The bicycle is truly championed in Pays de la Loire, which sits at the crossroads of three great cycling routes: La Loire à Vélo, La Vélodyssée and La Vélo Francette. There are over 2,800 km of dedicated cycle paths to enjoy in the region, whether you’re riding solo, with the family or in a big group. With the countdown now on to this year’s Tour de France, which kicks off from Pays de la Loire, here’s a summary of what’s on offer here for keen cyclists.
Hugging the Atlantic coast, this is France’s longest cycle route (1,200km) and one of the most dramatic, linking Roscoff with Hendaye. Pays de la Loire’s 400km section begins in Saint-Nicolas-de-Redon, winding its way along the River Erdre until it reaches Nantes and Saint-Nazaire. It then heads along the beautiful Jade Coast on its way to Bouin in Vendée, before linking up with the island of Noirmoutier, where this year’s Tour de France will start. The forest near Saint-Jean-de-Monts, pretty Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie, the Brem-sur-Mer vineyards and the Marais d’Olonne salt marshes and the buzzy resort of Les Sables-d’Olonne beckon cyclists further on.
La Loire à Vélo
Most people associate the Loire with majestic châteaux, pretty villages and world-class wine – and what better way to explore these than by bike? The Loire à Vélo trail follows the mighty River Loire for 230km, beginning in Montsoreau and passing the châteaux of Saumur, Serrant, Oudon, Brissac, Angers and Nantes, as well as the magnificent Fontevraud Abbey. Also worth exploring on the way are Saumur’s troglodyte caves, with underground passages also accessible by bike, and the Loire’s miniature islands such as Chalonnes and Béhuard, which are must-sees for wildlife lovers.
The Vélo Francette
This pretty cycle trail is France’s newest, linking Ouistreham in Normandy with the Atlantic resort of La Rochelle. Within Pays de la Loire, the northern section meanders through the peaceful Mayenne department, following the eponymous river on its way through Laval and Château-Gontier to Angers. It then heads east along the Loire as far as Saumur. It’s an ideal family-friendly option if you’ve got the kids in tow.
The islands by bike
Pays de la Loire’s islands of Noirmoutier and Yeu are perfect for exploring on two wheels, both offering carefully planned-out and marked routes. Explore Yeu from its ‘capital’ Port-Joinville, enjoying a four- to five-hour circuit that takes in the Pointe du But, the Grand Phare lighthouse, the old château and Port de la Meule. Twice the size of Yeu, Noirmoutier has 80km to satisfy your pedals: a northerly route that cuts through a nature reserve; a central trail through the salt marshes; and a southern itinerary around the town of Barbâtre, passing a series of lovely beaches and the famous Passage du Gois, which connects to the mainland at low tide.
Sarthe in the saddle
Sarthe is one of Pays de la Loire’s lesser-known departments, but with a network of cycle trails exceeding 400km it shouldn’t be overlooked. Most of the routes link Sarthe’s main highlights so you can punctuate your pedalling with local culture. Learn the history of the bicycle at La Belle Échappée museum in Fresnaye-sur-Chédouet (on the 29km Alençon-Mamers trail), admire the Abbey of Solesmes (on the 26km Noyen-Sablé trail), and raise a glass in the vineyards en route from Ruillé-sur-Loir to Château-du-Loir (25km). The medieval city of Le Mans and the amazing zoo at La Flèche are also start and end points to cycle trails in Sarthe.