I could write an article about the Vélodyssée or the Canal des 2 Mers cycling routes both of which are lovely but they already have their own websites and lots of support and exposure from national and regional tourist boards. So with that in mind here is an entirely subjective list of 6 cycling related days out in Charente Maritime for 2018. I hope you will find it interesting and please feel free to share or use as you wish.
Cycling day trips around the département.
The deserted backroads of Charente Maritime are perfect for a day out on your bike. As you cycle through the quiet villages with their thick stone walled and shuttered houses, you’ll feel as though you’ve gone back in time. If you get to talk to some of the older locals and you find that you can’t quite understand their French, it’s probably because they’re speaking Charentais, the local dialect.
As the sun beats down around midday be sure to stop for a ‘menu du jour’ in a local restaurant and have a chilled glass of Pineau to restore you.
You can work out routes that are anything from 30km up to 120km depending how far you want to go. The terrain is all fairly flat with some rolling hills so if you’re fitter just go further!
Towns that you can visit on your way include Cognac, where a tour of a distillery and a cheeky tasting is recommended. About 30km away along the shaded banks of the Charente river is Saintes with its Roman arch and amphitheatre. If you find yourself slightly further south, then the 12th Century Dungeon in Pons is worth stopping for. At 33m high, it dominates the area and must have been the equivalent of the Burj Khalifa when it was finished.
If you want to take in some coastal air then the road from the 17th Century citadel of Blaye up the estuary to Royan is a lovely ride. A stop at the medieval village of Talmont-sur-Gironde that sits on a peninsula that juts out into the Gironde is a must and you can stroll through the pedestrianised streets admiring the flowers that seem to grow from every nook and cranny.
Cycling in Fôret de la Coubre.
The beautiful pine forest of La Coubre was planted in the 19th Century to stop the dunes encroaching on the nearby towns and oyster beds. It covers almost 5,000 hectares and is a protected area that is the largest in the département. If you’re lucky enough to go in springtime you’ll see the broom in bloom with its beautiful yellow flowers which stretch as far as the eye can see.
On a practical note, there is a 30km ‘piste cyclable’ which goes from Ronce-les-Bains to St Palais. The path meanders through the pine forests and the sand dunes and is great for a family day out.
If you want a bit more of an adrenaline rush, the other option is the network of trails that go up and down the dunes and in between the trees all through the forest. They have been built up over the years with the help of the members of the La Tremblade MTB club (UST VTT La Tremblade) who know the trails like the back of their hand!
There are great views of Ile d’Oléron and the wild Atlantic coastline as you cycle along.
Cycle around the grass Vélodrome des Acacias in Champagnolles.
The only grass vélodrome in Europe is right here in Charente Maritime!
Built in 1938, it has been host to many stars of the cycling world over its long history including Fausto Coppi and 5 times Tour de France winner Jacques Anquetil .
The story, as told to us by some of the old chaps lining the circuit, was that back in its heyday the velodrome used to have up to 4,000 spectators for the races that were held there. Then, in 1956, a huge storm hit the area on the day of the race. As all the racers had arrived they had to be paid which left a massive hole in the club’s finances – so it had to be ‘downsized’ for several years.
Now, once a year it is opened up to the public and a grand gala day is held with cyclists invited from all over France to race on the hallowed turf.
The day has developed into the village fête as well so you’re sure of a good feed and some local wine.
All over France disused local railways are being renovated and with the addition of some ‘alternative’ rolling stock you can cycle along them taking in the countryside whilst doing some exercise. The vélorail network currently uses over 1,000km of track that have been saved from going into a state of complete disrepair.
Up to 5 of you can spend a delightful two/three hours ‘cycling’ through the vineyards and sunflowers that are part of the local landscape.
The Saintonge Vélorail goes from Cozes to St André de Lidon or from St André de Lidon to Gémozac through the fields and vines. It is manned by a couple of retired railway workers who first of all give you a safety briefing and then kindly go ahead and close the barriers so that roads can be crossed safely.
Really recommended as a fun family day out!
Watch the opening days of the 2018 Tour de France
OK, so this isn’t really on a bike or in Charente Maritime BUT the Grand Départ of the biggest bike race in the world is starting in the Vendée this year which is just up the road (in French terms)!
Expect there to be large queues of people heading up to the area from all around France but it will be a great opportunity to see world class riders up close.
Alternatively, and on a more local note, the 2018 Tour of Poitou Charentes runs from 21-24 August starting in Jonzac and finishing four days later in Poitiers. This is a UCI 2.1 recognised tour so you will get to see upcoming riders cut their teeth.