From Lacanau-Océan to Morlaix
June 4 to 15, 2018
1. La Vélodyssée (VD) in France officially runs from Roscoff to Hendaye, from north to south through Brittany, La Vendée and from La Rochelle on along the Atlantic Ocean. It is part of the European cycling route Euro Velo 1 (EV1) which runs from Bergen in Norway to Sagres, the southwestern tip of Portugal.
2. The VD was named European Cycle Route of the year in 2013 by the Dutch Cycling and Hiking Fair and in 2017 by its French counterpart.
3. We decided to cycle the end between Lacanau-Océan to Roscoff, about 850 km. Then to continue on the “Tour de la Manche” or Channel route (part of the EV4) along the coast to Ouistreham and to start from there La Vélo Francette (VF).
In other words making a tour starting and ending in Bordeaux along the Atlantic coast through Brittany (VD) and return via Normandy (VF).
4. As the wind direction along the French coast – as in Belgium – is predominantly south to southwest, we decided to start with the VD because the route follows the coast closer and is more exposed to the wind. This proved to be a good decision!
5. Last year we already cycled a small part of the VD between Cap Ferret (near Arcachon) to “La Dune de l’Amour”. Besides idyllic names, the VD seemed very promising as well then for its cycling through wooded dunes on traffic free trails, along the coast and more or less flat. What else do you want from a cycling route?
6. We downloaded GPS-routes from http://www.lavelodyssee.com, always useful. And we used a Dutch guidebook.
7. We cycle on Koga Worldtraveller, 40 mm tubes and only back panniers. No tent, just a “bug bivy” from Outdoor Research to have bug free siestas! With picnic and 2 bottles of water about 10-12 kg of packing. Very good bikes!! (totally convinced, now after 4500 km)
8. Per day we will mention distance, moving time or time in the saddle and ascent. (When flat or as good as, we mention nothing)
Day 1: From Bordeaux to LACANAU-OCEAN. 71 km, 3h 35 min
Note that on arrival in the railway station of St. Jean in Bordeaux there is no escalator nor lift to bring you from the platform to the higher-level station exit. And when seeing packed touring bikes, everybody is staring even more intensively at their smartphone screens.
Have a quick look around when outside the station: you can see almost immediately and about 50 meters north, green bicycle signs. Find and follow the correct one: the EV3 brings you also to Norway but via Paris, Royan is wrong because it goes via Blaye, Sète brings you to the Canal du Midi…! Our destination is “Lacanau-Océan” or EV1 or the symbol for the VD.
You first follow the majestic setting of the Garonne in Bordeaux. The route then takes you along Le Lac de Bordeaux with beautiful sports facilities on your right side. It continues – albeit on good bike paths and well-marked – for a hellish stretch, above, along, up and under exits and entries of ring roads and expressways and this till Bruges.
From Eysines onwards you can relax and start to breathe. A former rail road brings you then very pleasantly through pine forest to Lacanau and Lacanau-Océan.
Lacanau-Océan is of somewhat faded glory and at the beginning of June still not seeming to go into working mode. A pity because it is lying prettily at the Atlantic coast!
We found a place to sleep in the Best Western Golf Hotel for 131 € with breakfast (wbf). To reach the hotel you have to cycle back a bit direction Lacanau; the signs are clearly meant for motorists, not for cyclists… But the location is in beautiful forest and golf terrain and therefore rooms and terraces are overlooking tranquil greenery. But rather strange that the hotel prides itself on its designer rooms – especially its bathrooms; we thought they were rather hilarious…
Day 2: From Lacanau-Océan to ROYAN: 86 km (to the port of Verdon-Sur-Mer), 4h 33 min. 360 m climbing.
The route starts again between Le Huga and Le Moutchic. A wonderful day of cycling, first on car-free paths to Carcans-Plage but with some snappy climbs. From Carcans-Plage to just before Montalivet we follow a service road of the forest management which is this time of year virtually traffic free; from Montalivet to the ferry again car free.
You bike all day over dunes keeping the ocean at bay, through forest and heath lands , along thin soils with little or no arable farmland and especially: alone. Hard to believe that 30 km to the east you find the most famous domains of Margaux, Pauillac and other Médoc “appellations”!
We had lunch in Montalivet-les-Bains, a backwater of little charm. Soulac-sur-Mer has then retained better its original character with cute little Belle Epoque villas, a rather pleasant pedestrian shopping city center and with a very imposing church for such a small town.
The ferry to Royan across the Gironde estuary goes every hour and a half off season; 5 € per person (pp), bicycle for free, tickets to be bought 45 min before departure. Transfer time: 30 minutes. Coffee while waiting in Brasserie du Port or Brasserie du Phare .
In Royan, we spent the night in Hotel Foncillon, an Interhotel; 90 € wbf. Good. As it was raining we didn’t feel like looking any further …! But there is a much better and full of character choice at hand! You either go south towards the beach of Royan or a bit further along the coast rounding “the bunker” of Royan direction Vaux-sur-Mer to old style class like Hotel Miramar or Hotel Bellevue. Another 5 km and you have the splendid St-Palais-sur-Mer with two beautiful Logis de France (LdF): Hotel de la Plage (we stayed there on our way back) or in Hotel Villa Ouest.
Also, Royan as a city didn’t impress at first but it turned out to be very attractive with the beach as deserved centerpiece! Certainly worth an evening stroll or ride!
We had a delicious dinner in Le Petit Bouchon in the port of Royan. Fish and wonderfully French!! Reservation recommended!
Day 3: From Royan to ROCHEFORT: 87 km, 4 h 52 min, 281 m ascent.
Vaux-sur-Mer and St-Palais-sur-Mer are nice places, but La Palmyra maybe even more so because of its location. Also, the route is brilliant on car-free and newly paved paths alternating through forest (still look out for tree roots, though!) and along the coast. This through le fôret de la Coubre all the way to Ronce-les-Bains where you have to cross the high bridge over the Seudre towards Marennes.
We had picnic at le Château La Gataudière that advertises itself for all kinds of extreme sport activities and le Château Fort-de-Saint-Jean-d’Angle for “loisirs médiévals” whereby I imagine that besides shuffleboard and longbow shooting, also alive skinning and burning witches are on the program…
From the castle on the route becomes bumpy (“route deformée”) and it remains so through le Marais de Brouage. You can spot a lot of waterfowl, but also prehistoric looking cattle with distinctive features; apparently species that feel comfortable on rough grazing lands.
The route continues unpaved but smooth along the Canal de la Charente à la Seudre and further across the Charente, making an eastern turn before going through Tonnay-Charente and a last stressful stretch along a busy road before arriving in Rochefort.
Note that in St.-Agnant while still along the canal you can avoid this whole detour by going north. So, after you’ve gone under the D733, you leave the canal immediately (go on avenue du Canal de la Bridoire, cross the canal, then to the right in Rue de la Stade) and make your way through Echillais. You continue to go north until you reach the Charente and next to the imposing D733 bridge over the Charente you can take the ferry. (in all 2-3 km from the canal to the river Charente). When coming from the north, you disregard “la gare” (of Rochefort) and continue along the Charente to reach the ferry pier.
After the crossing you arrive in Soubise where you can still choose to enter Rochefort or go straight and directly to Vergeroux. We stayed in Rochefort but were not smitten by the city.
In Rochefort we stayed at Hotel Rocafortis for 92 €, wbf. Good! And we had a delicious dinner in the family run fish restaurant O’Gabier on Quai de Tonkin.
Day 4: From Rochefort to LA TRANCHE SUR MER: 117 km, 6h 31, 211 m climbing.
Note that there is a new and fully marked cycle route starting from Rochefort (actually île d’Aix): La Flow Vélo. It ends 290 km further in Thiviers in Dordogne-Périgord. (In 2019, it will continue to Périgueux))
You will need some searching to get out of Rochefort and again along some busy roads. But from Vergeroux on, it is again pleasant cycling and this until the discovery of the day: Châtelaillon-Plage!
This is for us one of the most beautiful places along the Atlantic coast! It starts already with the world’s most beautifully located hair salon: Chez Olivia. (and across from there fish restaurant Le Poseidon).
Don’t follow the VD over the bridge but continue cycling along the traffic free beach lined with charming 19th century houses. (Note: It was Thursday June 7 and very quiet…). If you want to overnight, it is probably more authentic to stay in the smaller hotels like Hotel Clarion Les Flots and Hotel Les Goélands, both along the beach.
The route continues with an impressive arrival in La Rochelle on the Quai Simenon and the Avenue de Mulhouse with fine views of the old port. Walkers and bikers get priority in La Rochelle, the city therefore got immediately our sympathy!
We chose a terrace on the other side of the Office de Tourisme for what was once typical Belgian fare: mussels with French (!) fries. La Rochelle is certainly a town where you can while away an evening, but therefore quite busy! (On the return we stayed the night, see VF).
After the coffee we continued along the canal La Rochelle to Marans on which runs also La Vélo Francette until Port de Marans (where with hindsight we should have stayed for the night). In Marans the VD and the VF split: we followed Le Canal Maritime after which the route goes on open fields/marshland for quite a few kilometers. Coping with a strong head wind we arrived in St.-Michel-de l’Herm where the only Hotel (St Michel) was closed.
Still being in the interior you anyhow better continue a few more kilometers further to the more beautiful seaside town – passing la Faute-Sur-Mer where you are anyhow wrong – of La Tranche-sur-Mer with a pretty car-free center.
We stayed at Hotel les Dunes for €94 wbf. Good. Alternative: Hotel de la Mer (LdF) just before La Tranche. We had dinner in Equinoxe on a beautiful terrace at the beach, nice but rather pricey and a bit snotty. There are still more restaurants but in the town center.
Day 5: From La-Tranche-sur-Mer to ST.- JEAN-DE-MONTS: 103.7 km, 370 m climbing, 5h 45 min.
Note that from Marans on the VD runs together now with the “La Vendée à Vélo” route. You will mainly see indications for the latter and this with green paint. So, green paint on the ground means most you are probably right! So much for integration with the Eurovelo route…
Today you pass two magnificent stretches through marshland: after Jard-sur-Mer and after Olonne-sur-Mer. And two wonderfully smooth pieces on well-pressed gravel road with a thin layer of sand on top, ensuring almost friction free (?) runs from les Sables- d’Olonne to Olonne-sur-Mer and from Brem-sur-Mer to Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie. But often with a little climb to earn your dessert after dinner…!
Lunch or coffee (tea or ice cream) recommended in the somewhat mundane but delightful Les-Sables-d’Olonne: The boulevards along the beach (promenade Clemenceau & Lafargue) have plenty of choice! Or go for more “couleur locale” near the marina, north of these boulevards! Actually, Les-Sables-d’Olonne deserves a stay for the night!
From Saint-Gilles on the ride goes along the wonderful coast.We stayed at LdF Hotel l’Espadon for €114 wbf in St.- Jean-des-Monts, not an irresistible place but along the pleasant high coastal road between Sion-sur-Mer and Barre-de-Monts.
Dinner in Bar des Moules on a nice terrace with unique – tacky? – chairs. But ok food; here we had “Bouchots” mussels, in La Rochelle “Cordes”.
Dag 6: St-Jean-des-Mountains to PORNIC : 85 km, 4h 47 min, 297 m ascent.
Note: If you want to take “le passage du Gois” which is only possible at low tide, best to jump in the Office de Tourisme to know the times of the tides!
Till La-Barre-des-Monts we start the day on unsurfaced roads but again, better than any hardened surface and cruising through woods and dunes. From La Barre on you also get better and more indications as the VD runs together with the Vélocéan!
Before St. Urbain you should follow Beauvoir-Sur-Mer as indication to avoid Gois!
From Port du Bec onwards you bike in open country, potentially hard when headwind. And this all the way to Les-Moutiers-en Retz. Good to know though that along the route there are some very appealing restaurants (it was Saturday and lunch time when we passed; the car parks were pretty full!) Le Mord’eau in Port Bec, l’Ecume Gourmande in Bouin, La Maison de L’Eclusier and le FabRic in Port du Collet… Remember: this is oyster and fruits de mer country!
From La Joselière the route stays “high” between residential building blocks and gardens but at crossroads on your left you see inviting glimpses of the sea. When the legs are feeling strong today, cycle down and have a look!
After rounding the Pointe de Gourmalon, you suddenly see glorious Portic in front of you. Unexpectedly! A beautiful marina (at high tide even more so!) with a picturesque town behind.
We stayed the night in Hotel Bellevue, 114 € wbf. Had dinner in next-door l’Ana Gram (looks like a coffee shop but has surprisingly good food!). For a more luxurious setting: restaurant Le Chateau on the Beach du Chateau. Don’t forget ice cream from La Fraiserie!
Day 7: Pornic to NANTES: 92 km, 5h 12 min, 409 m climbing.
The day starts with a nice stretch passing St. Michel-Chef-Chef (the name giver stuttered when declaring the name) and St-Brevin-l’Océan. Then comes an annoying bit in St.-Brevin-les-Pins because of the numerous…speed bumps!
The view of St.Nazaire and the decayed industry buildings next to it make you speed up all the way to Paimbœf. There is a must stop here at the authentic Café de la Loire, for lunch or coffee!
The Canal de la Martinière brings you further to the suburbs of Nantes where, also unexpectedly, there is some climbing work to do! A boring piece brings you to Nantes, but again a surprisingly different city!
Amongst other things Nantes experiments with giving priority to cyclists in traffic. You may find yourself all of a sudden cycling in the middle of the street with cars along your side but at the side of the road …. We didn’t stay long enough to have our brain rebooted to this new reality. We hope that Nantais drivers’ brains are already used to it!
We slept very basically in Interhotel Novella for €61 wobf but had a very tasty and delightful dinner in Le Patio, Rue Emery. Highly recommended!
Day 8: Rainy day: Stayed in La-Chappelle-Sur-Erdre: 11 km further…
As we wrote in our report on the Canal Du Midi: once on the bike you want to stay on the bike! It is hard to leave the quiet and peace of the cycle paths for the noise and hectic of the cities. Certainly, when the trails are that car-free and wonderful as those of the VD!
But that day we would have been better off with an umbrella visiting Nantes on foot!
It started pouring late morning and this until late afternoon! We found and were allowed shelter in the lobby of the B&B Hotel In La Chapelle-Sur-Erdre. We were offered all leftover croissants from breakfast. Unfortunately, the hotel was fully booked that night.
We could stay a bit further in the Best Western where we could park our bikes in ……the luggage room!! The most luxurious stable for our fiery steeds so far!
Day 9: From La-Chappelle-Sur-Erdre to REDON: 93 km, 5h 11 min, 234 m climbing.
Sucé-Sur-Erdre is a cute village with a beautiful marina; almost a village where one would like to retire…! A bit further passed Sucé you start to follow “le Canal de Nantes à Brest” and this for the next 300 km. Blissfully quiet and pleasant, unpaved but easy to ride and well maintained!
This canal is not a long waterway what you associate normally with it. It is rather a series of rivers, streams and canals that through an incredible amount of locks connects Brest with Nantes.
It had rained a lot the day before we passed and the river next to the channel, l’Isac was flooding outside its banks, running into the canal. After Blain we dared a few times to cycle through the water. On second thought this was possibly risky… (there was no marking and still no “route barrée”; if there had been, we may still have continued.. ! See “preliminary” in VF report!)
Along the canal there are not many facilities and probably it was still too early in the season, so the few restaurants there are were still closed.
When in need of anything you have to leave the canal in Blain or Guenrouet.
We stayed in Hotel Queen Serenity for €78 wb. Good. Each room has a different theme. We slept in the “Cosmos ” room with a picture of our solar system on the wall.
We had dinner in La Cuillière en Bois; very French with “la patronne dans la salle et le patron dans son cuisine”, the owner in the kitchen and his wife in the restaurant. The wine was also good and plenty: the planets in our room were spinning that night….!
Day 10: From Redon to PONTIVY: 117 km, 6h 30 min, 211 m climbing, 176 descent.
From Redon on the route becomes even more beautiful! Have a break at l’île des Piés: this looks like an attractive place for abseiling. And with also a nice café! Malestroit: is a fine town and an ideal picnic place. Josselin: “Un des plus beaux villages” and worth a visit (can be busy!)
We should have stayed in Rohan, a lovely “petit hameau” with B&B Villa Tranquility idyllically located on the canal! Note that the distance indications before Rohan are seriously wrong: instead of the 17 km as stated in Josselin we did wayyy more!
We continued and climbed to Saint-Gérand where you reach the highest point of the channel. It makes for pleasant cycling along beautiful locks and through dense woods. And a nice descent to Pontivy. But this city is a bit of a bummer, missing the right vibe…
We slept in Hotel du Chateau (bicycles parked outside in the courtyard) for 114 € wbf. And we chose a wrong restaurant.
Day 11: From Pontivy to CARHAIX-PLOUGUER. 92 km, 5h 22 min, 402m climbing, 321m down.
We started the day with a steep climb on le Mǔr-de-Bretagne (as a warmup for the Tour de France a month later…) followed by an indescribable wonderful stretch on a former railroad along le Lac de Guerlédan and arriving at the abbey of Au Bon Repos, the appropriate name for a fantastic resting place! And: apparently the abbey has also dorms!
Then further on to Carhaix-Plouguer. Note that the distance indications for Carhaix are hilarious: the more you cycle the further the city remains …
The scenery along the route remains nice but you need to climb a bit to Glomel after which the road changes to hardened surface; it better had stayed unsurfaced! Note that after Gouarec – with campground and café – there are again few facilities along the canal. According to our guidebook, there should be a creperie somewhere between Glomel and Gouarec… But the tastiest pancakes and plenty of them in Normandy and in Brittany are anyway served with breakfast!
A last push to arrive in Carhaix-Plouguer. The city is seen as the capital of the Breton language. Long before the city, the canal gets its Breton name: Kanol Naoned – Brest. Most trivial and obvious things suddenly get all a sign in Breton…
In Carhaix we slept in Hotel Noz Vad, good night, for €97 wbf (and with pancakes). For a change we had couscous that evening in La Brasserie. Good!
Day 12: From Carhaix-Plouguer to MORLAIX 50 km, 2h 54 min and 296 m climbing, 382 m down.
Once outside Carhaix it is not that easy to find the route (Note that the Office de Tourisme has a map of Carhaix with all Voies Vertes around the city and indicating clearly where to pick up the VD again). You basically have to follow the D787, after DS Smith Packaging Brittany (on your left) go right at the roundabout. After 150 meters take the small street to the left. This becomes soon an unpaved former railway road.
To Lacmaria station you follow a washed away and unpaved dirt road carved with tractor tracks – and slightly climbing. Where it starts to descend the road becomes smooth and you find yourself racing to Morlaix! Another 30 km would have brought us to Roscoff.
We decided not to follow the Tour de la Manche or Channel Route that is part of the EV4 to bring us to Ouistreham from where to start La Vélo Francette (see our VF report). As we were a bit late already according to our planning due to poor weather, we were afraid of not having enough time to finish La Vélo Francette. So, instead we took the train in Morlaix – a very steep climb to get there! – to Caen via Rennes. But the EV4 remains high on our to do list!
CONCLUSIONS LA VELODYSSEE:
1. A wonderful route: for 80% traffic free, quiet, peaceful trails, idyllic scenery, varied with dunes, woods, sea and canals. What else can you wish for?
2. If ever you’d have to convince somebody how nice biking really can be – does such a person exist? – or if you want to convince somebody of biking again and getting on an e-bike, the following amazing stretches should do the job:
a. bike from Cap Ferret to Royan and to Palmyra (La Tremblade)!
b. bike from les Sables d’Olonne to Olonne-Sur-Mer and from Brem-Sur-Mer to Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie
c. bike from Sucé-Sur-Erdre to Roscoff, being the whole of the Canal Nantes to Brest
3. Places where we would probably overnight if doing it again:
1. Starting in Cap Ferret to connect with the VD in les Dunes de l’Amour – about 30 km north of Cap Ferret; this after a day visiting Arcachon (reachable by train) and Dune de Pilat, ferry to Cap Ferret in the evening. Or stay the evening in Pyla-Sur-Mer and in the morning ferry to Cap Ferret
2. To Royan (alternative: Vaux-sur-Mer of St. Palais-sur-Mer)
3. To Châtelaillon-Plage
4. To Port de Marans (about 1 km from the route in Marans, follow the VF)
5. To les Sables d’Olonne
6. To Pornic
7. To Nantes (alternative: Sucé-Sur-Erdre)
8. To Guenrouet (check out B&B Ty Canal d’or)
9. To Malestroit
10. To Rohan (visit Josselin! Alternative: sleep there)
11. To Saint-Gelven: Abbaye de Bon Repos
12. To Berrien (rooms in La Maison des Marquisards) or Huelgoat (Hotel du Lac): both 1-2 Km away from the route! So not need to stay in Carhaix-Plouguer
13. To Roscoff
4. Some nice tours: when you look on afv3.org : les grandes itinéraires vélotouristiques de France then you can make wonderful loops through the West of France without really being dependent on public or private transport! And this just by making connections between La Vélodyssée, La Vélo Francette, La Loire à Vélo, La Véloscénie (from Paris to St.Malo), La Flow Vélo, EV4 Tour de la Manche, etc…