The sun was out last week so the best thing to do was go for a bike ride with people you’ve never met before on a route that has only just been completed!
La Flow Vélo is one of France’s newest bike routes that links tiny, car free Ile d’Aix to Thiviers nestled deep in the Dordogne. It skirts along the meandering Charente river through the sleepy towns of Saintes, Cognac and Angouleme before heading south east through the Perigord to its final destination.
Quite why it was decided to link these two destinations together is anyone’s guess but apparently it required a Herculean effort to get the tourist offices and agencies of three separate départements to work closely together and for that we should be truly grateful as the result is a clearly signposted route through the backroads and paths of this lovely part of South Western France.
Having met Lyn and her good friend Nicole at the tourist office in Fouras, with some trepidation we set off to explore this uncharted territory.
I was joining them for the section from Fouras to Saintes via Rochefort. 15k to Rochefort and then 25k to Saintes we were told…more of which later.
With the sun up high and shining brightly off we set towards Rochefort; the route itself goes along small roads, cycle tracks and the occasional gravel track. Sometimes it’s quiet and in the middle of nowhere, other times it runs along side a main road.
Our first stop was Decathlon outside Rochefort for some oil to stop a squeaking chain! Once all bike parts were again running smoothly we had an appointment at the ‘Old Businesses Museum’ in the centre of town. In a nutshell, a local family had a fascination with old artefacts that got seriously out of hand and they ended up buying an old warehouse to store them in. They are very well presented in old mock ups of bars, barbers shops, hat shops and the like.
After all this historifying we needed some food to prepare ourselves for an afternoon in the saddle….. and a bottle of rosé obviously.
Did I mention that my riding companions were Australian?
After some refreshment and a little snooze in a park whilst Lyn visited La Corderie Royale, which supplied the French Navy with its ropes from the 17th Century to the late 19th Century, we were off on the next part of journey along the Charente River to Saintes.
The path was again well signposted so we stayed on the right track all the way. With some consternation we noticed a sign saying ‘Saintes => 66km’ on the way out of Rochefort, but we bravely headed on nonetheless.
A lovely afternoon was spent cycling on back roads and tracks alongside the Charente and its various tributaries. The route is basically flat so accessible to any level of rider. I was on a carbon road bike and consequently was a little nervous at times on the gravel. On balance I would recommend a slightly sturdier touring or cyclo-cross bike with 26 or 28 mm tyres.
The route is very quiet and it was lovely to be able cycle side by side and chat as we pootled along. Much conversational time was spent on the fact that we were ‘at work’ as we cycled past another field of rich yellow colza (oil seed rape) that was in full bloom at the time.
After a well-earned break and a restorative ice cream bought from a campsite grocery we carried on in the late afternoon sunshine.
One particular highlight was passing the beautiful Chateau de Crazannes which dates back to the 14th Century. It has now been fully restored and if we’d had the time (turns out the 66km signpost was right!) we would definitely have taken a look.
After a look around Port d’Envaux which is made up almost entirely of old wealthy merchants houses with views over the Charente and a restaurant with a delightful terrace on its banks, we decided to take the departmental road to Saintes where our hotel and restaurant awaited.
In a nutshell:
Easy cycling, Sunshine, Rosé and great chats in lovely scenery – exactly what a cycling holiday in France is about.
We really liked:
For the leisure cyclist, the flat route, clear signposting, peace and quiet.
‘Things to consider’
The ride surface is ‘variable’ so if you’re a regular road rider, you may want to stay on D roads.
We suggest stocking up in Rochefort with snacks and drinks as there was not much along the way.
Depending on fitness levels and how much you want to stop and visit sites then you may make this into a 2 day trip. Accommodation will doubtless spring up along the route as it becomes more well known.
PS Here’s a link to the Strava route of the ride: