Gerry Patterson has this guide to cycling in Languedoc-Roussillon.
Languedoc-Roussillon is a large region in the south of France. It stretches along the Mediterranean from the border of Spain in the south-west to the Rhone Valley and Provence in the east. To the north it reaches high into the mountains and plateaux of the Massif Central. For the cyclist, the region offers up everything from flat, sundrenched rides along the Mediterranean Sea, to rolling hills filled with vines and hilltop villages, to remote climbs in the beautiful Pyrenées and Cévennes mountain ranges.
Languedoc-Roussillon is also an area with a rich history, remnants of which can still be seen all over the region. The region has a surprising number of Roman bridges, buildings and roads, such as the outstanding Pont du Gard, Maison Carrée, and Via Domitia. The latter, in fact, stretches the whole length of the region, to the border of Spain, and all of Languedoc’s Roman remains can be easily explored on two wheels.
In the western part of the region (mainly the department of Aude) there are some truly wonderful rides through ‘Cathar Country’, an area dotted with ruined castles and dramatically-perched villages and which is all that remains of Catharism, a ‘heretical’ religion that was wiped out by the Catholic Church over 700 years ago.
When to cycle in Languedoc-Roussillon
You can ride in Languedoc-Roussillon anytime of the year since, outside the mountains, there is usually no snow. However, if you want to ensure good weather, the best time is from April to October. The region is bombarded by tourists in the summer (especially August, when all of France is on the road!), so if you're looking for tranquility, the shoulder seasons (April-June/September-October) might be best. On the other hand, Languedoc-Roussillon, like the rest of France, has a vast network of roads of all sizes, so even in the height of summer you can find a quiet country road to take you where you are going.
In Languedoc-Roussillon the best place to ride is basically anywhere outside a city’s limits. I suppose this is true in most places in the world, but there are a great many cities in Europe that are a pleasure to ride around. I’m afraid this is not really the case in Languedoc-Roussillon.In general, the attempts made so far at creating networks of cycling lanes and paths have been scattered, to say the least. Having said that, cycling infrastructure is improving fast and Montpellier now ranks in the top 5 cities in France in terms of number of kilometres of pistes cyclables. See also our overviews of Narbonne, Perpignan and Nîmes.
Themed bike rides in Languedoc-Roussillon
There are a few themed routes for the cyclist in Languedoc-Roussillon, but beware, if you're used to riding along routes that have sign-posting at every crossroad, you need to be a little more independent here, so carry a map! However, even without arrows pointing you every which way, it’s pretty easy to find what you’re looking for. See our article on themed rides in Languedoc-Roussillon for ideas.
Support for cyclists
If you're planning an independent cycling holiday you’ll need some assistance. First and foremost, a good map is essential, and they don’t get much better than Michelin. The following three maps cover the whole region, have a scale of 1:150,000, and are updated frequently. If you are cycling on the road, you don’t need anything else:
Michelin Map #344 – Covers Aude and Pyrénées-Orientales
Michelin Map #339 – Covers Hérault and Gard
Michelin Map #330 – Cover Lozère
For such a wonderful area to cycle in, there is surprisingly little in the way of guidebooks. Lonely Planet has a Cycling France guide that has a chapter on Languedoc-Roussillon. You can now buy chapters alone in PDF form online, if you're only coming here. In French there is a decent guide for short day loops in Hérault and Gard, called Balades à vélo Gard-Hérault.
On the internet it's hit-and-miss, with little out there that is very comprehensive at the moment. The official tourism sites of the five departments (Pyrénées-Orientales, Aude, Hérault, Gard, Lozère) in Languedoc-Roussillon at least make mention of cycling, but the information you get it pretty sketchy. My own Cycling Languedoc has a number of cycle routes all over the region. Each route has a Google map, directions and photos, as well as practical information on the region.
There are plenty of companies that offer tours (guided and self-guided) in Languedoc-Roussillon. There is everything from bare-bones ‘tours’ that offer a map and a tyre pump, to fully guided rides with luxury accommodation. The list is simply too large to put here – do a search online and you’ll see for yourself.
If you're coming to Languedoc-Roussillon without your bike, there are lots of rental shops around the region. Some will deliver right to your hotel and can help with routes in their areas. See our bike hire page for links.
Where to stay
On a bicycle, you’ll never suffer from a lack of accommodation in Languedoc-Roussillon. For the cyclist you’ve got a great range of places to rest your head. See our 'Where to stay' section to search for accommodation around France.
Hotels, of course, can be found in any town, and most will have a secure place to put your bikes, free of charge. Logis de France has a large network of family-run hotels all over France, often with excellent restaurants serving local dishes. B&Bs (Chambres d’Hôtes in French) are often located in quiet villages or out in the countryside – perfect for the city-avoiding cyclist. In isolated areas dinner can also be requested, but check (and book) beforehand.
Gîtes are traditionally rural self-service type places, nearly always in a quiet setting. These days though, you’ll find many gîtes offering the same services as B&Bs. For those on a budget, gîtes d’étapes are great choices. Think of them as youth hostels without the youths (generally). They are for walkers and cyclists for the most part, and offer a bed and breakfast and sometimes dinner. They are great places to meet people and practice your French.
Finally, there is camping. The French love it and there are campsites in nearly every town in the region. In August it might be a good idea to book in advance (or at least show up early), but any other time you should have no problem finding a pitch for you and your bike. The Camping France website is a good place to start.
For general advice on the region, see Lonely Planet's guide to Languedoc-Roussillon.
Gerry Patterson lives in Nîmes with his wife, Shoko. When not updating his cycling blog and adding routes to his website, he can be seen – you guessed it – cycling around Languedoc-Roussillon, searching out new and interesting rides.