Cycling in France: Cycle one of these beautiful destinations

Over the past 8 years, we have been lucky enough to travel to and cycle in France on numerous occasions and in doing so get to know the country well. However, looking back to our very first trip knowing where to cycle in France was a total unknown and we got lucky with lots of things. In this article, we wanted to share what we have learned to help you find the best cycling route for the type of riding you love to do.

To get you started on planning your French cycling holiday we have listed 10 popular cycling destinations to help you work out where to cycle in France. Included for each location is some basic information including where in France it is located, the best time to go, how to get there, and the type of cycling routes on offer. We also provide some links to more information to help your planning.

Each of these popular cycling destinations has lots of different options when it comes to selecting a route. You can choose a ride for an hour or two or over multiple days, it’s up to you. If you are cycling with younger children you will find plenty on offer by way of off-road paths in all the locations, there really is something for everyone. Read on and choose your next awesome cycling holiday destination.

1. Lake Annecy – the most beautiful lake in France.

Located in the east of France a short distance from the Swiss border and Geneva, Lake Annecy has routes to suit all types of cyclists. It is a popular holiday destination and offers plenty of things to do both on and off the bike. The city of Annecy is the major center and you will also find lots of smaller villages dotted around the lake. Annecy is often referred to as the “Venice of the Alps” due to the canals that run through the old town center. The stunning Lake Annecy is the major drawcard to this area with its crystal clear water and mountain backdrop. The route around Lake Annecy is popular with cyclists and walkers.

Suitable for: Whether you have not ridden a bike for years or cycle regularly you will find a route to suit you in Lake Annecy. From the flatter paths and roads around the lake to climbs used in the Tour de France there is something for all abilities. It’s also a great place for families with safe off-road cycle paths.

Great if you love: Easy cycle paths, gentle gradients, Tour de France climbs, mountain biking, a lakeside holiday, a mountain holiday

Facilities: There are plenty of bike hire outlets in Annecy and bike shops should you need any supplies or mechanical assistance.

When to visit: April to October. July and August are the peak holiday months.

Getting there: Travel from Paris is 6 hours by car and 3hrs 45min by TGV. The closest airport is Geneva which is 45mins by car or 1hr 45mins by train.

More information: Our Annecy destination page has lots more practical information for this area.

2. Île de Re – cycle on over 100km of bike paths

The island of Île de Re sits just off the coast near La Rochelle on the Atlantic Ocean in the west of the country. It is connected to the mainland via an impressive 3km bridge. The island itself is 30km long and 5km wide and offers a range of summer activities and stunning vistas along the coast. Dotted around the outside of the island you will find a number of small villages where you can choose to base yourself while staying here. The nearby city of La Rochelle also offers plenty of options should you wish to explore to find a route a little further afield.

Suitable for: The island boasts about 100km of separated cycling paths that provide access to all parts of the island. Once on the island, there is no need for any other form of transportation other than the bike. It is a perfect family destination and offers plenty of safe car-free cycling. The island itself is flat which makes it a great place to get on the bike and ride.

Great if you love: Easy cycle paths, gentle gradients, a beach holiday

Facilities: There are bike hire outlets located on the island as well as in nearby La Rochelle. Both locations also have bike shops and workshops if you are bringing your own bike.

When to visit: March to November. As this is a very popular summer tourist destination avoid the months of July and August if possible. Make sure you book well in advance if you are planning a visit in these months.

Getting there: By car Île de Re is a 5 hr drive from Paris. There are no train services to the island and the closest station is in La Rochelle. The train from Paris is 3hrs 30 mins from Paris. From La Rochelle, a bus service operates frequently. There is also an airport in La Rochelle.

More information: The Île de Re tourist office has lots of great information about the island.

3. The Loire Valley- travel back in time

Home to majestic chateaux, wineries, lively cities, and beautiful views, the UNESCO Heritage-listed Loire Valley is very popular with local and international visitors alike. The Loire river starts in the Ardèche region in central France and runs nearly 1,000km before it hits the Atlantic ocean at Saint Nazaire. There are no shortages of places to base yourself along the length of the Loire Valley and you can choose between quaint villages or larger towns including Nantes, Angers, Tours or Orléans.

Suitable for: There are numerous cycling routes in the Loire depending on what you wish to do. The 800km La Loire à Vélo cycle route is a mix of both on and off-road cycling and runs the length of the valley following the river. There are also plenty of other trails to explore. The terrain is generally speaking flat to rolling hills and you will find a route to suit your riding style and ability.

Great if you love: easy cycle paths, long-distance cycling routes, wineries, heritage buildings, a riverside holiday

Facilities: Plenty of bike hire and bike shops in the major towns along the Loire Valley. This is a popular area with guided tour companies if you wish to join one of these.

When to visit: While you could visit this area year-round March to October is the main tourist season. Outside this, you may find some things are closed and the weather will be cooler and wetter. Avoid July and August if possible.

Getting there: Distances from Paris are dependent on how which part of the valley you choose to explore. The closest city is Orléans which is 2hrs by car or just over 1hr by train. By comparison, Nantes is 5hrs by car and 2hrs 40mins by train and is located furthest from Paris. You will find airports at Nantes, Tours, Angers, and Poitiers or you can fly into Paris.

More information: For more information head to the Val de Loire website.

4. Provence – one of the most recognizable regions in France

France and Provence go hand in hand, and it is no surprise that it is also a popular cycling destination. Located in the southeast of the country between the French Alps and the Mediterranean coast it offers a diverse landscape. The major centers are Avignon and Aix-en-Provence and you will also find a host of other smaller places to explore and stay. Features of the region include the perched villages, stunning gorges, and of course the iconic lavender fields.

Suitable for: There are routes for everyone with off-road cycling paths and lots of on-road cycling. Road cyclists head for the Giant of Provence, Mont Ventoux, a challenging climb used regularly in the Tour de France. You will be spoilt for choice in this region.

Great if you love: easy cycle paths, Tour de France climbs, long-distance cycling routes, lavender fields, wineries, gastronomy

Facilities: There are plenty of bike hire outlets and bike shops in the cities and villages of the region. There are lots of organized tours that operate in the area if that is your preference.

When to visit: This part of France gets very hot in the summer months, so we would recommend going in spring or autumn to escape both the summer crowds and hot temperatures. Peak bloom for the lavender is mid-July but you should be able to see flowers from late June to August.

Getting here: By car from Paris, Avignon is 6hrs 40 mins and Aix-en-Provence 7hrs 30 mins. By train Avignon is 2hrs 40mins and Aix-en-Provence 4hrs 40 mins from Paris. The closest airport is Marseille but Lyon could also be an option.

More information: check out our Provence page for lots more information.

5. Bordeaux – cycling around the vineyards

The region of Bordeaux is synonymous with wine in France, but you will also find plenty of other things to do and see if you visit this part of the country. Located in the west of the country on the Garonne river and only 60km inland from the Atlantic Ocean Bordeaux can offer both coastal and inland landscapes. A visit to one of the many wineries surrounding the city to sample the famous wines is highly recommended. So if you are looking for where to cycle in France and you love great wine, this could be the place for you. The city of Bordeaux also ranked no. 6 on the latest Copenhagen Index which ranks European cities for their cycling infrastructure. We always see lots of bikes when we visit Bordeaux. The region is also home to the tallest sand dune in Europe, the Dune of Pilat, which reaches a height of 110m.

Suitable for: The terrain around Bordeaux is generally flat, making bike riding a perfect way to explore the area and perhaps drop into a winery or two. The Eurovelo 3 route passes through Bordeaux and the popular Eurovelo 1 route is not far away. There are plenty of off-road cycle paths ride within the city of Bordeaux and beyond to the coast and inland. Perfect for younger riders and those who don’t enjoy the roads.

Great if you love: Easy cycling paths, long-distance cycling routes, active city breaks, wineries, a beach holiday

Facilities: Bordeaux has plenty of options for rental and servicing bikes. Within the city, you will find self-serve stations to rent one of the city bike-share scheme bikes. There are plenty of tour companies offering bike tours around the wineries of varying durations.

When to visit: The months of May to November are seen to be the best months to visit this region. The wineries generally start their harvest in September and some may be closed while this is underway.

Getting there: Bordeaux is about 6hrs by car from Paris and 3hrs by train. Bordeaux airport is located on the outskirts of the city and connects to the center by bus.

More information: Check out the Bordeaux tourist office site.

6. Burgundy – a wine lovers paradise

Like Bordeaux, Burgundy is another of France’s famous wine regions with acres and acres of vineyards across the countryside. This region is located in the eastern part of the country with the city of Dijon the major settlement in the area. You can visit natural parks, quaint French villages and of course taste a wine or two at one of the many cellar door experiences. Like Bordeaux, Burgundy is where to cycle in France if you love your wine and food.

Suitable for: This has suitable routes for everyone. There are plenty of off-road routes on cycle paths next to canals and rivers making it great for younger cyclists. Whether you want an afternoon on the bike or a multi-day adventure you will find a route to suit.

Great if you love: Easy cycle paths, long-distance cycle routes, wineries, gastronomy, riverside holidays

Facilities: This area is popular with cycle tour companies and you will find a range of both guided and self-guided options. Bike hire is available across the region as are bike shops.

When to visit: Plan your trip in the main season of March to November. Grapes are harvested in the autumn months and there are numerous harvest festivals to visit.

Getting there: Dijon is 3hrs 40min by car from Paris, while the train takes 1hr 40 mins. If you wish to fly there is an airport in Dole-Jura, which is located 50km from Dijon.

More information: the Burgundy tourist office has lots of great holiday ideas.

7. The Dordogne region – sample the best French cuisine

The Dordogne region lies inland from Bordeaux and is known for the amazing food grown and produced in the area. While here you can sample delicacies such as truffles and pate de foie gras or amazing walnuts and duck. The landscape is one of rolling hills and forests and the Dordogne River snakes its way to the sea near Bordeaux. You can visit one of the many medieval towns including Sarlat-la-Canéda and Rocamadour. A visit to the twice-weekly produce market in Sarlat-la-Canéda is highly recommended.

Suitable for: There are riding routes for everyone here and you will be spoilt for choice. Along the Dordogne River, you will find a mixture of quiet country roads and separated bike paths to explore.

Great if you love: easy cycle paths, long-distance cycle routes, gastronomy, riverside holidays, historical towns and villages

Facilities: You will find bike hire outlets and bike shops in the larger towns including Perigueux, Bergerac, and Sarlat-la-Canéda. You could also consider Bordeaux for these types of facilities.

When to visit: While you could visit this area year-round, March to November will be the best times. Over the winter months, some businesses will close and you are more likely to experience rainy days or very cold weather. Like other areas, July and August will be the busiest months.

Getting there: From Paris, it will take between 6hrs and 7hrs to drive to the region or between 4hrs and 5hrs 30mins to catch the train. The closest airport is Bordeaux which can be reached by car or train in around 3hrs.

More information: The Perigord tourism website includes lots of information about the Dordogne.

8. The Cote d’Azur – cyclists will love the routes along the sea

This region of France is renowned for its stunning beaches and coastline and includes the cities of Nice, Cannes, Monaco, and Saint Tropez. A short distance inland from the coast and you are into the mountains and a different world. Here you can explore one of the many hilltop villages and their amzing view overlooking the Mediterranean. The island of Corsica sits off the coast of Nice and can be reached by ferry which takes just over 6 hours.

Suitable for: There are plenty of cycling options for everyone in this region. The coastal strip is nice and flat for the most part, although gets a little hillier east of Nice towards Monaco. There is great off-road cycling and cycle lanes for most of the way between Nice and Cannes, a distance of 32km. Those looking for a steeper route can head to the mountains that sit behind the coast. The region is home to many pro cyclists who use these mountains as their training ground when they are not racing.

Great if you love: Easy cycle paths, Tour de France climbs, a beach holiday

Facilities: Lots of bike hire outlets and bike shops along the coast.

When to visit: This region is somewhere you could visit any time of the year, but the best time will be spring and autumn (fall) Summer is very busy and many people from around the world visit here annually. You may find some things closed in the winter months or operating on reduced hours.

Getting there: From Paris, the Riviera is about a 9hr drive or 6hr train trip. Nice has an international airport if you wish to fly.

More information: Check out our page on the Cote d’Azur.

9. The Pyrenees mountains – cycling in France at its most challenging

Located in the southwest of the country on the border with Spain the Pyrenees mountains are a mecca for road cycling. Cyclists from all around the world come to ride their bikes on the mountain passes made famous by the Tour de France. There are a number of national parks across the region and lots of things to see and do off the bike. In winter there are numerous ski stations, many of which offer mountain bike parks in the summer months. This is definitely where to cycle in France if you want some challenging riding and test yourself up the mountain passes.

Suitable for: This area is best for more experienced riders due to the steep gradients both up and down. While there are some off-road cycling paths, much of the riding is on-road. If mountain bikes are more your style then you will find lots on offer here for all levels of riders.

Great if you love: Tour de France climbs, long-distance cycling routes, mountain biking, a mountain holiday

Facilities: All the larger towns have plenty of bike hire outlets and bike shops to get you going and keep you going on your holiday. There are numerous tour companies offering trips to the Pyrenees. These are focused predominantly on on-road cycling.

When to visit: May to October. The mountains are covered in snow over the winter months and many of the mountain passes are closed. Closures vary from year to year based on the snow conditions.

Getting here: From Paris, the Pyrenees are an 8hr 30 min drive while the train will take between 5 and 7 hrs depending on which part you visit. There are small airports in Pau and Lourdes as well as larger airports in Toulouse and Bordeaux.

More information: We have lots of information on our site about the Pyrenees. Start with our guide on where to base yourself for a Pyrenees holiday to help work out where to stay.

10. The French Alps – experience the magic of the high mountains

Like the Pyrenees, the French Alps are another popular destination for road cyclists looking for the challenges of the high mountain passes. Located in the east of France on the border with both Switzerland and Italy the Alps offer plenty of cycling options. There are numerous places to base yourself and a host of activities you can undertake here.

Suitable for: This area is more suitable for cyclists who ride regularly and are comfortable with the steep gradients of the area. This said there are options for less experienced riders including separated cycle paths in some areas. Many of the ski resorts offer mountain biking suitable for different skill levels.

Great if you love: Tour de France climbs, long-distance cycling routes, mountain biking, a mountain holiday

Facilities: All the larger towns have plenty of bike hire outlets and bike shops to get you going and keep you going on your holiday. There are numerous tour companies offering trips to the French Alps. These are focused predominantly on on-road cycling.

When to visit: May to October. The mountains are covered in snow over the winter months and many of the mountain passes are closed. Closures vary from year to year based on the snow conditions.

Getting here: From Paris, it will take around 6hrs to 7hrs to drive depending on which part of the Alps you are visiting. By train, the journey will take between 5hrs and 7 hrs depending on the destination. Airport options include both Geneva airport and Lyon airport.

More information: Our article about where to stay in the French Alps is a good starting point for planning a holiday here.

But wait there’s lots more!

These are only a small sample of where to cycle in France so don’t worry if one of these is not what you are looking for. When it comes to France and cycling the world is really your oyster and you won’t be disappointed with whatever you choose to travel.

If you do want to do some cycling outside of these popular areas mentioned above, then our suggestion would be to first select the type of places you want to visit and work your cycling around that. Cycling is a popular holiday pastime in France and you will find something that suits what you want to do regardless of what you are looking for.

We have also included some answers to common questions people have about cycling in France. We have always found it easy to get around and work out how to do things. We are not fluent French speakers but have learned a little bit along the way which helps but it is not essential.

Can I cycle on any road in France?

Apart from the major autoroutes, you are allowed to cycle on any of France’s network of roads. In our experience, we have found the D roads to be the best option. They tend to have the least amount of traffic and take you off the beaten path a little more. N roads are usually ok but expect more traffic on these than on the D roads.

Are cycling helmets compulsory in France?

You are not required to wear a helmet in France if you are over the age of 12, it is up to you to decide. In our experience, we have observed that many people do wear a helmet, especially if cycling on open roads and on mountain passes. Most people commuting in cities do not wear helmets.

Is it safe to cycle in France?

Using a bike is a very accepted form of transport in France and thousands of people travel by bike every day. We have always felt very comfortable on French roads and not threatened by other vehicles. The bike vs car rhetoric seen in other countries does not appear to be an issue in France. Of course, you have to ride safely and it is expected you will do the right thing as well and be courteous to other road users.

We hope that gives you some great ideas on where to travel and find a cycle route in France. We promise you will have a fantastic time exploring the many different landscapes on two wheels. Happy pedaling.