Planning a bike trip, especially your first, can be a time consuming and challenging task. The time and effort you spend evaluating routes is well worth it, as it will help insure you choose an itinerary appropriate for your skill level, age of travelers, and interests. You might already have an itinerary or two in mind for an upcoming trip. If so, this will simplify your planning a lot. If you’re totally undecided and looking for ideas, a perfect place to start the planning process is understanding the major route classifications and where you can find additional information on each: greenways (voie verte), regional cycle paths (veloroute) and EuroVelo, international cycle paths.
Greenways or voie verte in France
Greenways are perfect for recreational cyclists: they are safe for all ages including families with children and are generally well signposted. As officially described, greenways are reserved for non-motorized traffic: walkers, cyclists, rollerbladers and people in wheelchairs of small motorized devices. They’re typically found along river or canal towpaths, abandoned rail lines, lakeside, old logging roads, coastal paths, forests, seafront promenades, city parks and near large cities.
Their average length of greenways can be anywhere from under 10km to 50km, the perfect length for a fun ride or family outing. For many people, a day trip bicycling on a greenway is their first introduction to bicycling in France. They’re a perfect add-on to a regular vacation in France, since many are within easy access of major French vacation destinations.
Examples of greenways near popular vacation destinations include:
- La Voie Verte Des Gaves, in Lourdes, one of the most popular tourist destination in the Pyrenees. This greenway goes through one of the most beautiful valleys of the Pyrenees, along the old Gaves Valley rail line, closed to traffic in 1992. The 18km greenway passes by 11 villages and 6 natural sites and 3 heritage sites.
- The Canal de Garonne and the Canal du Midi Green Route, over 140km of car-free bicycling near the popular destinations of Bordeaux and Toulouse. These are just 2 of the 8 greenways in the Midi-Pyrenees region.
- The Rennes to Saint Malo Greenway, one of my favorite itineraries in Brittany, going through the Hede Locks, the walled town of Dinan and the resort of Dinard. This is just one of many greenways in Brittany.
- The Cyclepath of Calavon, link to the Luberon Valley, a 28km greenway from Les Beaumettes to St. Martin de Castillon. When fully completed, this greenway will take cyclists from the Cavaillon train station into the heart of Provence.
Unfortunately it’s not always easy to find information on greenways in an area you’re traveling to. Currently the best resource for information on greenways in France is the Association Francaise des Veloroutes et Voies Verte, simply referred to as the AF3V. Their website is hands-down the most comprehensive resource for information on greenways in France. Using this site will take a bit of extra work because the website is currently available only in French. I’m encouraged that there may be a plan for an English version, since there is an English icon for language choices! But, even as is, there are resources available here that you can’t find anywhere else, so it’s worth your time to do some translating! My favorite planning tool on the website is a clickable map where you can access detailed information on greenways. You can also search for greenways by region, click here for the link. Every greenway entry has a detailed description (perhaps the most accurate and up to date information available), a map, photos and a list of resources. A quick visit to Google Translate and you’ve got some great route information.
Other than the AF3V, you’ll also be able to also find information on local greenways from the regional office of tourism for an area you’ll be traveling to. Most regional tourism offices prominently feature cycling information on their websites and have information on local routes in tourism offices.
Examples of regional tourism offices with great cycling information include:
- The Aquitaine Office of Tourism, with an great cycling page with regional bike map, cycling videos and itinerary information
- The Touraine Tourism Board, with information and links to cycling along the Loire, the Indre and the Camino de Santiago cycle routes
- The Brittany Office of Tourism, with a dedicated cycling website
Regional Cycle Paths or Veloroute in France
Veloroute are medium to long distance cycle routes primarily on small roads with light traffic, rural roads, cycle tracks and greenways. For the most part, veloroute are signposted. Since signposting is normally the responsibility of local governments along the route, there can be variations in the quality of signposting and areas with missing signposts at important junctions as you go from one jurisdiction to another.
Veloroute are rarely under 100km and they are often hillier than greenways. Segments of different veloroute may be in development and may require bicycling on high traffic roads. Veloroute may follow higher traffic roads near larger cities and towns also. For this reason, some veloroute may be better suited to experienced cyclists, definitely not for families with children. When you are planning a trip along a long distance route, examine route details carefully to insure that the route is appropriate for your level of experience.
The network of veloroute in France is overseen by the AF3V, the same organization that oversees the French greenways. There are currently over 275 veloroute in France, many that are very well known, others that are not. The more popular the veloroute, the better trip planning resources you will probably find online.
Here are some of the more popular, well-known veloroute in France:
- L’Indre a Velo, a 100km deviation of the Loire, connecting the two very popular sites of Azay le Rideau and Chenonceau
- Tour de Manche and Petit Tour de Manche, 1200km of cycle paths connecting England’s Jurassic Coat to the Normandy D-Day Beaches, through the Vire Valley to Mont-Saint-Michel and Saint Malo
- Paris to Mont-Saint-Michel, a 450 km cycle path that links two of the biggest tourist attractions in France and is called the Veloscenic
- The Veloroute of the Luberon, a 236km journey through and around the Luberon
- Loire-a-Velo, one of the best-known and most popular cycle paths in France, this 800km cycle path is part of EuroVelo 6 and travels through 6 departments and 6 major cities and has so many attractions you could spend a month on this route
EuroVelo is a European bicycling network that links 42 countries in Europe. Since its creation just over 20 years ago, the EuroVelo network has dramatically impacted bicycle tourism across Europe. It’s a project of the European Cyclists’ Federation together with a group of national and regional partners. The ECF is dedicated to developing and promoting of a European cycling network that crosses and unites the European continent. The network consists of 14 routes with approximately 40,000km of the itineraries currently completed. The goal is to complete the network by 2020 at which time it will cover 70,000km. 56% of the completed EuroVelo itineraries are on public low-traffic asphalt roads, 14% on car-free paths and 14% on public high-traffic roads.
Itineraries on the EuroVelo network all types of routes from voie verte or greenways, veloroute or cycle paths, high traffic roads, and pretty much everything in between. Each itinerary in the network covers a wide variety of surfaces, but the goal is for each itinerary to have a hard surface for more than 80% of its length. Other requirements that itineraries must meet include: have no gradient over 6%, be wide enough for 2 cyclists, be on roads averaging no more than 1000 cars/day, be open for bicyclists year-round, have lodging every 50km, food every 30km and public transit every 150km.
Of the 14 EuroVelo routes, 7 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 newer additions, EuroVelo 15, the Rhine Route.
At the present time, the most comprehensive source of information on this network is the EuroVelo website, overseen by the European Cyclist’s Federation. This website is the first place you should go if you’re interested in learning more about the network, or are looking for information on any of the itineraries. Each of the itineraries has its own page with information ranging from route maps showing the status of stages along the route, to more detailed information, if available. You’ll find that the level of information available on each itinerary varies dramatically, some itineraries with a lot of information, some still in development. To reach each itinerary’s page, you can either click on a specific itinerary on the interactive map, or on the right hand navigation bar to get to each respective route. The route map for each EuroVelo route shows sections of each route that are completed, in-progress or planned. If you click on each country along the itinerary, you’ll get a more detailed map, as well as specific resources for the itinerary in that country.
By 2020, the goal is to have accommodation and support service information for each itinerary as well as information on attractions along the routes. So as the network continues to evolve, watch for expanded information on each route including these new areas. This European project to develop a cycle network that crosses and unites the European continent has set a new standard for cyclotourism and is one that will benefit every tourist interested in cycling for years to come.
Final Thoughts About Eurovelo, Veloroute and Greenways
After making your way through this blog post, I hope you better understand how many cycling options you have to either add a cycling component to an upcoming trip, or to plan a week or longer bicycling trip to France or anywhere else in Europe.
In addition to EuroVelo, veloroute and greenways, almost every town and region has local cycle routes that are often very extensive. Examples of these include three of my favorites: Chateaux a Velo, 400km of signposted itineraries in the Loire Valley, Velo Loisir Provence which oversees 400km of signposted cycle circuits in the Luberon and another 11 circuits in the Verdon Natural Regional Park, and the La Provence a Velo circuits, more than 35 cycling circuits in the Vaucluse region of Provence.
Bottom line, regardless of your level of experience, if you’re a seasoned bicycle tourist or have never bicycled in Europe before, there are options for every level, including families with children. You may find it challenging to narrow down your options to a manageable few. What a great problem to have! One detail you should consider when evaluating potential cycling itineraries is how much sightseeing you hope to do on your cycling holiday. Some itineraries have so much to see and do that you might only bicycle 20km/day! An example of this would be bicycling along the Loire. Other routes may have wonderful bicycling paths, but be in the middle of nowhere with nothing to see and no villages for miles. Bicycle paths that are built on abandoned rail lines have a tendency to fall into this category. On parts of La Velodyssee you’ll spend a lot of time on greenways through pine forests with not much to see along the way. And if you’re traveling off-season, you may not find a lot of cafes or restaurants open.
When you’re researching bicycling itineraries, make sure you investigate what there is to do along the route, the distance between towns and support services along the route. Taking the time to do this will help insure that you choose an option that meets your expectations.
I hope this post helps you with future trip planning. There’s never been a better time to plan a European cycling vacation so don’t delay, start planning yours today. In case you need a bit more inspiration, here’s a video on cycling in the Gironde Region around Bordeaux!