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Sports & Outdoors

Cycling in France

From countryside to city, we’ve rounded up some top trails for you.

With plenty of space and safe tracks and paths to explore, cycling is a great way to see more of France. As the Tour de France demonstrates, the French value cycling, so naturally there are many fantastic choices for enjoying the country on two wheels. France has around 880,000 km (550,000 miles) of roads, excluding motorways, and almost all of this network is open to cyclists. Explore some of the best and most-loved cycling regions.

Legal requirements for cycling in France

Riding a bike in France comes with a few rules and regulations, most of which are common sense and there to keep everyone safe.

  • Crash helmets are not compulsory but strongly advised
  • In towns and cities, cyclists must use the marked cycle lanes
  • Bicycles have a bell, fully functioning brakes, and reflectors and front and rear lights for riding in low light
  • You cannot drink alcohol and cycle. Cycling while under the influence can lead to a hefty fine or the impounding of the bike
  • Cyclists must obey traffic signs and signals in the same way as other road users

You can take a bicycle free of charge on many trains in France, notably on most TERs, the regional express trains that cover the whole network. You must book ‘bike space’ when buying your ticket – which is sometimes, but not always, available online. On rural routes, it’s common practice to buy your ticket at the station for the next train and make sure you let the ticket office know that you have a bicycle.

Family of four enjoying riding their bikes through a woodland trail

Some of France’s best cycling regions

You have plenty of choice for where to take your bicycle. Whether you are travelling with friends, going solo or taking the whole family, there is something for every two-wheeler.

Normandy

Normandy is a beautiful part of France, (especially in spring). One of the most popular cycling routes here is The Alabaster Coastal Route, which makes up part of the EuroVelo 4, the 4,000-km bike route that runs all the way from Roscoff, Brittany to Kiev, Ukraine. You don’t have to complete the whole course to appreciate these well-planned cycle paths, many begin in the UNESCO World Heritage City of Le Havre and end in the fishing village Le Tréport. We especially recommend the charming village of Étretat as a stop off.

The Cider Route that winds through picturesque Pays D’auge is well-marked-out for newer cyclists, and will take you past stately homes, apple orchards, and even castles. Many producers of the cider for which the route is named will offer tasters en route too, making this a delicious option.

The Vélo Francette has an entire length of 615 kilometres, but you can break this down easily. The pathways are called Greenways and are very good for families with younger riders or newer riders. For a scenic city to coast cycle, try the 15km ride from Ousitreham to Caen.

The Seine Valley route known as the Véloroute du Val de Seine, is for those who love their cycling with a side of art. It takes you through the towns that inspired the artists of the Impressionist movement, beginning in Elbeuf. It runs for 120 kilometres along the river, passing through the untouched landscapes of the Boucles de la Seine Normande Natural Park, as well as the city of Rouen.

a couple cycling towards a beautiful city on a hill surrounded by water with blue clear skies

Brittany

With a wonderful coastline and plenty of lush spots for a camping break or a gastronomic experience, Brittany is also a great place to bring your bicycle. Traffic is light and many cycle routes are accessible for all levels of cycling experience.

For a mix of canal and old railway track views, the Greenways from Rennes to the heights of the Monts d'Arrée offer a network of routes that are all well marked and vary for experience.

Vannes is quintessential rural France captured in cobbled streets and medieval architecture. Cycle to the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre for a real treat, or along its harbour to see the boats docked as the sun goes down.

The cities of Rennes and Vannes both have public bike hire schemes, but you do need to register in advance and pay a deposit.

For a longer trip, the 365km Nantes-Brest Canal can be cycled at a leisurely pace in a week, taking you past medieval towns like Josselin and Malestroit, with landscapes such as flat marshes to valleys in Aulne. You are likely to see a lot of wildlife on this route, including otters and copyu in the surrounding forests and waterways.

The Loire Valley

Cycling is probably the best way to experience this treasure trove of French landscape. La Loire à Vélo (The Loire by Bike) cycle trail is 900km of well-signposted pathways that goes through peaceful scenery, vineyards, ancient dwellings, and fairytale castles, and it attracts a lot of riders every year. It’s length, however, means that you can escape the crowds easily.

This route crosses over some other major routes, some that focus specifically on the castles in the valley (Châteaux à Vélo), and others that cover the trickier parts of the landscape. All have numerous stops including restaurants, cafes, repair stops and tourist information points, making this one of the better places to take a cycling holiday if you need some home comforts or are taking younger riders with you.

For another detailed guide, see our Cycling in The Loire Valley article.

Dordogne Valley

There are thousands of kilometres to cover by bike in the beautiful valley, but to get your started, try Berges de L’Isle to Voie Verte, a route that follows the riverbank from Trelissac to Marsac sur I’Isle. It’s 21km long and mostly flat and smooth, perfect for beginners or inexperienced groups. You can stop off for picnics and see traditional locks and dams.

Another excellent beginner’s route is the 17km route between Thiviers and Saint Pardoux la Riviere, two very pretty towns. It began as a railway line, so it’s mostly straight, plus it’s lined with trees and countryside views, ideal in summer.

For a little more of a challenge, the Vallee de la Dordogne route is 80km and tackles some rougher terrains. The route officially begins in the village of Domme, winding through Cenac, Vezac, and Saint Julien de Lampon to name a few.

Inspired to visit? Read our guide to the Dordogne.

Canal du Midi

Known as ‘the canal of two seas’ since its network of waterways connects the Atlantic to the Mediterranean Sea, the Canal du Midi runs for 240km with a cycle route alongside. You can cycle from one end to the other in around 10 days at a leisurely pace, with stops and exploration planned in too.

Vineyards and historical sights are aplenty along this route, with bike hire available in Toulouse, Sète, and many of the major towns dotted along the way. You won’t ever be far from a town or village that offers delicious French cuisine, or a place to rest your head. We recommend the UNESCO-listed fortified city of Carcassonne which sits atop a hill and offers a fantastic wine tasting tour.

man in cycling outfit speeding downhill on a mountain bike track in the woods

More challenging cycling destinations

For the thrill seekers or those who wish to challenge themselves as well as see France, these routes are for you.

Provence

Provence’s ancient Roman roads seem made for cycling, but the region is also mountainous, so expect some ups and downs! Mont Ventoux, the Luberon, the Alpilles and Dentelles de Montmirail are all here, with many serious cyclists seeing Ventoux in particular as a rite of passage.

As well as the heights, you’ll see olive groves, cherry orchards, and a variety of road surfaces. Some of the routes are more isolated than others, so check beforehand and pack accordingly with refreshments and equipment.

Due to its popularity, there are plenty of bike hire places around, from electric to children’s cycles and you can book tours that stick to the vineyards and lower lavender fields if you want to avoid the hillier routes. Try the vibrant, art-filled town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence for one of the best cycling tours of this kind.

Young woman cycling among vineyards on road above a pretty French village on a wine route in France

Morzine

The mountains around Morzine transform in summer from ski slopes to cycling paths that challenge and delight cycling enthusiasts all over the world. Morzine-Avoriaz in the Haute-Savoie department of the Rhône-Alpes region of France is a popular area for road cyclists, hosting the Tour de France more than 20 times since 1975. It’s also home to a number of Cyclosportives, including the gruelling Morzine Vallee d'Aulps, which covers 150km and over 3900m of vertical ascent.

Because of its altitude, be careful when you travel to this area for a cycling break. May, June, and September are recommended as the roads are quieter, but weather can still be changeable.

The Col de Joux Plan is possibly the toughest routes here, with starting points in either Morzine or Samoëns, or you can try the Lake Geneva route, which is flatter and gives you stunning views of the water. Ponts de Gets is a 50km route taking you from Morzine to Les Gets, with a descent into Taninges, which has restaurants and a handy tourist information site.

The Pyrenees

One of Europe’s best hiking spots, you can also cycle some diverse routes through The Pyranees.

Haute-Alpes

The French Alps attract cyclists from all over the world. Here you can enjoy the spectacular scenery at a leisurely pace and explore where the exciting mountain stages of the Tour de France take place.

Be aware, the Alps also attract large numbers of motorists during the warmer seasons (June to September) when all Alpine passes are open to traffic.

The Chamonix Valley has some excellent mountain bike and (mostly) downhill trails. There are options to cycle through villages and hamlets such as Annecy or take the lifts at stops from Le Tour, Vallorcine, and Les Houches to starting points for speedier descents. If you simply want to enjoy the alpine scenery, there are plenty of bike hire facilities in resorts and other towns and villages all over the Alps that also offer guided tours to help you navigate your journey.

woman in bike cycling through outdoor canteen with huge colourful signage, plants, and people

Cycle-friendly cities in France

On a city break? This is a perfect time to hire a bike and take a tour of the sights and sounds you could miss by car.

Strasbourg

Often referred to as ‘capital of Europe’, Strasbourg is a great place to bring your bike. There are over 150 cycle routes, plus some mountain biking trails for a hardier trip. A large part of the old city centre is a car-free zone, which makes cycling a safe option and you can rent a bike at Vélhop, Strasbourg's bike sharing system, from €5 per day.

Nice

Nice is perfect for cyclists, even the pros spend a hefty amount of time in the area. After all, the Col d’Èze, traditionally the final climb in the Paris-Nice section of the Tour de France, is here. Start at the port and climb to the beautiful hilltop village of Èze, with stunning views of the Côte d’Azur as you ascend.

For quieter rides, head a little inland from the main roads and you will find most of the roads deserted for the ultimate in a peaceful cycle. We have a complete guide on driving to Nice, from Calais to help you reach your destination, too.

Nantes

This quirky city is filled with art and stunning gardens just waiting for you to explore. Grab your bike and wind through streets lined with cafes and restaurants. Many of the routes here are suitable for day trips, with well-planned stopping points to help cyclists get the most of their time. Head to the city’s official tourism page for cycling to see exactly why you should head here next on your bicycle.

Bordeaux

Cycling in the wine region of France is a real treat. Bordeaux is filled with vineyards, but its city-centre cycle lanes allow you to take in its stunning urban architecture too. Many take advantage of the 7km ride to Begles Beach, just south of the city itself. The bike ride from Bordeaux to Begles takes you along the river Garonne and is easy for any level of cyclist, with the reward of views of the lake and lazing on the sand in the warmer months before you head back.

man in blue cycling gear putting on helmet and getting bike from car

Start your French cycling adventure with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

It’s clear that cycling in France is a varied option for your next holiday. You can set the pace, choose the view, and enjoy the ride. Some of these regions are a longer drive to than others, so be to check out parking and places to stay using some of our guides linked throughout this article.

With fares from only £21 per bicycle each way, Eurotunnel is a natural choice, with full details here of how you can book with us.

Open a My Eurotunnel account to stay up-to-date with travel information, holiday inspiration and special offers.

Start your cycling holiday in France with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

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