Cycling the French greenways

The reflection of a bridge on the Dordogne River

Traffic free cycling routes

Did you know France has a vast car free cycle network? Known in french as the Voie Verte, meaning Greenways, these pieces of infrastructure are fast popping up throughout the country. The rate of green ways being built and expanded upon in France is ever increasing. More towns are looking to reap in the benefits which separated cycling infrastructure can bring. In many areas they stand in places where a rail line used to be. This often means they also provide you with a relatively flat cycling route.

Whilst it is common to find the greenways 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. Greenways in the mountains are 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 in with cars on the roads.

Navigation, food, water and equipment.

We have personally found the greenways to be very easy to navigate. 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. Some trails will also provide insights along the way on historic places of significance which you may be riding past.

If you want to ride a trail which 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.

You will find the surface on the majority of greenways to be fully sealed, or at worst compacted gravel. This makes them suitable to be ridden by any type of bike. You will find no shortage of people riding the greenways on road bikes with narrow tyres.

Some of the longer trails will have spots where you can top up with water and dedicated rest areas. You will also find the majority of greenways are diverted through small villages fairly regularly. This provides you with lots of options when it comes to refuelling.

Our pick of 7 Greenways to ride

Over our various trips to France we have cycled a number of greenways and always enjoyed our time on them. Below is a curated list of our personal favourites which we have ridden so far. We have also included links to each of the riding routes we have taken. No doubt we will be adding to this list as we explore France and it’s ever expanding network of Greenways more.

A view of the Gave de Pau on the cycling Voie Verte in the Pyrenees
  1. Lourdes – Voie Verte des Gaves – 17.5km / 10.8mi each way

Located in the Pyrenees, this greenway takes advantage of the disused railway line which used to run all the way to Cauterets. Now the tracks have been paved and you can enjoy a pedal along the valley floor away from the busier tourist town of Lourdes. The ride will see you take in ten smaller villages to the start of the Gorge de Luz. Check here for a full write-up of this route in our Pyrenees section.

It is possible to continue on from the end point at Pierefitte Nestalis all the way to Cauterets on a dirt track. If you do this you’ll need to be on a bike with wider tires to accommodate the rockier terrain.

View the route.

Want to discover more about this area of the Pyrenees? Check out our dedicated Lourdes Region Destination page.

Cycling along the annecy greenway in the French Alps

2 Annecy – Lake Annecy cycle trail to Albertville 45km / 28mi each way

This trail travels along the eastern shoreline of Lake Annecy connecting it up almost all the way to the town of Albertville. Travelling alongside the turquoise waters of the lake, you will roll through a disused rail tunnel and then pedal your way through the countryside. All the while being able to look up at the giant alpine mountains looming overhead. In fact at points you even have great vistas of Mont Blanc itself. At present the trail finishes 5kms prior to reaching Albertville. Work is also underway to complete the trail around the entire perimeter of Lake Annecy.

View the route.
Annecy is also a fantastic place to base yourself in the French Alps. Discover more on our dedicated Annecy region page.
A picturesque Dordogne village located next to the Cycling Greenway
3 Dordogne – Sarlat to Cazoules Voie Verte – 25km / 15.5mi each way

This was the very first ride we ever did on our first trip to France. The route follows the disused rail way line from the picturesque medieval town of Sarlat la Caneda to Cazoules. It includes a very long old rail tunnel and also includes a bridge crossing of the magnificent Dordogne river. We both enjoyed this as a great introduction to the charm of riding in France. Passing old villages, spotting crumbling chateaus up on the cliffs above, you can’t help but be transported back centuries in time.

View the route.
A man cycling in Bordeaux on a hire bike
4 Bordeaux – Roger Lapebie Voie Verte – 57km / 35mi each way

This trail starts in the beautiful city of Bordeaux in southwest France and travels all the way to Sauveterre-de-Guyenne. We actually rode this greenway using the Bordeaux VCub city bike scheme. The trail begins with a bridge crossing of the Garonne river. From there the cycle path winds its way alongside the river, taking you through small quaint villages. You will also ride past some of the wineries which make the region famous. The gradient is almost entirely flat and suitable for all fitness levels.

View the route.

A group of four people about to Cycle to Ile de Re
5 Piste Cyclables – d’Île de Ré – 98km / 62 mi

The Island of Isle de Re sits just off the harbour side city of La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast. Linked to La Rochelle by a huge 3km / 1.8mi bridge (which has a fully separate cycle lane!) the small island is best explored on two wheels. There are almost 100km / 62mi of cycle tracks to ride on and apart from the slight gradient of the bridge itself the terrain is completely flat!

We thoroughly enjoyed spending half a day on these cycle paths, riding past old monuments, villages and forts. Stunning views of the vast Atlantic ocean were also a constant. The 2020 edition of the Tour de France is also set to visit Isle de Re on stage 10 this year with a finish in the charming village of St Martin de Re.

View the route.

Cycling the Canal du Midi

6 Canal du Midi – Toulouse -Etang de Thau 240 km – 150 mi

The Canal du Midi was first constructed in 1666 with the aim of providing a water link between the Garonne River and the the Mediterranean Sea. To ride the entire section of the canal would make a fantastic cycling holiday in itself. On a recent weekend spent in Toulouse we decided to hire some of the city bikes and enjoyed a great cycle along the canal.

With vast sections lined with impressive plane trees, riding here is very pleasant and would be a dream in summertime with the shade they would provide. We certainly want to come back and ride the whole canal at some stage. If you are after a bigger challenge holiday it is possible to ride an even longer route called the Canal des Deux Mers.This route links the Atlantic Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea.

View the route.

Cycling Greenway France
7 Via Rhona – Geneva to Marseille

The Via Rhona is a vast cycling route linking sections of separated cycling greenways with quieter back roads. The route runs from Geneva to Marseille, traversing through the larger cities of Lyon and Valence along the way. It is very well signposted and there are many options to create a multi day cycling tour if you so wish. We have really enjoyed riding separate sections of this route such as the southern side of Lake Geneva as well as along the Rhone river in France.

View the route.

So there you have it, 7 Green Ways to add to your list of places to ride in France. We are sure you will enjoy riding them as much as we have.

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A man cycling on French greenways

TIPS & TRICKS

The French cycling greenways are often a great way to ride out of busier cities and towns, helping you to avoid the traffic.

A Bordeaux VCub hire bike on the cycling greenway

Hiring city bikes available from most of the larger French city cycle hire schemes, provides you with a great way to explore the Voie Vertes.

A women cycling the Bordeaux greenway on a Bordeaux hire bike
a male cyclist riding a bike on a French rail trail

In general the majority of greenways are paved, sometimes though you will have short sections of more rugged terrain to traverse.

view of the Ile de Re bridge from the greenway

The bridge connecting the mainland to Île de Ré in France is spectacular and comes with a fully separated cycle lane too!

Male cyclist riding along the Canal du Midi

You will spot loads of long canal boats as you cycle along the Canal du Midi.

cycling across the Gave de Pau on the Voie Verte near Lourdes

You will often find old rail bridges repurposed as cycle lanes on the French Greenways.

Cyclists in the city of Lyon on the ViaRhona cycling route

This section of the Via Rhona in Lyon runs alongside the Rhone river.

Yachts in harbour at Saint Martin de Re

The picturesque village of St Martin de Re will host a stage finish of the Tour de France in 2020, bringing the charm of cycling on Île de Ré to a global audience.

Bicycle distance markers on the Lott Valley

Navigating on the greenways is very straight forward with lots of signage available every few kms, indicating distance to the next village.

Cyclist riding the Albertville greenway to Annecy
The Dordogne River as seen from the cycling greenway

The beautiful Dordogne river is never far away when riding along the greenway from Sarlat.

Cyclist riding from Annecy to Albertville on the Greenway

The Lake Annecy cycle trail provides you with stunning vistas of the alps as well as Lake Annecy itself.

Lake Annecy with the French Alps in the distance

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