Practical tips for cycle touring in France
If you are thinking about heading to France for your next cycle touring adventure and looking for some information and advice, this article is for you. We have undertaken two big cycle touring trips in France, the most recent being a three-week experience from Normandy to the Pyrenees. While we are still relative beginners to cycle touring ourselves, we have learned a lot from our travels and have plenty to share and help others. The following article is based on our experiences and the things we have learned along the way.
We first visited France in 2013 for a cycling holiday and instantly fell in love with the country and cycling here. So much so that we decided to move permanently from Australia which we finally achieved in 2021. We have subsequently cycled many thousands of kilometers here and visited so many amazing places by bike. We still have many more destinations on our list of places to visit and we look forward to new adventures in the years to come.
Why Cycle Tour in France?
France is a great cycle touring destination in our opinion. Cycling as an activity is recognized as very important to the tourism industry and as a result, infrastructure is continually being developed. In France will find endless cycle touring routes to choose from or design your own. The choice is yours. France is a cycling-friendly country and you will find plenty of facilities for cyclists in towns and cities. On the road, you are very much treated as an equal to other vehicles and given plenty of room. We have always felt comfortable cycling on the road here in France. For the most part, we have been given plenty of room from cars, buses, and trucks and never experienced any road rage towards cyclists.
Whether you are a beginner, looking for that first cycle touring experience, or a seasoned cycle tourist looking for the next big challenge France has something for you. This article will take you through the practical considerations such as route planning, accommodation, eating and drinking, when to go, how long you need, and what it costs. We also list out ten destination/route options for you to consider and to get you started on your planning process.
We have put together a separate article outlining the road rules for cyclists in France. This article goes through things such as the different road types, road signs that apply to cyclists, road rules for cyclists, and lots more. We highly recommend giving it a read if you have not cycled or driven on French roads previously. We have learned that there are a few rules that make it easier for cyclists on the road. For example “Sauf bikes” signs mean that posted rules do not apply to cyclists, most commonly seen in town centers where cyclists can ride “the wrong way” down one-way streets.
Planning a cycling route in France
There are broadly two ways of planning your cycle touring route in France. The first is to use one of the many mobile apps/online options and create a route yourself. The second is to follow one of the designated cycling routes available such as Eurovelo 1. There are benefits and disadvantages of both methods and in our opinion no wrong way of doing it. We recommend using the route planning method that suits you and your holiday plans.
For our trips, we have typically used online tools and apps to plan our routes. Our first step is to determine which part of France we want to visit and what we want to see. We also factor in how much time we have to spend to determine how far we want to ride each day. We then use a mix of Google, Ride With GPS, maps.me, and Strava to work out the best path between the different points. All of these online tools and apps will route you to designated cycle paths and routes where they are available, so we have ended up on Eurovelo routes and other local cycle routes and paths.
Route planning using online tools and apps
There are a wide range of phone apps to choose from which will plan your route from point A to point B. We have personally used Google Maps, Maps.me, Garmin, Komoot, Strava, and Ridewithgps. They all have their good and bad points but fundamentally will all get you to where you are going. It is important that whatever app you choose has the ability to work offline so you are not reliant on internet connectivity. We also recommend reviewing the chosen route in detail before you commit to it. There are times when the apps take you on roads and tracks that don’t make sense. For example, the routing on one app took a 4km deviation off the road we were on simply because there was a designated cycle path on that deviation. By reviewing the route before we rode it, we identified that and adjusted accordingly saving ourselves a little distance.
Designated cycle routes
There are large networks of designated cycle routes that you can choose to explore in France for your cycle touring adventure. The main benefit of these routes is that all the planning has been done for you and you simply need to follow the signs from point to point. There are also lots of accommodation options and other amenities close by that cater for the cycle touring visitors. We have incorporated these cycle routes into our own trips from time to time but have not specifically set out to follow one of these routes from start to finish.
When we first started discovering this style of cycling in France we immediately thought that a cycle route equaled a cycle path. This is definitely not the case in France and you will find yourself on a mix of on-road cycling and designated cycle paths. The roads that are chosen are all quiet country roads with low traffic volumes so this should not discourage you in any way. We have also observed variations in the quality of the signage of these routes. In many instances it is fantastic and navigation is simply a matter of following the signs. However, there have also been plenty of examples where we could not find signs at intersections and did not know where we should be going. So be mindful and we recommend having the route loaded on your phone or device to save any navigation problems.
There are plenty of different accommodation options to choose from in France while cycle touring depending on your tastes and budget. We have a separate page detailing the different accommodation types in France which goes into more detail than this one. If you have not been to France previously we recommend checking it out.
How far out you book your accommodation depends on a few different factors in our experience. The first of these is the time of year you travel. The months of June, July, and August are the peak holiday season in France which means the demand for accommodation is high. August is when many French businesses close for holidays and staff take leave so this is an especially busy period. If you are cycle touring during these months we recommend booking your accommodation well in advance. It is not to say you won’t be able to get accommodation on short notice, but in our experience, your choices may be limited and the costs high.
The second factor to consider is which part of France you will be traveling to. If you want to go to popular holiday destinations then we recommend booking in advance, but if you are off the beaten track, so to speak, then you can leave it a little more last minute. We last cycle toured in August 2021 and used campgrounds. We booked the first few nights of our trip in advance but the rest we did as we went along, typically a day ahead of our arrival. What we found was campgrounds near the coast were booked out or wanted over €100 for a night, which we were not willing to pay. However, if we stayed inland a little there were usually plenty of options at reasonable prices.
The third and final factor to consider is your budget. Booking in advance can definitely save you money in many instances as opposed to leaving it to the last minute. This depends also on the type of accommodation you want to stay in. Many large chain hotels, like airlines, will increase their prices as the time to the date of travel gets closer which means booking in advance can be cheaper. Smaller hotels, gites, and campgrounds are more likely to have set nightly rates that do not vary depending on the time of booking.
Hotels and AirBnB’s
On our first cycle touring trip to France, we chose to stay in hotels primarily with a couple of AirBnB’s as well. We were traveling in September and simply booked a hotel a couple of days in advance of our arrival in a particular location. We notified hotels that we were on bikes and in most cases, there was somewhere outside the rooms to lock our bikes up. In the instances where there was no separate place for the bikes, we had them in the room. Prices per night for 2 people ranged from €80 to €110.
Our second trip was in August, but this time we were camping. We booked a campsite for the first 3 nights but for the remainder, we were still able to book a day or 2 in advance or even the same day in one instance. Our choices for available campsites were definitely limited and we altered our plans slightly as a result of not being able to find availability. This was especially the case near and on the coast. Prices ranged from €12 to €33 per night for 2 people.
Accueil Velo is a national accreditation scheme in France that identifies hotels that are close to a designated cycle route and offer a range of services specifically for cyclists. Our own experience of hotels in France is that they are largely cyclist-friendly and will help you out with bike storage and local knowledge regardless of their designation. So don’t be put off by hotels or campsites that do not display this sign.
Eating and drinking
France is renowned for its culinary delights and you will have no problems finding something to suit every diet and taste. Many smaller villages have a local boulangerie (bakery) which is full of French bread, pastries, and tasty treats. They are always great to stop at along the way and many also have baguettes ready to go with various fillings to choose from as well as cold drinks. They are a particular favorite of ours and usually the first stop of the day.
If you want a cafe or restaurant meal there are usually plenty of options to choose from depending on where you are. You might find choices limited or non-existent in smaller villages, but larger towns will have options for you. Kitchens are not open all day which is something you need to be aware of. Lunch service will typically run from 12 pm to 2 pm and dinner from 7 pm until 10 pm. Outside these times you can usually find a snack-style menu and drinks in our experience but what is on offer varies from place to place.
We also recommend French supermarkets which you will find with relative ease around the country. You will discover everything you need and the prices are pretty good. They are a great place to stock up on water if you can’t find any public taps, which can often be the case. Most supermarkets are closed on Sunday afternoons so make sure you stock up early if you need any supplies.
When to go cycle touring in France
Spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November) are definitely the picks of the seasons for your cycle touring holiday in France. During these months you will find temperatures are much more pleasant for cycling, and the crowds are less. It is easier to plan things as you go and you don’t need to worry so much about booking in advance for accommodation. The cost of travel and accommodation is generally cheaper over these periods.
Peak holiday months are July and August and we recommend avoiding them if possible. You can expect temperatures to be quite high in places which is not great for cycling. Tourist crowds will also be at their peak and you will need to make sure accommodation is booked well in advance, especially if you are near the coast. Travel and accommodation costs are also at their highest during this time.
The peak holiday month in France is August when French people take their annual summer holidays. During this month many businesses close and you might find, as we did, that boulangeries and smaller shops in some villages may be closed for the entire month. Supermarkets in larger centers are open as usual and will have everything you need. As such, you need to make sure you have enough provisions to get you from supermarket to supermarket.
How long to go for
How long you need to spend in France will be determined by what you want to do from a cycling perspective. Our recommendation would be to firstly work out how much time you are able to spend in France and choose a cycling route and destination to suit. That way your cycle touring adventure will be a lot more relaxed and you won’t end up in a situation where you miss out on things you want to see. There are destinations and routes that lend themselves to shorter or longer visits and we have included some suggestions below of destinations based on the time you have available.
Cost of cycle touring in France
Cycle touring in France does not have to cost you a lot of money. As with everything your own choices on things such as accommodation and eating will make a big difference on your required budget. What is expensive for one person is not for another. As such, it is hard to put a precise figure on cost per day as everyone has their own preferences for what they want to do. For example, camping will be much cheaper than hotels, eating out all the time will be more expensive than going to the supermarket and cooking your own food. We have a separate article on what it costs to visit France that goes into a bit more detail. You can find it here.
On our recent trip, we stayed in powered campsites and generally self-catered with the odd meal in a cafe. Camping site fees ranged from €12 to €36 per night, while food averaged around €40 per day for two people. A meal in a cafe for two with food and a drink ranged from €40 – €50.
Bike shops and hire
There are plenty of bike shops across France should you need any spares while cycling there. Decathlon is a major sports retailer with locations all over France. They have a well-stocked cycling section as well as bike repair and servicing facilities. You may also find some basic supplies in the larger supermarket outlets. There are also plenty of independent smaller retailers who will be able to assist if needed. We advise carrying basic supplies yourself and having the ability to make some minor repairs should the need arise. A full service on your bike before you leave is also a great idea.
Bike hire in France is geared primarily towards hiring a bike in a single location for a day or more and returning to the same spot. It’s not to say you can’t hire a bike for cycle touring, but it is less common and it may limit your choices somewhat. We have a separate article on bike hire and the cost of it which you can find here.
We have lots of other information on our site about cycling and cycling touring in France. Some that may be of interest include:
- Taking your bike on French trains – learn how to navigate the French train network with a bike and make a booking online
- Visiting Mont Saint Michel – a practical guide to visiting Mont Saint Michel by bike based on our own experience
- Taking your bike on a plane – a guide to navigating airports and the airlines with your bike.