Your Adventures

Cycling La Vélomaritime® in France

2021 saw the completion of a continuous cycle path between Dunkirk and Roscoff and it’s a fantastic and accessible place for an active holiday

Rachel Ifans explores the newly complete cycle path and finds it’s a haven for wildlife, fantastic views and authentic French villages and seaside towns.

Cycling La Vélomaritime in France

Firstly, you may be a bit confused about European cycle route terminology, so here’s a whistlestop tour of how cycling in Europe is mapped out.

EuroVelo 4, nearly 1,500 km of cycle route from Dunkirk to Roscoff

Firstly, there’s the EuroVelo, and this is the don. It’s a network of 17 long-distance cycle routes which connects the whole of Europe and covers a huge 90,000km.

Then there’s the EuroVelo4; it’s one of those 17 routes, specifically the one that crosses central Europe, passing through France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland and the Ukraine and covering 5,100km of cyclable routes. It starts with a “Salut!” in Roscoff in Brittany, goes up through northern France before passing through all those seven countries until it says “до побачення” (that’s goodbye!) in the Ukraine.

And now to La Vélomaritime; it’s the French part of the EuroVelo4. It’s a 1,500km coastal route that hugs the crags of Brittany, climbs the cliffs of Normandy, immerses itself in the bays of the Somme and marvels at the huge beaches of Pas-de-Calais. Whether you’re a seasoned point-to-pointer, a peloton veteran or a family in possession of some e-bikes (sign me up!), there’s never been a better time to investigate the north of France on two wheels.

A two-way tarmac path that runs between a road on one side and a salt marsh on the other

Headline facts about La Vélomaritime :

3 UNESCO World Heritage sites

  • Mont-Saint-Michel and its bay
  • Le Havre
  • The Normandy Landing beaches

5 areas of outstanding natural beauty

  • Cap d’Erquy - Cap Fréhel
  • The Etretat cliffs  
  • The Somme Bay
  • The Deux-Caps site
  • The Flandre Dunes

Top sites to visit along La Vélomaritime

Dunkirk & the Flanders dunes

A stretch with a wonderful blend of natural and military heritage. You’ll find big windy beaches and dunes, their ambiance turbo-boosted by the blockhouses dotted along and the shipwrecks left by Operation Dynamo that emerge to within touching distance at low tide.

The Opal Coast & Deux Caps

You get such diversity of landscapes here, from lung-busting cliffs to picturesque seaside towns like Ambleteuse and Wimereux, and sandy beaches which are reminiscent of the south. The two ‘Caps’ – Griz-Nez and Blanc Nez – provide the chance for a magnificent selfie with the English coast behind. Yes, it’s really that close to home!

A colony of around 30 seals lie on the golden sand past sea water in the foreground

Bay of the Somme

Nature tourism at its best. From marshland to forest to white sand, the bay is a habitat for 250 species of birds, 130 grey seals and 400 harbour seals. It’s also home to bouchot mussels which are grown on ropes attached to wooden stakes in the sea bed. The mussels grow large away from predators and are grit free thanks to their position away from the sand. 

Read about my recent break on e-bikes in the Somme Bay below.

The cliffs of Etretat

Famous for centuries, the cliffs have inspired many with their pure-white eye-catching chalk. Now a new generation of fans has been spawned by the Netflix series, Lupin, about France’s most famous fictional gentleman burglar. Take the route from Le Havre to Etretat and then on to Fécamp; both sections are unsurprisingly hilly!

D-Day beaches at Normandy

A section that barely requires description, laden as it is with British history. The stretch in full takes six days to cycle, but you can decide on your own highlights: choose from the D-Day Landing beaches, the military museums and cemeteries, or iconic monuments like Sainte-Mère-église where a model of paratrooper John Steele still hangs to commemorate his scuppered descent.

A trail of cyclists ride along a grassy path on top of the cliffs at Etretat

Mont-Saint-Michel

Get off your bike and visit the famous tidal island topped with gravity-defying abbey. With the highest tides in Europe, its bay is a constantly changing masterpiece; add in the strong currents and the devilish quicksand, it’s also dangerous for the inexperienced. It’s prohibited to go on the bay without a guide, so join a group and take a barefoot tour you’ll never forget before you pedal off into the sunset.

Erquy and Fréhel

Talk about a varied landscape! This Breton section serves up sandy coves, rocky outcrops, vertiginous cliffs as well as moorland and the emerald sea. It’s a riot of colour when you add in the heather and gorse. The Cap Fréhel lighthouse, one of the 50 lighthouses on the route, is well worth a detour too.

The pink granite coast

A pinky jewel in Brittany’s crown. Take the route from Perros-Guirec to Lannion bay, and you’ll come across more of the sandy beaches, seaside resorts, lighthouses and harbours for which the area is famed. But wait, what are those huge crazy-shaped pink rocks? Take a deep breath and look again! 300 million years old, this landscape of mammoth rocks is unbelievable. 

An old stone-built church in the background with a white parachute just visible, caught up on part of the roof. Trees and their shadows dot the foreground.

Our experience of the route

This summer, we spent a few days in the Bay of the Somme. Although we’d had lofty plans to organise a point-to-point mini break on e-bikes, logistics got the better of us and we ended up basing ourselves in Le Crotoy and taking day trips on the bikes. This worked well for us, primarily because we had e-bikes rather than pedal-bikes so could cover much larger distances that we’d ordinarily do in a day.

We stayed in the Pierre et Vacances Résidence de la Plage, Le Crotoy and I would recommend it. The location is fabulous; Le Crotoy is the only south-facing beach on the Opal Coast so it’s a sunny spot. (If you can find the Euros required, an apartment with a view of the gaping bay is a boon). Also, it’s perfectly placed for Noshoes in town (the shop where we hired our e-bikes) and the cycle path itself. 

Day 1. We picked up our hire bikes and set off on the La Vélomaritime path. The route around the bay ran alongside road and railway, and our modern bikes allowed us to leave steam trains, pushbikes and the odd tractor in our wake. We went to the beach at Le Hourdel for seal-spotting and continued on to Cayeux Sur Mer wondering – with undisguised glee – whether using the extra power was ‘cheating’ as the terrain got more hilly. On our way back, we ate fresh moules at the roadside Friterie Debeauvais before watching a jaw-dropping sunset on the way home.

Day 2: We used our e-bikes to nip round to Saint Valery Sur Somme before taking a nature tour of the bay on foot. Our guide showed us the quicksand, lead us across the canyons left by the tide, and taught us about the ever-changing landscape and its flora and fauna. We crunched the fresh salty samphire and waded through strong currents before putting our bikes on the back of the bay train back to Le Crotoy.

Day 3: We rode our bikes to Fort Mahon Plage. It’s a massive sandy beach which stretches far north, with dunes and cycling paths that cut through pine forests. We stopped to bird watch at the amazing Parc Marquenterre on our way back, remembering what we’d learnt about long-billed sea birds from our bay guide.

Five tips for cycling La Vélomaritime

  1. Plan ahead – use these websites to pick your section and check mileages and terrain. La Velomaritime, France Velo Tourisme, Normandy Tourist Board
  2. Choose your bike carefully – the LV website recommends using a hybrid bike but we hired e-bikes and loved them! It depends on your fitness level, your ages and what you want from your holiday; an enjoyable ride or a physical challenge?!
  3. Get off your bike regularly and explore – it’s all too easy to fly past lovely places while on a cycle path so make sure you explore the area on foot too.
  4. Go west to east – there’s more chance of having the wind behind you!
  5. Book luggage transfer – there are some bike hire places that will move your bags on for you if you’re doing a point-to-point trip. Find out more on the LV website.

A family of four cycle away along a leafy cycle path adjacent to a small river

Discover La Vélomaritime with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

Eurotunnel is the perfect way to explore La Vélomaritime. The route is only a few kilometres from the terminal building if you want to cycle straightaway, or you can drive to your start point. Book now and start planning your two-wheeled escape!

My Eurotunnel App

Create a My Eurotunnel account to securely store, manage and use your information for faster and easier bookings - also now available on iOS and Android! Find out more or create an account.

About the Author

I am a journalist and editor, covering a wide range of lifestyle and travel subjects but always returning to my first love, France. Born unfortunately to non-French parents, I have spent my life trying to make up for it by spending as much time as I can in France or writing about it, studying the language, tirelessly dragging my children round all six sides of l'Hexagone, and endlessly chuntering to my husband about moving there.

To read more from Rachel, click here.

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