A Velodyssey in Western France

 Bruce Robertson

The Velodyssey is an official cycling route in Western France and forms part of EuroVelo 1 (EV1), the Atlantic route from Norway to Portugal. EV1 is a route rather than a bike path so varies significantly in standard along the way. However the French portion is one of the better developed and best used sections - it even has it’s own website (velodyssey.com) which was one of my main sources of information. The route begins in Roscoff in Brittany, as a continuation of EV1 from Devon and Cornwall in the UK, and continues 1200km to the Spanish border at Hendaye. This is a log of my version of the  Velodyssey with the finish being Bordeaux rather than Hendaye.
 

Roscoff to MorlaixDay 1

I did start from Roscoff, although on a ferry from Ireland (where I had ridden a very pleasant 25km to the ferry port in Cork). A relaxed 17-hour crossing meant I arrived refreshed and ready to go. However as the boat didn’t get in until 4pm it wasn’t a big mileage day by any means. The day was gray and foggy, humid but dry.
 
It was a fairly easy run - definitely “undulating” and very rural and coastal with some very narrow lanes. There were no separated bike paths today but all quiet roads with only one portion unsealed  - EV1 definitely tries to avoid traffic. A few minor wrong turns were taken especially on the way out of Roscoff  but I used an app (Pocket Earth) to get back on the right track.
 
On the way he town of St Pol was very pretty and probably worth a stop (another time). Today’s destination was Morlaix, a nice town and port dominated by a huge 19th century viaduct (for the Paris-Brest railway). However it was dead on a Tuesday evening – perhaps understandable in the aftermath of the huge storms and floods that hit over the last few days (and which I was fortunate enough to miss!).
 
[31km]
 

Morlaix to RostrenonDay 2

Yesterday’s lovely descent into Morlaix (hence the viaduct) meant a steep climb out this morning after riding through the town. At the top of the climb the greenway or rail trail started. This was mostly unsealed through forest and farming areas. The surface was fine for riding except that all the recent rain meant some of it was quite boggy and muddy – still rideable except for one spot where I had to lift the bike over a fallen tree blocking the path.
 
Quite dense foliage gave plenty of shade (not that today particularly needed it) but meant there was not a lot to see. Understandable there were not many people out - on bikes or off. At the former railway station in pretty Scrignac I met an English couple riding the other way and warned them of the state of the path to Morlaix but they said they had been through the same - they were in for a bit of a shock as the path after Scrignac was in much better shape
 
I had planned a lunch stop in Carhaix but the slower than expected conditions made me late - most restaurants closed at 2pm (as in most of France outside the big cities).
 
Shortly after Carhaix I reached the Brest-Nantes Canal and the path got better with the surroundings much more open and scenic. There was no boat traffic as this section is unnavigable although there are restoration plans afoot – most canal traffic consists of bikes along the usually excellent towpath. Pretty, former lockkeepers, cottages were found at most locks - some were for rent, some lived in but others empty and abandoned. There are actually over 200 locks between Brest and Nantes.
 
[86km - cum. 117km]
 

Rostrenen to JosselinDay 3

Back on the canal path with a mid-morning stop at the pretty village of Gouarec – a beautiful ride with a few cyclists and walkers along the way. From here the path was closed for works so a signed diversion was in place to Bon Repos – the site of a gorgeous abbey, part-restored in the 1980’s after being abandoned for two centuries.
 
An unsealed but lovely path continued along the canal. An English couple riding the same direction were telling me about the floods and thunderstorms on the weekend - over a foot of water on the roads and cars needing to be pulled out of the canal. They had to knock on doors to ask for help and took shelter in a shed. It made me very grateful that I only had some mud and puddles to contend with. However today was warm and dry, albeit quite cloudy with both rain and sun being not far off at various times and failing to break through.
 
Pontivy, and its gorgeous 15th century chateau,  looked like a lovely place to spend more time in but I had to push on to reach my destination of Josselin as I’d planned a longish day in the saddle.
 
Rohan was another very pretty village with the Cistercian Abbey of Timadeuc a bit further along the path – known for cheese and fruit products but not much to see from the outside. Josselin has a very imposing castle but was rather confusing at the moment with all the works - they’re paving the old town and putting wires underground so it will look great when finished (July 2018?).
 
[116km – cum. 231km]
 

Josselin to GuenrouetDay 4

Although far from looking its best Josselin is a nice town – especially on a sunny morning!. The next village was gorgeous Malestroit with the easy sealed canal path continuing, after a diversion to the other side of the canal, to Redon, another pretty and historic area crying out for a longer visit.
 
This was where I left Brittany and entered Pays de la Loire which was perhaps the reason for the sudden deterioration in the cycle route - the path was either unsealed  (which is fine) or partly sealed and bumpy and uncomfortable (which isn’t). Cycling is perhaps less valued in this region of France.
 
[99km - cum. 330km]
 

Guenrouet to NantesDay 5

Another warm sunny day followed and fortunately after a an hour or so, towards Blain, the path improved.
 
Not so many locks today - must be nearly as high as the path goes. In many places there is a path on both sides of the canal but make sure you’re on the correct side - sometimes it’s not a problem but other times a path can just finish or you might miss a turn-off (I did both!).
 
About 30km from Nantes the path leaves the canal and goes through a semi-rural maze of paths and quiet roads towards the city - keep vigilant for the little EV1 signs!
 
[81km - cum. 411km]
 

Nantes to Saint Brevin les PinsDay 6

Getting out of Nantes was no bother with lots of good on-road or separated cycle paths. Lots of open space on the island. Quiet roads and paths plus little laneways and trails. Through several villages - French villages always seem to be asleep during the day although there are plenty of cars around to sully the view.
 
For a while I rode along a canal next to the Loire - nice to be by water again – but although the river was close at all times it was rarely seen. There was a light shower of rain but the greyest clouds seemed to be ahead of me and moving away. 
 
When I turned south at the mouth of the Loire I felt the Atlantic like a slap in the face. Not severe but a definite change. A little further on they had obviously had a lot more rain but unfortunately it caught up with me and I got a good soaking. St Brevin-les-Pins was the goal for today – it was a not-very-attractive seaside resort, at least in the rain! And offered a clear view across the Loire estuary of the huge (and ugly) naval shipyards at St Nazaire. There is a long bridge crossing for those keen on going to St Nazaire but it is distinctly discouraging to bikes with only a narrow on-road cycle line next to high speed and high volume traffic.
 
[76km – cum. 484km]
 

Saint Brevin les Pins to Borgneuf en RetzDay 7

The southern side leaving St Brevin was much nicer – even on another grey morning, at least it was dry and mild. This section of the route was called the Velocean and is mostly on road but wasn’t too busy on a Monday morningA little further on just after Pornic, about 2 hours into the day, the rain started and I got some shelter under a tree.
 
It soon eased so I went on, but got heavier and I got some shelter in a church door ( with two women from Nantes who’d been in the same AirBnB!). Again I pushed on as I had a long distance to cover and thought it would finish and dry up – and I had the crazy idea that I had to ride the full route. By the time I reached Boine it was just getting heavier and I waited in a bus shelter. Finally gave in and cycled the shortest road about 10km to the nearest train station, Bourgneuf. Had a long wait ( a bit nervous about whether the train would turn up at this unmanned tiny station during yet another train strike with continual warnings through the speaker). However the train did turn up on schedule, and I made it to Saint-Hilaire- de-Riez with only a couple of km, still in the rain, to my accommodation.
 
[67km – cum. 551km]
 

Saint Hilaire to TalmontDay 8

Somewhat better weather today with light rain for an hour or so easing to stray rain drops for the rest of the morning. On a good day the Vendée scenery would have been spectacular! Sables d’Olonne was the destination for the morning - good paths and quiet roads with lots of off-road tracks but a lot of sand (to be expected by the coast!). In fact the Vendée region claims to have the largest network of cycle tracks in France.
 
There were quite a few cyclists out today and the weather gradually improved. An early  arrival allowed me to ride the 15km Talmont circuit and explore the great local bike paths and historic town.
 
[84km – cum. 635km]
 

Talmont to La RochelleDay 9

A beautiful sunny cloudless morning! Lovely morning ride down (but only occasionally on) the coast. Longueville forest was a highlight. More nice coastal communities to Angouille-sur-mer. The day was not too hot with some cloud cover later. 
 
The afternoon ride was through the Poitevin Marshes. Very open prairie-like featureless country with long straight roads. Looking forward to getting to Poitou-Charente! Lots of cyclists along the coastal bit but only a few hardy souls through the (dried) marshes. Final part of this section is along the top of a dyke or dam which made me think of a future tour in Holland!
 
Charente Maritime brought a change of scenery along a canal with an easy run into La Rochelle, a lovely city despite a major building project in the old town (to make it even nicer - more bikes, fewer cars!). In fact this type of construction was a big feature of many towns and villages I visited in France – so when I come back they’ll be even more attractive!
 
[117km – cum. 752km]
 

La Rochelle to RoyanDay 10

Leaving La Rochelle it was obvious why this is the sailing capital of France. Mixed on/off roads and paths along the coast as I headed to Rochefort. However I hardly saw the town as the path followed a very wide loop along the Charente River – this was not the most scenic either.
 
Then onto a greenway - very long and mostly straight, unsealed and quite bumpy - a bit soul destroying with not much variety or things to see (just hedgerows). Even the Velodyssey website refers to this stage as ‘commonplace’.
 
After this came a dried marsh area reminiscent of the southern Vendée. Then to (or mostly around ) Marennes. However a lovely sealed path led out of town to and through the Forest of Coubre. There was nn excellent sealed greenway right through the forest, for quite a long way, brings you directly onto the on road bike paths into Royan. This last section from Marennes was definitely the highlight of the day, despite the fatigue of my longest cycling day.
 
[138km – cum. 890km]
 

Royan to Lacanau OceanDay 11

A very grey morning with rain on the short trip to the ferry across the Gironde estuary. I joined about half a dozen other well covered-up cyclists and unfortunately there wasn’t much to see on the 20min crossing given the cloud and fog. Still it was not cold and cleared up throughout the day.
 
From Verdon straight into forest greenway with a nice sealed path – in fact this was very much the pattern for the day. The attractive seaside town of Soulac was the first break before more forest, Montalivet was a bit further south. These were the only towns although there was beach access in several places along the way. Along Lake Hourtin (the largest lake in France) you share a forestry road - but I only saw one car in an hour. Then onto a track - unexpectedly hilly, probably the hilliest section of my Vélodyssée (as I not doing the Pyrenean stages!). All-in-all a very pleasant days cycling.
 
Some more paths led down to Lacanau-Océan, a popular, but not overdeveloped, seaside town that glowed in the late afternoon sun.
 
[90km – cum. 980km]
 

Lacanau Ocean to BordeauxDay 12

The last day of my Velodyssey isn’t actually part of EV1. It heads due east to Bordeaux – a well-signed route with similar sealed paths through forest and rural areas to almost the city fringe - although obviously becoming more urban and less rural the closer you get to the city. Lots of cyclists were out - mostly sports or training cyclists on this much-travelled route.
 
Separated paths led all the way into Bordeaux with many road crossings as to be expected. Although I hadn’t allowed much time, the very popular Bordeaux Festival of Wine was on in a spectacular setting with the river on one side and the majestic buildings of Place de la Bourse on the other.
 
[75km – cum. 1055km]
 

All routes were recorded onto maps using Strava.

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