By Maggie LaCoste
It’s hard to believe that it has already been three months since the formal debut of La Velodyssee on June 30. This 1245 km. cycle route from Roscoff to the Spanish border has the potential to be one of the most popular routes for recreational cyclists in France, but early problems with poor signage resulted in some less than stellar reviews. So what has happened in three months to make this route one that you should consider for a 2013 bicycling destination? To begin with, the initial French-only website now has an English version, and it is adding more useful information and advice for trip planning regularly. There still is not a search engine on the website to help with lodging, but one is planned for the future. Regarding the problem with signage, there do seem to be some improvements along the route, however, it appears that there are still areas where signage is spotty or non-existent. According to the website, La Velodyssee signs are being added to existing bicycle route signs in the various departments along the route. In areas with no or few bicycle route signs, there are good chances that you will not see signs for La Velodyssee.
To get a first hand account of improvements in signage along La Velodyssee since I was there in May, I am happy to feature two reports from readers. John Cave of Cumbria UK spent 4 weeks riding both the English and French Velodyssee on a tandem with his wife Ann from mid-June to mid-July. Catherine Dempsey who lives in Villeneuve sur Lot France, spent 8 days in September riding the section of La Velodyssee from La Rochelle to the Arcachon Basis then inland to Bazas. Based on their reports it sounds like there have been improvements since May, but there are areas that still need improvement. Hopefully work will continue during the winter to upgrade the user friendliness of this route, primarily by expanding the quality and extent of signage along the route.
Here is Catherine’s report from September:
Just back from an 8 day ride from La Rochelle to the Arcachon Basin then landwards to Bazas in the Landes. Planned our trip according to the weather forecast and only had one afternoon of rain in the Landes fortunately. I agree with you so much about the endless forest tracks, the poor signing, the total lack of clued up information at Tourist board offices, and things haven’t really improved since your trip. Loved Chatellaillon, La Palmyre, Royan and, in particular Soulac. Check out Residence Anna, an absolute find and the ferry ride across to Medoc from Royan. Lacanau Ocean is a bit concrete and would appeal only really to the young surfing set. Velodyssee marks the last stage from Hourtin Plage to Lacanau as Expert but doesn’t really say why. We found out! It’s pretty ghastly, long and steep (1 in 10 hills) with scary descents. OK we’re not very fit and in our late 60s but it was not a lot of fun in the latter half of a long day from Soulac to Lacanau. If they want to really attract everyone they’ll have to upgrade the coastal paths. North Eastern Arcachon Basin was a bit of a disappointment. It was shut. This is so typically French (I’ve lived here for over 18 years I can say that!). A Monday just after mid September, absolutely nothing open in Ares to eat lunch. Went to the oyster port to see if the cabanes were open. Shut. We tried the beach area. Shut. Husband, who’s an oyster freak, was distraught. Eventually ended up having a bit of soggy quiche reheated from the bakers. Quite funny in retrospect!
One important thing I think I should draw to your attention are the biting ‘flies’ in the forest stages at this time of year at any rate. “Mouches plates”, they’re more of a small horsefly, or cleg in the UK. About the size of an ordinary fly but flatter and light brown in colour, they can stick to you while you’re going downhill at 30 kph. And they have a vicious bite which many people react to. I was covered in mosquito repellant but they love that! You have to get a serious insect barrier spray, Insect Ecran is one, pharmacists only, repels mouches plates, mosquitos, ticks, harvest mites or chiggers in US, fleas and probably most things apart from irritated Spaniels (Marennes!). Where were you in Marennes? We were in Marennes Central on Friday 14th September and we had a choice of one restaurant. The tumbleweed was blowing round the street! I probably sound as if I’m whingeing…we covered over 475k and actually had a great time, not as much fun as the Canal du Midi
Here is John’s report from June/July:
We started In Bayonne, which is where The European Bike Express dropped us off. A few miles to the coast and we found a car park on the route with a La Velodyssee sign. A good start. From Bayonne right up to Royan the signage was good, not always with the La Velodyssee symbol but usually with EV 1. Some signs were just for direction, some gave distances but most were clear and easily seen. As long as one is aware of the route and where you are going, it is very straight forward. It does become very easy to rely on the signs and then when an option arrives or the very rare a missing sign, then it is useful to know where you are and where you are heading. We made a mistake heading to Lucon, which added miles, before we realised that some areas are signing other routes off the main route with the La Velodyssee symbol.
Any of the difficulties we mentioned in our blog were always short term and often meant we then spent time talking and exchanging information with locals or other tourers, which is always interesting. Our last stretch of coast to St. Brevin-les-Pins, again was well signed, as was the next stretch along the Loire to Nantes. All big cities cause us problems, but on refection this was actually fairly easy, into the centre, turn left and up to the canal. Our only problem was not finding the Tourist Information office. The route to the start of the Nantes to Brest canal was good and well signed, mainly small roads and one or two sections we lost the signs. Again, as long as you know where you are heading, you usually find the route again fairly quickly.
The route along the canal was great, others said it is a hidden gem and it is. Very enjoyable cycling, peaceful and quiet, lovely lock houses and gardens. Needless to say in this relaxed mode we missed the turn off the canal towards Carhaix. After this the Greenway was very clear and well signed, though not with the La Velodyssee symbol. It was all EV 1 (Eurovelo 1), yet again as long as you had done some research beforehand then no problem. This took us all the way to Roscoff, mainly on greenways then lanes and onto the coast. Getting to the ferry was very easy, close enough to town to buy tickets and then cycle into Roscoff for the evening and a meal and then back for the late evening weekend ferry. If staying in a hotel for a morning ferry it would be no problem from the town to the ferry first thing, probably 15 minutes at the most.
Arrival in Plymouth early had some advantages, no traffic being the main one. We found the signs for NCN 27 – Plymouth to Ilfracombe, the Devon Coast to coast. This route was very well signed and an enjoyable ride, though much harder than anything on the French side of the route. Well worth doing, though I think I would go from north to south another time – head to the warmer weather. We were a little disappointed not to see any mention of La Velodyssee in Devon. The route was very well signed, probably the best on the whole route, but not a mention of La Velodyssee. Also the end at Ilfracombe appeared to be in a car park, with no sign or mention of the fact that it was the start/finish of a cycle route. Having done the C2C last week we finished at a sign in Tynemouth that stated exactly what it was, C2C End, Reivers Start etc. ( Only a minor gripe really)
We both thoroughly enjoyed the whole route, we were not in a rush but did have some time restraints, it is a route one could enjoy at a very slow pace, and also sample many of the offshoots along the way. The quicker one wants to do the route the more planning and research is required, we knew that the route was only opening officially as we were on it, we picked up maps along the way where we could, the website went live whilst we were en route, and now has an English version. There was work taking place on the route in a few places, though in fairness there were diversions or warning signs wherever this happened. So a little time to ‘bed in’, for the tourist offices to discover what is going through their area, and that the route is two way not just a one way route and I think this will become a big favourite for all types of cyclists. If you want to read more about John’s trip, you can find his blog at http://velodyssey-by-tandem.blogspot.co.uk.
If you have any insight into La Velodyssee that you would like to share, please send it along!