11 Amazing Rail Trails in France to Discover
Rail Trails in France
If you are wondering whether there are rail trails in France, we are pleased to say the answer is yes and you will find them located right throughout the country. Typically built on disused railway lines, these pieces of separated cycling infrastructure are fast popping up all around France and are proving very popular. Cycling on rail trails in France makes for a great holiday activity and it allows you to explore areas of the country without the stress of mixing with traffic. We have done the research and compiled a list of 11 French Rail Trails you can ride on your next holiday there.
French Rail Trails – what can you expect?
The rail trails in France are just like others around the world, in that they are built on the space where rail lines used to be. The beauty of this is that many of the trails will also incorporate stunning features such as old viaducts and tunnels. The other advantage of rail trails is they can take you to parts of an area which can’t be reached by cars, so you will get to explore more of a surrounding area than you otherwise would have been able to. The trails are also typically quite flat which means people of all fitness levels can enjoy a cycle along them without having to worry about big hill climbs. The surface of rail trails will vary from either tarred asphalt or a heavy compressed stone and they are perfectly suited to leisure cycling.
French Rail Trail terminology
The term rail trail isn’t one which you will see used in France – but they do exist. Instead the trails come under the broader banner of a ‘voie verte’ which is the French term for a Greenway. So whilst not all voie vertes are rail trails, all rail trails are voie vertes. In many cases you will also find the rail trail will be extended further on from the old railway line and incorporated into a much larger greenway network.
Whether you want to ride along the coast or alongside a mountain valley, trace the path of a river and explore old castles or simply admire the countryside in Provence, you’ll find a perfect rail trail just for you. So here is our pick of 11 rail trails in France to cycle.
Burgundy Region : La Grande Boucle de Bourgogne de Sud
Affectionately labelled the route of bikes and cheese, this rail trail lays claim to being France’s very first voie verte. Spanning some 145kms (90mi) you can choose to ride the whole trail over a few days or simply ride a small section of the route instead as a holiday activity. You will be spoilt for choice here when it comes to taking in French history, with many medieval towns and chateaux spread along the route. For the wine-lovers there are numerous vineyards to stop in where you can treat yourself to lunch with a wine tasting as well. Lastly, the rail trail also features the Bois Clair tunnel which spans 1.6km in length and is quite an experience to ride through. You can discover more about this rail trail here.
Provence Region: Véloroute du Calavon
Take in the beautiful landscapes of Provence on the Veloroute du Calavon. Joining the towns of St-Martin-de-Castillon and Robion this route extends for 37kms (23mi). It tracks closely to the Calavon River on the now transformed Chemins de Fer de Provence railway line. Along the route you will be able to take in the Pont Julien bridge which was built by the Romans in 3BC. Spot olive groves, vineyards and the famous hilltop villages which the Luberon Provence region is famous for. If you choose to cycle the trail on a Saturday then you can plan to also take in one of the most famous markets in Provence in the city of Apt. More information about the trail can be found here.
Alsace Region: Le Valée de l’Ill
The Alscace region in France is renowned for having some fantastic cycling infrastructure. In fact there are a number of rail trails in the area which you could choose to ride in the area. This particular French rail trail provides you with a very pleasant ride between the towns of Hippoltsckirch and Altkirch. The trail is just under 30kms in length of which the majority is separated from traffic. This trail traces the Ill valley countryside and you will pass through several quaint villages. Be sure to take the time to marvel at the beautiful architecture on display here which is typical of this region in France. For more details regarding the trail click here.
Ardeche Region: Dolce Via – Rhone Valley Route
This rail trail in France has taken over from the railway line which stopped operating just over 50 years ago. With a length of 90kms (56mi) one way between the towns of La Voule sur Rhône to Lamastre, you have the option of either tackling the entire trail over a few days or perhaps just choosing a short section to ride. The trail takes you deep into the countryside of the Ardèche along the picturesque Eyrieux valley. Here you will have a pleasant ride along the banks of the Eyrieux river.
There are numerous stunning lookouts to take in the beautiful vista, as well as vast viaducts to ride across. With a number of cafes and restaurants along the route you can plan to stop for refreshments along the way. Be aware that if you depart from La Voulte-sur-Rhône you will be pedalling uphill! So perhaps plan ahead to travel in a downhill direction and begin your journey at Saint-Agrève instead! For more details about the trail click here.
Vercors Massif Region: Via Vercors Trail – Vercors Regional Nature Park
55km (34 mi)
Around 100km south of Lyon you will find the Vercors Massif. It is here that France’s largest nature reserve – the Vercors Regional Nature Park can be find. Whilst the mountains are all around you, a ride in this region need not be hilly and taxing on the legs. The Via Vercors Trail has been created to allow for some great leisure riding experiences for those of all ages. We think it is a perfect French rail trail to ride on a family holiday.
Encompassing over 55kms (34 miles) the trail network has been designed in a way which allows you to explore the best this region has to offer. There are many rest areas where you can stop off along the way and enjoy a picnic and numerous opportunities to visit local producers and artisans as well. If you are travelling with younger children the trail also passes by many purpose built playgrounds for them to stop and enjoy. No doubt about it, the Via Vercors trail is a great way to explore such a stunning, natural landscape. Discover more about the trail here.
Haute Savoie Region: Lake Annecy Rail Trail, Annecy – Albertville
50km (31 mi)
Annecy is a popular holiday destination in the French Alps. Nestled on the shores of Lake Annecy, with its turquoise waters and high peaks all around, you couldn’t find a more picturesque setting. This French rail trail is a fantastic way to explore the shores of the lake and beyond into the countryside. The trail begins at the boat harbour in front of the old town centre or ‘Vielle Ville’. From here it tracks alongside the lake all the way to the village of Doussard for just under 20kms (12.5mi). Once here you leave the lake behind and can head deeper into the countryside. The mountain views are remarkable and you can even spot the Mont Blanc Massif!
You are completely separated from motorised traffic until you are just a few kilometres from Albertville. Here the final section is signposted on quiet backroads all the way into town. Riding all the way to Albertville and back will make for a very long day on the bike, but of course you do have the option of just cycling part of the trail instead. You could also at Doussard choose to continue around Lake Annecy instead of heading straight on towards Albertville. The cycle path around Lake Annecy is being fully developed and whilst much of it is complete there is a small section which is still to be finished so there are parts where you will need to ride on the road. You can learn more about this route in our Annecy destination guide.
Hautes Pyrenees Region: Voie Verte de Gaves, Lourdes to Pierefitte Nestalas
18km ( 11mi)
This rail trail in France tracks the beautiful Vallee de Gave from Lourdes all the way to the village of Pierefitte Nestalas. The Pyrenees is a popular cycling destination for road cyclists looking to take in climbs of the Tour de France but this trail is proof that you don’t need to cycle up big mountains to enjoy a ride in the Pyrenees. In the heart of the valley you have big mountain peaks to your left and right. There are also great information markers along the trail (with sound terminals in three languages!) every few kilometres which point out some of the historical features of the surrounding features. As with all rail trails, it is in most parts flat and travels uphill from Lourdes to Pierrefitte Nestalas at a very gentle gradient. You can find bike hire in Lourdes itself or from the beautiful spa town of Argeles Gazost. View our ride guide for this trail here.
Normandy Region: Veloscenic Cycle Route Domfront – Mont-Saint-Michel
With over 450km (280mi) of trails to explore the Veloscenic Cycle Route is a fantastic piece of cycling infrastructure to take advantage of on your holiday. You can choose to cycle the entire length of this French cycle trail over multiple days or perhaps you’d like to take on various small sections instead. The majority of the trail is on separated cycleways often built from disused railway lines. With a trail this long it can be hard to single out just a single section but we don’t think you can go past the section from Domfront to the famous Gothic Abbey at Mont-Saint-Michel. The Abbey sits out on a tidal island and is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is also one of the most popular tourist attractions in France, visited by no less than three million people each year. Learn more about the Veloscenic Cycle Route here.
Bordeaux Region: Roger Lapebie Voie Verte Bordeaux to Sauveterre de Guyenne
This French rail trail takes you far from the city of Bordeaux and into the countryside. You will track over the Garonne river and soon find yourself riding in the surrounding forests. Many of the old railway station houses have been transformed into small cafés and offer up the perfect opportunity for a small break. Of course you are in the Bordeaux wine region so you can expect to pedal past a vineyard or two as well.
There are some fantastic sites of historical significance to view along this trail as well including the Abbey of Sauve-Majeure which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Abbey was built in 1079 and is also a popular stopping point for those who are travelling along the Santiago di Compostella pilgrim route. From the top of the bell tower you are rewarded with commanding views across the landscape. Another fascinating point of interest can be found at Sauveterre de Guyenne which is the finishing spot of the trail. The Bastide here was built in 1281 and is the only Bastide in France to have retained its four fortified gates. More information on the rail trail can be found here.
Dordogne Region: Sarlat to Cazoulès
You will enjoy a pleasant ride along this French rail trail in the heart of the Dordogne region. From beautiful lush forests to stunning riverside views of the Dordogne river itself there will be lots to take in along the way. You will be able to find bikes for hire at the starting point in the medieval town of Sarlat. If you can manage to be in Sarlat on a Wednesday or Saturday we highly recommend it as you will be able to take in the morning markets which are also known to be one of the best in all of France.
The whole village of Sarlat is a UNESCO world heritage site owing to the number of medieval buildings in one spot (77) which have been beautifully preserved. It really is like a scene from a fairy tale. The rail trail itself has a fantastic smooth tarmac surface suitable for all bikes and riders of all abilities young and old. So make sure to pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on the banks of the Dordogne river and enjoy a lovely day out on the bike. More information about the trail can be found here.
Normandy Region: La VeloFrancette Trail Ouistreham to Thury-Harcourt
La VeloFrancette is a cycling route which travels from Ouisreham in Normandy and extends some 600km / 372mi all the way to La Rochelle on the Atlantic Ocean. We have selected the first two stages along this route (44km/27mi) which departs from the Ferry Port and takes you through the town of Caen before continuing on to Thury-Harcourt. For those with an interest in World War II history, the starting point of this route has extra significance. Sword Beach was a landing destination for troops involved in D Day and the city of Caen which you reach 15km into the ride is home to the Memorial de Caen, a museum dedicated to peace. After departing Caen you will have a delightful ride along the rail trail which traces the Orne river southwards to Thury-Harcourt. You can find more out about the entire trail of La VeloFrancette here.
Feeling inspired to ride a bike in France on your next holiday? Then have a look at our Practical Resources section which has everything you need to know to assist you with trip planning.