Cycling in Brittany
Imagine cycling along quiet canals and dramatic coastlines, while stopping to admire stunning castles or dine on delicious local delicacies, before calling it a night in a picturesque French village. If this sounds like your dream holiday, it’s time to head to Brittany.
Brittany juts into the Atlantic, south of England, and has a distinct culture and atmosphere like nowhere else in France. It’s also a haven for cyclists and will host the Tour de France, once again, in 2015.
But you don’t have to be in top form to cycle here. Brittany has cycling options for all ages and levels of fitness. The region’s 1,300kms of cycle trails mostly follow rivers and canal towpaths, old railway lines and quiet costal lanes, making them safe and family-friendly too.
One of my favourite routes follows the Nantes-Brest canal and offers the best of Brittany in a 365km, easy, one-week journey. In addition to beautiful countryside, as you cycle from lock to lock along the canal, you can pause at some of Brittany’s prettiest villages, designated as "Little Towns of Character."
Don’t miss the pretty timber-framed centre of Josselin, where you can tour its fairytale castle. I avoided the touristy restaurants on the main square and instead grabbed a bite to eat at Ma Cantine Chocolathé. This tiny tearoom wowed me with homemade quiche and tasty desserts.
It’s also well worth your time to make a detour south to Carnac, home to the Carnac Alignments. These standing stones are more numerous than those at Stonehenge - and even more mysterious. Spend the night at the warm and friendly Carnac Lodge, just outside the bustling town and don’t miss the plump oysters pulled straight from the bay. My foodie highlight of the region was ending the day with a seafood feast, at Le Chantier restaurant, while the sunset exploded in pink and purple over the port of Trinité sur Mer.
For those who enjoy culture with their outdoor activities, the “Art in the Chapels” festival, in the Blavet Valley is a must-see. The contrast of contemporary art in historic religious buildings is an inspiring sight. You can choose among four trails, stopping at more than 25 sites in the countryside.
If you’d like to lengthen your trip beyond the Nantes-Brest canal, it’s possible to continue on the Velodyssey. This 1400km long cycle path follows the Atlantic coast from Brittany all the way to Spain and is the best cycling route in Europe.
After Nantes, continue on the Velodyssey into France’s Charente-Maritime region, making sure to spend time in cosmopolitan La Rochelle. Pass France’s largest sand dune, La Dune du Pilat, and make time for wine tasting in Bordeaux, before passing into Spain.
Alternatively, why not begin your cycle-tour holiday before you even leave England. The 1200km Tour de Manche cycle route begins in Southwest England, taking in the coastlines of Cornwall and Devon. From Plymouth, wheel your bike onto a ferry to Roscoff, on Brittany’s western tip.
The Tour de Manche hugs Brittany’s dramatic northern coast. The difficulty ranges from family-friendly to expert and can be taken in as many as 50 manageable stages. Don’t miss the bizarre rock formations of the Pink Granite Coast at Ploumanac'h and be sure to wander the ancient cobbled streets inside the walls of Saint Malo.
From the Brittany coast, the Tour de Manche swings north, into Normandy, taking in the D-Day beaches, and that most recognisable of French icons, Mont-Saint-Michel, before heading back across the channel to England.
Free spirits can tackle any of Brittany’s cycle tours on their own. However, if you’d like someone to do the heavy lifting for you, tour operators in England can handle everything from booking your hotels and restaurants along the way, to transporting your luggage for you, all the while offering 24-hour assistance. It is a holiday after all.
A cycle tour through Brittany is a fun, energising, and ecologically sustainable way to explore this unique region of France; an adventure you can undertake without sacrificing culture and comfort along the way.