I cycled the South West Coast of France from a village north of La Rochelle down to Dax in August 2004. I enjoyed great weather and some of the best cycle lanes on the planet; perfect if you’re planning cycling in South West France – particularly with young children. What more could a cyclist ask for?
All ready to go… Front and rear panpack panniers, a Jack Wolfskin bike ‘n’ hike tent (with a broken pole) and a Vaude handlebar bag. The bike itself is 20kg of Main d’or, a hand-made Belgian frame.
Great cycling across the marshy area to the North of La Rochelle. There are many canals and quiet cycle lanes running parallel to them. A bit of gravel but nothing too difficult.
One of the first of many ferries on my journey from La Rochelle to the island of Oleron. The only problem being that although the ferry does takes bikes, you have to take all your equipment off and the carry it up and down steps… not easy.
Oleron is a wonderfully quiet island with great cycle tracks.
Further south the quality of the cyclepaths improved, as did the weather.
The campsite that I stayed at cost 10 euros and was clean and pleasant and a stone’s throw from the beach. Early morning cycling along the coast, hardly anyone about.
The ferry from Royan was excellent and I was soon heading south again on the southern side of the Gironde. I cycled through a nudist area where half the population were cycling around naked. Quite an, er, uplifting experience.
It is a great experience to see cycling treated with the respect it deserves. I cycled for hours without seeing a car. There were also plenty of footpaths for pedestrians so it was rare that walkers were on the cyclepaths.
This is a small remaining section of the original paths, built by the Germans in the Second World War for their motorbike messengers to race between the pillboxes which can still be seen along the coast. In recent years the French authorities have widened the paths and covered them in tarmac. Now a superb cycling experience.
Can you smell the pine needles?
Travel in style! You don’t HAVE to take a car to go to the beach.
While the paths are superb, the signposting is dreadful. Here are 13 different coloured trails but where are the markings? It was not easy to follow at all and it was easier to follow the sun.
Waiting for the ferry over to Arcachon. The poles you can see in the background are for oysters as this part of France is one of the major oyster-producing regions. I had a student whose wife ate 400 oysters in one weekend.
The ferry to Arcachon. Once again, a precarious climb down some wet steps to the ferry, bike in one hand and panniers in the other.
The road of South of Arcachon. It was quite a shock to be back in traffic and I was very glad to escape back onto the cycle tracks. I stopped to take this picture – the biggest sand dune in the world.
Not nice to be next to the road but good to be separated from the cars by a fence.
What is the point of these bollards? Someone in this town doesn’t seem to like cyclists.
STOP and STOP again twenty metres ahead – priority goes to boxes of steel filling up with fossil fuels.
I cycled down to Mimizan and who should I meet there, but my old juggling partner, Captain Mickey and his wife Sylvie. Thanks to them both for a great dinner – but no thanks to the mad neighbours who strangely didn’t like Mickey’s guitar playing.
Look at those waves! They were so big that swimming – and even paddling – was banned that day. About 10 people die on this coast every year and the lifeguards work hard to keep people safe.
A final shot of my bike on the probably the best cyclepaths I have ever ridden on. The black tarmac, then the brown pine needles, the green grass, the purple of the heather – what a joy.
Want to see more of my cycling trips?
Holland Germany Denmark South West Coast of France Col du Somport Cycling in the Western Pyrenees Cycling in the Spanish Pyrenees Cycling over the Pyrenees