By Ben Smith
I’ve been on short cycle tours before but January of this year saw me leave on my first trip that would stretch into weeks and months. The route was loose and fluid but the general plan was to get the ferry to Cherbourg in northern France and then ride to the west coast before heading south to Spain. I rode through the countryside of northern France to Nantes and from there to the town of Brem-sur-mer on the Atlantic coast.
At this point I picked up Eurovelo 1, snappily titled ‘velodyssey’. Eurovelo 1 in France starts in Roscoff in the north and then heads across Brittany to the coast just north of where I had met it. The cycle route then continues south along the west coast until Irun just over the Spanish border from where it continues south across the Spanish peninsula. Whilst riding the cycle route I realised that it was almost perfect for someone embarking on their first cycle tour. Here are five reasons why:
1. The cycle route/path – Eurovelo 1 is well signposted once you reach the coast and often consists of cycle paths which are separated from the road. This means that it is fairly easy to follow. At most times there are maps showing the route you are taking, what is ahead and signposts listing the distances to destinations. The separate cycle paths would be a good option for those cycling with children. You do however sometimes have to be a bit wary of just following the cycle paths though as especially in the Gironde region as you can easily cycle 30 miles and bypass all towns if you just follow the cycle path. There is however a very good network of cycle paths in this area that branch from or cross Eurovelo 1 enabling you to explore or vary the route.
2. Accommodation – The west coast of France is a tourist destination for the entire length of the stretch I followed. This means that if you are looking for hotels or campsites they exist in abundance. You may need to consider booking in advance though during peak season. Alternatively for those cycle tourists who don’t wish to pay for accommodation I found plenty of opportunities for wild camping and a number of friendly Warmshowers hosts. However again during the peak holiday season I think wild camping would require being a bit more sneaky than I was due to the increased number of people in the area.
3. The food – French food is great, it’s a fact. Even as a vegetarian I found the French produce that I bought top quality as well as sampling local cheeses and wine that were delicious. For those who eat fish being by the coast the area is well known for oysters, cockles, mussels and other ‘fruit de mer’. On some stretches of the journey the road was literally lined with shops selling these gastronomic delights.
4. The people – I think we don’t do justice to the French people with the stereotypes we give them in the UK. The people I met were fantastic. Warm, friendly and welcoming. If you can learn a little bit of the language I think those who I interacted with appreciated my terrible attempts at conversation in their native tongue. I was even told on one occasion that I spoke good French. Which is a lie!
5. The scenery – The Atlantic coast is beautiful. There are seemingly endless miles of dunes behind which sit vast forests which Eurovelo 1 passes through. Even in winter I had the joy of watching the sun set over the ocean as the waves crashed against the shore. Most of the towns through which you pass also have beautiful historic parts e.g. La Rochelle with its twin towers guarding the harbour and network of small streets in the old town. There are new towns and developments as well as you would expect in an area known for tourism but even some of these are pleasing to the eye such as the modern promenade at Soulac-sur-mer. It also helps for cycle touring that for most of the stretch of coast along which I rode the terrain is also fairly flat until you reach Bayonne in the south.
So if you are thinking about spending a few weeks cycle touring for the first time or are maybe thinking of taking a bicycle tour with children I think Eurovelo 1 could be for you. There are opportunities to just ride a section which could easily be reached by train. The route officially passes through Nantes which is a very cycle friendly city and there is a cycle path which links it to Bordeaux in the Gironde. In addition you could finish your tour in Bayonne or Irun both of which I’m told have good transport links.
For those feeling a bit more adventurous you could take a ferry from Plymouth to Roscoff and then follow the entire route to Irun. From there you could cycle on along the north coast of Spain to Santander to get a return ferry to Plymouth. I found the north coast of Spain slightly more tricky to cycle along and without good cycle paths, routes or even quiet roads at times so bear that in mind. I was told however that the train from Irun that runs along the north coast was fast and cheap so you could use public transport to skip this section.
Find more information about the Eurovelo 1 on the dedicated CyclingEurope.org page. The French Velodyssey site is also extremely useful.
Ben has his own website – punkrockbikeclub.com – and is on Twitter @ctznsmith.