It’s not just the rich history, selection of foods and wine, and beautiful villages that make France a beloved destination. Above all these, it is simply a haven for the recreational cyclist, making it the perfect location for a cycling vacation.
Whether you’re more suited to leisurely rides along canals or fast-paced adventures up mountains, there is something for everyone. Not sure where to go or need some inspiration? Consider booking a bike tour in France to take you along the country’s most stunning terrain and landscapes.
In this guide, we’ve come up with a selection of our favorite locations in France for a cycling vacation, that’ll be sure to get you planning your next trip in no time.
1. French Alps
The French Alps offer impressive peaks and legendary cols for those seeking an alpine challenge. Think snow-capped peaks, clear blue skies, and open roads. The likes of Col du Galbier and Alpe d’Huez rank high among the routes of the Tour de France and attract a large number of cyclists each year. Some incredible routes do not see the tour but are equally worthy of your time.
There are many cols to climb in the area, so it’s a good idea to choose where to base yourself before visiting, should you wish to climb specific mountains. For example, the small town of Bourg d’Oisans covers the south, and the Morzine and Annecay resorts cater for the north.
If you’re seeking something reasonably quiet and peaceful, Provence is the ideal location. Away from the maddening crowd, you’re taken along quaint villages, lavender fields, and rolling countryside. It truly is the perfect way to explore classic France.
When talking about Provence, Mont Ventoux often springs to mind. The ascent of the mountain has attracted avid cyclists from all over the globe, so it’s no wonder that it is among the most famous mountains in the world. While the trek to the summit is no easy feat, the panoramic views from the top and the sense of achievement are well worth it.
Alternatively, you can take a trip to the Luberon region, which similarly offers scenic routes at a much slower pace, allowing you to experience that Provençal charm. It’s an area built for cyclists with calm country roads, vast forests, and charming hilltop villages.
3. French Pyrenees
Straddling the French-Spanish border, the French Pyrenees is a 430-kilometer mountain range that provides cyclists with an impressive collection of valleys, mountain passes, and tarns. It differs from the Alps in that the ascents are much steeper and the journeys shorter.
As it’s more rural than other areas on this list, you’ll find fewer amenities like restaurants and cafés, so be sure to visit if you come across one on your travels. The spread of the range is also more compact here so that you can access different routes easily from the two well-known resorts, Bagnères-de-Luchon and Argelès-Gazost.
This is assuming you want to climb the legendary Col du Tourmalet, the most-climbed mountain in Tour de France history. Coincidentally, it is also the highest mountain pass in the Pyrenees.
4. Loire Valley
In contrast with the adrenaline-inducing locations mentioned in this guide, Loire Valley offers cyclists serene countryside, where iconic castles and vineyards dot the horizon. If long-distance cycling is your forte, consider trying La Loire à Vélo, an 800-kilometer trail of signposted paths and roads along the Loire River. During this route, you’ll pass by intricate chateaux, historic towns, and Charolais cattle that epitomize French elegance.
One of the main endurance rides in the region is the route that takes you along the source of the River Loire in the Massif Central Mountains down past extinct volcanoes, gorges, and lakes, before finally joining La Loire à Vélo. The route is beloved by tourists and locals alike as it runs through the heart of France, allowing visitors to explore cities like Tours and Orleans.
5. French Riviera
The French Riviera, also known as the Côte d’Azur, is the Mediterranean shoreline along the southeastern corner of France. Considering the capital of the Côte d’Azur, Nice is very popular in cyclo-tourism, offering varied routes and mind-blowing landscapes.
Many of the big names in the region, such as Col de Turini and Col de Vence, have cycling pedigree thanks to the Tour de France and Nice Ironman. The sunny and mild climate also means the weather is pleasant and safe for open-road cycling throughout the year – even in winter.
A cycle through the fashionable metropole will take you through medieval towns, fishing villages, and bays surrounded by turquoise blue seas. After the challenge of the climb and the thrill of the descent, you’ll have earned a break at one of the restaurants nearby and a dip in the waters.
Nice is also famous for its easy access from various corners of the globe. With an international airport only minutes from the city center, starting your cycling journey as soon as you arrive is easier.
6. Brittany and Normandy
With D-Day beaches, coastal-countryside landscapes, and pretty harbors, the neighboring regions of Brittany and Normandy and specially designed for cycling adventures. Along the coast, you can ride along the path the Allies opened in 1944 after landing on Normandy’s beaches.
You’ll also pass by the charming town of Honfleur, the stunning cliffs of Étretat, and the historic Mont Saint-Michel – part of UNESCO’s World Heritage. The Mont Saint-Michel attracts visitors from all over the world, mainly for its abbey, and you can ride close by thanks to a small road away from all the traffic.
So, with these six locations as a starting point, you’re poised to embark on an exceptional journey through the epicenter of France’s cycling paradise.