Cycle Touring in France: the Veloscenic Route

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Cycle Touring in France: From Paris to the Mont-Saint-Michel © Dietmar Feichtinger Architectes SBP - E. Tessier - Normandy Tourist Board
Cycle Touring in France: From Paris to the Mont-Saint-Michel © Dietmar Feichtinger Architectes SBP - E. Tessier - Normandy Tourist Board

The Veloscenic bike route from Paris to Mont-St-Michel offers brilliant cycle touring in France, taking in some of the most famous sites including four UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Official Guide has now been published.

Launched in 2013, France’s Veloscenic bike route starts at Notre Dame in the centre of Paris, takes you past the sumptuous palace of Versailles, before heading out to Chartres and its stunning twin-spired cathedral, said to be the best preserved medieval cathedral in France. With 42% of the route traffic free and much of the remainder on minor roads that are almost traffic free, this is a great route for family cycle touring in France. And you finish up at the “Marvel of the West”, the Mont-St-Michel.

The guide illustrates the route logo for the Veloscenic: a circular logo incorporating the Eiffel Tower and Mont-St-Michel silhouettes. This is usually displayed on signboards along with the standard French cycle route sign, which is a white cyclist on a rectangular green background. If you decide to pick this route from some cycle touring in France, note that you may see some Veloscenic signs in yellow and black, which indicates a temporary section or diversion.

Cycle Touring in France: Veloscenic Guide Book

The guide is neatly laid out and is a size that can be slipped under the plastic map pocket of a handlebar bag so it readily at hand and readable.

Cycle Touring in France along the Veloscenic route from Paris to Mont-St-Michel
Cycle Touring in France along the Veloscenic route from Paris to Mont-St-Michel – map © Veloscenic

The route is presented in chapters which represent daily rides over 7 days:

  • Paris to Versailles: 34 km (allowing time for site-seeing)
  • Versailles to Chartres: 100 km
  • Chartres to Illiers-Combray: 33 km
  • Illiers-Combray to Rémalard: 59.5 km
  • Rémalard to Alençon: 63 km
  • Alençon to Domfront: 72.5 km
  • Domfront to Mont-Saint-Michel: 92 km

For those who either have less time available or want (and are able) to cover greater distances in a day, there are suggestions put forward in how to bring this great experience of cycle touring in France down to 5 days (comprising distances of 83.5 km, 83.5 km, 82.5 km, 93 km, and 111 km.

In case you have to abandon, the guide indicates where the nearest rail stations are along the route.

Each section of the ride has a height profile, so you can see any climbs and descents, along with place names of towns and villages you will pass, and the distances along that section in both miles and kilometres.

To get to the Veloscenic route, there is, of course, the Eurostar service from London to Paris. At the other end of the route, it is about 50km from Mont-St-Michel to St Malo, where there are the ferry services to Portsmouth and Plymouth. This route follows the “Voie de la Liberté” (approximately, the Liberty Route). Alternatively, it’s 151 km up to Cherbourg, for another ferry to Portsmouth; this is a somewhat hillier option with around 835m of ascent.

The guide does not just describe the route but gives a variety of useful information, including places to stay and sites to see on the way. The accommodation varies from chambres d’hôtes (B&Bs) and campsites (in some cases you can rent a tent for the night) at one end of the scale through to hotels.

From the German war cemetery at Huisnes-sur-Mer, a view across the salt marshes to Mont St Michel - ©SpyCycle
From the German war cemetery at Huisnes-sur-Mer, a view across the salt marshes to Mont St Michel – ©SpyCycle

I would add one tip regarding the little village of Huisnes-sur-Mer that is only around 10km short of Mont-St-Michel.

There is a German war cemetery there where they have collected war dead from several smaller cemeteries. It is sobering to see the cemetery but there is another reason for mentioning it, the chance discovery that there is a spectacular view from the mound surrounding the cemetery across to Mont-St-Michel. Having said that, the great advantage of travelling by bike on smaller roads is that you get a number of views across the bay and are more able to stop for photos than in a car on the main road.

The guide does make a sensible point about the bay of Mont-St-Michel: there is a 15m tidal range which covers and hides a vast expanse of sands. When the tide is out you can walk around the abbey, but do not stray far as this can be dangerous.

There are free bike park areas close to the causeway across to the mount, but the luggage lockers have been discontinued for security reasons and you can’t take anything but small bags with you if you want to visit the abbey, which is well worth the visit (and the climb to the top!).  It’s about 1 mile from the bike park, either on foot or via a shuttle. It would probably be worth arranging accommodation in nearby Pontorson (10.5 km South) and leaving panniers there, and either cycling or catching the train (tickets are €2.80 each way).

Why Should You Go Cycle Touring In France?

There are several good reasons. The “Véloscénie” or Veloscenic route is a wonderful introduction to cycle touring in France, with plenty to enchant you en route. By and large, it is a family-friendly route accessible to different levels of cyclist, and access to and from the UK at either end is available.

Cycling in France is a pleasure. The country has invested heavily in cycle routes and has become a cycling nation. Consequently, cyclists are accorded the proper status on the roads.

The guide gives some useful tips on cycle touring in France – beyond the obvious “ride on the right”!

The guide is a valuable companion for anybody planning or already intending to go on this 453 km ride and well worth the cover price of £12.95. It is available from excellentbooks.co.uk and GPS files can be downloaded for the route in either direction (East to West, or West to East).

 

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