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A guide to cycling from London to Bordeaux, France

Posted by at 09:35 on Monday 31 October 2011

As many of us know, France is made for cycling. With long stretches of traffic free cycleways, beautiful countryside and an abundance of boulangeries to keep the energy levels high, anyone keen for a peaceful cycling holiday would be mad not to make use of France’s cycling delights. By Lucy Gee

France is the perfect country for cycling through. Photo: Lucy GeeFrance is the perfect country for cycling through. Photo: Lucy GeeAnd what is more rewarding than arriving at your destination of a beautiful city having pedalled for 400+ miles? London to Bordeaux manages to make the most of what France has to offer to any cyclist, and the best part is it is a hassle free organisation exercise!

A friend and I set off as relatively novice cyclists for our French adventure during the summer months. Armed with two train tickets and two passports, we ventured into the unknown. Arriving at St Pancras my fears subsided as I realised how easy the forthcoming journey was going to be. Here are a few ‘How to’ tips we learnt along the way:

How to get there and take bikes on trains:
There are a number of ways to cross over with a bike to the French lands. We chose by train, although ferry is another obvious choice. There are heaps of destinations you can get to throughout France by train with your bike. We decided on Rennes, North West France, so that we were in easy access of the West Coast. It costs from £109 to get the train from London to Rennes with Rail Europe

To get the train from London to Rennes you have to:
- Eurostar from St Pancras to Gare du Nord in Paris costs approximately 60 Euros one way (although cheaper during off peak months)
- Cross Paris from Gare du Nord to Gare Montparnasse (probably about a 30 minute cycle ride if you know where you’re going, 45 minutes if not).
- Jumping on the train from Gare Montparnasse to Rennes which takes approximately 2.5 hours and costs approx 60 Euros (although again cheaper during off peak season)

Both trains should be booked in advance. For information on how to book see our Plan your journey by train section. 

Handy bike compartments on French trains. Photo: Holly tuppenHandy bike compartments on French trains. Photo: Holly tuppen

For the Eurostar train there are three options to take your bike - you can either: dismantle your bike, put it in a bike bag and carry it on as part of your normal luggage allowance (free); book a space on the train in advance (£30) which means that you don’t need to dismantle it; or turn up on the day and check it in (£22). If you are booking in advance, this needs to be done over the telephone (see how to take your bike on Eurostar for more info). 

From Paris to Rennes bikes can be taken on for free. It may be worth checking with the operator at Rail Europe as to whether they recommend prebooking your bike (depending on time of year).

For a comprehensive guide to taking your bike on trains throughout Europe see our Guide to taking bikes on trains.

The cycling route:
Once you’re in French lands, there are hundreds of routes you could take to Bordeaux, so it really does depend on the type of cycling you want to be doing and how confident you are on your bike.

Cycling friendly roads in France. Photo: Holly TuppenCycling friendly roads in France. Photo: Holly TuppenThe ‘Voie Verte’ (Green routes) is a large network of off road cycle lanes all over France offering cyclists over 2,600 kms of relaxing riding away from any traffic. This may be more suited to novice cyclists who don’t want to worry about cycling on the wrong side of the road and traffic. You can buy maps of the cycle lanes in France, and they are always well signposted. This network runs pretty much all the way down the west coast and offer a flat terrain, making for relaxing and fatigue free riding, whilst exploring some beautiful countryside and coastlines.

Having said that, cycling on roads is a very different experience to that in the UK. Traffic is a whole different story, even in bigger towns, drivers are very courteous towards cyclists, and the roads are generally very well surfaced. The benefit of the roads is you can pick up some speed, so if you want to make some distance then roads may be a more suitable choice.

So, as I said, it depends on the kind of trip you want – for novice cyclists looking for easier and hassle free riding, the voie vertes will avoid you getting lost and keep you away from traffic, whilst taking you through some beautiful (and mostly flat) landscapes. However, they can get busy, especially in peak times, so if you want to pick up some speed then it can get a little frustrating. Whereas the roads offer a chance to pick up some speed, taking you through some wonderful villages, and never get boring!

Plan your route carefully, google maps can be a good tool to let you zoom in and have a look at what the roads are like.

Where to stay:
Check out Greentraveller's green and gorgeous places to stay throughout France, from hotels to campsites here: Green places to stay in France 

Heaps of accommodation options in France. Photo: Holly TuppenHeaps of accommodation options in France. Photo: Holly Tuppen

Camping – This may be a more desired option for some, and would certainly make the journey more flexible. There are heaps of campsites on route therefore you will never be stuck for a bed! However, camping requires an extra load and potentially a few bumpy nights sleeps, so others may prefer more comfortable options

Gites and Chambres D’hotes – The French Tourist Board are great when it comes to helping you find accommodation, so when you rock up to the local tourist office after a hard day of cycling, you can be pretty confident that they will find something for you, whether it be a bed and some breakfast in a locals house, a hostel or a local hotel room. If you don’t want to risk it, then pop into a tourist information centre along the way and they are often happy to phone ahead for you. Some of our best nights sleeps were in an old ladies front room!

Hotels and chateaus – It’s also very justified to prebook some accommodation, so that you know exactly where you’ll be each night, therefore not having to worry about cycling into the early hours of the evening. This strategy can be particularly helpful for the days when you know you have a lot of distance to cover and muscles will be aching. It can help to make for a more relaxing day of cycling. We really did breathe a sigh of relief when we rocked up to our room at the beautiful 18th Century Château de Cop-Choux in Mouzeil to find a pool, beer, great food and a lovely room waiting for us, especially seeing as northern France is on the hillier side of things. See below for more details.

Top highlights of the ride:
Scenic forested routes follow the West coast. Photo: Lucy GeeScenic forested routes follow the West coast. Photo: Lucy Gee1. Rennes to Mouzeil, via Chateubriant, offers some stunning real French countryside, passing through some beautiful villages for those forever needed pit stops!

2. Riding along the Loire River offers some stunning views and keeps you on a cycle track for miles on end, making for an easy, stress free ride

3. Pedalling into La Rochelle along the coast is something quite magnificent. With sunflower fields boasting to one side and a rugged coastline the other, it really is quite a magical feeling.

4. Taking the ferry from Royan to Le Verdon sur Mer costs as little as £5 with your bike, and brings you straight onto a cycle lane which then carries you all the way down the coast along gentle bike paths and through a beautiful forest all the way down to the surf capital Lacanau.

Useful information:
Greentraveller has lots of pre-organised cycling holidays through France, including self-guided and guided options. See here for more info: Cycling holidays in France

For booking in at Chateau de Cop Choux see www.chateau-cop-choux.co.uk, telephone +00 33 2 40 97 28 52 or email chateau-cop-choux@orange.fr

For information on taking bikes on Eurostar see Greentraveller's Guide to taking bikes on trains

For itineries and booking information about your train journey see Greentraveller's European train journey planner or our ferry journey planner pages.

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