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Cycling in France

The Tour de France is the most famous cycle race in the world, its 21 stages being completed in just 23 days, during which time the cyclists will cover approximately 2,000 miles. As possibly the most famous cycling nation in the world, just what exactly can you expect when you go cycling in France?  Here is a brief guide to cycling in the world’s most famous cycling nation.

Cycling in France

France was made for cycling

What do you think of when you picture cycling in France? A stereotypical Frenchman in a beret on a black cycle traversing the streets of a sleepy French village? The rolling back drop of cycling through the Pyrenees and Alps in glorious sunshine? Travelling across countryside littered with vineyards transporting a woven basket containing bread and wine?  Or 200 cyclists sprinting down the Champs Elysee as each tries to secure victory in the final stage of The Tour de France?

Whatever you imagine, there is no doubt that cycling in France is growing increasingly popular. The French government is investing heavily in new routes and making superb improvements to existing ones. Among these is the ambitious Avenue Verte which links London with Paris and there are even plans to create a green route (voies vertes) between Paris and Moscow.

Whilst the French countryside does not provide the ease offered by the flat Dutch countryside, it is certainly true to say that it does offer a huge variation in scenery which is unsurpassed by any other country in the world. You can cycle from the Nantes in the north to Biarritz in the south, or follow the route of the Loire River and travel from east to west. Whichever area of France you wish to visit, you are certain to find dedicated cycle routes not far away.

Travelling with a cycle in France

A Great Day Out

A Great Day Out Exploring the Countryside

Before you travel, it is worth brushing up on the French rules of the road. French cycling regulations are very similar to those in the UK. All cycles must be equipped with a bell and, if you are travelling at night, front and rear lights are essential, as are reflectors. The wearing of a cycle helmet in France is not compulsory however, purely for reasons of safety, it is highly recommended.

If you are travelling on a French road after dark, it is also necessary to wear a high visibility jacket. Whilst the French do have a highway code or code de la route, the books are often issued by different publishers, so the appearance may vary depending on where you purchase your copy.

Many trains in France allow you to travel with a bike free of charge. Most TER, regional express trains, have this facility. However, the same is not true for the TGV trains, some of which allow bikes (although space may be limited), and some of which will not transport bikes at all. However, if you are able to pack your cycle into a bike bag, you may take it onto the train as hand luggage and avoid the issue completely. If you are in doubt, check with the station before you travel.

The best cycle routes in France

La Loire à Vélo

La Loire à Vélo Cycle Route

La Loire à Vélo - One of the Most Popular Cycle Routes in France

The Loire à Vélo is an 800km cycle route which follows the route of the Loire River. The route alternates between quiet roads with little traffic, green ways, no-thoroughfare roads and cycle tracks and lanes. Two-thirds of the route runs alongside the river. It travels from Cuffy in the Centre region to Saint-Brevin-les-Pins on the Atlantic coast. It is a fabulous route to follow if you wish to explore the area and take in the stunning chateaux of the Loire Valley. The route is proving so popular that, each year, additional routes are created running off from the main path, to visit nearby places of interest.

The Avenue Verte

The Avenue Verte is a new project designed to create a 486km cycle route from London to Paris. On the English side, the planned route travels from London to Newhaven on a mostly traffic free greenway. The route from Dieppe to Paris runs along the now disused line of the Dieppe to Paris railway and is again traffic free. It is a fabulous introduction to cycling in France and a beautiful way to experience the French countryside. Although the project is a work in progress and certain portions of the route will be improved upon, it is possible to cycle the entire route now and, for the experienced and enterprising cyclist, it is even possible to complete the journey in one trip.

Le Baie de Somme

Le Baie de Somme is located little more than 10 miles north of Dieppe and comprises a series of seven trails, each of which is signposted with the image of a different species of bird. The Baie de Somme is a nature reserve and the trails run along the seashore and through dunes and reedbeds which are full of an assortment of migratory birds. If you are a nature lover, this is the perfect route for you.

Burgundy

Like some of the other routes mentioned, the cycle paths of Burgundy are a work in progress. Ultimately the aim is for the route to cover 800km and the five planned routes will guide visitors through some of the region’s main attractions. The route includes tow paths and passes through vineyards and along disused railway lines. As with other routes which are not fully completed, there are ways to cycle around the parts which will later be covered with cycle paths and green ways.

The Canal de L’Ourcq

Part of the proposed cycle route from Paris to Moscow, the Canal de L’Ourcq offers a flat and picturesque cycle ride if you are near the city. The path currently leads to Claye-Souilly 27km from Paris. However, if travelling as a family, the stunning La Poudrerie Forest Park at Servan is just 14km ride. The park, which is based on the site of an old gunpowder mill, has a farm, nature centres and a planetarium.

The Tour des Alpes

For the adventurous, fit and downright obsessional cyclist, the Route des Grandes Alpes offers stunning scenery and some of the finest cycles routes anywhere in the world. Be warned, however, as the 700km route includes 50,000 feet of vertical climb and crosses 16 of the highest passes in France. The route takes you from the shores of Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean Sea. It is challenging and even the most experienced of cyclists find the journey tough. However, the compensation of the scenery and the stunning backdrop of the mountains means that people return year after year to the famous route.

Whichever part of France you are visiting and whatever level your ability, cycling around France is a fabulous way to immerse yourself into the French countryside and experience the true beauty of France.

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