Bicycle touring in Europe – Western France

If you’re ready to take your cycling to the international level, France is the ideal destination for a long distance European tour.

Tour de France fame aside, the country is a cycling haven thanks to its robust route system, temperate climate, and abundance of history, urban hubs, and rural panoramas that keep your ride interesting. France is also the crossroads of eight routes designed by Europe’s leading route planning initiative, Eurovelo, that connect to the national network. This means you can mix and match routes depending on where you’re planning to start and end, and how much time you have to complete your tour. While much of the network consists of greenways, county roads are also common, so exercise caution when sharing the road with vehicles.

As is the case in most temperate climates, the ideal time frame for a French tour is anywhere between spring and autumn. Conditions may change quickly on the Atlantic coast, so plan ahead and bring layers, as well as wet weather gear. The following is a tiered guide for touring Western France out of Paris. Heading west right out of the city reveals various touring options, including loop, one way rides, and longer or shorter itineraries.

La Seine a Velo – Western France route system

One of the country’s newest additions to its route system is the “La Seine a Velo,” unveiled just last year. The 420 kilometer long route leads cyclists from Paris to Le Havre or Deauville on the Atlantic Coast, winding alongside the idyllic Seine River.

While this option is not a loop, it’s a great starting point for those looking for a shorter trio, or “micro-tour” from the capital. Most riders need slightly over a week to finish this ride; if you’re not planning to retrace your steps and ride back to Paris, make return arrangements in advance.

Train lines that accept bicycles run between Paris and both Le Havre and Deauville, so you can plan to get a lift if you are in a pinch or need to shorten your ride. When it comes to cyclist-friendly services on the route, including accommodation and repairs, look for the green “Accueil Velo ‘’ sign (pictured here) to guide you to businesses familiar with the route and its challenges. To locate campsites, indoor accommodations, and other services, use this interactive map, which can be found on the route’s official website. Filters located to the side of the map will help you zero in on specifics like bed and breakfasts, group accommodations, and hotels. Cultural sites of interest are also marked, so you can choose where to linger depending on your tastes.

La Seine a Velo route

La Seine a Velo officially begins at the foot of the Notre Dame cathedral. Heading out of the city, you’ll pass the Basilica Saint Denis and follow the Seine, riding through the river’s many small ports. Much of the route is heavy on art history, and the first stretch features a site that inspired the Impressionist painter Pierre- Auguste Renoir. Your ride will grow significantly greener as you reach Conflans Sainte Honorine, known as a treasure trove of boating history. Twisting and turning along with the riverbank, your path will move towards rural France and smaller villages. Stop at Vetheuil and take in its vineyard past, as well as the home that once belonged to painter Claude Monet.

As you pedal towards Giverny and Vernon, the Monet trail remains strong, guiding you towards Poses and eventually Rouen. As the capital of Normandy, Rouen’s towering architecture matches the cliffs that line your way through this portion of the Seine. Right before La Bouille, you’ll have to get onboard a ferry to transport you across the river, where the route picks back up. Orchards, fresh produce, and the abbey ruins in Jumieges define this section of the route; this is also where you’ll decide whether to take the north bank of the Seine to Le Havre or follow the southern bank to Deauville. No matter which direction you choose at the fork, you’ll be treated to a slice of coastal culture once you reach either destination. Rich in maritime tradition, both endpoints promise fresh seafood, port history, and a sense of accomplishment as you dip your tire in the Atlantic.

Eurovelo Route 4 – La Velodysse

For those who want to stay on the road longer and dedicate a month or more to tour France, catch Eurovelo Route 4 (The Central Europe Route) in either Le Havre or Deauville. The complete Eurovelo route runs from Roscoff to Kiev, Ukraine, and a significant portion follows the French Atlantic coastline for 1,400 kilometers. Catching it at Le Havre or Deauville allows you to continue south towards Brest, sticking almost entirely to the shore. As you move downwards, you’ll arrive at Morlaix, where you’ll have the choice to continue to Roscoff (one of the endpoints of Eurovelo 4) or switch to the next leg of the trip immediately. You can get on Eurovelo 1, or  the Atlantic Coast Route, at either Roscoff or Morlaix. This fully signed route is also known as La Velodysse in French, and heads southwest towards the interior of the country.

While it may be confusing to find that parts of Eurovelo routes double as France’s national cycling routes under different names, the advantage is that these particular sections are well mapped and traveled. You can find detailed itineraries, nearby accommodations and other bike friendly services on France’s official touring website. It’s best to book and plan out accommodations in advance, especially during peak seasons and on the coast. When booking train tickets, confirm that bike spots are available before buying your ticket.

Approximately three hundred kilometers after leaving Morlaix on La Velodyssee, you’ll approach the city of Nantes on the Loire River. If you choose to circle back towards Paris from here, the Loire will accompany you back eastward via La Loire a Velo, an 800 kilometer route linking the coast to the heart of the country. This section is also part of Eurovelo 6, or the Atlantic Black- Sea Route. If you followed the Seine out of Paris, riding along the Loire is another unique riverside adventure to bring you back in the direction of the capital. Don’t miss the views from Champtoceaux before the Challones and Behuard islands.

An optional detour takes you through Angers, where the picturesque central castle and large city feel might be a welcome break from the greenways along the Loire. In Tours, also known as the Garden City, you’ll actually be joining Eurovelo 3 (The Pilgrims Route from Spain to Norway), also known as The Scandiberique. Stay on the Scandiberique past the city of Orleans, and it will lead you back to Paris after a sharp turn north.

Heading for the seaside

If you’re itching for a complete tour of Western France, a third option is to stay on La Velodyssee instead of switching gears in Nantes. The Velodysse will continue the seaside journey you started back in Le Havre, ending just before France’s southern border with Spain in Hendaye. Be cautious, as much of this route sees heavy traffic, especially in summer months. You’ll be passing by wildlife areas and fishing ports where woodland and windswept dunes meet to create a one of a kind French landscape.

La Rochelle, one of the larger cities on this portion, will welcome you with its iconic towers; this makes a great stop if you are craving a beach day or just some time to explore. A ferry will whisk you from Royan to the Gironde peninsula. Throughout the rest of the route to Hendaye, expect shady forested trails and beach views marked by resort towns and villages.

The Scandiberique route

If you are riding back to Paris, the Scandiberique is one of France’s best known cross country routes.

Though the Scandiberique and La Velodyssee bypass each other, they do not have a clear connection point; additional route planning or outside arrangements might be needed to reach the Scandiberique either near Urt or at Arneguy, on the Spanish border. Highlights along the way include Spanish cultural influences, a thermal spa experience in Dax, and the urban hub of Bordeaux. Taking the Scandiberique south is another way to extend your tour; crossing the border into Spain presents the opportunity to cycle across the Iberian Peninsula, though parts of the route are still in progress.

Summary

The French cycling route network is extremely well planned, making it easy to tour the entire nation by connecting various sections. Riding one of the existing Eurovelo routes through France may even motivate you to take on a full cross-continental route through Europe.

Whether you’re just riding from Paris to Le Havre or are planning to loop around the entire French Atlantic coast, waterfront scenery, small town culture and historical treasures are  guaranteed; passing by at a cyclist’s pace will leave you with a fresh perspective on less frequented parts of France.

The country’s hospitality and strong connection to cycling come together to form a route system that depends on mutual support. Plan your itinerary using interactive maps from resources like Eurovelo and France Velo Tourisme, where the mission is to get you out on the road safely and as soon as possible.