France Velodyssey: Hendaye to Nantes
The Velodyssey allows you to cycle from Brittany all the way to Spain down the west coast of France.
Part of EuroVelo route 1, this popular long distance route offers a varied landscape with pine forests, beaches, islands, marshlands and historic towns including La Rochelle and Rochefort.
This was our first proper long distance ride; we chose to cycle from Hendaye in the south going north to Nantes because various people told us that way we’d be less likely to face headwinds. Well that didn’t happen but we did discover a love of cycle touring so it all worked out really well.
We booked our accommodation well in advance, staying mostly in two-star hotels of varying quality. Most of them didn’t offer breakfast in the price but there were always plenty of bakeries and cafes open no matter how early we set off.
All in all, the Velodyssey offers a pretty stress-free way to do a long cycle tour so it was ideal for touring novices like us.
Hendaye to Biarritz
22 miles / 35 km
This stretch is mainly on roads and some busy ones at that. And there are some hills, perhaps not surprising as you’re in the foothills of the Pyrenees. We stayed at Hotel Mirano in Biarritz – which was more like a hostel with a friendly vibe. The highlight of the day was a cheese and wine tasting menu at La Grappe a Fromages.
Biarritz to Leon
49 miles / 79 km
This stage is flat all the way and you’ll get glimpses of the sea as you cycle through the many pine forests. Leon is full of campsites around the lake – the Etang de Leon. We stayed at the Hôtel du Lac, ate pizza in a nearby campsite café and played crazy golf.
Biscarrosse to Arcachon
25 miles / 40 km
You’ll cycle past some lakes on this stretch; there’s one nasty hill and then you’ll be cycling alongside Europe’s highest sand dune, the Dune du Pilat. Arcachon is a busy seaside resort with beaches, harbour and lots of shops and cafes. We stayed at the Hotel Novel in the centre of town.
Arcachon to Lacanau
50 miles / 80 km
This is another day of pine forest paths (a bit bumpy with tree roots) and passing through seaside resorts. We found out we were close to a nudist campsite when we were passed by a naked man on a bike! The Best Western Golf Hotel Lacanau has a spa and a pool.
Lacanau to Royan
51 miles / 82 km
The highlight of this stage for us was meeting a German family playing jazz in the forest. At the port at Fort du Verdon we took a half-hour ferry ride across the Gironde estuary to Royan. We stayed in the Grand Hotel de la Plage, a hotel that must have had a heyday once but not for a long time.
Royan to Rochefort
51 miles / 83 km
This stage offers a change of scenery. We had a lovely lunch at the café in the square in beautiful Marennes; the route then took us by canals and through marshes. To get to Rochefort we crossed the river Charente on the wonderful Pont Transbordeur. In Rochefort we stayed at Hotel Caravelle and ate at an excellent bistro, Le Marydiane.
Rochefort to La Rochelle
26 miles / 42 km
Mostly on dedicated cycle paths, this stretch leaves Rochefort alongside the river Charente and then takes you close to the beaches along the bay of Châtelaillon and on to La Rochelle. We stayed at hotel Les Brises, a 15 minute walk from the centre of town.
La Tranche sur Mer to Les Sables D'Olonne
27 miles / 44 km
The coast is quite developed here so you’ll go through a lot of small seaside towns. The first views of Les Sables d’Olonne are disappointing – a succession of ugly high-rise hotels along the sandy bay. Here we stayed in a terrible hotel – avoid the Hotel D’Angleterre.
Les Sables D'Olonne to St Jean de Monts
34 miles / 55 km
This stage starts on a coastal route and then meanders passed forests and marshes. St Gilles-Croix-de-Vie is a lively port and an excellent stop for lunch. St Jean de Monts is a busy resort with a sandy beach; we stayed at Hotel Les Dunes.
St Jean de Monts to Pornic
54 miles / 87 km
Leaving the seaside resorts behind, this stage takes you through more marshes and past ancient ports. There’s the chance to cycle across to the Ile du Noirmoutier and back to the mainland via the Passage du Gois – tides permitting. We treated ourselves to a stay at the Thalassotherapie & Spa in Pornic.
Pornic to Nantes
57 miles / 92 km
The last day is a long one but it has a bit of everything the Velodyssey has to offer – sea, sand dunes, pine trees and marshes. Finally, you reach the wide expanses of the Loire estuary which lead you in to Nantes.