Any keen cyclist looking for a different kind of vacation should consider the adventure of cycling in France. There are so many beautiful locations to choose from that, whether an expert or beginner cyclist, anyone is spoiled for choice.
While France is maybe not quite as cycle-friendly as the Netherlands and often there are no dedicated cycling lanes, the French themselves love cycling, and that is whether they enter the famous Tour de France or not. In fact drivers are so used to watching out for cyclists that over the weekends, they always take extra care as the French hit the pedals en force, so to speak.
While enjoyable year-round, spring and summer are probably the most popular months for a cycling vacation in France, but where are the best spots to go? While not all locations are perfect for cycling, it is good to note that bicycles are allowed on trains free of charge. It’s just a matter of reserving that extra space with the ticket, so bear that in mind while traveling.
There are some great routes to choose from when cycling in France and one excellent choice is the route from La Baule, located at the mouth of the Loire, through to Biarritz. This route through the beautiful Aquitaine region consists of an almost entirely tarred cycle lane and is the most complete long-distance cycle route in the country.
Another excellent route to try out is that from the Atlantic coast all the way through to the Mediterranean coast. With dedicated and tarred cycling lanes (or “veloroutes” as they are known in France) most of the way, it is possible to head down from either Lacanau or Arcachon on the Atlantic coast, bypassing the Bordeaux area to Montferrand and close to Toulouse. This route follows along the partly tarred and partly unsurfaced canal towpath near Sète, on the Mediterranean coast.
For those with a bit more stamina, the French Alps are great for a bit of adventure when cycling in France and the area is popular with cyclists worldwide. Cycling along at a slower speed offers spectacular mountain vista on all sides and cyclists can even experience the grueling mountain stages of the Tour de France, but at a more comfortable rate than that of the entrants. However, it is important to note that during the period from June to September, road conditions do get quite busy.
As for the bicycles themselves, there are bicycle rental outlets all over the counttry where tourists can pay a reasonable fee and go cycling in France. However, for cyclists taking their own with them on holiday, there are several rules and regulations to bear in mind.
When cycling in France, bicycles must be equipped with fully-functioning brakes, a bell and for after dark cycling must be fitted with both front and rear lights together with reflectors.
While crash helmets are not compulsory in the country, and as mentioned, motorists on the whole are constantly aware of cyclists on the road, it is still strongly advised to wear a helmet when cycling in France. It is also essential to wear a high-visibility reflective waistcoat if cycling after dark outside the busier areas.
When cycling in France, always bear in mind that wherever there are cycle lanes provided, cyclists must stick to those and not amble out into the car lanes. Cyclists must also obey the traffic signals and signs, just as they would at home, including stop signs, one way signs and no entry signs.
As they would when driving a car, cyclists must always keep a safe distance between them, or other vehicles. During the day, cyclists are allowed to ride two-abreast, however at night they must proceed in single file.
France has some excellent wines and it is always tempting to have a couple of glasses along the way, but bear in mind that in France you are subject to the same limits as other road users and cycling under the influence can bring on a serious fine along with the impounding of the bicycle. Not the best experience to have on vacation.
The video below documents the story of Richard Alvarez and Kevin Davidson who undertook a 2,000 mile cycling tour from England around France. As with everywhere in the world, take care when cycling in France and have the vacation of a lifetime – an adventure out on the open road, in the fresh air and beautiful scenery is just the ticket.
By Anne Sewell
The Col d’Aubisque, a mountain pass in the Pyrenees CC by-SA 3.0 Myrabella
Ardennes Canal at Omicourt Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Havang(nl)
Cycling lane alongside the Canal du Nivernais in Vincelles, Yonne, France CC by-SA 3.0 Pline