No time for an epic canal ride? Richard Peace as these single day bike ride ideas along French canals.
If you don’t fancy taking the epic canal challenge of the Canal du Midi or the Nantes-Brest Canal, France holds a myriad of day rides along canals, many lesser known but equally scenic and with surprises around every corner. Canalside riding is popular not just because it’s relaxingly easy, but because, if you pick the right canal ride, you will also get the chance to travel traffic-free through some fine city and town centres, glide through mountains, arrive at Mediterranean beaches, not to mention numerous chances to each and drink amidst tranquil waterside scenery.
In other words a chance to see France at its best.
This article is part of our rivers and canals series. See also:
1. Canals of Paris: Pont d'Amelie, Quai de Jemmapes on the Canal Saint-Martin to Claye-Souilly on the Canal de l'Ourcq (pictured above)
Distance: Around 26 km / 16 miles one way.
This ride offers the chance to get a feel for life not just in the iconic centre of Paris but also in its suburbs without the distraction of big city route navigation.
* Paris at leisure - the Canal Saint-Martin is the see and be seen hub of the city on a sunny summer weekend.
* The Bassin de la Villette, Paris's largest artificial lake is a former canal port now used as a marina and offering kayaking, pedaloes, rowing and small electric boats. Many bars and restaurants.
* The Parc de la Villette - home to Europe's largest science museum. Most eye-catching from the canal is the Geode, a huge shining dome containing an IMAX cinema. Don't miss the sculpture 'The Buried Bicycle'.
* The Parc de la Bergere at Bobigny is good for a stop, especially if you've brought a picnic. Tourist Information Office, toilets, drinking water fountains.
* The Parc Forestier de Sevran is well-wooded parkland with various attractions including a nearby gunpowder museum.
* Some fine examples of street art and graffiti along the canal.
* Food trucks, and food bicycles, congregate in the summer on the Mail Charles de Gaulle by the canal at Pantin offering a wide range of great value dishes. Les Pantins opposite the Centre National de la Danse just off the canal at 6, rue Victor Hugo offers a touch of culinary magnificence with a Time Out 5-star rating.
* Cruises along the canal or electric boat hire.
* July and August see the Ete du Canal in Paris with concerts, events and entertainments both waterside and water-borne along the Ourcq and other Paris canals.
Option of rail returns from RER stations at Sevran, le Vert-Galant and Villeparisis.
Option of a riverside return alongside the River Marne.
Route conditions: This busy major bicycle commuter and leisure route is for the most part well-surfaced, mainly tarmac, but not extravagantly signed, although this isn't a particular problem. You can't entirely ignore traffic in the early stages especially - the dedicated cyclepaths along canalside roads do cross road junctions. Crossing the place de la Bataille de Stalingrad between the Canal Saint-Martin and Bassin de la Villette requires care and attention but things do quieten down after this. The canal passes through a mix of parkland, urban environment and in its later stages, countryside. Beyond the parks and canal corridor are some of the less affluent areas of the city.
2. Canals de la Deûle and de Roubaix: Lille to Leers
Distance: 25km / 15.5 miles one way
Some nice urban riding through Lille, Marquette-lez-Lille, Marq-en-Baroeul, Croix, Roubaix, Wattrelos and Leers (Canal spurs into nearby Wasquehal and Tourcoing). The canal de la Deûle is a wide canal still bearing some commercial traffic and passing through industrial areas, some current, some derelict and some redeveloped. The Canal de Roubaix has its industrial areas too but is something of a green corridor through an urban environment, so food and services are usually not too far away.
Start by join the Veloroute de la Deûle at the northern end of the Lille Citadelle just off Avenue du Petit Paradis and end at La Maison du Canal, a bar and cafe just over the border with Belgium, or in Leers centre according to choice.
* Lille has much in the way of architectural heritage, both ancient and contemporary. Museums, art galleries, parks and gardens, churches and a range of historic fortifications including the huge Citadelle at the ride start make Lille a great place to explore. Its various markets are renowned.
* The disused flour mill on the western bank of the Deûle Canal at Marquette-lez-Lille is a dramatic sight and heralds the junction with the Canal de Roubaix.
* At Marc-en-Baroeul the Mediatheque La Corderie is a multi-media library housed in a former factory.
* La Marque Canalisée is a spur off the canal de Roubaix taking you into Wasquehal, a pleasant little town with a Tourist Information Office set in nice gardens. Well reviewed eating places near the canal include l'Amiral at at 18,m rue Jean Mace and La Terrasse de Wasquehal at 75, rue de Marcq-en-Baroeul. A bit further along the canal the Marie Blachere bakery is but a stone's throw from the towpath.
* The Le Fresnoy Studio National des Arts is by the canal at Tourcoing with exhibitions including contemporary art, concerts and film.
* Roubaix has the very popular Piscine Musee d'Art et de l'Industrie housed in an art deco former swimming pool. There is a Tourist Information Office in the town and all the services you might need.
* Tourcoing too has a Tourist Information Office and plenty of services, lying to the north of Roubaix across the canal. The hydraulic lift bridge across the canal is an interesting feat of engineering.
* The canal becomes the Espierre Canal as it crosses the Belgian border and a short ride on meets the River Scheldt.
* North of Leers just near the canal at 109, rue de Wattrelos La Guingette has lunchtime menus daily except Sundays.
* On the outskirts of Leers, the Moulin Blanc is a beautifully restored operational 19th century windmill. In the town itself, the tower you can see from everywhere belongs to a former cotton mill. Bourle is a version of boules played particularly around Lille and the town sports its very own bourloire.
Route conditions: Surfaces are good, almost all either compacted smooth grit or tarmac and signage is in the main sufficient at junctions. If you pass the Canal de Roubaix and carry on alongside the Canal de la Deule to Deulemont, a greenway to the east leads to Armentieres and one to the west leads into Belgium ending near Menin.
A rail return to Lille is possible from Tourcoing or Roubaix. See our bike-train info page.
Info on riding the Roubaix cobbles while you're in the area.
3. Canal de la Somme: Amiens–Saint-Valery-sur-Somme
Distance: 63km / 39 miles one way
The Canal de la Somme was built between 1770 and 1843 and passes through the highly scenic wetlands of the Somme Valley. Most of it is canalised River Somme, used these days almost exclusively for leisure purposes. There is much of interest in the area, not just in Amiens and the lovely towns and villages of the area, but dotted around the countryside and in the important lakes and marshlands
From Amiens city centre cycle the few streets to the canal and cross to the north bank, go over the couple of tributary footbridges to the ESIEE Technology College and go in front of it on the quai de la Somme. Proceed canalside for a while to pass the parc du Grand Marais when V30 waymarkers start to appear. Carry on.
* Amiens has a good range of cycle services - BusCyclette offers secure storage, bike hire and repairs and Velam is the automated on-street system. The city has the tallest complete cathedral in France, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and offering a free son et lumiere in the summer. The zoo, with its 85 species from 5 continents is not too far from the centre and the water gardens of Amiens, the Hortillonages, offer 300 hectares with its own system of canals with boat tours, canoe tours and other attractions.
* A few kilometres out from Amiens, Ailly-sur-Somme is a tempting stop. The Tourist Information Office in the former lock keeper's house has bike parking, toilets, picnic area and electric boat hire (not to mention bike hire). The nearby village has shops and cafes. There are 10 Commonwealth war graves from both wars here.
* Next stop Picquigny, has a medieval château open to the public offering various attractions including the Escape Game, torchlit visits and tours of the ramparts, all no doubt more enjoyable than their medieval equivalents.
* North of Hangest-sur-Somme, in a breathtaking setting above the Somme, the German war cemetery at Bourdon contains 22,213 graves of WW2 soldiers. Many smaller Commonwealth cemeteries and church graves are also in the area along with French war graves and others.
* Here past Hangest-sur-Somme, the Marais du Château and the Marais des Cavins are rich in flora and fauna.
* The 20 kilometre Véloroute du Vimeu a l'Airanes starts in Longpre-les-Corps-Saints, just across the marshes from the canal. It's a good, smooth compacted gravel railpath to Airanes, with its priory church and ancient towers, and on to Oisemont where there are various ruins of glories past but a nice market hall, an excellent local history museum and a selection of shops and services. The Marshes information centre is near Longpre-les-Corps-Saints.
* The little village of Long, near the hydro-electric power station, can make a nice stop, especially if it's July or August when the gardens and greenhouses of the Chateau de Long are open, or especially if it's lunchtime when Le Comptoir Bleu restaurant is open. Chez Francois across the road looks good too.
* Abbeville is a pleasant, spacious town with things to see and do. It was heavily bombed in the last war so many of the buildings are relatively modern. From Abbeville to the coast the canal is sometimes known as the the Canal Maritime d'Abbeville a Saint-Valery-sur-Somme, designed to be used by coastal ships and these days offering a very straight, wide, well-shaded and smooth cycle path up to the coast.
* The 28-kilometre Traverse du Ponthieu railpath runs north east out of Abbeville on a good, wide compacted grit surface with picnic tables and route maps every so far. It goes to the rather elegant little town of Auxi-le-Chateau, well worth a visit, although the chateau is no more.
* Saint-Valery-sur-Somme is a historic town on the Somme Bay where this ride ends. However, it has plenty to offer if you fancy staying. There's a great 24 kilometre cycle path right round the bay and, conveniently, a bicycle-carrying steam heritage railway with the same termini as the cycle route. There's a network of other signed cycle routes in the area and further coastal riding to the north. It's a good area for a seaside holiday with nice beaches and entertainments and attractive waterside cafes in the town. For cycling plantsmen there's a herbarium and fruticetum.
Rail links are decent – Calais, Lille and Paris can all be reached within a couple of hours or so and there's a direct service between Abbeville and Amiens if you want at least a partial rail return.
Route conditions: For the most part, the ride is on smooth, wide, well-surfaced towpath. Where it is road, it tends to be short, quiet stretches or residents only and navigation is fairly straightforward. It is part of national route V30 from Saint-Valery-sur-Somme to the River Marne and other strategic cycle routes run out of Amiens to Arras and Beauvais.
4. Canal de Caen à la Mer: Maison du Velo, Quai Amiral Hamelin, Caen (across the river by the marina at the end of the canal) to the ferry port, Ouistreham
Distance: 15km / 9 miles one way
A nice ride if you find yourself waiting for the Ouistreham (Caen) ferry. It is part of longer cycle routes – the Velo Francette National Route 43 from La Rochelle to Ouistreham and EuroVelo 4 from Roscoff to Kiev. (See here for our DIY itinerary for Francette).
If you cross the bridge at Benouville to Longueville a greenway alongside the River Orne takes you to the coast through the Baie de l'Orne and to the nice beaches at Franceville. The resort of Cabourg is only a few kilometres down the coast on the Veloroute de la Cote Fleurie. To the west of Ouistreham, a circular ride can be had, mainly on greenway, by going along the coast past Sword beach to Langrune-sur-Mer and then inland to a greenway back into Caen.
* Caen. much of the city is modern, replacing what was destroyed in the war but it is also known for its medieval buildings. Some date from the time of William the Conqueror who is buried at the Abbaye-aux-Hommes in the city.
* Maison du Velo. Bicycle hub near the start of the canal and near the railway station. Storage, hire, workshops, information etc.
* The Canal de Caen a la Mer. Built in the mid nineteenth century and still carrying lots of commercial traffic, some going right into Caen.
* Shortly after leaving Caen, the Chateau de Beauregard is 23 hectares of parkland with a collection of statues in a lovely setting by the canal.
* At Benouville, the capture of the Pegasus Bridge from the Germans was a key stage of the D-Day landings. The bridge you see is a modern replacement, the original being in the nearby museum.
* The Cafe Gondrée by the bridge was the first building in occupied Europe to be liberated. Call in and you may well be served by the daughter of the then owner.
* The magnificent château by the canal at Benouville is the headquarters of the European Institute of Parks and Gardens but is temporarily closed to the public during 2018.
*The Atlantic Wall Museum near the ferry terminal in Ouistreham is in an old German headquarters building.
*Ouistreham is a pleasant, quiet town with shops and cafes and an excellent fish market if you want a souvenir haddock for your favourite aunt. Very nice beach just round the corner from the ferry terminal.
Route conditions: Entirely canalside and pretty much all tarmac. Because of where it is, winds can be strong.
5. Canal d’Orléans: Orléans (Quai du Roi on the north bank of the Loire by the pont Rene Thinat) to Montargis
Distance: 85km / 53 miles
The canal passes through or nearby Orléans, Combleux, Checy, Mardie, Donnery, Fay-aux-Loge,Vitry-aux-Loge, Combreux, Sury-sur-Bois, La Bourgeoiserie, Chatenoy, Coudroy, Chailly-en-Gatinais, Chalette-sur-Loing, Montargis.
The canal was completed in 1692 and came out of use in 1954, although sections have been restored and the whole length should be navigable in the not too distant future.
Both Orléans and Montargis are a good hour or so from Paris by train but a Montargis-Orleans rail return would involve three or four hours and a change, probably Paris. This ride in part follows Euro Velo 3, for which you may see signs, between Trondheim and Santiago de Compostella. The route will head north from the end of the Canal d'Orleans alongside the Canal du Loing which should all be cycleable now to not too far from Fontainebleau. A chunk of it has just been officially opened as good standard voie verte. To the south from Montargis, the Canal de Briare towpath may also be cycleable.
* Orléans is a large modern, university city on the Loire which retains much from the past including its magnificent cathedral. Joan of Arc was sent here to help lift the English siege during the Hundred Years War. Lots to see and do including nice riverside walks and river cruises. It's about an hour from Paris by intercity train.
* La Velostation, a bike hub by the railway station offering secure parking and minor repairs.
* Your departure from Orléans is memorable, the canal being effectively walled off from the river, although your attention might be distracted by the occasional classy looking restaurant dotted alongside the path.
* A little way out, at St. Jean de Bray is a monument in the parc des Armenault marking the northernmost point of the Loire.
* At Combleux, where the canal leaves the river, the marina has a riverside restaurant and a bar.
* From here you will find services at most of the villages near the canal - Checy has plenty of eating bplaces, Mardie has shops and cafes (and tourist information from June to August) and there is a canalside gite d'etape in Donnery. Fay-aux-Loges has cafes and bars but there's then a long more deserted section until you get to Vitry-aux-Loges.
* There's a picturesque chateau at Combreux. It's at the roadside near the canal and well worth a look, even though it's not open to the public. There are a couple of restaurants up the road across the canal.
* There's then another long section with no settlements to Sury-aux-Bois where just near the canal, Com a la Maison is a bar, restaurant and shop. From here, guided tours by electric bike through the forest and around the canals are on offer from Ecolib.
* Further refreshment opportunities arise at the Relais du Pont des Beignets - come off the canal at the pont des Besniers and go south on the D2060 a very short way. Further on, Chatenoy, about 1km south has a couple ofv restaurants but not much else. The Relais de Chatenoy is open all day every day on weekdays and mornings Saturday and Sunday.
* Locks and canal workings at Grignon.
* Eating places in Coudray, bars in Chailly-en-Gatinais.
* The Canal d'Orleans joins the Canal de Briare and the Canal du Loing at Chalette-sur-Loing, between them built to link the Seine and the Loire. The Maison de Nature et de l'Eau here is a former lockkeeper's house now devoted to ecology but with tourist and leisure information also.
* Montargis. Second largest city in Loiret after Orléans. There are museums, half-timbered houses and a ruined castle with gardens, all set in a network of canals and footbridges. Swimming, sailing, and other waterside attractions at the nearby lakes. Canal cruises. Electric bike hire. Decent choice of hotels. As part of a work-study movement, Chinese students started coming to Montargis from 1913, amongst them Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping.
Route conditions: A bit different to most of the others in this collection - a crushed stone surface for the most part and not that wide, probably a good metre or so on average and the odd bumpy bit. A mountain bike could be a good idea, especially in the wet. It's not signed and you need to take care not to miss switchovers of banking.
Whilst there are plenty of villages with services along the way, there are also long stretches without any. Much of the canal runs through forest.
6. Canal du Centre: Digoin to Chalon-sur-Saone
Distance: 112km / 69.5 miles
It can handily be split into three sections:
- An 18km greenway (Digoin to near Volesvres) of wide, smooth high quality tarmac path with no road crossings. Picturesque start with plenty of services nearby then a run through pretty countryside.
- A 31km greenway (Saint-Leger-sur-Dheune to Chalon-sur-Saone) made up of good, wide smooth tarmac path, reasonably well shaded and with picnic areas and taps at Saint-Leger-sur-Dheune, Santenay, Chagny, Rully, and Fragnes.
- 63km of road (D974) between the two, all of it canalside. Apart from the odd detour in a town it's wholly canalside and thanks to the nearby main road paralleling most of it should be none too busy. If you don't fancy it, check out EuroVelo6 which crosses the hills from Montchanin to Saint-Leger-sur-Dheune or try some of the roads signed as cycle route on the south side of the canal.
The Canal du Centre was opened in 1790 and joins the Canal Lateral a la Loire at Digoin to the River Saone. Both Chalon-sur-Saone and Digoin are accessible by train and a return between the two takes between two and three hours. Most places on the ride are on the line. Main settlements en-route are Digoin, Paray-le-Monial, Montceau-les-Mines, Chagny, Chalon-sur-Saône.
* The elegant canal aqueduct over the Loire at Digoin is a memorable start point. If you fancy a warm up, the Canal Latéral à la Loire which begins on the other side of the aqueduct offers a high quality tarmac towpath to Diou 20 km away.
* Just nearby is the ObservaLoire, a museum covering the River Loire and the three canals that start at Digoin.
* Digoin has a campsite, an aire de camping-car and hotels. There are plenty of shops and cafes and the marina's nice for a stroll. Canal cruises are on offer.
* Paray-le-Monial, a place of pilgrimage, is known especially for its basilica church. The voie verte passes the open spaces of the parc Moulin Liron here, a nice place for a picnic stop.
* Palinges. Nice little town with shops a campsite and swimming in the nearby lake.
* The Demarcation Line Museum, Genelard. All about the German occupation in the war. Set by the pretty canal basin there and near an impressive late Art Deco factory.
* Musée de la Mine de Blanzy. Exhibitions, underground visits (sometimes with a former miner as guide).
* Musée du Canal, Ecuisses. Located by one of the oldest locks on the canal.
* Shops, bars and restaurants, supermarket, aire de camping-car and other services all around the marina at Saint-Leger-sur-Dheune.
* Santenay. Lovely village renowned for its wine. Just off the canal heading for the town the Domaine Bonnardot offers tastings. In the town there is tasting at the cellars of Clos de Bellefond and also at the magnificent ancient château of Philip the Bold, a fourteenth century Duke of Bugundy. L'Etape de Santenay is a hotel, restaurant and cafe aimed very much at walkers and cyclists.
* Chagny. Small town renowned like many in the area for its wine. Tastings at Domaine de la Folie, about half a kilometre from the canal and before you reach the town.
* The Relais Vélo at Fragnes, half a kilometre from the route, has free air pump, bike washing and a range of facilkities at the marina there.
* Chalon-sur-Saone. Cathedral city on the rail line between Paris and the South of France. Historic centre and busy shops and markets. Various river trips on offer.The inventor Nicephore Niepce was here a couple of hundred years ago inventing photography, the internal combustion engine and the velocipede, an early bicycle. The greenway ends after the levee du Canal at tiny rue Francois Protheau.
Wine names to conjure with from this area of Burgundy, the Côte Chalonnaise, include Givry, Mercurey and Rully. To the north of the area is Beaune, to the south Maconnais. Cycling wine-lovers might like to leave this ride at Santenay to explore the 22km veloroute to Beaune or the 13km voie verte to medieval Nolay which crosses the Viaduc de Cormot and gives stunning views from it.
7. Canal de la Bruche: Strasbourg to Molsheim
Distance: 21km / 13 miles
From Strasbourg city centre an excellent network of cycle paths and lanes take you east and then alongside the River Ill to the junction with the Canal de la Bruche.
* Strasbourg has a high quality and extensive cycling network and cycle superhighways are planned. Automated bike hire. Secure storage and maintenance facilities at the railway station. Bikes can go on trams outside peak times. Almost traffic-free centre. Strasbourg is on some longer touring routes - the Rhine cycle route, the Marne-Rhine canal route and the Franco-German route to Lauterbourg.
* Dachstein has the remains of medieval fortifications, a former bishops' palace and a picturesque watermill.
* Molsheim. Typical and delightful historic Alsace town but with a modern twist - it's the home of the Bugatti family, the birthplace of the brand and headquarters of the company. Running north from Molsheim the well-surfaced railpath to Wasselonne and nearby Romanswiller runs through vineyards on the lower slopes of the Vosges with fine views and pretty villages. From about 1km before Molsheim, a railpath goes 10km to Malhenheim and there's also a signed route to lovely Obernai (rail return possible).
Route conditions: Like many Alsace bike routes, this is luxury cycling - good, smooth tarmac, well signed, well shaded, well organised at junctions and with any road sections usually being little different in practice to voie verte. There are delightful, flower-bedecked villages to visit and the option of a rail return. The canal, disused for many years, is very picturesque. The only thing to watch is that some sections are closed to cyclists at night.
8 The Anneau Bleu, Lyon: Pont de Crois Luizet, Villeurbanne (Lyon) to Jons
Distance: 20km / 12.5 miles one way – return via ViaRhona possible
Areas passed through: Villeurbanne,Decines-Charpieu, Meyzieu, Jonage, Jons
This ride is on the edge of Lyon, the first large city in France to offer public bike hire; the system now offering electric bikes as well as ‘push’ bikes and there are 540km of cycle network to get around on. There are bike dispensers near the bridge over the Canal de Jonage at Villeurbanne and Vaulx-en-Velin.
Lyon has other two-wheeled attractions - city tours by Segway, e-bike or Solex are available and it's a beautiful city with delightful Rhoneside rides and loads to see and do.
* The Grand Parc Miribel Jonage lies on the north side of the Canal de Jonage and has the ViaRhona cycle route (Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean) running through it and has plenty of attractions - watersports, tennis, golf, nature walks and a range of events.
* South of the canal and its lake and each a ride off the route, Jons is a small place but with shop, cafe, bar, bakery, restaurant etc. Jonage is bigger with more shops and then Meyzieu is even bigger with even more shops. Lastly comes Villeurbanne, a major suburb of Lyon.
* The hydro-electric power station spanning the canal was built at the end of the nineteenth century and still operates today.
* There are solar-powered boat cruises on the canal.
* Two well reviewed restaurants are near the water's edge on the south side of the lake, Au Grand Large offering 44 flavours of ice cream and Au Bord de l'Eau (it really is).
Route conditions: The Anneau Bleu is the name given to a range of developments and improvements to the area of lakes and canals north east of Lyon. One of these has been the development of a circular cycle route around the Canal de Jonage and its adjoining lake, Le Grand Large. The route is in what is already very much a leisure area and along the southern side are sailing clubs and the above-mentioned restaurants. The northern side, once you are away from the urban area, is country park. The ride is largely on crushed stone and gravel interspersed with long sections of quiet shared use road. Interpretation boards are frequent. If you've started out in Lyon you will probably have come alongside the river and may wish to return that way. If you come out on the ViaRhona and then do a circuit from the eastern and of the ride, a rail return is possible from nearby Montluel.
9. Canal de la Robine: Narbonne to Port-la-Nouvelle
Distance: 22km / 13.5 miles one way
The Canal de la Robine is a spur from the Canal du Midi through Narbonne and down to the coast.
The earliest part of this canal was prefigured by the ship channel built under Roman governor Agrippa. Officially named Canal de la Jonction it is popularly known as La Robine, and was built in part to bring drinking water to Narbonne.
* The canal is part of the Canal du Midi UNESCO World Heritage Site.
* Narbonne is one of the nicest cities you could wish to visit. Not only does it have a wide choice of museums, monuments and shops but an atmosphere of style and elegance with the canal at its centre.
* Ecluse de Mandirac. Good place to pause, watch the holiday boats going through the lock and admire the scenery.
* There are wine tastings at lots of vineyards in the area. Chateau Ricardelle on the outskirts of Narbonne is about 1km from the route. The Chateau Bel Eveque vineyard is on the north side of the Etang de l'Ayrolle around 6km off the route.
* The Etang de l'Ayrolle. Huge lake between the canal and the sea. Salt pans and piles of sea salt make it a distinctive landscape.
* Ile Sainte Lucie is a nature reserve with a huge variety of birdlife including flamingos.
* Port-la-Nouvelle. Commercial port but away from that are wonderful beaches with nearby bars ands cafes and also a busy fishing port.
* A further supply of nice beach is to be had by leaving the canal at the Ecluse de Mandirac and heading towards Gruissan and up the coast to Narbonne-Plage.
Route conditions: The towpath is composed largely of smooth, compacted sand and grit. It can be a bit rough in places between Narbonne and Mandirac but is generally good. There are hardly any road crossings. From the path you get some great views over the lake and countryside and your surroundings are full of interest. Once away from Narbonne, there's little shade and it's as well to have water with you. Windy days tend to be very windy. Eating opportunities aplenty around both ends of the ride but little in between. Train return to Narbonne is possible from Port-la-Nouvelle - the line runs alongside the canal.
10. Rhône to Sète Canal: Gallician to Sète
Distance: 62km / 38.5 miles one way – return possible via the ViaRhona route.
Main settlements passed through or nearby: Aigues-Mortes, La Grande-Motte, Montpellier (24 km return trip diversion up the River Lez ), Villeneuve-les-Maguelone, Frontignan, Sète.
Different to other rides here as the Rhône – Sète Canal is not officially recognised as a cycle path, though there is a broad, if bumpy track along much of its length, though the long term plan seems to be to develop it as part of the Via Rhona (an interim parallel route on minor roads and tracks is advised by ViaRhona). See below for advice on route condition. This canal joined up several smaller canals linking up the coastal lagoons, some dating back to Louis IX in the 14th century but there is still much evidence of life today, from wildlife including flamingoes to the atmospheric fishermans huts and boats.
* Aigues- Mortes means ‘dead waters’ reflecting the fact it was originally intended as a harbour that silted up.
* Maguelone cathedral, south of Montpellier, is an 11th century building on an isthmus next to the canal.
* Montpellier is a 24km / 15 mile return trip from the canal (either via the D21-side cycle lanes or tracks and small roads alongside the river Lez, approaching he city’s beautiful centre via the striking modern area known as the Antigone (just following the central traffic-free east-west ‘axis’ here).
* Several jolly seaside resorts lie just to the south of the canal, including La Grande Motte, Carnon-Plage and Palavas-les-Flots.
* Sète is a unique city of ancient canals and is known as the Venice of Languedoc. There are great views from the top of Mont St-Clair. Add to this a fine corniche, lovely beaches, canal side bars and fine seafood restaurants and you have a truly grand finale to your ride.
Route conditions: If you have a mountain bike or hybrid with nice wide tyres this is a fascinating ride in dry weather (rather sticky in the wet). Front suspension will help smooth the ride but is not essential on much of the route, though the section from Gallician to Aigues-Mortes section has been improved and is now up to voie-verte standard. The towpath follows the south bank of the canal, though sometimes there are also roads or tracks on the north bank, but these are not continuous. West of Sète you can join the Canal du Midi.
About the Author
Richard Peace is the author of the official English-language guidebook to the Veloscenie Paris-Mont-Saint Michel bike route and the Sustrans guide to the London-Paris Avenue Verte. He also contributes to A to B magazine, Bike Europe and Eurobike Show Daily.