From Bordeaux to beaches and vineyards, Le Tour de Gironde à Velo is a lovely bike route that takes in all the highlights of the Gironde department of south-west France.
Difficulty: Easy - there are some hills on linking roads and through vineyard areas but this is an achieveable route for all abilities – the coastal sections and the bike path out of Bordeaux are especially flat
Le Tour de Gironde à Velo is a very special bicycle touring route – and one we can highly recommend it because it's in our own backyard. Freewheeling France lives just east of the route and we know this area well. While we haven't cycled Le Tour de Gironde à Velo in its entirety, over the years we've ridden a very fine chunk of it on day rides with the kids.
Le Tour de Gironde à Velo basically links parts of the following routes to make a regional loop: Canal des 2 Mers from the Atlantic Coast to the Med, the EuroVelo 3 pilgrims' route and the EuroVelo 1 Atlantic Coast.
The full 480km Tour de Gironde à Velo circuit starts in the beautiful city of Bordeaux – worth a day or two on its own on or off the bikes – before heading out along the magical Roger Lapebie bike path to Sauveterre. Here is our family on a day ride one autumn (or was it late winter?)
On this section out of Bordeaux, we would highly recommend also taking this detour (our own route) from Bordeaux to Saint-Emilion to see the ancient UNESCO wine town.
Saint-Emilion really is lovely and you will see its iconic Roman church and the views from the town square on postcards as you make your way across Gironde. Try and go early in the day if you're riding in summer (to beat the crowds) or stay overnight so you can enjoy the atmospheric cobbled streets after dark.
On our day rides, we always make time for a lemonade and a snack in the gardens at Les Cordeliers (below).
Back on the main route ...
After Sauveterre, the route sticks to the Bordeaux-Toulouse Canal de Garonne route (part of the two canals route to the Med) until it reaches Fontet. Here, it heads west to join the EuroVelo 3 route. This is a lovely route through the vineyards and forests of the Landes de Gascogne, and an area not often explored by cycle tourists. I expect that to change as the EV3 becomes more popular.
The route passes just south of Sauternes – the sweet white wine capital of France. The roads around here are gorgeous with vines layering the hillsides. Consider staying overnight in Bazas, with its Gothic cathedral and Roman history. From here you can continue on to the Atlantic Coast EuroVelo 1 route via the Bazas-Mios section of the route (save time for oysters in Arcachon and Dune of Pilat, the largest sand dune in Europe).
This stretch up the coast is on dedicated bike paths and forest trails. See here for more on cycling around Lacanau.
Do not ride by the lake at Carcans without taking a short detour for an ice-cream at Le Salon de la Glace (142 Avenue de Maubuisson, Carcans). We have spent many summer days at Carcans and nearly every one of them has involved ice-cream.
It's then up along the coastal path through the Medoc to the ferry for Royan – don't worry about the vineyards as you head north as you come back via the chateaux of Blaye before taking the local ferry across to Margaux if you are riding the full loop in a clockwise direction. Note that outside peak periods, some vineyards will require reservations for wine-tastings. Not all double as tourist attractions ilike is often the case in Australia or California. Mostly you will meet the winemakers or their families, so call/email ahead if there are chateaux in particular you would like to visit.
From there it's back into Bordeaux via the lake.
Getting to Bordeaux
Bordeaux is linked to Toulouse, Paris and farther afield by fast TGV trains, and there are also trains down the coast to Biarritz and the Spanish border, as well a north to La Rochelle. The Gironde à Velo route is well-connected by local TER trains, so you can skip sections if you need to. For example you could catch a train to/from Langon, Arcachon or the Medoc and make a shorter circuit or one-way ride if you did not have time for the entire route. See here for Nouvelle-Aquitaine train info.