Whilst you might not put a country's cycle network high on your Expat's list of reasons for country relocation, once you have tried the relatively new and expanding AF3V network in France you might just have to reorder that list - and move France near the top.
Whilst the French network is not as extensive as world bike-path leader The Netherlands (but where is?), where I think it's unsurpassable is in it's combination of high-quality (usually tarmac) traffic-free and traffic-lite routes through what has to be some of Europe's most glorious and varied scenery. Towering Alpine peaks, Europe's longest beaches and biggest forests, some of the world's best vineyards, the glitz and beauty of the C'te D'Azur - all these and more are yours for the simple turning of pedals along easy gradients.
The '3V' of AF3V stands for voies vertes and veloroutes -- in other words greenways and bike routes (the 'bike routes' being a mixture of traffic-free routes, often on very easy gradients, and lightly trafficked minor roads). The greenways include converted disused railways, bike-friendly canal towpaths and traffic-free routes alongside major rivers.
No doubt there will be many longstanding French expats unaware of the system -- after all, unless you ride a bike very regularly and happen to come across the appropriate signs, or know AF3V members personally, the network could easily remain largely hidden. A new way of getting to work or of enjoying long, lazy summer Sundays could have passed you by. As a taster to get out there and explore, here's my choice of four of the best areas, based on my years of cycle-touring La Belle France south of the Loire.
Part of the first trans-european EuroVelo network rotue, this veloroute often sticks close to the River Loire along its western half, using many virtually traffic-free tarmac 'residents only' roads atop the river's dikes as well as traffic-free tarmac sections, occasional rougher tracks and minor roads.
After an Atlantic coast start you are soon in Chateaux country par excellence the very heart of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, filled with fairytale spires, turrets and moats. Further east explore tourist-lite destinations such as Nevers and the lovely Doubs Valley. With 1185km of route there's plenty of easy cycling to choose from...
Between Dijon & Lyon - Burgundy's Vintage Routes
This area contains a host of different voies vertes and veloroutes.
The Vineyard Way passes through a string of the very best wine-producing villages, starting in Beaune, with its huge medieval hospital building. At Santenay you can join the brilliantly smooth tarmac of the Canal Du Centre all the way to riverside Chalon-sur-Saone. Here, hook up to the Chalon-Macon greenway, one of France's first voies vertes, or join EuroVelo6.
Alpine Lakes & Peaks
Fancy some spectacular mountain scenery without the sweat of steep hill climbing? In that case head for the Savoy Alps.
From medieval Annecy there is 23 mile ride around the crisp blue waters of the lake of the same name. The eastern side uses some roads and features some climbs -- the elevated pay-off being views the length of the lake. On the western side an outstanding section of level, traffic-free, smooth wide tarmac leads you all the way back to Annecy.
Further south, at Aix-Les-Bains, the eastern shore of Lac du Bourget houses a another 'Alps the easy way' cycle track, which can be followed all the way to handsome medieval Chambery and on to Myans -- many miles of traffic-free bliss.
Between Toulouse & Montpellier
From Toulouse's heart you can head east for 150 miles along probably the most famous waterway in France, the Canal du Midi. Carcassonne is undoubtedly the 'don't miss' sight of the whole route but Beziers is an attractive stop-off. A mix of tarmac cycle path and wide, earth towpath.
Fine excursions from the canal include traffic-free cycling along the Canal de la Robine to Narbonne and the Med at Port-la-Nouvelle and north along the feeder streams to Revel then onto Castres and finally along a fine traffic-free route to the incredible cathedral at Albi.
Books Details -- Full Info On AF3v Routes South of the Loire In:
Cycling Southern France - Loire to Meditteranean
Author Richard Peace,
Pub Excellent Books, 2008. Full-colour, 160 page, spiral bound guidebook including 1:200,000 Michelin mapping and descriptions for all major leisure routes between (and including) the Loire and the Med.
In the UK- Cordee www.cordee.co.uk 0116 2543579
In the US - Globe Corner Bookstore, Boston MA www.globecorner.com
(617) 497-6277 [email protected]
In France - via Rando Diffusion 4, rue Maye Lane 65421 IBOS c'dex
05 62 90 09 90 [email protected]