By Maggie LaCoste
This is one of my favorite times of the year: planning my bicycling trips for the upcoming spring/summer! As I compile my preliminary list of routes I’d like to explore, I’m always amazed at the growth in improved, signposted routes, both in Europe in general and France in particular. Sometimes reading about the new routes and itineraries can be a bit confusing with different types of networks and routes discussed. So I thought I would review of some of the terms used. Hopefully this information will help you as you begin thinking about a bicycling vacation in France in 2013!
The idea to create a network of 12 international cycling routes across Europe started less than 20 years ago. Since that time, EuroVelo, has become one of the most prominent cycling advocacy organizations in the world. It is a project of the European Cyclists’ Federation, with a joint goal of developing a network of high-quality cycling routes in Europe. It is intended that the routes be used both by long-distance cyclotourists as well as by local residents to get to work. The network consists of over 45,000 km of existing bike paths and is projected to cover over 75,000 km by the time it is completed in 2020.
Of the 14 EuroVelo routes, seven of them have sections that go through France: EuroVelo 1, the Atlantic Coast Route, called La Velodyssee in France, EuroVelo 3, the Pilgrim’s Route, EuroVelo 4 and 5, EuroVelo 6, the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea Route, called La Loire a Velo in France, EuroVelo 8, the Mediterranean Route, and one of the newest additions, EuroVelo 15, the Rhine Route.
At the current time, the only two routes with information in English are EuroVelo 1, with the new La Velodyssee website which debuted earlier this year and EuroVelo 6, La Loire a Velo. If you travel either of these routes, it will be likely in the future that you will see the EuroVelo logo reflected in the signage along the path.
While there is limited route information currently, the goal is to have information on the website for everyroute by 2016. In the meantime, I will try to post updates on major route information. At completion in 2020, it is envisioned that the EuroVelo network’s 70,000 km will consist of:
- 14% bicycle path/lane
- 8% traffic-free asphalted road
- 6% traffic-free non-asphalted road
- 56% public low-traffic asphalted road
- 3% public, non-asphalted road
- 14% public, high-traffic, asphalted road
Also by 2020, the goal is to have an adequate supply and quality of accommodations, restaurants, bike rental companies, bike repair services, shops and attractions along the route to accommodate families, singles and every budget level. This European project to develop a cycle network that crosses and unites the European continent has set a new standard for cyclotourism throughout the world and is one that will benefit every bicyclist for years to come.
While EuroVelo run across one or more countries, and involve distances of over 1,000 km, Veloroute are long to medium distance scenic cycle paths that are signposted and secure. Veloroute can be comprised of a variety of road types: canal and lakeside roads, rural roads, cycle paths, high traffic roads and greenways/voie verte. Veloroute are not exclusively for bicyclists. Very often rural greenways are interspersed with Veloroute near larger cities and towns. This can be challenging if you are traveling with children, are tired from a long day of cycling or simply don’t want to deal with bicycling in traffic. On the other hand, there are many Veloroute where you may not see more than a dozen cars all day. Bottom line, itineraries with Veloroute can include virtually any type of surface and or/traffic pattern, so be sure that you do some research on these areas ahead of time, particularly if you will be traveling with children.
Examples of popular Veloroute in France are La Loire a Velo, the Canal du Midi, Paris to Strasbourg and La Velodyssee. Here are some examples of Veloroute road types:
Voie verte in French or greenways in English are signposted cycle paths reserved for non-motorized traffic: pedestrians, cyclists, rollerskaters and people in wheelchairs or small motorized devices. They are primarily located along river or canal towpaths, abandoned railways, lakeside, old logging roads, seafront promenades or in city parks. Most of the greenways are flat, with grades rarely over 3% which, together with no traffic make them the most popular routes in France, particularly with families. They are perfect for anyone looking for a peaceful, relaxing cycling adventure without the stress of automobile traffic.
There are currently over 3,000 km of greenways in France, and more are being built every year. Their average length is anywhere from around 10 km to 50 km, perfect for a leisure exploration on a warm afternoon or a family outing. For many, they are the first experience of the adventure of bicycling in France. They are a perfect add on to a regular vacation in France, since many greenways are within easy access by train/car of major French vacation destinations.
Some of the more popular greenways include the first voie verte in France, the route from Givry to Cluny in Burgundy, the greenway around Lake Annecy, perhaps one of the most scenic, Bordeaux to Lacanau, which connects to La Velodyssee, Saumur to Tours on the Loire, Toulouse to Castlenaudary on the Canal du Midi and the Canal du Centre, also in Burgundy.
There are also numerous greenways near Paris that would be perfect for an excursion into the country. Two particularly wonderful rides are a 47 km greenway along the canal in the Val de Marne department and a gorgeous 50 km greenway passing through the Forest of Rambouillet. Other than information from local tourism offices, there is not a lot of information on many of these local routes. The website of the AF3V that oversees the network of veloroute and voies verte in France is a good source of information, but at the current time it is only in French.
There are several other terms that are often used to describe bike routes that you may come across. Low traffic roads are often part of veloroute. Typically they are local roads used by residents with traffic under 500 cars/day. Cycle lanes are usually located in urban areas and they are on road lanes exclusively for bicyclists. Guidelines specify that cycle lanes be at least 1.5m wide in each direction and they are identified by bicycle markings on the lanes. Cycle paths are only slightly different, in that they are separate from the roadway and they too are exclusively for cyclists.
I hope this information has been helpful in increasing your understanding of the different cycling environments you may encounter in France. EuroVelo are multinational bicyling routes and they can include all types of bicycle paths. Veloroute are comprised of the same type of bicycle paths as EuroVelo, they are just located in France. Even though many sections of veloroute are listed as local or regional roads, the traffic on them is generally very light, thus making the routes still ideal for families.
The piece de resistance is the greenway–totally car-free, stress free cycling, perfect for families and people of all ages. Many of my favorite itineraries in France are the perfect combination of greenways and low traffic roads. Sometimes you cannot totally avoid travel on some higher traffic roads, especially when you leave the bike route to go into larger cities. If you opt to visit or stay in large towns, be sure you check out the best routes ahead of time, so that you can minimize the time you spend on busy urban roads.