Cycling in France: Veloroute, Voie Verte, and Piste Cyclable explained

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If you’re planning a cycling holiday in France, you will likely come across the terms voie verte, piste cyclable, and veloroutes. These are three different types of cycling routes that you might encounter during your travels. Each has its own unique characteristics, so it’s important to understand the differences between them before choosing which routes are best suited for the type of cycling you wish to do.

In this article, I will take you through the meaning of each of the terms so you know what to expect once you are out on the road. I have ridden many thousands of kilometres on all three types of routes and share some of my own experiences through the article with links to other pages on our site that you will find helpful.

Voie Verte

A voie verte is a “greenway” in French, which is essentially a path or trail that is dedicated to non-motorised traffic, including cyclists, pedestrians, and horse riders. Voies vertes are typically created on abandoned railway lines, canal towpaths, or other disused transportation routes that have been converted into recreational spaces. These paths are generally flat and well-maintained, making them a great choice for leisurely rides or family outings. I always observe plenty of people out enjoying voie vertes whenever I use them which is great to see.

One of the benefits of voie vertes is that they often run through scenic countryside, offering a chance to explore the natural beauty of France at a leisurely pace. They also tend to be mostly free of traffic, bar the odd tractor or local farmer, which makes for a peaceful and relaxing ride. In addition, many voie vertes offer amenities such as rest areas, picnic tables, and bike rentals, making them a convenient choice for cyclists who are looking for an easy, stress-free experience. I always love packing a picnic if we are having a day out on the bikes on our local voie verte and stopping at one of the many rest areas for lunch.

I highly recommend cycling the Roger Lapebie voie verte, which is one of my favourites. It runs for just over 50km from the outskirts of Bordeaux, through the countryside and vineyards, to the town of Sauveterre. The route follows an abandoned railway line and is sealed with asphalt along the entire length, making it suitable for all types of bikes. It is connected to the centre of Bordeaux via separated bike lanes and is well signposted. I have a separate page about the Roger Lapiebe voie verte that includes more information about cycling it. I also have a short YouTube video showcasing the route to give you an idea of what to expect.

I also recommend having a look at our 7 Favourite Traffic Free Cycling Routes in France for more ideas on voie vertes to explore while you are cycling in France.

Piste Cyclable

A piste cyclable, or “bike path,” is a dedicated lane or roadway that is reserved for bicycles. These paths are usually separated from motor vehicle traffic, either by physical barriers or by painted lines on the road. Piste cyclables can be found in both urban and rural areas, and they may run alongside main roads or through parks and other green spaces. In my experience, I come across piste cyclables most often in urban areas, especially the larger cities like Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon, and Toulouse.

Unlike a voie verte, piste cyclables often share space on roads next to traffic so we find them more a means of getting from A to B rather than something we would seek out for a leisurely cycle. As mentioned above a piste cyclable may be nothing more than a painted line on the road separating you from the traffic. Keep this in mind if you are considering cycling with children, or you are not comfortable sharing the road with vehicles. I would note though, that French drivers are aware of cyclists and, in my experience, generally give you plenty of space. But, like anything, exceptions exist.

As an example, I visited Paris recently and utilised the new piste cyclables that have been developed in the city over the past few years. I hired the Paris Velib bikes to get around which meant I did not need to use the metro. In the central part of Paris, it is now easy to get around the major tourist attractions by bike utilising the piste cyclable network. There are lots of locals who use them and there are plans to develop more and more and reduce the number of cars on the road.

A cyclist on a small country road that is part of the V81 veloroute in France

Véloroute

The final type of route is a veloroute. They are long-distance cycling routes that are designed primarily for touring and recreational cycling. These routes can cover hundreds or even thousands of kilometres, and they often follow scenic or historic routes throughout France. Veloroutes are often a mix of voie vertes, piste cyclables, and regular roads, depending on the region and the terrain.

When I first came across the term “veloroute” I immediately assumed it meant a dedicated bike path that would be separated from traffic. I soon discovered though that this is not the case and more often than not you will find yourself on quiet country roads. Don’t be put off by this as I find French drivers will give you plenty of space and even sit behind you if it is not safe to overtake. Coming from Australia, my first notion was that I needed car-free routes but quickly found it is not the case in France. I have now cycled many thousands of kilometres here and have only good things to say about vehicles passing.

The great thing about France is that there are many thousands of kilometres of veloroutes for you to choose from and you will find something to suit the style of riding and landscape you enjoy. I have put together a list of 10 long-distance cycling routes in France to give you a taste of what is available.

My experience on the veloroutes I have tried has been largely positive. I do recommend though, that you load the route into a navigation device such as a Garmin or Wahoo, as I have observed the signage can be hit-and-miss. With the many thousands of kilometres of veloroutes in place, it would not be uncommon for signs to go missing or get covered by tree branches.

Conclusion

France is a cyclist’s paradise, with a wealth of cycling routes to explore. Whether you’re looking for a leisurely ride through the countryside or a challenging long-distance tour, voie vertes, piste cyclables, and veloroutes offer something for every type of cyclist. Before you hit the road, be sure to do your research and plan your route, taking into account your skill level, the terrain, and the amenities that are available along the way.

We can help plan your trip

Planning a holiday is always great fun but can also be quite time-consuming. As you research more and more you may find yourself with more questions than answers. Seek Travel Ride offers a range of services to assist people with planning their own cycling holiday to France, ranging from one-on-one calls to answer your questions to a full planning and itinerary service. You can find a rundown of our services on our Travel Planner page.

We first visited France for a cycling holiday in 2013 and returned numerous times before moving here permanently in 2021. Over the years we have travelled by plane, train and hire car with our bikes and learned lots of lessons about visiting France generally and travelling around with a bike. We enjoy road cycling and cycle touring and look forward to being able to help you plan that perfect trip.

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