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Vineyards to canals: 7 of the best cycle routes in France

Did you know France has a vast car-free cycle path network? Known in French as the Voie Verte (greenways) these pieces of infrastructure are fast popping up throughout the country. Here cyclist and travel website editor Bella Molloy shares her favourites.

Vineyards to canals: 7 of the best cycle routes in France
Photo: Gauillaume Souvent/AFP

The rate of dedicated cycle paths in France being built and expanded upon is ever increasing. More towns are looking to reap in the benefits which separated cycling infrastructure can bring. In many areas they stand in places where a rail line used to be. This often means they also provide you with a relatively flat cycling route. 

Whilst it is common to find these cycle paths built alongside canals and rivers, there are also some to explore in mountainous regions too. We definitely recommend seeking these out in the Alps and Pyrenees. Greenways in the mountains are are a great way to get an easier ride in, resting those legs and avoiding steep gradients.

Here are seven of the best that we have ridden so far:

 
France’s stunning scenery is well enjoyed from a bike. Photo Guillaume Souvant/AFP

1 Lourdes – Voie Verte des Gaves – 17.5km each way

Located in the Pyrenees, this greenway takes advantage of the disused railway line which used to run all the way to Cauterets. Now the tracks have been paved and you can enjoy a pedal along the valley floor away from the busier tourist town of Lourdes.

The ride will see you take in 10 smaller villages to the start of the Gorge de Luz. Check here for a full write-up of this route in our Pyrenees section. 

It is possible to continue on from the end point at Pierefitte Nestalis all the way to Cauterets on a dirt track. If you do this you’ll need to be on a bike with wider tires to accommodate the rockier terrain. 

View the route HERE

2 Annecy – Lake Annecy cycle trail to Albertville 45km each way
 
This trail travels along the eastern shoreline of Lake Annecy connecting it up almost all the way to the town of Albertville.

Travelling alongside the turquoise waters of the lake, you will roll through a disused rail tunnel and then pedal your way through the countryside, all the while being able to look up at the giant Alpine mountains looming overhead. In fact at some points you even have great vistas of Mont Blanc itself.

At present the trail finishes 5km prior to reaching Albertville but work is also underway to complete the trail around the entire perimeter of Lake Annecy. 

View the route HERE

3 Dordogne – Sarlat to Cazoules Voie Verte – 25km each way
 
This was the very first ride we ever did on our first trip to France. The route follows the disused rail way line from the picturesque medieval town of Sarlat la Caneda to Cazoules.

It includes a very long old rail tunnel and also includes a bridge crossing of the magnificent Dordogne river. We both enjoyed this as a great introduction to the charm of riding in France. Passing old villages, spotting crumbling chateaux up on the cliffs above, you can’t help but be transported back centuries in time. 

View the route HERE 

4 Bordeaux – Roger Lapebie Voie Verte – 57km each way

This trail starts in the beautiful city of Bordeaux in southwest France and travels all the way to Sauveterre-de-Guyenne.

We actually rode this greenway using the Bordeaux VCub city bike scheme. The trail begins with a bridge crossing of the Garonne river. From there the cycle path winds its way alongside the river, taking you through small quaint villages.

You will also ride past some of the wineries which make the region famous. The gradient is almost entirely flat and suitable for all fitness levels. 

View the route HERE 

5 Piste Cyclables – Île de Ré – 98km

The island of Île de Ré sits just off La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast. Linked to La Rochelle by a huge 3km bridge (which has a fully separate cycle lane!) the small island is best explored on two wheels. There are almost 100km of cycle tracks to ride on and apart from the slight gradient of the bridge itself the terrain is completely flat.

We thoroughly enjoyed spending half a day on these cycle paths, riding past old monuments, villages and forts. Stunning views of the vast Atlantic ocean were also a constant.

View the route HERE 

6 Canal du Midi – Toulouse -Etang de Thau 240 km

The Canal du Midi was first constructed in 1666 with the aim of providing a water link between the Garonne River and the the Mediterranean Sea. To ride the entire section of the canal would make a fantastic cycling holiday in itself, but on a weekend spent in Toulouse we decided to hire some of the city bikes and enjoyed a great cycle along the canal. 

With vast sections lined with impressive plane trees, riding here is very pleasant and would be a dream in summertime with the shade they would provide.

We certainly want to come back and ride the whole canal at some stage. If you are after a bigger challenge holiday it is possible to ride an even longer route called the Canal des Deux Mers. This route links the Atlantic Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea. 

View the route HERE 

7 Via Rhona – Geneva to Marseille

The Via Rhona is a vast cycling route linking sections of separated cycling greenways with quieter back roads.

The route runs from Geneva to Marseille, traversing through the larger cities of Lyon and Valence along the way. It is very well signposted and there are many options to create a multi-day cycling tour if you so wish. We have really enjoyed riding separate sections of this route such as the southern side of Lake Geneva as well as along the Rhone river in France. 

View the route HERE  

So there you have it, 7 cycle paths to add to your list of places to ride in France. We are sure you will enjoy riding them as much as we have. 

Photo: Bella Molloy

Bella Molloy runs the Seek Travel Ride travel site dedicated to cycling in France. She fell in love with the country after her first holiday on two wheels in 2013 and since then returns regularly (pandemic travel rules permitting) to explore new areas of the country and its cycle routes. Find more of her work at www.seektravelride.com

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READER INSIGHTS

‘Painful’ – is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Following a survey that said Paris Charles de Gaulle airport was the best in Europe, we asked Local readers what they thought...

'Painful' - is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Recently, Paris Charles de Gaulle was voted the best airport in Europe by passengers.

The 2022 World Airport Awards, based on customer satisfaction surveys between September 2021 and May 2022, listed the best airport on the planet as Doha, while Paris’s main airport came in at number 6 – the highest entry for a European airport – one place above Munich. 

READ ALSO Paris Charles de Gaulle voted best airport in Europe by passengers

Given CDG’s long-standing reputation doesn’t quite match what the World Airport Awards survey said – in 2009 it was rated the second-worst airport in the world, while in 2011 US site CNN judged it “the most hated airport in the world” – we wondered how accurate the survey could be.

So we asked readers of The Local for their opinion on their experience of Europe’s ‘best’ airport. 

Contrary to the World Airport Awards study, users erred towards the negative about the airport. A total 30.8 percent of Local readers – who had travelled through the airport in recent months – thought it was ‘terrible’, while another 33.3 percent agreed that it was ‘not great’ and had ‘some problems’.

But in total 12.8 percent of those who responded to our survey thought the airport was ‘brilliant’, and another 23.1 percent thought it ‘fine’, with ‘no major problems’.

So what are the problems with it?

Signage 

One respondent asked a simple – and obvious – question: “Why are there so many terminal twos?”

Barney Lehrer added: “They should change the terminal number system.”

In fact, signage and directions – not to mention the sheer size of the place – were common complaints, as were onward travel options. 

Christine Charaudeau told us: “The signage is terrible. I’ve often followed signs that led to nowhere. Thankfully, I speak French and am familiar with the airport but for first time travellers … yikes!”

Edwin Walley added that it was, “impossible to get from point A to point B,”  as he described the logistics at the airport as the “worst in the world”.

And James Patterson had a piece of advice taken from another airport. “The signage could be better – they could take a cue from Heathrow in that regard.”

Anthony Schofield said: “Arriving by car/taxi is painful due to congestion and the walk from the skytrain to baggage claim seems interminable.”

Border control

Border control, too, was a cause for complaint. “The wait at the frontière is shameful,” Linda, who preferred to use just her first name, told us. “I waited one and a half hours standing, with a lot of old people.”

Sharon Dubble agreed. She wrote: “The wait time to navigate passport control and customs is abysmal!”

Deborah Mur, too, bemoaned the issue of, “the long, long wait to pass border control in Terminal E, especially at 6am after an overnight flight.”

Beth Van Hulst, meanwhile, pulled no punches with her estimation of border staff and the airport in general. “[It] takes forever to go through immigration, and staff deserve their grumpy reputation. Also, queuing is very unclear and people get blocked because the airport layout is not well designed.”

Jeff VanderWolk highlighted the, “inadequate staffing of immigration counters and security checkpoints”, while Karel Prinsloo had no time for the brusque attitudes among security and border personnel. “Officers at customs are so rude. I once confronted the commander about their terrible behaviour.  His response said it all: ‘We are not here to be nice’. Also the security personnel.”

Connections

One of the most-complained-about aspects is one that is not actually within the airport’s control – public transport connections.  

Mahesh Chaturvedula was just one of those to wonder about integrated travel systems in France, noting problems with the reliability of onward RER rail services, and access to the RER network from the terminal.

The airport is connected to the city via RER B, one of the capital’s notoriously slow and crowded suburban trains. Although there are plans to create a new high-speed service to the airport, this now won’t begin until after the 2024 Olympics.

Sekhar also called for, “more frequent trains from SNCF to different cities across France with respect to the international flight schedules.”

The good news

But it wasn’t all bad news for the airport, 35 percent of survey respondents said the airport had more positives than negatives, while a Twitter poll of local readers came out in favour of Charles de Gaulle.

Conceding that the airport is “too spread out”, Jim Lockard said it, “generally operates well; [and has] decent amenities for food and shopping”.

Declan Murphy was one of a number of respondents to praise the, “good services and hotels in terminals”, while Dean Millar – who last passed through Charles de Gaulle in October – said the, “signage is very good. [It is] easy to find my way around”.

He added: “Considering the size (very large) [of the airport] it is very well done.  So no complaints at all.”

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