Of all the locations in Europe to plan a cycling trip, why choose France?
It’s not just the food, the wine, the history, champagne, beautiful villages or the weekend markets, although these definitely enhance the choice. Above all these things, France is simply a paradise for the recreational cyclist, making it the ideal bicycling destination. A slow, leisurely cycling vacation along the canals and waterways in France is the perfect antidote to our hectic, fast-paced world: a time to breathe and relax, savoring the simple things in life. So whether you are looking at biking a little or a lot, whether you are 20 or 60, whether you are traveling with kids or without, if you are looking for a vacation that could change and renew your life, read on.
Back in the 1990’s, France recognized the tremendous tourism potential of recreational bicycling. Inspired by the popularity of the “Donau Radweg”, at that time a 600 km cycle path in Germany and Austria along the Danube River, France began an ambitious plan to develop their own greenways and cycle routes.
Today France has one of the most extensive greenway systems in Europe with over 3,000kms of voie verte, car-free greenways where it one can discover the countryside at a leisurely pace, safely traveling 10km or 50km, depending on what you encounter along the way. In addition to the car-free voie verte, which are perfect for family travel, there are also extensive veloroutes or cycle tracks for long-distance itineraries, such as those along the Loire River, the Canal du Midi and the Burgundy Canal, just to name a few. Veloroutes are made up of different stretches which may include voie verte, quiet country roads with less than 1,000 cars a day or towpaths along canals. France currently has close to 300 cycle routes in every part of the country, with more being added every year.
Burgundy alone has close to 800km of voie verte and veloroutes in four different departments, enabling riders to pass chateaux, beautiful villages, vineyards and more historical attractions than you could ever imagine. Burgundy actually had a very special role in the development of the greenway movement in France. In 1997, Burgundy coined the term “voie verte” to describe a greenway, free of motorized traffic, shared by cyclists, hikers, rollerbladers and walkers with strollers. The first voie verte in France was introduced the same year in southern Burgundy, running from Givry to Cluny. Since then there has been no looking back. In just over 12 years, the Burgundy system has become one of the most comprehensive in France, complete with all the support services that a cyclist could need. The network is so attractive that I will be spending time there this summer, cycling along quiet roads and canals along several of the circuits. This time will enable me to report back on some of the latest new route additions.
One of the challenges of planning a cycling trip along the voie verte and veloroutes in France is that there is very little information available on the new routes, and much of what is available is in French. Most bicycling books on France are outdated, written before the new cycle routes were introduced. And with new paths being introduced throughout France every month, it is extremely difficult to find the most up to date route information. Experience France by Bike is your insider’s guide to cycling the canals and waterways of France, providing up to date information and links needed to plan your own French bicycling adventure.
Alone, or with friends or family, as an experienced cyclist or a complete novice, the growing network of safe cycling routes in France truly allow you to plan an adventure of a lifetime. Vineyards, castles, cathedrals, Roman ruins, engineering wonders, cities bursting with history, beautiful villages all await your discovery!
The best thing of all is that travel along a voie verte or veloroute provides the perfect opportunity for slow travel adventure. Come back soon to learn more about bicycling adventures in France!