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Freewheeling in SW France - cycle routes not to miss!

Freewheeling in SW France - cycle routes not to miss!

Here in SW France we’re blessed with country roads and dedicated cycle paths just perfect for day rides and weekend cycling. Lynette Eyb has some ideas to get you started…

Marais Poitevin



The Marais Poitevin is a huge tourist draw and no less so for cyclists given that even in peak tourist season it's possible to find a stretch of bike path and call it your very own. The trails in this peaceful haven are flat and easy – this is classic day-ride territory for occasional leisure cyclists who simply want to enjoy the great outdoors under their own steam.

Bike hire from: Venise verte Évasion has bike hire, and also runs guided rides.

Route information: There are six official bike circuit maps available from local tourist offices or via The Niort Marais tourist website carries additional route information, as well as further ride suggestions.


Thiviers to Saint-Pardoux-la-Rivière


A lovely, flat 17km takes you from Thiviers to Saint-Pardoux-la-Rivière on a converted railway line that's popular with walkers, cyclists and horse riders. The path carves through forests of oak, acacia and pine, so it's almost always in shade, making it an ideal family ride, even in midsummer. Be sure to take a detour at around the 12km mark and leave the 'voie verte' to visit Saint Jean de Côle, officially one of France's most beautiful villages, with a medieval bridge and 15th century chateau.

Bike hire from: Dordogne Cycle Hire. If you don’t fancy a return trip along the voie verte, Dordogne Cycle Hire can drop you off (and your hire bikes) and pick you up from your start/end points.

Route information: See Les Véloroutes et Voies Vertes de France route 67.


Lot Valley Véloroute



The Lot Valley Véloroute follows the river for some 160km from Aiguillon to Cahors, via Villeneuve, Fumel and Albas, but you don’t need to cycle it all; it links key towns and villages, making it easy to choose a stretch to match your ability and available time.

This ride is a véloroute, not a voie verte, so while much of the itinerary follows river towpaths and dedicated bike trails, it does also include some quieter local roads (see box below for a summary of voies vertes vs véloroutes).

Route information and bike hire from:

Both Lot-et-Garonne and Lot tourism websites have downloadable maps, plus contact information for bike-hire outlets at various points along the route.


Île de Ré



For an island just 25km long, it’s quite astounding that there are around 100km of cycle paths on the Île de Ré. This little island is home to fortified towns, distinctive architecture, sandy beaches and oysters aplenty, and is popular with both local and visiting riders. It’s possible to navigate the island in a day by taking any number of bike paths (and still managing not to get too lost), although two days or more are ideal to see all the island’s nooks and crannies.
The Île de Ré is ideal for families or lesser experienced holiday cyclists, although in peak season it can be unbearably busy (and expensive). For a quieter cycling day out, there’s always neighbouring Île d’Oléron, with no bridge tolls and its own network of signed bike paths just waiting to be explored.

Route information and bike hire from: The official tourist website includes links to bike hire outlets and an overview of routes. For Île d’Oléron, see


The Roger Lapébie bike path



This super bike path links Bordeaux to Sauveterre-de-Guyenne via Créon. It’s a gentle 57km ride along a well maintained ‘bicycle highway’ which can be ridden as a return journey over two days, or broken down into two day rides; alternatively, Bordeaux to Créon and back makes a lovely day out – or simply use Créon as a base and explore the path in either direction.
The path officially starts in Latresne, on the outskirts of Bordeaux on the eastern side of the Garonne, and can be accessed by following the river path from the city centre.

Bike hire from: O2 Cycles. Norbert Audouin offers a free pick up and delivery service around Bordeaux. There is also an excellent Station Vélo at Créon with bikes for adults and children, as well as tandems. The station has information too and maps for other local bike routes from the town centre.

Route information: The Créon tourist office for a downloadable brochure. Freewheeling France has detailed directions and links to further maps and information.


Les Etapes du Cognac


The Etapes du Cognac is made up of five signposted tourist routes originally designed for cars, but equally suited to two wheels. The routes vary in distance and in the terrain they cover, but all start in Cognac itself and fan out in different directions based on a theme (e.g. the river, vines, etc.). The routes were devised by Les Etapes du Cognac, an association of winegrowers, restaurants and hotels, and the fruits of their labours are in plentiful supply en route.

Bike hire from: Bike Hire Direct ( or Charente Bike Hire ( can deliver your wheels to you.

Route information: Les Etapes du Cognac (


Circular route from Lacanau Océan to Lège-Cap-Ferret



From Lacanau Océan it’s south down the Boucle du Lion, one of numerous local bike paths which cut through the forest. It also forms part of La Vélodyssée, the wonderful Atlantic Coast bike route which stretches from Roscoff in Brittany to the Spanish border.

The 29km section from the beach at Lacanau to Lège-Cap-Ferret is mostly dirt trails, though some sections are paved; none is particularly challenging, and the sound of the waves over the dunes is never far away. Pencil in a stop at Le Porge – a beach where locals usually outnumber tourists by some margin – for a dip to cool off.

From Lège-Cap-Ferret a dedicated north-bound bike path shadows the D3 most of the way back to Lacanau town, from where it skirts around a lake and links with a westerly path back to the ocean to complete a round-trip of around 66km.

For a shorter loop, head inland from the beach at Le Porge to the town itself, via Avenue d’Océan, and hook up with the northerly bike path mentioned earlier.

For a longer ride (or an overnight sojourn), it’s possible to cycle right down the Cap Ferret peninsula, take the ferry across to Arcachon and head back to Lacanau after looping around the Bay of Arcachon.

Route information and bike hire links:

The Lacanau Océan tourist site has detailed maps and bike hire links – there is no shortage of hire outlets near the beach-front.


Circuit Targé


The river and country lanes of the Vienne offer some of south-west France’s least explored bike routes. While the area may lack the high profile of the Loire or the allure of the Canal du Midi at the end of the
Garonne towpath, it does offer a surprisingly well developed network of trails which are suitable for all abilities.

Circuit Targé is a good example: 37km in Vienne’s pretty countryside, and taking in some of its villages with historic churches. The route, starting in Targé – home to the 11th century Eglise Saint-Georges – covers the area south-east of Châtellerault on the eastern side of the River Vienne.

It passes through Saint-Sauveur and on to Sénillé, birthplace of crossword king Guy Hachette, before arriving in Monthoiron, where the Eglise Saint-Ambroise was once part of a priory founded by Benedictine monks in the 12th century. From here, it loops north through Availles-en-Chatellerault before arriving back in Targé.

The Circuit Targé route shares the stretch from Availles-en-Chatellerault towards the Chatellerault-Targé aerodrome with the Circuit de Vouneuil-sur-Vienne, a longer 56km ride which crosses the Vienne and passes the Réserve Naturelle du Pinail, Vienne’s only National Nature Reserve (see see Living Magazine October 2013 for a profile of this fascinating area). Cyclists wanting to stretch their legs beyond 37km can easily create a longer route that takes in both Circuit Targé and Circuit de Vouneuil-sur-Vienne, and still end up back at their starting point in Targé.

Bike hire from: Bike Hire Direct

Route information: Randonnées Vienne


Lynette Eyb is editor of Freewheeling France, a cycle tourism website offering independent advice and information on cycling holidays in France.