Cycling the west coast of France is a Beginner Bike Tourer’s dream. Information is plentiful on how to complete this journey though I’m sure I can whittle it down for you into five easy steps.
Step 1: Cycle off the ferry at Roscoff Port joining the French section of Eurovelo 1, an extremely well-marked cycle path stretching from Norway to Portugal and follows the entire west coast of France. The French portion of this route is called La Velodyssee and is the first symbol on this sign. Just follow this symbol, it will be at every junction or crossing.
Step 2: Immediately fasten a baguette to the bicycle which is to be replenished at all times and pack a rations bag with supermarket crepes and a large jar of Nutella. Fruit is supplied by apple trees on the way.
Step 3: After buying necessary supplies rejoin Eurovelo 1, following the canals and then the coastline. No maps or GPS will be needed for the rest of your time in France.
Step 4: Enjoy the car free cycle paths devoid of any hills. Enjoy the picturesque towns and all the magnificent French architecture as you pass through.
Step 5: Replenish rations pack with pastries and of course another baguette. (One of our many boulangerie stops. This one was an escargot, a raspberry croissant and a baguette la rustique )
It really is that easy. You will be hard pressed to travel more than 100 meters before spotting another sign gently reminding you that you are exactly where you should be. The route is almost exclusively separated from road traffic and is dotted with plenty of municipal campsites which can be as cheap as €6/$10 AUD a night. (During summer though, as most of these campsites close for the winter and by the end of September they were closing as we were riding.)
The downside of Eurovelo 1 is that it can add quite a few extra kilometres to your day as it follows the natural turns of the rivers/coastline. Leaving the path may result in a speedier journey but leaves you with the risk of missing such sites as the towering Josselin Castle, which began construction all the way back in 1008.
Leaving the well trodden bike path would also mean you miss out on feeling like a speed demon while you fly past the slow-moving river boats.
On our own journey we kept to the well signed path for 4 days, cycling 366 kilometers to the city of Nantes. Fuelled all the way by carbs, more carbs, with a side of carbs for pretty much all meals.
Nantes had a few key attractions including the L’ile Feydeau quarter with buildings looking tipsy as they sink slightly, due to their marshland foundations.
The tilting buildings pale in comparison to this merry-go-round , part of the Machines de L’île museum. The bizarre sea creatures the children ride are inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s mechanical creations and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea author Jules Verne who was born in Nantes in 1828.
Impressive as they might be people do not travel to Nantes for the sinking buildings or the phantasmal merry-go-round, they come for the elephant…
This is not your usual elephant. This mechanical feat of engineering towers over tourists at 12 meters high. Built from 45 tons of metal and wood, taking up to 50 passengers at a time for a 45-minute walk and spraying onlookers with steam from its trunk.
After day-dreaming about having my own mechanical elephant to drive to work we spent three nights in the Nantes municipal campsite before heading for the ocean. Being the end of September our chosen campsites beyond Nantes turned out to be closed so we took the bikes off-road into the sand dunes for a quiet spot near the ocean.
In the dwindling light we ate dinner, before setting up the tent on top of the dunes looking out over the Atlantic ocean.
Our favourite campsite of the trip by far.