We thought we might share with you our recently completed cycling trip in France.
For those who just want a summary: St Malo to Lacanau Ocean and back; down the west coast of France; 1800km in total; 4 weeks; 30 hotels; lots of ‘fruits de mer’; a few cases of wine; one puncture:
Or, if you prefer more detail:
The original plan for was to take our bikes on the train to Portsmouth, catch the overnight ferry from Portsmouth to St. Malo, cycle down the west coast of France to the Spanish border, turn right at Irun, and return to Portsmouth on the ferry from Santander. We heard a few bad reports about the roads in that part of northern Spain, so we decided to alter the plan and cycle down to Lacanau Ocean in two weeks, turn around and cycle back to St Malo, and back home. (Lacanau is a great place just west of Bordeaux, where we used to go on family camping holidays)
We have done a few cycling tours in France previously: Champagne, Loire, Rhone, and the Gironde, and the cycling has always been great. This, though, would be our longest trip.
Linking up traffic-free routes, ‘voies vertes’ in Brittany, with velo routes ‘Loire a Velo’, ‘Velodyssee’ down the west coast, ‘Vendee a Velo’, ‘Velocean’, and the network of small roads, a bit like those on Romney Marsh but with fewer potholes, we put the route together.
We booked the first couple of nights’ accommodation before we left, planning on about 40 miles per day, then booked continued by booking one night ahead, allowing us to change the route if necessary.
We knew we could travel fairly light, with two sets of cycling gear and some liquid detergent; waterproof jackets, helmets and gloves; limited evening clothes; comfortable shoes; toiletries; basic bike tools and limited spares…. all neatly packed in waterproof panniers…. The weight does seem to mount up. Oh, and a decent combination lock, as we really didn’t want to lose the bikes!
The bikes, our 1980s Marins, were with heavy duty tyres and all new drive gear (rather than trying to guess what might wear out during 1200 miles of cycling).
From St.Malo, our route took us through some lovely places in Brittany: Trefumel, Ploermel, Redon, then west along the Loire and down the coast as close to the Atlantic as we could through the Vendee and Charente-Maritime. Staying in places like Pornic, Les Sables d’Olonne, la Tranche sur Mer, Marans, Chatelaillon Plage, Marennes and Soulac. Arriving in Lacanau Ocean after 13 days cycling.
We took ferries across the harbour from St Malo to Dinard, across the Loire at Coueron to Pellerin, to avoid the difficult St Nazaire bridge, and the across Gironde from Royan to Verdon. The rest was very safe, not too hilly, and on very quiet roads and tracks along rivers, canals and through amazing countryside and ocean beach fronts. We hadn’t quite appreciated the variety of rocky coastline and sandy, surfing beaches, and tiny towns and villages all the way down the coastline. The fishing, seafood harvesting and oyster production we encountered down the coastline was incredible. The wine did not disappoint either. Eating out after each day’s cycling was fantastic, and not expensive.
We had a day off in Lacanau, then returned, adding miles by zig-zagging north to visit some of the places we missed on the way down. One of which was the island of Noirmoutier, going across a very exposed bridge and returning by the Gois causeway, which only appears for a couple of hours each low tide, depending on the weather and the tidal phase – exciting!
Our weather was mixed, but usually quite warm, the wind direction and strength was very varied. Despite taking a good supply of both wet and dry chain lube, the sand and grit that was with us most days acted like grinding paste on the drive train, and the newly fitted chains and cassettes are now in the bin!
The bits I haven’t mentioned: leaving my only pullover on the back of a restaurant chair on the third evening, splitting my head open on an inward opening hotel bedroom window (different hotels every night for four weeks can be confusing!), and injuring my back lifting the bikes up a flight of steps (it was only agonising whilst getting on and off the bike!) were only minor negatives!
The entire trip was a great experience of safe cycling, and some of the finest seafood and wine available anywhere. If you like oysters or moules followed by fresh merlu, accompanied by a crisp, dry Muscadet, or maybe a steak frites washed down with Chateau Bourbon La Chappelle, with coffee and ‘tabac small talk’ every morning, and you can handle this for thirty consecutive days, we thoroughly recommend this trip!
Richard & Sue Morley