The gentle topography of Poitou-Charentes is perfect for fixed-base cycling and daytrips. Richard Peace, the author of Cycling Southern France, has these route suggestions.
The usually gentle topography, tempting beaches and dense provision of cycle lanes and quiet backroads of Poitou-Charentes make it an ideal region for gentle touring, daytrips and fixed base cycling, especially for families, older riders and occasional riders.
La Rochelle and île de Ré: Though a meagre 25km long, the île de Ré contains over 100km of cycle path linking fortified towns, distinctive and colourful local architecture and gorgeous beaches. The ride from the superb medieval port of La Rochelle over the bridge to the island's capital St-Martin-de-Ré is an absolute classic and a great day trip of around 35 miles. Ré is a perfect family cycling destination but, like La Rochelle and Oléron, it can get very busy in high season.
île d'Oléron: The island's own signed cycle-path network is the perfect opportunity to explore its vineyards, woodlands, oysterbeds and beaches. St Pierre and Le Château are attractive towns, while Fort Boyard is a dramatic sight, jutting out into the Atlantic.
Marais Poitevin: Cycling doesn't get much easier than this – easy and flat – but far from boring. The richest area for exploring on two-wheels lies just west of Niort (good shopping and markets, castle, riverside gardens and museums), and Coulon and Arçais in particular have marked themselves out as targets for visitors. They are at the heart of the Sèvre Nortaise, known as the 'Green Venice', and while this may be just a little overstated, it's one of the areas that has the feeling of being its own little world, where you are just as likely to see a typical flat-bottomed boat tied up outside a house as a car. The locals seem happy to concentrate on producing the area specialities of eels, snails and angelica as well as keeping the tourists happy.
Angoulême and the Charente Valley: If you want a quiet, rural idyll for pedalling through, look no further than the Charente Valley. Angoulême itself is a good base, though its hilltop location might mean an unwelcome climb at the end of the day. It is totally underated, with a warren of delightful streets full of quality restaurants crammed between the impressive edifices of the town hall and the cathedral. There's a newly constructed traffic-free route to the east of Angoulême, handy for coming from or going to Limousin and for just pottering.
Your bike will almost ride itself west down the Charente Valley while you take in the heady aroma from Cognac distilleries as it becomes stronger and stronger as you head through Jarnac to the eponymous centre of the alcoholic gold itself. Also be sure to try the local aperitif of Pineau – little-known outside France for reasons unknown.
Between Jarnac and Cognac there are earth towpath route options – not signed like the rest of the route which is on quiet roads, but quite easy to find and follow. While the lower valley route section to Saintes lacks the hidden charms of the previous stretch, it's definitely worth the effort for a look at the Roman remains at Saintes, which also has a pretty centre.
When to cycle in Poitou-Charentes
The climate is mild in autumn and winter and generally hot and very sunny in summer. December to February are the coldest months, but even then temperatures tend to hover around 10 degrees, so cycling is reasonably comfortable. Occasional storms should be watched out for. November to January and May are the wetter months. For bike rental options across Brittany, see our bike hire listings.
Where to stay
See our Where to stay section for links to accommodation all over France, or zoom into the map below for cycling accommodation in Poitou-Charentes with secure bike parking.
La Rochelle Youth Hostel has secure bike storage in the open courtyard in the middle of the hostel. It was undergoing restoration during my visit, so things may have changed! It's in a good, central location. Hotel St Jean, 21 Av St. Jean d'Angély, Niort is incredibly friendly and has a big garage for bike storage. Angoulême Youth Hostel (05 45 92 45 80) is very basic but very friendly and very well-priced, with breakfast included. Good bike storage. Not very central but a lovely setting on an island in the Charente.
See Destinations Poitou-Charentes for region-wide cycling info (in French only); there's less extensive cycling information in the English section. The official île de Ré site has English language information, including on cycling. There's a downloadable map showing signed cycle routes at La Charente (click on 'Voir tous les circuits vélo en Charente'). The cycling section at Tourisme Deux Sevres (in French) boasts information, maps and itineraries for 800km of routes in the area, and includes listings for cycling friendly accommodation. See also the Cycling Southern France (UK, US).
See also Richard's overview of cycling in Poitou-Charentes, which includes suggestions for longer tours.
Richard Peace is founder of Excellent Books, specialists in cycle publishing. He has made several tours of France (including on electric bikes) and is author of Cycling Southern France (UK, US), Cycling Northern France (UK, US), and Electric Bicycles: The Complete Guide (UK, US). He is a regular contributor to bikeradar.com and A to B magazine.