In a recent post, I wrote about the highlights of our 3.5 week independent cycling trip along France’s North Brittany and Normandy coasts. This post features an overview of the Brittany portion of our trip—from Morlaix to Mont-Saint-Michel—focussing on logistics: our route, itinerary, accommodations, and helpful resources. If you’re thinking about an independent cycling trip, hopefully this will give you a few pointers. If not, enjoy the photos. Brittany makes a great travel destination whatever your mode of transportation.
Our Route: The EuroVelo 4 (V4)
Brittany, and indeed all of France, have many cycling options. A great resource that got us started is the website freewheelingfrance.com. We were drawn to the coast, and eventually decided on an itinerary that followed a section of the EuroVelo 4 or V4 , a 5100 km (3169 mi) long-distance cycle route through Central Europe—the whole thing being just a tad too long for us!
We selected a stretch of the V4 along Brittany’s north coast from Morlaix to Mont-Saint-Michel (the later is technically just in Normandy). The route is about 400 km (250 mi), but we made several detours resulting in 540 km (335 mi). At present, it is the only part of the French V4 that is continuously waymarked. In an upcoming post, I’ll write about the section we did in Normandy, from Mont-St-Michel to Fécamp.
Note: The V4 in France is also called La Vélomaritime. It runs about 1500 km (932 mi) from Roscoff to Dunkerque. Another long distance cycling route, The Tour de Manche—a loop connecting the British Coast with Normandy and Brittany via ferry—also follows the V4 from Roscoff to Cherbourg.
As the prevailing winds are from the west, we decided to cycle from west to east. In Paris, we loaded ourselves and our bikes onto a train for the 3-hour trip to Morlaix. We could have started at the official beginning of the V4 in Roscoff but the train only stops in Morlaix and we didn’t feel like taking the bus to Roscoff (in retrospect it wouldn’t have been a big deal).
It is quite easy to take bikes on French trains, but different rules apply for TER (local/regional) trains and TGV (fast) trains. The former takes bikes for free but space is limited and you can’t reserve. Many TGV trains allow bikes for a modest fee (10 Euros) but bike spots must be reserved at time of booking. For detailed information refer to freewheelingfrance.com.
Our itinerary: Morlaix to Mont-Saint-Michel
We spent 16 days on the route between Morlaix and Mont-Saint-Michel (this includes four non-cycling days). We averaged about 45 km (28 mi)/day. The route can be covered more quickly, but we’re not the fastest riders, and why rush when there’s so much to see. I’ve listed our overnight stops below. There are many other options but this itinerary worked well for us. The mileage is approximate as it includes some detours.
- Morlaix to Locquirec: 44 km
- Locquirec to Trébeurden: 49 km
- Trébeurden to Perros-Guirec (2 night stay): 29 km
- Perros Guirec to Paimpol: 46 km
- Paimpol to Sant-Quay-Portrieux: 51 km
- Saint-Quay-Portrieux to Saint-Brieuc: 52 km
- Saint-Brieuc to Erquy (2 night stay): 51 km
- Erquy to Saint-Cast-le-Guildo (a detour off V4): 50 km
- Saint-Cast-le-Guildo to Dinan (a detour on the V2): 48 km
- Dinan to Saint-Malo (2 night stay): 28 km
- Saint-Malo to Cancale: 27 km
- Cancale to Pontorson- Mont-St-Michel (2 night stay): 64 km
How did we decide on these stops? Online research and the Moon guide to Normandy and Brittany helped us learn about the areas’s attractions. But for actually nailing down a travel plan, much thanks goes to Abicylette Voyages, a company that arranges cycling holidays in France and other European countries. While we didn’t use their services, the online descriptions of their tours helped me immensely in mapping out our itinerary. If you like the idea of cycling in France but don’t want to do it independently, Abicyclette may be a good company to contact.
We were very happy with our decision to spend extra nights in Perros-Guirec, Erquy, Saint-Malo and Mont-Saint-Michel. The first two have awesome coastal hiking, while the later are stunning cultural and historic places. Our detour to Dinan—an exquisitely preserved medieval town—on the V2 cycling greenway (which intersects the V4) was also well worth the extra few hours of easy pedalling.
There are two itinerary changes I might consider. First, I’d avoid the hill into Saint-Brieuc (a town I did not find particularly nice) and stay instead in its charming port at Le Légué. Second, Saint-Cast-le-Guildo, although a lovely place, was a longish detour after a day packed with many interesting stops. I would either add an additional night there or eliminate it and stay in a town along the V4.
What’s it like cycling on the V4?
The V4 between Morlaix and Mont-Saint-Michel is primarily on quiet minor roads with some greenways and forested paths. Our hybrid bikes worked well for this terrain. It is not a difficult cycling route but it has its share of hills. They’re never too long though and we managed to huff and puff our way up all of them. Plus, we had no guilt about feasting on all the delicious French food and wine.
The route is generally well-signed but we’re glad we had a backup. The handbook V4 a Brittany Cycle Route by Janet Moss and Pete Martin is invaluable for providing detailed descriptions of the route and assistance on tricky sections or where signage is lacking. I bought it through Amazon. We also purchased a few Michelin regional maps, but these were more helpful for the big picture versus route finding.
I expected to enjoy the coastal scenery, but ended up equally appreciating the V4’s routing through rural, agricultural communities. We didn’t have to stress about traffic and were lulled into contemplative states passing by stone farmhouses, old churches and fields of potatoes, artichokes and hydrangeas. The entire journey has a diverse mix of gorgeous landscapes, pretty towns and historical sites. The collage below shows some typical cycling terrain and scenery.
Where did we stay?
We stayed primarily in small guesthouses and B&Bs. Some we booked in advance on Booking.com, but most of our favourites were the ones we found enroute through very helpful local tourism information offices and on a website called Gîtes de France. The hosts at these places were so kind and friendly, and despite their limited English and our poor French, we managed to have wonderful conversations. If you’re looking for an authentic experience, this is the way to go. The photo below is at our guesthouse in Paimpol where the charming Miguelle and Jean-Marie rent rooms in their house above her art studio (Atelier Di-Miguelle). They serve a killer breakfast!
A few more tips:
- September is a lovely month to travel to Brittany/Normandy. The main summer crowd has left and the weather is generally pleasant. However, it’s still a busy area, particularly places like St-Malo, Mont-St-Michel and the Pink Granite Coast. It’s a good idea to book these spots in advance, especially if arriving on a weekend.
- Unlike our German cycling experience the year before, not all French guesthouses include breakfast.
- When selecting accommodations, check the proximity of restaurants. It’s no fun to walk/ride lengthy distances in the dark after a long day of exploring.
- Many restaurants are closed on Sunday and Monday. Other services, even Tourism Information offices, are closed on Sunday or have shorter hours, especially in smaller centers.
- Buy snacks and picnic fixings as you pass through larger towns. Sections of the V4 travel through rural areas with limited places to eat.
- We brought our own bicycles but there are options to rent. Freewheelingfrance.com and the V4 handbook by Moss/Martin (mentioned above) provide good information.
- For information about transporting bikes on airplanes and what gear and clothing to bring, read my post: Do it yourself cycle tour. Although the information relates to our German Rhine and Mosel trip, much of it is applicable to France as well.
Next posts: I’ll write about some of my favourite spots in Brittany, like Cap d’Erquy, St-Malo and more. I’ll also post about our continued cycling journey in Normandy, from Mont-St-Michel to Fécamp.