10 Long-distance cycling routes in France to discover
If you are looking for some long-distance cycling routes in France for your next bicycle-touring adventure then this article will give you some ideas of what is on offer. It is not intended to be a detailed guide but to help you see what is out there to get you started on planning your cycle touring holiday. We have selected 10 different routes for you to consider covering a large part of the country and differing landscapes. Whether you decide to cover the entire length or simply have a short day trip the choice is yours.
Our personal preference is to go down the path of choosing our own route and incorporating sections of these long-distance cycle routes in France. Everyone is different in what they do and don’t like and how they plan their trips, so there is no right or wrong answer about how to plan a trip in our view. Do what is right for you. We have ridden on parts of some of these routes but not the entire length. Our plan over the 2023 season is to explore some of the areas we have yet to visit.
In 2021 we cycled from Cherbourg to the Pyrenees over a three-week period which was great fun. Along the way, we visited the Normandy D-Day beaches, Mont Saint Michel, La Rochelle, and the Bordeaux region. We documented our trip on YouTube in a 10-part series so head over and check it out and see what life on the road was like over the 3 weeks. We also have a short 4-part series on a trip we undertook in January 2022 from the Pyrenees to Marseille cycling along the Canal du Midi, the Mediterranean and through the Camargue.
Tips about long-distance cycling routes in France
Before we delve into the actual routes themselves we thought we would share some of the things we have learned and observed while cycling on them. It might also help dispel some of the preconceptions people might have about them. We want people to have a realistic expectation of what these routes are like so they arrive fully knowledgeable of what lies ahead of them.
They are long-distance cycling routes, not cycling paths
When we first started looking at this style of cycling in France we initially thought a cycling route would mean a separate bike path. This is definitely not the case. While large sections of these routes are on bike-specific paths free of traffic, there are also large parts that are on-road cycling. The roads chosen are nice and quiet and you soon learn that in France cyclists are treated well by other vehicles. If you do specifically want an off-road experience you will be able to find it but double-check the route information.
Signposting can be hit and miss
Our experience of cycling on these routes has been that some sections are very well signposted while other sections are very poorly signposted. We have commented a number of times that we were glad we were not reliant on just the signposting. We would recommend highly, having some form of navigation and not assuming that the path will be well signposted and you can just follow the signs.
You will be on shared paths with pedestrians at times
This is especially the case as you navigate in and out of cities and towns and can make the going a little slower in some instances. For example, the path out of La Rochelle on the EuroVelo 1 route hugs the coastline giving you amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean. But, there are a number of sections that use a very busy promenade, and navigating crowds of summer visitors with a heavy touring bike is slow. Quite often the simple solution is to try and cross such areas early in the morning when crowds are at their lowest. Make sure you factor this into your timing and how far you will travel in a day.
Cities and built-up areas are slow going
If you choose a route that takes in a larger city or busy built-up area be mindful that getting through can slow your pace considerably. For example, we arrived at the train station in the centre of Nantes and it took the best part of an hour before we hit the city limits and the countryside. We had numerous intersections, traffic lights, and roundabouts to navigate which all slowed progress. Our advice is to make sure you allow extra time to get through cities and built-up areas and just expect them to be busy and slower.
They are not all scenic with breathtaking views
While you will encounter plenty of stunning landscapes and views as you cycle on long-distance cycling routes in France, you also need to be prepared for sections that are less impressive. We have found that the route chosen through towns and cities can take you through industrial areas and at times the roads chosen can be less than attractive. The priority is to keep you on quieter roads and away from busy traffic but this can come at the expense of the scenery. Sometimes they say it is not about the destination but rather the journey but sometimes it might be more about the destination than the journey in our opinion.
Surfaces can be of varied quality
Surface type and quality can be mixed on these long-distance cycling routes in France. We have experienced everything from super smooth sealed tarmac to very rough unsealed surfaces. Most of the official websites for these routes point out the sealed vs unsealed sections so make sure you review them and be aware of what is ahead. Most cycle touring bikes will handle these surfaces easily but if you are touring on a road bike with skinny tires it can slow progress significantly.
They are an excellent resource
We have constantly been impressed by the development of the infrastructure along these routes. This is especially the case along the separated bike-path sections. It makes for nice and easy cycling and keeps you away from busy and noisy roads which is great. We have always encountered plenty of cyclists using the sections of routes we have been on which creates a great atmosphere. These routes are under constant development and are being improved all the time and new ones are being added. It certainly looks great for cycle touring in France for the years to come.
The EuroVelo network of cycle routes across Europe currently offers 17 routes and 90 000km to explore. These routes are constantly being developed and provide a range of landscapes and countries to explore. The Eurovelo website has lots of information about these so be sure to have a look at it.
The 10 long-distance cycling routes in France
So onto the routes themselves. We choose these 10 to give you an idea of the types of long-distance routes that are available in France. They are by no means the only ones available but give you an idea of what is on offer and are some of the more popular routes we are aware of. We have cycled on parts of some of them but not all at this point in time. We do hope over the 2022 summer to get out again and explore some of these in more detail.
Canal deux Mers
This long-distance cycling route follows the Canal de Garonne and Canal du Midi running from the town of Royan on the Atlantic Ocean to Séte on the Mediterranean. The total length is just under 800km and there are plenty of options to do shorter sections. This route is primarily on canal towpaths, making it car-free and family-friendly. The Canal des 2 Mers a Velo website has lots of great information about the route.
We have cycled a few sections of this route over the past 12 months but not the whole length. The sections we have ridden include the Roger Lapébie cycle path near Bordeaux, a short section on the canal near Toulouse, and a longer section along the canal into Narbonne. Given the length of this route, the terrain changes as you travel from the start to the finish. Navigation has been easy on the sections we have ridden and well signposted. While the majority of the surfaces are sealed there are some sections closer to the Mediterranean that are not, so you will need to make sure you have an appropriate bike. The official website of the route identifies these sections and suggests an appropriate bike type.
La Seine à Vélo
One of the newest long-distance cycling routes in France, the La Seine á Vélo runs from the centre of Paris to the Normandy coast following the Seine River valley. You can choose to end the route at either Le Harve or Deauville. The route covers a distance of 400km on a mix of cycle paths and quiet roads. The La Sein à Vélo website has all the information you need to plan your trip.
The Eurovelo 1 is an epic 11,000km long-distance cycling route that runs from Norway to Portugal. It runs from Roscoff to Hendaye along the French coastline before heading into Spain. This route is a mix of cycle paths and on-road cycling. The route follows the coastline, for the most part, occasionally heading inland for short periods.
Our experience on this route is limited but we have cycled a short section of it into and out of La Rochelle on a couple of different trips. This is a popular route and on the sections, we were on there were plenty of other cycle tourists around which we always enjoy. Along one section we counted 247 cyclists in the space of 2 hours. The sections we rode were a mix of separated bike paths and on-road cycling. The signage was great and easy to follow making navigation nice and easy.
If you prefer the Cote d’Azur and the Mediterranean Sea over the Atlantic Ocean, then the Eurovelo 8 route is something you can consider. The entire route runs 7,500km from Spain to Greece passing through France from the Spanish to Italian borders. The route is a mix of cycle paths and on-road cycling. The Eurovelo 8 page on the Eurovelo website has route details and more information to help you plan.
We cycled a short part of this route in January from Narbonne to La Grande Motte. We were impressed by the cycling infrastructure and separated bike paths. This is a busy tourist destination and it was nice to be away from the roads and traffic. For the most part, the path was well signposted and navigation straightforward. There were a few intersections we had a little trouble working out where to go but got there in the end. Our recommendation would be to cycle this route outside the summer holiday period. We visited the area in mid-winter and can only imagine what summer would be like.
Les Routes des Grand Alpes
If you are looking for some elevation a ride along the length of the French Alps could suit your requirements. This particular route starts at Lake Geneva and finishes nearly 800km later on the coast at Nice. This one is not for the faint-hearted as you will be required to spend many hours climbing. The majority of this route will be on road. The Les Routes des Grand Alpes website has all the information you need to plan this challenging route over the mountains.
This is not a route we have cycled yet but one that we would like to do at some point. We have done a little bit of cycle touring in the French Alps and plenty of road cycling. We cycled from Lake Annecy to Chamonix in 2018 before heading over the mountains to Lake Geneva a few days later. While the going is tough the views are spectacular and we hope to get back there soon for a longer trip.
The Raid Pyrenees is a challenging route that takes you from the Atlantic coast to the Mediterranean across the Pyrenees mountain range. It is classified as a brevet/audax/randonée whereby you have a set period of time to cycle the distance. In the case of the route over the Pyrenees, you have 10 days to cycle 800km and climb 18 000m. Of course, you don’t have to partake in this challenge and you can take as long as you wish and choose your own path over the mountains. The official website of the Raid Pyrenees provides the details for those who do wish to undertake this as a timed challenge.
We have spent a lot of time cycling in the Pyrenees but not on loaded touring bikes. If you are up for the challenge of big mountains we highly recommend this area for its natural beauty and quiet roads. We loved it so much that we moved here and plan to undertake the route across the Pyrenees in 2023.
The Loire Valley is a popular cycling destination and here you can ride the La Loire á Velo cycling route. It covers a distance of 800km taking you from the town of Nevers to the Atlantic coast following the Loire River. The majority of this route will be on dedicated cycle paths, although some sections will be on quiet roads. Characterized by grand chateaus and wineries, this is a quintessential French cycling experience and a favourite for many.
ViaRhôna cycle route
This route is just over 800km in length and takes you from the shores of Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean Sea along the Rhone River valley. Like other routes, you could choose to ride the whole lot or just a shorter section. This route is on a mix of cycle paths and quiet roads and you will be next to the river along its length. For more information about this route, the ViaRhôna website has lots of information to help you.
We cycled on the section of this route between La Grande Motte and Avignon in January 2022. We had a mix of separated bike paths and quiet country roads along this section. Getting away from the busy coast was nice and easy and cycling along the canal and river was fantastic. The highlight was seeing the flamingos as we cycled through the Camargue, a beautiful wetland area recognized as an area of international importance. See how we fared with the infamous Mistral winds in our YouTube video.
Veloscenic Cycle route
This route takes you from central Paris to the UNESCO world heritage site of Mont Saint Michel. The route passes through a variety of different landscapes along its 440km length. From Mont Saint Michel you can choose to head further into Normandy or down into Brittany for plenty more adventures. The Veloscenic website provides you with a wealth of information about cycling the route.
We visited Mont Saint Michel in August 2022 and highly recommend a visit to this part of France. We have a separate article about cycling in Mont Saint Michel which has lots of practical information about visiting the island and abbey. This is a part of France we loved and will definitely be back to explore the area more, including this route.
Choose your own adventure
Of course, nothing is stopping you from making up your own long-distance cycling route in France based on the things that you want to visit. This is the method we have traditionally used and it suits our style of travel and adventure. We have ended up on some of the bike routes we mentioned above but for the majority, we have created our own routes on roads using online tools such as Google Maps, Kamoot, Ride with GPS, and Maps.me. For us, we start with a rough idea of where we want to go based on the time available and then sort the details out as we go. This gives us the flexibility to change plans along the way which we have done a few times.
If you are planning a cycling holiday in France be sure to check out the other sections of our website. We have lots of information to help you plan. Some pages and articles you might find interesting:
- Cycle touring in France – an article about cycle touring in France and some of the things to be aware of and how things work that we have learned over the years.
- Road rules for cycling in France – this article outlines the road rules that apply to cyclists in France and details some of the signposts that will make your life easier as a cyclist.
- How to catch French trains with a bike – incorporating train travel into your cycle touring holiday is a great way to see more in a short period of time. This article outlines the different train types and how the French train network works when it comes to bringing your bike onboard.