One of our regular bloggers, FionaOutdoors, offers her thoughts on cycling in France on two waymarked cycle paths. She writes: France knows how to wow cyclists, whether you’re looking for high-rise riding challenges in the Pyrenees and Alps, or easier-going routes along delightful rivers and canals.
After a few days tackling some of the infamous Tour de France cols in the Pyrenees one summer, my partner and I were treated to some leisurely riding on the picturesque and almost traffic-free Parcours Cyclable De La Garonne and the Canal du Midi in south-west France.
This mostly purpose-built route is perfect for families and a full spectrum of cyclists, even those who prefer to ride their road bikes. It’s smooth and often tarmacked and heads from Cierp-Gaud, about 20kms from Luchon, along the picturesque River Garonne to Carbonne in south-west France.
The beautiful and meandering cycle path totals around 110km – and we rarely came across a car. While we managed the total mileage in one day, the route could easily be divided into shorter sections. There are a number of train stations along the way where less energetic cyclists or cycling families could jump on to head back to their start point. I have never before had the pleasure to ride such a fantastic cycle way.
A train from Carbonne then took us, with our bikes, to the “Pink City” of Toulouse. It’s called the “Pink City” because so many of the buildings are made from a local clay that dries to a gorgeous hue of pink.
A “rest” day included a two-hour cycle tour of the city. Thanks to our English-speaking guide we were shown some of the many architectural and historic highlights of this vibrant city. We were also very impressed with the respect that is given by drivers to cyclists. So used to vehicle dodging, as well as the driver danger and rudeness in Scotland, it felt like we’d entered another world as cyclists were honoured with right of way. According to our guide, despite there being many thousands of cyclists in this oh-so-flat city there are very few accidents.
Our final days of cycling saw us pedalling along another traffic-free cycle route. This time we headed via the fabulous tree-lined Canal du Midi, south east from Toulouse. Day one totalled 50km of bank-side cycling, and the kind of route that families would love. Both sunshine and lots of “flat” left us with permanent grins!
At Port Laurgais we went off-route away from the fabulous purpose-built cycle path to ride on quiet country lanes to our hotel for the night in Revel. While there were a few ascents, in comparison to the mighty mountains of the Pyrenees these hills amounted to mini molehills.
Revel has frequently been a major stage on the Tour de France and our time there included a huge display of Tour photos. Our post-cycling bodies also demanded that we consume delicious patisserie flans, strong coffee, beer and then a fabulous cassoulet and heavy duty red wine at our restaurant/hotel, the Hotel Restaurant du Midi.
Back on the Canal du Midi, which goes all the way to the Mediterranean, there is so much of interest to cause all kinds of diversions! Beautiful historical towns are dotted along the canal, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in itself.
Highlights include Romanesque Agde and Beziers, Gothic Narbonne and medieval fortified Carcassonne, as well as the 240m arched Orb aqueduct at Bèziers and the impressive Gothic Cathedral at Narbonne.
It would be possible to spend days or weeks following this inspiring route and as the path follows a canal it is rarely difficult to keep the pedals flowing. Check out the MacsAdventure Canal du Midi cycle holiday.