When you’re on holiday in France, bringing along the bicycles or hiring them on-site is a great idea. France is becoming more cycle-friendly by the month. There are already an estimated 10,000km of completed cycle lanes in the country and that figure is due to more than double within the next decade to some 26,500km, according to a national plan amended in 2010.
The most popular tourist destination in the world is popular because of its continuing commitment to improving the visitor experience and investing at a speed that would leave the average Fáilte Ireland executive with a head-spin. France will be like another Holland in a few more years, such is the pace of development of their cycle lane network, which feeds into the Europe-wide Eurovelo network.
So where are the best places to get on your bike in France?
The choice is vast, but we’ve chosen a few that stand out and which are accessible to the average Irish holidaymaker:
1. Ronce-les-Bains to Palais-sur-Mer: This is a nice 29-km jaunt to get you into the swing of things in an area beloved of Irish people on camping holiday to France. The going is flat and it’s as family-friendly as you could have it, taking you past Palmyre Zoo (why not combine and the beaches along this flat area near Tremblade.
2. Île de Ré: Another perfectly-maintained cycle path in the Charente-Maritime department that’s not going to exhaust even the completely uninitiated but it will thrill with going through porticoes, over large bridges (cyclists still go free onto Île de Ré, unlike motorists), through the beautiful city of La Rochelle in safety and through the completely beguiling island of Île de Ré with its orange roofs, green shutters and white walls against which tall hollyhocks grow.
3. Vire to the Baie de Mont-St-Michel: This is a 75km stretch that uses a disused railway line, so that the cycle is as straight and relaxing as it could possible be, with plenty of shade offered along the way. Splendid countryside views that open out into a wonderful panorama as you approach the Bay of Mont St Michel itself. Depending on energy levels at that point, you might feel like extending the trip for another 15km from Pontaubault to Mont-St-Michel itself.
4. Bordeaux to Lacanau-Océan: A 59-km run that takes you from the very elegant sparkling city of Bordeaux on a smooth-tarmac lane across magically flat landscape to the sea-shore.
5. Nice to Bouches-du-Loup: A short stretch (15km) that can get very busy in the summer, particularly with the roller-blading fraternity, but if you’re in the area, this smooth cycle that hugs the coastline basically following the Promenade des Anglais is irresistible. A nicer way to get a three-dimensional flavour of the Cote d’Azur you won’t find anywhere else.
6. South Vendée Sea-and-Marsh Route: An 83km stretch from Aiguillon-sur-Mer to Maillezais that takes in the best of what natural Vendée has to offer between quiet countryside, marshland and coast. The going is decent solid roadway all the way – a dusty as opposed to tarmac surface, with about a third of it consisting of cycle paths beside quiet public roads.
7. Guidel-Plages to Kerroc’h: This is only 9km so even beginners won’t get too saddle-sore, but it is a superb piece of coastline in Southern Brittany and one where you can get very intimate with the sea. Best approached as a tour of some lovely beaches and and inlets by bicycle, much of the route has been reclaimed from former car-parks.
8. Quimper to Pont-l’Abbé: Starting at the neatly-maintained little town of Plugufan, this 13km cycle follows an old railway track with a surface that’s not the smoothest. What it does offer, however, is a safe and utterly tranquil cycling route to the lovely Breton fishing harbour town of Pont-l’Abbé, through a green tunnel offering shade and shelter all the way.
9. Biscarosse-Plage to Tarnos-Plage: For those who are ready for a long stretch, this 162km run on smooth tarmac all the way is a real cracker. Taking you through a variety of landscapes, the main route follows the coastline from the popular holiday destination of Biscarosse down almost as far as Bayonne, mostly behind the first line of coastal dunes. But all the seaside resorts are easily accessible from the route and if you’re still up for it, you can keep going all the way to Biarritz!
10. Caen to Ouistreham: For the D-Day enthusiasts, this is the one not to miss – 17km through history. Even better, the surface is smooth all the way and it takes you from the city outskirts to the long sandy beaches that are as useful to holiday makers as they were to the invaders of 70 years ago.
For precise locations, see the interactive map from Les Véloroutes et Voies Vertes de France by clicking here.