“Stop! Stop!” We haven’t made it 5 minutes before I’m slamming on the breaks and testing out my poorly balanced and rushed setup’s capability in dealing with sudden stops. Ollie finds a metal coil in the road and is convinced that it has sprung off my bike. She swears it fell off, but we can’t identify it. We spend a couple of minutes checking over my setup, without really knowing what we’re looking for. A giant spring-shaped hole maybe? We shrug it off and make for Tonbridge train station. Lesson one, know your bike!
This was to be our first bike tour. The route chosen would take us from St Malo to Béziers via the Loire, Canal Latéral de la Garonne and Canal du Midi, passing through the regions of Brittany, Pays de la Loire, Aquitaine, Midi Pyrénées and Languedoc-Roussillon. We decided to camp along the way to save cash and mainly eat delicate French pastries.We had not ever attempted a ‘longish’ bike ride before, let alone we hadn’t done any training.
We found that there was a lack of easily accessible information out there for a trip such as this through France, so we promised that we would make the effort to write something if we made it. So, if you’re planning your first bike tour of France and looking for a bicycle route from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, here is our coast to coast break down.
After we decided the mystery spring was no bother we jumped on our train and headed for Portsmouth. We had booked an overnight ferry with Brittany Ferry Company for a reasonable 78 Euros for two, so after rolling onto a ferry amongst fellow cyclists and bikers we settled in for our crossing and an uncomfortable night’s sleep on the floor.
Journey: St Malo to St Médard-sur-Ille
Time Taken (Including stops): 5hr 45mins
Route : St Malo, Château Malo, St Père, St Guinoux, Plerguer, Le Tronchet, Lanhelin, Combourg, Lanrigan, Dingé, Montreuil-sur-Ille
Accommodation and cost for two: Aire Naturelle De Camping (By the canal path) – 3€
As a first day of cycling, this was a gentle introduction. Taking in some of the iconic Breton slate roofed houses as well as getting lucky with the weather, we rolled down flat and long roads for most of the journey. Hitting our first canal at Montreuil-sur-Ille, we set up camp for the first time and sourced some beer and sandwich provisions from the small lifeless town.
Journey: St Médard-sur-Ille – Marcillé-Robert
Time Taken (Including stops): 8hr 45Mins
Route : Chevaigné, St Grégoire, Rennes, Chantepie, La Faroulais, Domloup, Châteaugiron, Piré-sur-Seiche, Boistrudin, Marcillé-Robert
Accommodation and cost for two: Camping municipal de l’étang – €8.15
Feeling cocky, we decided to push further than planned and pass through Rennes, but a broken chain in the middle of nowhere delayed us for some time. Finding our way into Rennes was simple enough, and after a quick stop at a bike mechanic on the outskirts of town to check out my cassette, we hit the ‘Old town’ for a well deserved lunch amongst the medieval buildings that loom over the cobbled streets below. Bellies full of the ‘plat du jour’ we left the city by the back roads and took in some ‘middle of nowhere sights’ on the way to Châteaugiron. After a fizzy pop we push on through to Marcillé-Robert, where an enormous hill and closed shops await us as a reward. Luckily, Ollie sources a couple of beers from a fellow camper and we settle in to another evening in the tent by a picturesque lake.
Journey: Marcillé-Robert –Le Lion D’Angers
Time Taken (Including stops): 5hr20Mins
Route : Visseiche, La Guerche de Bretagne, La Roë, Ballots, Craon, Pommerieux, Ampoigné, Chemazé, St Martin du Bois, Le Lion D’Angers
Accommodation and cost for two: Camping Les Frênes – €9.15
This was a tough day, with the D25 kicking our butts as it took us up and down in a flat straight line towards Craon. After a longer-than-planned lunch break, we headed on our route through the countryside, passing through a variety of quiet towns. Quiet being an understatement. No one there at all. No shops open. No refreshment available. And it was a seriously hot day. As I was about to lose my mind, we found a bar open in St Martin du Bois for an ‘English sized beer’ before pushing on to camp by the river in Le Lion D’Angers. Just as we had showered and were about to set out for dinner a manic French man shouts for help by the river. Being led off, into the shrubbery with this stranger, we come across a heavy set French lady in her 60’s with a small dog, who has slipped down the 6ft bank and become stuck in the river. Just when I thought my back couldn’t take any more for one day…
Journey: Le Lion D’Angers – St-Mathurin-Sur-Loire
Time Taken (Including stops): 4hrs
Route : Grez-Neuville, Cantenay-Épinard, Montreuil-Juigné, Avrillé, Angers, La Daguenière, La Boholle, St-Mathurin-sur-Loire
Accommodation and cost for two: Chambre d’Hôtes – €70
A frustrating start to the day, dealing with road closures and poor quality city roads. France is an amazing country to cycle through, but Angers needs to catch up. Finally making it out of the city alive despite the best efforts of the traffic, we see the Loire for the first time. But as we roll into St-Mathurin-sur-Loire, so does the thunder storm we had been promised. Feeling like we had earned it and not wanting to get washed away in our tent, we took up for a night in a Chambre d’Hôtes with views out over the Loire. Very fancy stuff for us, but it had been a long few days.
Journey: St-Mathurin-sur-Loire – Saumur
Time Taken (Including stops): 2hrs
Route: Along the Loire…
Accommodation and cost for two: Hotel L’Écuyer– €49
After a day of rest in the fancy Chambre D’Hôtes due to illness and weather, we headed to Saumur, along the Loire. The weather was pretty rough, but abated long enough for us to make it there. My first and only fall happened in Saumur, but nothing serious. Feeling unwell still, Ollie checked us into a budget hotel by the station, so we could get the early train to Bordeaux the next morning. The taste of the delicious croissants and home-made preserve breakfast at the lovely chambre d’hôtes was a distant memory when we bedded down in that budget place for the night. Saumur however, is a beautiful place. Ollie made time to sample some of the wine it is famous for.
This is part one of our trip. If you would like to see the second part of the trip, along the Canals Midi and Garonne, then it will be following soon.
If you have done this route or are planning to, and have any suggestions for detours or ‘must see places’, please comment below.
Thanks for reading and sharing.