7 of our favourite traffic free cycling routes in France

Post last updated:

The French voie vertes

Did you know France has a vast traffic-free cycle path network? Known in French as a voie verte, meaning greenway, these pieces of infrastructure are popular throughout the country. The rate of dedicated voie vertes in France being built and expanded upon is ever increasing. More towns are looking to reap the benefits which traffic-free cycling routes can bring. In many areas, they replace old rail lines and canal towpaths making them a nice flat place to cycle with few hills. In other areas, they are purpose-built and designed to make it nice and easy for riders of all abilities.

Whilst it is common to find these cycle paths built alongside canals and rivers, there are also some to explore in mountainous regions too. We definitely recommend seeking these out in the Alps and Pyrenees. Voie vertes in the mountains are a great way to get an easier ride in, resting those legs and avoiding steep gradients. They are also fantastic options when travelling with children or others who aren’t as confident mixing with cars on the roads.

We have experienced many voie vertes over the years in France and wanted to share 7 of our favourites so that you can seek them out and ride them also. We are always exploring new voie vertes and will add to this list as we cycle them.

Cycle touring in France along the Roger Lapebie voie verte near Bordeax

Before we dive into our list here are a few things we have learned about the practicalities of cycling these traffic-free routes as well as some tips to help you out as well. You can jump down to our list of 7 traffic-free routes in France if you are already familiar with them.

Practicalities of cycling voie vertes in France

If you have never cycled on this style of cycle path or bike route in France you will no doubt have plenty of questions before you head out. We certainly had little idea of what to expect. As we experienced these more and more over the years we have learned plenty about them and will share some of that experience as it applies to the majority of routes.

Navigation and signage on voie vertes

We have personally found navigation on the voie vertes in France to be quite straightforward. Signage and distance markers are generally placed at main junctions letting you know how far you have to go to the next landmark or village. For the most part, it is quite obvious where you need to go, especially if you are on an old rail line or canal towpath. We have experienced one or two voie vertes that could do with an extra sign or two in key places, but it is usually easy to work out which way to go.

Most of the voie vertes have a clear trailhead at either end with plenty of information to help you out. You will usually find information in English although some are in French only, it depends on the popularity of the area for English speaking tourists.

Some trails will also provide interesting insights along the way into historic places of significance that you may be riding past. We always enjoy reading about the area and the history and significance of the landscape as we cycle along.

If you want to ride a trail that leaves from a major city we would encourage you to first look at the route online. This will give you a better overview of the whole trail and also a good idea of where the best place to set off from is. For example, the Roger Lapebie voie verte starts about 10km from central Bordeaux. There are separated cycle lanes all the way out but you need to know which one to follow to get to the start.

Voie verte surface quality

The surface quality of voie vertes really depends on the area and if you are considering cycling a particular voie verte you might want to check what the surface is like. Of the 7 voie vertes we have listed below 5 are fully sealed with asphalt and the other two are unsealed with a generally smooth surface. We find our gravel bikes are great given they can ride on any surface we encounter.

Food, water and amenities on voie vertes

All the voie vertes we have cycled on have had places to stop and top up water bottles or grab a bite to eat. Many will pass through small villages giving you the opportunity to drop into a café or boulangerie to refuel. Shops in small villages quite often close over the lunch period so make sure you grab any food supplies before 12:00 pm or you might be stuck until later in the afternoon. Cafés generally stay open all day but may only serve food over the lunch period.

We always enjoy packing a picnic when we head out on these trails. We stock up on food and water at the start of the day and enjoy a nice lunch in the countryside. There are often picnic areas to stop at and enjoy the surroundings or simply a place to pull over and have a break by the side of the track.

In France, you will often come across public fountains where you can access drinking water. Many of these are marked as “Eau potable”, meaning the water is ok to drink, or “Eau non-potable” meaning the water is not ok to drink. Eau, as you might have guessed is French for water. We usually work on the assumption is no signage means it’s ok, but we will leave that up to you to decide.

Toilets, or WCs, as they are often called in France can be hit and miss in our experience. If the voie verte takes you through villages, there are often public toilets available. Our recommendation would be to look for the local Marie, or town hall, as more often than not you will find a toilet and fresh water. We have definitely experienced times when there is no option other than a tree by the side of the path. It really depends on the particular voie verte you are on.

Our favourite Voie Vertes to ride in France

Now that you are familiar with the practicalities of voie vertes in France, here are our 7 favourite voie vertes. We have cycled all of these ourselves and will add to the list as we experience new ones.

1. Voie Verte des Gaves – Lourdes to Pierrefitte Nestalas

The voie verte des Gaves is located in the Pyrenees running from Lourdes to Pierrefitte Nestalas over a distance of 18 km (11 mi). The voie verte takes advantage of a disused railway line which used to run all the way to the resorts of Cauterets and Luz Saint Sauveur. The tracks are now long gone, and replaced with beautiful smooth asphalt.

We live in this area and use this voie verte frequently. The voie verte follows the Gave de Pau (river) for a period of time after you leave Lourdes. We always love seeing the fresh mountain water flowing and how it changes in the different seasons. In summer we love being able to pull off the voie verte and just sit by the side of the river cooling off.

The voie verte follows the valley floor and as you leave Lourdes you can often see vultures circling over Pic du Jer which towers over Lourdes. Along the length of the voie verte you pass through Argeles Gazost and it is a great place to stop and head to a café or boulangerie. The path ends at the old railway station at Pierrefitte Nestalas where there is water and toilets or you can head up the road into the centre of the village to one of the cafés.

During the summer holiday period, we always see lots of people cycling, walking or rollerblading along the path. It’s suitable for all ages and abilities.

Summary of voie verte des Gaves

Location: Hautes Pyrenees
Finish:Pierrefitte Nestalas
Distance:18 kilometres / 11 miles
Surface:Fully sealed in great condition
Food and water:Lourdes, Argeles Gazost, Pierrefitte Nestalas
Toilets:Lourdes, Argeles Gazost, Pierrefitte Nestalas
Bike hire:Lourdes, Argeles Gazost
Route map:View the route

2. Annecy to Albertville voie verte

The Annecy to Albertville voie vertes is located in the Haute Savoie region in France and covers a distance of 45km (28 mi). We rode the full length from Annecy to Albertville and back again, stopping in Albertville for lunch before heading home.

The scenery in this part of France is breathtaking. As you leave Annecy you have the crystal clear waters of the lake with the French Alps in the background to take in. We cycled this voie verte in summer and it was busy in places but the further we got from Annecy the quieter it got. There are a number of small villages and campgrounds along the way so plenty of places to stop for lunch or ice cream.

Once you reach the top of Lake Annecy the path winds it way up the valley to Alberville. We got to a point where the snow-capped mountains came into view which was stunning. The last 5 km into Albertville were on a mix of voie verte and quiet country roads.

Our experience of Albertville was underwhelming. Given its history with the Winter Olympics, we had expected a mountain village with a great atmosphere but it seemed very quiet and not too many people about. In fairness, there was a lot of work happening in the village centre and perhaps we will have a different experience next time we visit.

Summary of the Annecy to Albertville voie verte

Location: Haute Savoie
Distance:45 kilometres / 28 miles
Surface:Fully sealed in great condition
Food and water:Annecy, Albertville, small cafés at the side of the voie verte
Toilets:Annecy, Albertville
Bike hire:Annecy
Route map:View the route.

3. Sarlat to Cazoules Voie Verte

Located in the Dordogne region of France the Sarlat to Cazoules voie verte covers a distance of 25 km (15 mi). Like the first 2, it is also an old railway line. It was also the very first bicycle ride we did in France when we arrived in 2013. We spent a few hours cycling from Sarlat and enjoying the beautiful French countryside and the Dordogne River.

A feature of this voie verte we loved was the old rail tunnel. As we entered from a hot summer day, the temperature dropped significantly making for a beautiful cool break from the heat. After popping out the other side we experienced beautiful old villages and stunning chateaux overlooking the river. There was a sense of stepping back in time and for our first time in France a real taste of the history of the country.

The start of this voie verte is a short distance from Sarlat la Caneda and you will need to cycle on the road. Keep this in mind if you are cycling with children or are not comfortable cycling on the road. That being said French drivers, in our experience, for the most part, look out for cyclists and will give you plenty of space.

Summary of the Sarlat to Cazoules voie verte

Location: Dordogne
Start:Sarlat la Canéda
Distance:25 kilometres / 16 miles
Surface:Fully sealed in great condition
Food and water:Sarlat la Canéda, small cafés along part of the voie verte
Toilets:Sarlat la Canéda
Bike hire:Sarlat la Canéda
Route map:View the route

4. Roger Lapebie Voie Verte

To date, the Roger Lapebie voie verte is our number one pick for favourite voie verte. It starts 10km from the city of Bordeaux and covers a distance of 57 km (35 mi) to the town of Sauveterre-de-Guyenne. From central Bordeaux to the start of the voie verte, there is a traffic-free bicycle path making access nice and easy.

The first time we experienced this voie verte was in 2014. We had a quick overnight stop in Bordeaux en route to the Pyrenees. While we had our road bikes packed in the car, we didn’t want to bother unpacking and assembling them for a single ride. Instead, we hired a couple of bikes in Bordeaux and off we went.

After getting away from the city of Bordeaux you are soon cycling in beautiful lush green forests. As you get further from Bordeaux you periodically pass some of the vineyards the region is famous for. Our favourite thing about this voie verte is the canopy of trees you pass under and the surrounding landscape.

Since that first trip, we have been back to the Roger Lapebie voie verte a couple of times and have now experienced the entire length. We always love the old rail tunnel just outside the town of Créon and the old train stations dotted along the path.

Summary of the Roger Lapebie voie verte

Location: Bordeaux
Distance:57 kilometres / 35 miles
Surface:Fully sealed in great condition
Food and water:Bordeaux, Créon, Sauveterre-de-Guyenne
Toilets:Bordeaux, Créon, Sauveterre-de-Guyenne
Bike hire:Bordeaux
Route map:View the route

5. Île de Ré – piste cyclable

This one is a little different to the others in that it is not a point-to-point route but rather a network of bike paths or piste cyclable as they are known in France. This network sits on the island of Île de Ré, a small island in the Atlantic Ocean near the harbourside city of La Rochelle. The island is linked to the mainland by a 3 km (1.8 mi) bridge with a separate lane for bike riders. The island boasts nearly 100 km (62 mi) of bike paths so you can explore the island easily on two wheels.

We spent half a day on the island after staying overnight in La Rochelle. At the time we were on a longer bikepacking trip and only had a few hours to spare. The start of the bridge is just over 6 km from the city centre and it is a mix of on and off-road cycle paths. The ride over the bridge is stunning and we soon found ourselves on the island. The slight gradient you encounter on the bridge is the steepest bit of climbing you will have to contend with, the rest of the island is quite flat.

We headed to Saint Martin de Ré riding past old monuments, villages, and forts along the way. Stunning views of the vast Atlantic Ocean were also a constant. After stopping for a refreshing drink at one of the local cafés it was time to head back. Interestingly, stage 10 of the 2020 Tour de France also finished in Saint Martin de Ré.

Summary of the Île de Ré piste cyclable

Location: Charente Maritime
Start:Îl de Ré
Finish:Îl de Ré
Distance:100 kilometres / 62 miles
Surface:Fully sealed in great condition
Food and water:There are numerous villages and kiosks on the island for food and water
Toilets:There are toilets dotted around the island
Bike hire:La Rochelle, Île de Ré
Route map:View the route

6. Canal du Midi

The Canal du Midi runs from Toulouse to the Mediterranean over a distance of 240 km (150 mi) and forms part of the larger Canal des 2 Mers cycling route running all the way from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. It was constructed in 1666 with the aim of providing a link for boats between the Garonne River and the Mediterranean Sea. We have ridden a couple of sections of the Canal du Midi but not the whole thing as yet.

Our first taste of the Canal du Midi was when we were staying in Toulouse for the weekend. The canal runs through the city centre and right next to the train station and we hired a couple of bikes and headed off in an easterly direction to see what it was like. After a short distance, we left the city limits behind and headed into the countryside. The canal is lined with beautiful plane trees providing a canopy of green and shade in the summer months.

Being a canal towpath means the route is nice and flat. It is completely separated from any traffic as you head out of Toulouse although there are a couple of roads to cross as you get out of town. We only rode for about 15 km before turning around giving us a total of 30 km. You could make it into a multi-day trip and ride all the way to the Mediterranean if you wished.

Summary of the Canal du Midi voie verte

Location: Haute Garonne
Finish:Séte or Port la Nouvelle
Distance:240 kilometres / 150 miles
Surface:Some sealed and some unsealed. There is some on road cycling in places along the length
Food and water:There are numerous villages along the length for food and water
Toilets:There are toilets in villages along the route
Bike hire:Toulouse
Route map:View the route

7. Foix to Saint Girons voie verte

The Foix to Saint Girons voie verte is a former railway line converted into a fantastic piece of cycling infrastructure. As the name suggests, it runs from the city of Foix to the town of Saint Girons through the stunning foothills of the Pyrenees. It covers a distance of 47 km (29 mi) and this is a great one to cycle in one direction, stay overnight and then cycle back the next day.

We have ridden this voie verte from Saint Girons to Foix on a couple of occasions. Our first experience was when we were cycle touring from Normandy to the Pyrenees and this was our last day on the road before we completed our trip. We loved this voie verte and the surrounding scenery and rolling hills.

The surface on this is all unsealed and it gets a little rough in places but all in all, it is in good condition. We found there were a few places where an extra signpost would not have gone astray, but it was generally obvious which way we need to go. There are a few tunnels along the route, the longest being nearly 1 km in length. As we approached it we thought it was going to be pitch dark, but as we entered the lights all came on and through we went.

There is a little bit of on-road riding at both ends to get on this voie verte in Foix and again at the end into Saint Girons. This voie verte forms part of the V81 cycle route that runs from Bayonne near the Atlantic to Perpignon on the Mediterranean so you can follow these signs.

Another feature of this voie verte is the old viaduct right near the end in Foix. It is a beautiful piece of infrastructure and one we visited many times when we lived nearby for a short period of time. The voie verte is popular and we passed other cyclists and people out for a walk. The route does pass through a number of small villages where you can stop for a break if you choose. There are also some nice picnic areas to stop and rest.

Summary of the Foix to Saint Girons voie verte

Location: Ariége
Finish:Saint Girons
Distance:47 kilometres / 29 miles
Food and water:Foix, La Bastide de Sérou, Castlenau Durban, Saint Girons
Toilets:Foix, La Bastide de Sérou, Castlenau Durban, Saint Girons
Bike hire:N/A
Route map:View the route


So there you have it, 7 of our favourite traffic-free voie vertes to add to your list of places to ride in France. We are sure you will enjoy riding them as much as we have. If you have any questions about any of them, feel free to drop us an email at info@seektravelride.com and we will help you with any questions you might have.