-4 hours researching the best places to stay. The payoff for my efforts will hopefully be a great bicycling experience, full of adventure, new friendships and incredible places to stay. But you never know. Regardless of my painstaking research and preparation, I never know how well I’ve done until I’m actually in the midst of a trip. Of course at this point, there aren’t many options if I made some less than ideal choices. Lucky for me, this hasn’t happened often.
Fortunately my planning was spot on this year when I chose to spend two weeks bicycling in Normandy and Brittany, beginning with a week on the new D-Day Beaches to Mont-St-Michel itinerary. Overall, I loved this itinerary. I fulfilled all 10 goals that I set for my 2 week trip just while bicycling this itinerary. Each lodging choice was better than the last, and the new friendships we made enriched each day of our trip. The itinerary was generally well marked, perhaps the best I’ve experienced in several years.
There were several critical junctions where directional signs were missing and as a result we spent several hours in the famous rolling hills of Normandy, trying to find our way back. The itinerary was safe, comprised mainly of greenways, towpaths and quiet country lanes and roads.
I would feel comfortable bicycling most of this route with kids. The terrain was definitely not flat, mostly a gentle uphill grade or gentle rolling. If you deviated off the main route, the terrain quickly became very hilly, as we experienced enroute to several overnight destinations.
The D-Day Beaches to Mont-St-Michel route is a great bicycling itinerary, one you should consider adding to your cycling bucket list. How can you possibly go wrong with an itinerary that is anchored by two of the most popular tourist attractions in all of France?
There are three possible starting points on this itinerary, Port-en-Bessin and Omaha Beach, Arromanches and Gold Beach or my starting point, Utah Beach. Regardless of where you start, this itinerary begins with an immersion into the history of the D-Day invasion and the Battle of Normandy.
Whether you are a great student of WW II or not, I don’t think anything really prepares you for the experience of exploring the D-Day Beaches by bike. Touring the area around Utah Beach by bike was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Bicycling the backroads of this quiet and surprisingly uncommercial area was an intimate and sometimes emotional experience. With each pedal stroke you were immersed deeper in the history of the area. Commemoratives to fallen soldiers and historical markers dotted the landscape and were a constant reminder that you were traveling on hallowed ground. Any tourist visiting this area could not help but be moved at the experience, but to visit this area slowly and purposefully by bike was something very special indeed.
Once you leave the D-Day Beaches, each of the routes heads south until they all meet up in La Ferriere-Harang, home of the famous Viaduc de Souleuvre built by Gustave Eiffel(of Eiffel Tower fame), and now a popular bungee jumping spot. Depending on your starting point, the bicycling distance to Mont-St-Michel was between 190 and 225 km. My route from Utah Beach took us through the lovely village of Carentan, to Saint Lo, a deviation to Torigni-sur-Vire, Sourdeval, Mortain then on to Mont-St-Michel via the lovely town of Ducey.
I found the middle part of this itinerary to be quite boring and tedious, similar to the miles and miles of pine forests along parts of La Velodyssee. There were very few towns along segments of the path and often no where to stop for a snack or to pick up supplies. During the summer holiday period, many small inns and Logis along the path were closed. Because of this, we deviated off the bike path to the medieval Torigni-sur-Vire and the very small village of Perriers-en-Beauficel for overnight lodging. Both of these deviations resulted in ending the day with significant uphill climbs.
The bike route from Ducey to Mont-St-Michel was the best segment of the entire itinerary. Less than an hour after leaving Ducey, I had my first sighting of Mont-St-Michel. From that point on, the spectacular abbey revealed itself in different light and with different backdrops, each one more gorgeous than the last. I spent the morning thinking about the pilgrims traveling to the Mont, using its spire to guide them on their journey. Once the early morning fog cleared, Mont-St-Michel was hardly ever out of our view.
We spent the next day cycling in and around Mont-St-Michel, the end point of this special itinerary. Regardless of whether it was sunny, cloudy, foggy, raining or storming, nothing could detract from the very special charm of this spectacular attraction. Bicycling the greenway from Pontorson to the Mont was a special treat, with Mont-St-Michel revealing itself with every pedal stroke.
I can’t imagine the emotions felt by early pilgrims as they approached this incredible abbey after such a long journey. But I know that my experience traveling here by bike has enabled me to share at least some of this emotion and anticipation. During our visit we were fortunate to have the opportunity to learn more about the amazing restoration project that will return the Mont to its original maritime setting. This is an amazing undertaking that I will write more about in the future.
The two nights that we spent at the small B&B Villa Mons in Pontorson, about 10 km from Mont-St-Michel were our favorite on this itinerary.
We spent 1 week exploring this itinerary, including 2 days in and around Utah Beach, 3 days bicycling to Pontorson and 2 days in and around Mont-St-Michel. It would have been easy to spend 2 weeks here. While I loved each town we stayed in along the way, there’s no question that the beginning and end of the itinerary were the highlights. The fact that it’s possible to safely bicycle between these two major attractions is amazing.
Are there things I would do differently if I did this route again? Definitely, but the things I would do differently mainly involve spending more time in the area. The Manche region is a wonderful, welcoming area for bicyclists. It is rich with history, great food and wonderful, affordable places to stay. It is definitely an area for lingering and exploring, a perfect area to experience France by bike. If I am lucky enough to return to this area, here’s what I would do differently:
- I’d spend more time cycling in and around Utah Beach. This is a gorgeous area and one that is perfectly suited to exploring by bike. Between Utah Beach and Cherbourg there are numerous wonderful local cycle paths that I would love to explore.
- I’d spend several days cycling in and around Omaha Beach
- I would read topographical maps of the region much more carefully so I understand exactly what “rolling hills” are (actually this is a lesson learned for all future trips!)
- I’d spend more time bicycling in and around the Bay of Mont-St-Michel
- Depending on available time, I would consider taking the train for part of the route, from St. Lo to Pontorson, allowing more time for bicycling in my favorite areas
- I would definitely eat more salt meadow lamb, hands-down the best thing I ate on the trip
- I would eat more of the very special butter from Isigny-St-Mere (seriously!). This butter is so unbelievable, you’re tempted to just eat it. Thoughts of this butter got me through 8 hours of cycling in the rain!
- I’d eat more Biscuits de Saint-Mere-Eglise. Too bad I didn’t taste these until we were too far away to buy more. They are unbelievable!
Think you might be interested in cycling this itinerary? Stay tuned for an upcoming blogpost on some of my favorite trip planning resources!