La Velo Francette is one of France's hottest cycle routes. Here's a DIY itinerary for the route.
La Velo Francette links the Caen Ouistreham ferry port in Normandy, in the north of France, to La Rochelle on the west coast (think beautiful harbour, Atlantic Coast beaches).
Though one of the country's hottest new routes, few tour companies currently offer self-guided or supported packages along the entire distance (630-odd kilometres).
We rode the full route in 2015 from La Rochelle to Caen, so we've based this DIY itinerary on the one we rode. It can, of course, also be ridden in reverse.
Note that all distances are approximates and will vary depending on your detours and where you stay. You can combine stages to extend the daily distances and shorten the trip.
Getting to/from La Rochelle
By train: La Rochelle is on the west coast train line and links to both Bordeaux and Nantes via Intercites and local TER train services. From Nantes, you can connect to Paris. For Intercites trains, bike reservations are either obligatory or recommended at the time of ticket reservation (depending on the service). It's easiest done using this website if you do not live in France. TER services accept bikes without reservation.
By bike: La Rochelle is also on the EuroVelo 1 La Velodyssee bike route.
Getting to/from Caen
By ferry: Brittany Ferries operates services from Portsmouth to Caen.
By train: TER local trains and Intercites services link Caen to Paris Saint Lazare. For Intercites trains, bike reservations are either obligatory or recommended at the time of ticket reservation (depending on the service). It's easiest done using this website if you do not live in France. TER services accept bikes without reservation.
By bike: Caen is als on the EuroVelo 4 Central Europe bike route that goes across the top of France.
There is no one-stop service that I know of on this route that arranges daily baggage transfers. If you are staying with a hotel or B&B that is Accueil Velo, then the hotel should be able to arrange baggage transfers locally for a surcharge. They usually do this themselves by car or they arrange for a local taxi to do it for you. Baggage transfers can really add up and inflate the cost of a DIY trip, so take panniers and avoid baggage transfers if you can.
If you DO want baggage transfers, the following services exist (let us know if you find others):
La Rochelle to Niort: La Bicyclette Verte offers bag transfers.
Saumur/Angers: Bagafrance offers baggage transfers.
Domfront: Local taxi services can be used; the local tourist office is very helpful and bike-friendly (it has English speakers) and can advise.
Pont d'Ouilly/Caen: Taxi Abeilles.
One-way bike hire
There is no bike rental service sepecialising in the entire route that will hire you a bike in La Rochelle and pick it up in Caen, or vice versa; the distance is just too vast for a van service. You can use our bespoke bike hire service if you need us to match you up with a long-distance delivery service (usually they deliver bikes in bike boxes to your starting point).
Cycling accommodation in La Rochelle
We stayed at a local B&B, Vue Sur Cour B&B, and enjoyed its proximity to the centre of town (as well as its lavish rooms). One of our reviewers, Jacqui, stayed at the Best Western Masqhotel (full review here), which has an excellent set up for cyclists and is, in fact, managed by a cyclist. There's also the budget Kyriad La Rochelle Centre.
Day 1: La Rochelle to Arçais
This is a lovely section that takes in the Marais Poitevin, a marchland area that's based around islands. Maran is a nice place to have lunch en route. Our route report is here.
Overnight: L’Hotel Maison Flore in Arçais.
Day 2: Arçais-Niort
More of the Marais Poitevin. We had lunch in lovely Coulon. Our route report is here.
Overnight: We stayed at Maison La Port Rouge in Niort (the departmental capital). The B&B was a joy (as was the owner, Christine). Cyclists riding the route on a tandem also recommended L'Horizon B&B. If you prefer to avoid a city stay, consider stopping in Coulon, which is very picturesque. In Coulon, there is the bike-friendly Le Central Hotel.
Day 3: Niort to Parthenay
A lovely ride stretch through Richard the Lionheart territory. Our route report is here.
Overnight: We stayed at Villa Ayrault B&B, just outside Parthenay. It was a little out of the way, to be honest, but the hosts were lovely and it was a really nice local options (we ate dinner with our hosts as part of their table d' hôtes service). Other cylists who have ridden through Parthenay have recommended the Maison Saint Jacques B&B in the centre of town. Cyclists riding the route on a tandem also recommened Le Grand Logis. If you are after a self-catered base, there are two good gite options just to the west of the route: Les Gîtes de Fontenioux and Gites Au Marcassin and Au Cocorico, which we have reviewed here).
Day 4: Parthenay to Thouars
Day 5: Thouars to Saumur
Through the lovely Thouet Valley and into the Loire. Our stage report is here.
Overnight: We stayed at Hotel de Londres in Saumur, which is an Accueil Velo hotel and was excellent. The Hôtel le Cristal has also been recommended to us by cyclists.
Day 6: Saumur to Angers
This doubes up as a stretch of the official Loire à Vélo route. Our stage report is here.
Overnight: We stayed at the Hotel de l’Europe in Angers, which is an Accueil Velo hotel. It was fine (and affordable) for a night or two, though the rooms near the street are a bit noisy and there was no air-con. This stretch of the Loire has lots of options – others include the Hotel d'Anjou, which has been since recommended to us by other cyclists.
Day 7: Angers to Château-Gontier
Wonderul river towpath that's almost entirely off-road/traffic-free. Our stage report is here.
Overnight: We stayed at the excellent Parc Hotel et spa at Chateau-Gontier, which is Accueil Velo and has its own pool and spa. We also ate that night at a restaurant that was recommended to us just down the road – it was excellent. You could choose to detour to Le Manoir de la Vieille Douve at Le Bourg d'Ire, which is a little north-west of Lion d'Angers – it's a bike-friendly B&B in the country and a lovely place to stay.
Day 8: Château-Gontier to Moulay
More lovely towpath – we had lunch at a riverside restaurant in Laval. (Same stage report as above – I combined these days as they both followed the Mayenne towpath).
Overnight: The bike-friendly Hotel La Marjolaine regularly hosts cycle tour groups and has a MASSIVE dedicated bike room with its own fleet of bikes. If you want to stay in Laval, there's the bike-friendly Hotel de Paris.
Day 9: Moulay to Domfront in the Orne department of Lower Normandy
At Domfront the Velo Francette crosses with the Paris-Mont St Michel Veloscenie route, making it a popular stop for cyclists.
Overnight: We stayed at a B&B called La Maison 1833, which was aobsolutely lovely but a little way off the actual route. Tracy and Chenél stayed at Hotel de France in Domfront town centre itself when they rode the Veloscenie for us. It's highly recommended – review here. South-west of Domfront and a worthy detour is La Pouliniere, which has the Backhouse and the Hayloft, two great little cottages for anyone wanting a self-catered base for few days (they only sleep 2 or 3 people, so great for tourers).
Day 10: Domfront to Pont-d'Ouilly
Into the heart of the Calvados department in Normandy. Our stage report is here.
Overnight: We stayed at the Le Relais du Commerce, which is very central but also quite basic. We wouldn't eat in the hotel restaurant again if we could avoid it (there are other eateries locally). If you are taking the highly recommended and ridiculously scenic (though more challenging) eastern branch of the route, you should stay at the L'Ancien Pressoir B&B just east of La Roche d'Oëtre. It's a lovely 'off-the-beaten' track place to stay and Ann, the owner, is super bike-friendly.
Day 11: Pont-d'Ouilly to Caen Oiustreham ferry port
Our final stage report is here. The last stretch (or the first stretch, if you are riding from the north) of this route is dreamlike. We finished our ride in Caen as we were getting the train back to Paris rather than the ferry from Oiustreham. If you need to continue on to the ferry port, we have an overview of the voie vert here. In Caen, there is a good selection of hotels. There is the Hotel Moderne, which has been recommended to us by cyclists, and also the more upmarket but bike-friendly Mercure Centre Port de Plaisance. At the port itself, there is a reliable Ibis Styles hotel.