Itching to ride? When preparing your cycling trip, don't be too ambitious: as a family, riding 50km a day is already plenty to aim for, especially if your bikes are heavy. Don't forget to plan time for visiting attractions, stopping for picnics and taking other breaks that will all form part of your holiday memories. Here's a selection of routes and itineraries suitable for all abilities, as long as you take your time. Cycling is the slow life par excellence: enjoy it!
The Loire Valley châteaux from Amboise to Chambord
For a few days' cycling around the Loire châteaux, you have to choose your base. Our advice is to head for the châteaux east of Tours, starting with Amboise, where you can visit Clos-Lucé, former home of Leonardo da Vinci. A short ride (15km) from here will take you to the château of Chenonceau, which gracefully spans the Cher River. Through the forest of Amboise, you'll then reach the banks of the Loire and the town of Blois, with its royal château. Another 15km further on, the château of Cheverny comes into view, which inspired Moulinsart in Tintin and where children can enjoy meeting a pack of hunting dogs. The highlight of the area for many is the spectacular Château de Chambord. Its royal estate alone can be the focus of a day's bike ride. Allow a week for the Amboise to Chambord itinerary (including 40km between Chenonceau and Blois), along with visits to local sites.
The Burgundy canal towpath
Well-known to cyclists, the Tour de la Bourgogne is an 872-kilometre circuit, tying in an exploration of the region and its rich history and heritage, food and wine. Along this excellent route, several sections are worth a detour: families can opt for the Canal de Bourgogne à Vélo, an easy, safe ride (taking roughly four days) from Auxerre to Dijon, on the towpath that borders the canal. There's no shortage of places for children to stretch their legs: the Romanesque abbey of Fontenay (founded in 1118), the historic site of Alesia where Gallic leader Vercingetorix laid down his arms before Caesar, the medieval town of Châteauneuf-en-Auxois and the Château de Commarin are all welcome breaks that will feed children's imagination.
Cycling around Lyon
This stage of the ViaRhôna (the great VéloRoute that links Lake Geneva with the Mediterranean) cleverly overlaps with the main roads of Lyon to offer families an easy, well-signposted itinerary that links the major parks and lakes of the city. Between Jons and the center of Lyon, along the Jonage canal, you can ride on secure greenways. Families can picnic in the 2,200-hectare Grand Parc de Miribel-Jonage: a favourite of the Lyonnaise, there are 350 hectares of water here, ideal for swimming and all manner of watersports. Back in town, plan a stop at the Parc de la Tête d'Or, the green lung of Lyon: children can meet the animals at the zoo. Allow an hour and three quarters each way between Lyon and Jons.
Between creeks and pines in Les Sables-d'Olonne
Do you know the Vélodyssée? This 1,200km bike route (on the EuroVélo route n°1) connects Roscoff, on the northern tip of Brittany, to Hendaye, a small town in the Basque country. For a sneak peek, families can try a one-day trip (with three hours of cycling) along the great beaches of Pays de la Loire, on the Atlantic coast. Start in Les Sables-d'Olonne and enjoy the beaches and rocky creeks. Set against a pine forest, the itinerary will lead you to the endless sandy beaches of La Tranche-sur-Mer where sandcastles, kites and surfing await!
From the D-Day Landing Beaches to the Mont Saint-Michel
Welcome to the heart of the Normandy Bocage! Here, green meadows rub shoulders with vast beaches. This itinerary starts in Arromanches, the site of the Battle of Normandy in 1944. Leaving the Channel behind, you pedal south to reach Bayeux, then Viré, through fields and small Norman villages. From Viré, a greenway leads to the Mont-Saint-Michel. Except for a few roads to cross, the itinerary is not difficult and is well adapted to families with children on bikes. Don't miss the view when you arrive at the Bay of the Mont-Saint-Michel: from Ducey, its silhouette is revealed at the bends when the bocage gives way to the salt meadows. It's a magical experience. Plan a week's trip to really soak up the area.
Along Alsace's secret canals
Around Strasbourg, Alsace offers miles of beautiful and little-known canals. For a short escapade, go to Saverne, la Cité des Roses and the Château des Rohan. This is where the EuroVélo route n°5 passes through, running along the Marne-Rhine canal in the Zorn valley. It's a very pleasant greenway to Strasbourg, one of the most bike-friendly cities in France! The route then leaves the Alsatian capital to the west, along the banks of the Ill and the Bruche Canal, built by Vauban. This stage of the EuroVélo n°5 stops in Soultz-les-Bains, but you can finish the loop and go up to Saverne 20km further on. The whole itinerary is 73km from Saverne to Soultz-les-Bains via Strasbourg.
Finistère, from one coast to the other
Here we are in Roscoff, in the north of Brittany. Opposite the island of Batz, this ancient town is full of stories of pirates and smugglers. It’s perfect for getting the kids' imagination going, before saddling up and heading south. The route through the region's interior to Concarneau, 147km away, can be divided into a week of cycling with easy days (15-30km per day) on dedicated routes: along old railroads transformed into greenways, you can immerse yourself in Finistère through its forests, traditional towns such as Morlaix and Carhaix-Plouguer, and the Black Mountains, a Breton massif climbing to 318 metres. It’s an excellent cross-section of Brittany and you can enjoy pancakes for every snack break!
The Médoc beaches and pine forests
From Andernos-les-Bains to Soulac-sur-Mer on the northern tip of the Médoc, there are long sandy beaches bathed by the Atlantic and bordered by pine forests. Four days of cycling will be enough to get from Andernos to Soulac, with 20-40km per day. From the Verdon pier, you can take bikes across to Royan free of charge. From there, you can easily reach Bordeaux by train. To make a circuit from Bordeaux, take the train to Arcachon and start the cycling itinerary from there .
The Chevreuse Valley from Versailles to Rambouillet
Want to get some fresh air just outside Paris? After a quick trip on the RER, you can be in Versailles. In addition to its famous chateau, the town also offers a departure point for a bike ride through the beautiful Chevreuse Valley. The 24km between Versailles and Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse stick mainly to cycle paths. After that, you head for another 29km towards Rambouillet. On the way, don't miss the beautiful chateau of Breteuil and its 75-hectare park - it's great for kids as it stages productions of stories by Perrault. This one- or two-day itinerary allows you to leave Paris easily by train, with your bike under your arm. It follows part of the Veloscenic route, linking Paris with the Mont-Saint-Michel.
The French Riviera between Cannes and Nice
Cannes, Juan-les-Pins, Antibes, Cagnes-sur-Mer, Nice: from the Gulf of Napoule to the Baie des Anges, this is a stretch of the Mediterranean is known the world over. You leave Cannes via the Croisette on the coast road: the itinerary alternates between cycle paths and shared roads, sometimes with cars but more often with pedestrians and rollerbladers. In Antibes, families can stop at Marineland, a large marine zoological park with several aquariums, a dolphinarium and a kids' water playground. You come into Nice via the Promenade des Anglais, after 35km of easy cycling.
A comforting getaway along the Canal du Midi
From Castelnaudary to Carcassonne, this two-day ride along the Canal du Midi is a small section of the great 'Canal des Deux Mers', linking the Atlantic with the Mediterranean. Along the towpath, you'll pass the village of Bram (situated halfway along the route, it can be a good place to stop for the night), typical of Aude's medieval circular villages. The journey ends with a spectacular arrival in Carcassonne, the ancient medieval city surrounded by majestic ramparts. From there, you can easily go back to Castelnaudary by train, not without having eaten a cassoulet though; it’s easier to digest before the train ride than before pedalling!
A tour of Cap Corse, Corsica
Cap Corse is a delight for hikers thanks to its breathtaking views across the Mediterranean - and it's a cyclist's paradise too. It’s not difficult, but we don't recommend this route for families with small children as the roads are shared with cars. Cycling in Corsica is best for older children and teenagers, or toddlers who are able to sit on a bike seat. Head towards Bastia via Saint-Florent and you'll always ride on the seaside! A whole tour of Cap Corse is around 120km.
Natural wonders of the Somme Bay
Flat, wild and home to thousands of animals, the Baie de Somme offers a wonderful playground for beginner cyclists. A portion of the EuroVélo route n°4 (which runs along the entire French north coast, from Roscoff to Dunkirk) passes right by its coasts. You can start a circuit from Cayeux-sur-Mer, for example. From the seaside, the route leads up to Hourdel and along the Somme Bay to reach Saint-Valéry-sur-Somme, then Le Crotoy. Here you enter the Parc du Marquenterre, a birdwatcher's paradise with its 200 hectares of dunes, forests and marshes. Allow a day's cycling to get from Cayeux-sur-Mer to the Parc du Marquenterre (just over 30km).