Route: Roscoff – Nantes – Noirmoutier – La Rochelle – Royan – Biarritz – Hendaye – Deba – Bilbao
Date: August to September 2016
Distance: 1,081 miles
In the summer of 2016 Joe and I completed the ‘VeloOdyssey’ route the length of France to the Spanish border. This is a flattish, off-road path from Roscoff (a channel port to the west of St Malo) to the Spanish border at Hendaye. It forms part of the excellent ‘Eurovelo’ route network – details of which can be found on the links page.
This is Joe with the route we took. We travelled from north to south. From Roscoff to Nantes the route mostly follows the Nantes-Brest canal, after which we rode along the Loire estuary to the coast. The route then keeps to the coast for the rest of the way, with a ferry crossing needed to get over the Gironde estuary near Bordeaux.
Although it is advertised as being 750 miles long, we clocked up something like 968 miles by the time we reached the border and then put on a few more miles in the Basque country to take the total past 1000 miles before getting the ferry home from Bilbao. Joe was 12 and not much of a cyclist before we left, but was a lot fitter by the time we returned. We took it gently at first and slowly built up from 15 miles a day to over 40 miles a day by the end. We travelled in a pattern of cycling for three days, then resting on the fourth day. We also took a week’s holiday on Noirmoutier, spent four days with friends near Bordeaux and had a few other extra breaks when we found somewhere we liked. Because of this we didn’t reach Spain until 54 days after we left Roscoff, though I know that the route can be done in as little as ten days.
At the start of the trip we drove to Plymouth and left our car at a caravan storage place there, then continued as bike-riding foot passengers on the ferry to Roscoff. Two months later the overnight Bilbao ferry returned us to Plymouth and our car once more.
The Nantes-Brest canal tow path features a lot of these pretty lock-keeper’s cottages. You can see our bikes and luggage set-up in this photo. We travelled on our hard-tail aluminium mountain bikes with slick tyres. I pulled a BOB trailer containing the camping gear and also had two front panniers plus a bar bag. Joe’s contribution was to tote a bar bag with a teddy and a pack of cards in it, though he gathered a lot of other rubbish in it by the end.
We took a Berghaus 3 man tent which wasn’t too bad for a touring tent at 2.9kg. It had an enormous porch that we could store the trailer and all the gear in on the rare occasions it rained. As we hadn’t done this before, I was very conscious of the need to make sure Joe enjoyed it and taking a spacious tent was all part of that plan.
We wild-camped a bit, but not anywhere near as much as I thought we would. The campsites were abundant and at between 5-10 Euros for both of us, were stupidly cheap. At that price it seemed obvious to use the facilities and have a shower, use a proper toilet and so on. It also gave Joe the chance to find playmates and me other English-speaking adults to talk to.
We camped outside an abandoned railway station when the path followed the old track bed.
The Nantes-Brest canal tow path. We left the UK on the 1st of August so were glad of the shade from the trees along the way.
We visited the amazing steampunk animatronic elephant in Nantes.
The even more amazing puddings from the all-you-can-eat buffet we encountered along the way. I suspect the restaurant may regret chosing this mode of dining so close to a major cycle route.
We spent one night camped in a kindly old lady’s garden but mostly we were in campsites. This is Joe on a rest-day.
A couple of times we stayed at fancy campsites…..
The weather was wonderful and path was very good – safe, off-road, flat and a delight to ride.
It was also very well signposted in all but the city-centre areas, where it was easy to lose your way.
….and drank like heroes…
We cycled through some amazing landscapes….
…and had some unforgettable experiences… here Joe is waiting for the sea to recede before we could cycle across to Noirmoutier on the tidal causeway,
….crossing the Pont de la Fosse….
…visiting the seriously creepy vintage animatronics museum in La Rochelle….
….waiting to embark the ferry across the Gironde….
…or visiting Europe’s highest sand dune.
When we reached the end and saw Spain across the river from Hendaye, Joe was incredibly proud of himself and I think felt a real sense of achievement at what he had done.
We carried on into Spain with the intention of cycling to Bilbao to catch the ferry home, but once we lost the safety of the Velodyssey path we encountered some terrifying Spanish roads and I had to put us on the train a couple of times. Having cycled every inch of the length of France I was prepared to compromise on Spain. We had a few days in the Basque country but it was horribly hilly and seriously hard work. It was very beautiful though!
And yes – we really did do the whole thing wearing only crocs on our feet – they were only footwear we took with us.