There’s a guidebook for your pannier, no matter where you’d like to cycle in France
Here's a wrap of the leading English-language guidebooks to cycling in France. I haven't included self-published books, only those brought to market by mainstream publishers, but do let me know if you've used any others you'd recommend.
Tim Hughes' Cycling in France is an oldie but a goodie, and one that Graham Robb, author of The Discovery of France, describes it as “still one of the best practical books on cycling in France”. Lonely Planet’s Cycling France by Ethan Gelber is a more modern take on the same theme, with practical information and route suggestions. Its 34 rides are broken down regionally; combined, they cover 6000km and 119 days of riding, and each can be enjoyed independently or part of a longer tour. Less polished by no less worth a look is Cicerone's Cycle Touring in France, a pannier-size guide by Freewheeling France contributor Stephen Fox. It covers eight cycle tours, each broken down into between four and six stages, again meaning they can be tackled as a whole, or joined at any stage en route.
Cycling Southern France: Loire to Mediterranean by Richard Peace features long-distance routes as well as local area rides. It includes the Atlantic Coast route, as well as the Garonne Valley and its link through to the Canal du Midi, as well as the EuroVélo 6 from the west coast near St-Nazaire through to the Swiss border. Richard has written for us on Poitou-Charentes and Toulouse.
Cycling the Canal du Midi by Declan Lyons is one of the most detailed guides in English to what is arguably the most famous/popular canal route in France. It's another Cicerone title. An another option is Biking the Canal du Midi, the English translation of the original French title by Phillippe Calas. In Kindle there is A Cycling Guide to the Canal de Garonne and the Canal du Midi by Iain Griffiths.
In Cycling in the French Alps: Selected Cycle Tours (published by Cicerone), Freewheeling France contributor Paul Henderson suggests 9 routes, including a Grand Traverse of the Alps from Geneva to Nice. The rides are generally broken down into stages of 50-80km per day.
The Grand Traverse of the Massif Central: By Mountain Bike, Road Bike or on Foot, by Cicerone, details the 700km mountain bike route from Clermont-Ferrand in Auvergne to Montpellier in Languedoc-Roussillon. The route takes in each of the regions crossed by the Central Massif, as well as the Cévennes. The book, by Alan Castle, offers road and walking alternatives to the main MTB route, which is split into 17 stages.
The Complete Loire à Vélo Trail from Nevers to the Atlantic by Michel Bonduelle is available in French as well as in English. It's indispensable for any cyclist looking at this route, and has the backing of local tourist boards. Cycling the River Loire: The Way of St Martin, meanwhile, is another Cicerone title, this time by Freewheeling France contributor, John Higginson. It details a 23-stage journey along the Loire that combines the highlights of the river with the history of St Martin.
The Way of St James: Le Puy to Santiago – A Cyclist's Guide is another pilgrim's guide by John Higginson and Cicerone. While walking the route is both popular and well-documented, this guide is (to my knowledge) the only dedicated cyclist's guide to the most famous pilgrimage route in the world. John Higginson has written about the the Way of St James from France to Santiago de Compostela for us.
There can be no more pleasant way to explore Brittany than by using its network of green ways. Local publisher Red Dog Books has released Brittany's Green Ways, a guide for cyclists and walkers. It's a comprehensive overview of the old railway tracks and canal towpaths that combine to make Brittany such a cycling friendly region. For a taste of what's in the guide, its author G.H Randall wrote this overview of Brittany's green ways for Freewheeling France.
The Nantes-Brest Canal is another Red Dog guide for cyclists and walkers. It follows the entire route of the canal, and includes detailed maps, as well as accommodation and tourist highlights. Profiles of major cities en route are featured. The guide also includes an excellent historical overview of the canal and its importance to the development of the region is cuts through. We have more on cycling the Nantes-Brest Canal here.
Graham Watson's Tour de France Travel Guide: The Complete Insider's Guide to Following the World's Greatest Race isn't a guidebook in that it's not destination – or route-specific – the Tour route, after all, changes each year. However it covers off all the cols and towns that feature regularly on the Tour, and it offers excellent practical advice that will be of value to anyone wanting to follows the great race.
A&C Black has published Ride a Stage of the Tour de France by Kristian Bauer, which is a guidebook suitable for anyone wanting to independently tackle the Tour themselves.
We’d love to hear from you if you’ve used and can recommend a guide not on our list.