La Velo Francette is one of France's hottest cycle routes (and one of the most diverse and interesting). Here's a DIY itinerary for the route.
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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). You can see our trains page here for guidance.
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: Direct services link Caen to Paris Saint Lazare. Normandy is excellent for bike-train travel - see this page.
By bike: Caen is also on the EuroVelo 4 Central Europe bike route that goes across the top of France.
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. This means arranging each day yourself (in advance) on a case-by-case basis. If you want a company to just arrange all transfers for you in one go, email me via my bespoke service and I will try and help.
One-way bike hire
There is no bike rental service specialising 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.
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 stretches 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 cyclists 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 recommended 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
This stretch is mainly quieter back roads and local villages. Our stage report is here.
Overnight: We stayed at Hotel de la Gare in Thouars, a friendly Accueil Velo option.
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 doubles 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
Wonderful 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.
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 absolutely 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, which crosses with the Francette at Domfront. It's highly recommended – review here. See also La Pouliniere, which has the Bakehouse, a little cottage for anyone wanting a self-catered base for a 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. The hotel restaurant was OK but we'd probably recommend trying another local eatery instead. If you are taking the highly recommended and ridiculously scenic (though more challenging) eastern branch of the route, try the L'Ancien Pressoir B&B just east of La Roche d'Oëtre.
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 verte 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.