Fay and Julian cycled from London to Barcelona in August 2014 – via some of France's most beautiful cycling routes. They kindly sent me a copy of their daily itinerary and notes.
I lucked out 'meeting' Fay and Julian on Facebook after they'd left London for Barcelona on a 14-day journey that took them through some of France's most beautiful countryside and along some of its most iconic bike routes.
They rode to raise money for Cyclists Fighting Cancer (CFC), Garden House Hospice, and Bowel Cancer UK in memory of two friends who lost battles with cancer. You can visit their JustGiving page here. There is a separate donations page here for Bowel Cancer UK and the CFC.
In all, they covered over 1500km on vintage steel road bikes.
Fay sent me this summary when they got back (there are some great tips at the end, so it's worth reading right through).
Day 1 - London to Newhaven
We made the mistake of using part of national cycle route 21, quickly decided being directed down bridal paths was not a good idea with full panniers. Opted for A roads mostly.
Day 2 - Dieppe to Grisy-les-Patres
Used various D roads and the Avenue Verte. Dieppe, Neufchatel-en-Bray, Forges-les-Eaux, Gourney-en-Bray, Serifontiane, Gisors, Chaumont-en-Vexin, Grisy-les-Platres (in the Parc Naturel Regional Du Vexin Francais).
Day 3 - Grisy-les-Patres to Melun
Cut through Paris in a vaguely N/W to S/E direction using D roads, and the cycle paths through Paris and along the Seine. Grisy-les-Platres, St Denis Paris (with a slight detour past Notre-Dame), Creteil, Melun.
Day 4 - Melun to Briare
Followed the Seine to Moret-sur-Loing, then a mixture of D roads and the Canal du Loing. Melun, Moret-sur-Loing, Nemours, Dordives, Montargis, Briare.
Day 5 - Briare to Nevers
Day 6 - Nevers to Charlieu
We took to the fast D roads and were able to cover a lot more ground quickly this way. Nevers, Decize, Diou, Digoin, Luneau, Marcigny, St-Julien-de-Jonzy (where we came across the Tour de France monument and old graffiti on the roads from the 2013 race).
Day 7 - Charlieu to Dardilly (north-west of Lyon)
The first day which involved some real climbing! We stuck to the quieter white and yellow D roads as much as possible, going over the mountains at the Col du Pilon (elevation 727m). The descent was great fun and very fast! Charlieu to Villers, Jarnosse, Bourg-de-Thizy, Amplepuis, Valsonne, Dardilly.
Day 8-Dardilly to Tournon-sur-Rhone
Had issues getting out of Lyon, note that the Via Rhona doesn’t actually start in Lyon! We took D roads to Loire-sur-Rhone (on the west side of the river) where we finally met up with the Via Rhona route. Dardilly, Lyon, Givors, Loire-sur-Rhone, Vienne, Condrieu, St-Vallier, Tournon-sur-Rhone.
Day 9 - Tournon-sur-Rhone to Les Pins
We continued following the Via Rhona to Valence but got frustrated with the poor signage and extra kilometres that come with taking this scenic route. From just north of Cruas we switched to fast D roads. Tournon-sur-Rhone, Valence, Cruas, Rochemaure, Viviers, Donzere, Bollene, Les Pins (near Uchaux).
Day 10 - Les Pins to St-Gilles
All D roads, mostly white or yellow. Les Pins, Orange, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Avignon, Tarascon, Beaucaire St-Gilles.
Day 11 - St-Gilles to Agde
Red and yellow D roads to get to the coast at La Grande-Motte. From there we followed cycle paths along the coast including the Canal du Rhone which was quite amazing (but also quite windy). Between Sete and Agde we followed the yellow D road. St-Gilles, Vauvert, Aimargues, Lunel, La Grande-Motte, Sete, Agde.
Day 12 - Agde to St-Cyprien-Plage
D912 out of Agde and then the D612 to Beziers. From there we took the D609 and D11 back to the coast where we followed the D81/81A. Agde, Vias Beziers, Narbonne, Salses-les-Chateau, St-Laurent-de-la-Salanque, Canet-en-Roussillon, St-Cyprien-Plage.
Day 13 - St-Cyprien-Plage to L'Escala
We took the D81 and then the D914 out of France. The climbs were quite steep in some parts but the views along the coast were fantastic. After the descent we made the mistake of following the sat nav route which took us through the Parc Natural Cap de Creus when we should have just headed for Figueres on the N road. The route included a challenging climb, but again, the vistas were amazing and it meant another fun descent. We then took the quieter yellow road to L’Escala. St-Cyprien-Plage, Cerbere, Llanca, Parc Natural Cap de Creus, Sant Pere, Pescador, L’Escala.
Day 14 - L'Escala to Barcelona
A very long day and not recommended doing it all in one stretch. We started off by using the a mixture of yellow and red roads to vaguely follow the coast. We were warned not to take the coastal route between Sant Feliu De Guixols to Lloret de Mar so headed inland. But were foiled by restrictions (no bicycles allowed) on one major road when trying to get from Sant Feliu de Guixols to Llagostera and had to take an alternate route which meant a 4km climb. Probably should have just travelled via skirting around Girona. Beyond Llagostera we took the yellow road to meet up with the A2 and then the N11 which took us all the way to Barcelona, mostly back along the coast where the traffic does get quite busy. L’Escala, Torroella de Montgri, Palafrugell, Palamos, Sant Feliu de Guixols, Llagostera, Caldes de Malavella, Malgrat de Mar, Mataro, Barcelona.
Notes and tips from Fay
I hope others can gleam some good info from my write up as I found it difficult to find information when I was researching the route.
I would, however, suggest that if people want to do the same trip that they give themselves more time than we had. There were a few very long days and others that should have been longer.
The Loire à Vélo and Via Rhona routes are stunningly beautiful ways to travel south through France. We found that both had their problems with signage running out or disappearing resulting in some confusion as to which way to continue to find the path again.
In general the Via Rhona has much better surfaces although they do vary as you travel through the different departments (you can tell who is investing more money into cycling!). Both routes are relatively flat so they make for pretty easy cruising, especially when you have loaded panniers.
Be sure to pick up a map of the Via Rhona route from a tourist office as many of the sections are ‘not completed’ yet.
D roads in France are extremely useful when you want to cover more ground quickly. The white and yellow routes are quieter although many of the red routes we went on were not too bad for traffic. The cars were very good about giving us a lot of room when passing. A lot of the time there was a hard shoulder to ride along.
Many of the D roads are marked on the maps as cycle friendly with green lines next to them making choosing a route easier. An added bonus to using D roads when entering towns and cities is that we almost always came across signs directing us to camp sites.
Highly recommend bringing good old paper maps along with all the high-tech stuff. When you can’t get a signal, your battery is low or the sat nav looks like it wants to take you on an insane route then the paper maps are very useful!
Always travel with some toilet paper, many of the French campsites do not provide it! (Also, what’s with the French aversion to toilet seats?!)
We found camping to be the best option to cycle tour on a budget. The camping cost between €5 and €25 each per night, with an average of €10 each for two small tents, two bicycles and two people. The most expensive being when we were on the coast and it was high season.
For our two nights in Spain, we splurged on a pension in L’Escala for €30 each, getting our own rooms with en suites. It was worth it by then to have a bed and not have to pack up in the morning for our long last day of riding.
In Barcelona we lucked out by meeting Raoul who steered us towards his friend Ronnie who has set up Barna Pedala. They stored our bikes for us and got us rooms in a friend’s apartment for the night for €20 each. We were also able to use their tools and pack up the bikes at the Barna Pedala space, as well as being fed a delicious lunch by Ronnie. The Barna Pedala is all by donation and we were more than happy to contribute for all the help they gave us!
You can find out more about Fay and Julian's ride on their Facebook page. A big thanks to them both for sharing their route with us.