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Cycling Eurovelo 6 From Switzerland To France

Posted May 11th, 2011

Eurovelo 6 is a 4,000km long bicycle route that runs from the Atlantic Ocean in France to the Black Sea and follows 3 of the largest rivers in Europe: the Loire, Rhine and Danube.

David Piper recently returned from a ride along part of Eurovelo 6. In this guest post, he describes the route and offers tips in case you want to cycle the same path.

Eurovelo 6
Photo by gregoriosz (Flickr).

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Perhaps one of the most popular cycle routes in the world is that along the Danube river between Passau and Vienna. It’s so popular that the route now follows both sides of the river to ease the two-wheeled traffic congestion.

What isn’t always appreciated by the people cycling along the Danube is that this is just one section of the Eurovelo 6 (also known as EV6 or VR6) that stretches from the French Atlantic port of Nantes to Constanta on the Romanian Black Sea coast.

Eurovelo 6

Image courtesy of the Eurovelo 6 website

This Easter we rode a 1,000 km section of Eurovelo 6. We started in Basel, Switzerland and rode to Orleans in France. Here are a few key facts from our trip:

1. The route follows inland waterways. It runs along the Rhine-Rhone Canal, The Doubs, The Saone, The Canal du Centre and the River Loire. This means it’s easy to pick up the trail no matter what your starting point.

2. Following the water also means the route is flat. Although you won’t get any mountain top vistas, it does pass through some fabulous countryside and even traverses the Jura foothills of the Alps without any appreciable climbing.

3. The route is well marked with signs. Still, it’s probably a good idea to invest in a map, such as the EV6 map sold by Sustrans.

4. About 70% of the route is on dedicated traffic free cycle paths. The remainder is on quiet country lanes and 95% of the surface is super-smooth asphalt so you won’t need anything other than a standard road or touring bike.

A beautiful chateau on EV65. You’ll never be more than 10km from a town for food, accommodation and campsites. Usually there’s something to suit all budgets. Whilst France isn’t a cheap place to tour the larger towns on route will have the budget supermarkets such as Lidl and Aldi.

6. The French take their lunch-breaks and holidays seriously. Make sure to stock up on food outside these times. You can tour the route at any time of year as the climate is reasonably benign so it’s probably best to avoid August and the last two weeks of July as accommodation may be fully booked and the trail busy.

7. France is the spiritual home of le velo. Riding a bike is as much a way of life as it is a mode of transport or means of keeping fit. One thing is for sure; you won’t be seen as an eccentric hobo (as is the case in much of the world) when you roll into town clad in luminous spandex.

OtterIt’s hard to imagine a nicer ride really. We passed through thoughtfully preserved mediaeval villages, admired Gothic architecture, saw stunning chateaux and spotted swooping herons and romping otters. Large sections of the Loire valley are protected by UNESCO so are a haven for wildlife.

The food in France speaks for itself and you’ll be hard pressed to find a restaurant that doesn’t take care and pride in the presentation of its dishes. Then we have the wine, of course. The route flows through the wine regions of Alsace, Burgundy, Sancerre and Pouilly. We camped right next to some of the world’s most renowned vineyards on the Côte d’Or and overall, we were spoilt for choice when it came to wine.

Camping on the Côte d'Or

As I was cruising along enjoying the traffic-free bliss it did occur to me that this would be an ideal ‘first time tour’ or perfect for anyone wanting to get their family or even a reluctant partner involved in cycle touring. Perhaps the only downside is that once you’ve ridden it anything else will seem second rate.

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Thanks to David Piper for his report on Eurovelo 6, and for contributing the photos.

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10 Questions: Bike Touring In France

Posted August 1st, 2010

france1In the summer of 2009, friends Richard & Kevin set out on a 40-day bike tour around France.

Now they’re answering 10 Questions about the trip that took them in a U-shaped pattern around the edge of France, first past the surfing beaches and vineyards of Western France, then along the Pyrenees mountains, along the Mediterranean coastline and back north towards Grenoble and Strasbourg.

“The trip was life changing, we’ve vowed to cycle the world in the next few years, it’s the best thing we’ve ever done,” Richard wrote.

Read 10 Questions: Cycling In France to see what advice, tips and experiences Richard & Kevin have to share.

Posted in 10 Questions, France

Cycling France

Posted August 31st, 2008

Route in FranceFrance is a classic cycling destination, with enough potential tours to fill a lifetime.

Our first introduction came in November 2006 as we headed south from Strasbourg along the eastern edge of the country via Lyon and Narbonne before crossing into Spain. On our way back through Europe in Spring 2007 we crossed into France on the western side taking in the pilgrim town of Saint Jean Pied de Port, then going north nearly as far as Bordeaux and turning east towards the Ardeche. We left by crossing the Alps into Italy.

We both speak French and had been to France several times before taking up bicycle touring so this was an easy country for us to tour in and one where we felt at ease. You could have some language difficulties as an English-only speaker but French is not so hard to learn and there are many free lessons online. Try and get at least the basics down before you go and consider carrying a letter in French (get a friend to help you translate it) to explain your journey to locals. They will be curious to know about you!

HIGHLIGHTS

French Lessons Learned
For a nice overview on what to expect from cycle touring in France, read ‘French Lessons Learned’ by Ray, a bike tourist who also runs the Bike Touring Tips website.

Our most memorable part of the journey was the whole area around Millau and the Tarn Gorges – absolutely beautiful and the main road running through the gorges is not as hard as you might expect! If you cycle towards Millau then it’s mostly downhill. In Millau, stop to see the famous viaduct (you can’t ride over it) and then climb a twisty road nearby to get a view of the bridge. Strasbourg is another favourite for its tarte flambée – Alsatian pizza – and great beers. Alsace has many picturesque villages to cycle through. The Ardeche region is also beautiful.

Baguettes in a Roussilon marketOn the food side, French bakeries are a delight for the hungry cyclist and, in contrast to many shops, they are open on Sunday mornings and at odd hours so when all is lost you can usually find a chocolate croissant, known as a pain au chocolat, or baguette to save you! Of course wine is a highlight in France and there are endless opportunities to try the product of local vineyards. You’ll often come across weekend farmers markets and supermarkets are everywhere. If you’re cooking your own food, there are many good value prepared things to be found in supermarkets like tins of cassoulet – beans stewed with meat – and prepared soups.

BIKE FRIENDLY
Proof we really did get the bikes up here!!France is a very bike-friendly country. We had no problem with the road condition. Like in any country, rural roads can be slightly bumpy but overall they were in good shape.

We found some fantastic cycle paths and French drivers tend to be very courteous towards cyclists. You can find detailed road atlases in any bookstore. Look for roads classified as ‘B’ or lower as they will be the quietest.

INTERNET ACCESS
If we had one complaint, it was that internet access was nearly impossible to obtain and expensive when it did appear. In theory you may be able to get cheaper or free access at “points jeunes” or “mediatheques” but they have restricted hours. Only once, as we were leaving the country, did we find free access in a tourist bureau. Spain and Portugal were far better at letting visitors get online.

Things change quickly though and in 2010 we received this comment from a cyclist:

“We never really found an internet cafe during our tour in France (but then again we never looked for one) but found that if one had a laptop/wireless device, internet access was readily available at all the McDonald’s. We would just sit in their terraces and type for hours. Plus, unlike in many other neighbouring european countries, you don’t need an SMS code.”  -Inhee

SHOPPING
Shop hours can be frustrating too. Many shops are closed on Monday as well as Sunday and smaller supermarkets will shut for at least three hours from midday.

Watch out as well if you head into rural areas. They can be very rural indeed and we were caught out a couple times when we expected small shops in villages but found nothing to fill our panniers for kilometers on end! Public fountains are less common than in southern Europe so we sometimes had to work to find water. Cemeteries are a good place to look.

ACCOMMODATION AND BUDGET
In the woodsFrench campgrounds are reasonably priced. We generally paid between €10-12 per night at privately run sites and there are a few municipally run campgrounds which, like their Portugese counterparts, are simple but good value. Wild camping is possible but we didn’t see so many obvious places to pitch our tent as we did in Portugal or Spain and we got the feeling that it was slightly more disapproved of by the general public. You may have to look longer than normal for a well hidden spot.

BUDGET
We set a budget of €25 per day in Europe and had to work to keep to that budget in France. In particular we felt food was more expensive than in Spain or Portugal. We certainly had no room for meals out and cut out morning coffees, which we had been enjoying regularly in southern Europe. If you are thinking of touring Europe on a budget, France might be the country to arranging some WWOOFing to allow you to really get to know an area while keeping costs down.

LEARN MORE

If you want to know more about cycling in France, the Freewheeling France website is definitely worth checking out.

39km Le Rivier d’Ornon to La Grave

Posted June 5th, 2007

Andrew, Friedel and CécileRest breakThere’s nothing like successive days of mountain passes to test your fitness. We thought we were in pretty good shape after so many months of cycling around Europe and Morocco but today our thighs were throbbing as we headed out on the road towards the Col du Lautaret, our second-to-last major pass before we cross into Italy. The climbs from the previous two days had taken their toll. We’d hoped to make the journey across the top at a height of 2058m in one day but our muscles got the better of us. Obviously we aren’t yet Tour de France material! As racing cyclists dashed by on their ultralight bikes we decided we’d had enough and found a field to call home for the night instead. It was a good decision in terms of the weather because the rain started falling not long after we put the tent up and the thunder and lightening wasn’t far behind. (more…)

48km Col Accarias to Le Rivier d’Ornon

Posted June 4th, 2007

The gorge seems to go on foreverAndrew relaxingMountains have definitely been the theme of the past few days. At least by now we are getting used to racing cyclists zipping past us while we take plenty of chocolate breaks by the side of the road. Sometimes we would like to give them a pannier or two to take to the top for us. We’re just waiting for one to offer! As we were making our way to the Col d’Ornon at 1371m we passed many memorials to the French resistance during World War II and also to individuals who were executed by the Germans. The whole area is so peaceful and beautiful now, it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like just half a century ago. After a lunch break by the edge of the Malsanne river and a slow journey to the peak, we celebrated our hard work with a beer at the top before descending to Le Rivier d’Ornon, so beautiful with its gardens and river rushing through the heart of the village. We were on a hunt for the house of two cyclists we’d contacted through the Warm Showers list. Of course in a small town everyone knows everyone so we were welcomed warmly by the neighbours, even though Cécile and Arnaud were still at work. Laurent brought us cups of tea and biscuits while we waited in the garden and we chatted for a while about his home in Morocco, where he’s lived for the past four years. One of the many things this trip has taught us is how many ways there are to live your life, beyond the standard 9-to-5 office job. There are so many people out there doing things we’d never have thought of, like moving to Morocco, herding sheep and working in the fields. Before long our hosts were back from work and we passed a wonderful evening with them, hearing about all their bicycle travels, their new home and feasting on racelette for supper.