It was a gloriously bright, sunny day as we arrived in the port of Roscoff on the north coast of Brittany. We packed up our sleep supplies and waited for the cars to unload, pedalling right off onto French soil, with a quick stop at the customs booth and then a longer stop getting changed and filling up our water bottles at the terminal bathrooms. We had already lost an hour of time in the time difference between England and France, so we needed to get underway quickly if we were to make it the 70ish kilometres to our Warmshowers host by the end of the day.
We would be following the Velodyssey route, a 1200km bike path that goes along the Atlantic coast from Roscoff in the north to San Sebastian in Spain, although we are planning to cut in before Bordeaux and head east from there, through the Dordogne to the edge of the Pyrenees and then to Provence. Europe is full of long-distance bike routes (link), many of which are completely off-road and apparently very family-friendly (i.e. flat and car-free). The Velodyssey route we would be taking has been awarded the best bike route in the world(***) and we were very excited to get started on it. Unfortunately, we were picking up the route outside of Roscoff and didn’t have enough time to divert to see the town itself, but we were both so excited to be on quiet back roads with views overlooking the ocean that we didn’t mind at all. There was no one else on the road, and the beginning of our route took us past old stone cottages with gardens in bloom, blossom trees everywhere and little vegetable plots already looking productive for this time of year. Birds were singing, a perfect fresh breeze was blowing and it felt so good to be back on the road in such a civilized-feeling country.
I had prepared myself by using my mum’s computer to look up elevation gains on Google maps and, once again, Google maps let me down. The route it had given us was using the roads, not the velodyssey route, and the first day of biking was a lot longer and hillier than I expected it to be. We would go swooping down a hill along a country road one minute and then have a huge hill (well, large-ish hill- nothing by New Zealand standards) looming before us. The extra load of food was making things a bit tougher than I had planned for, but the views of the countryside and the feeling of excitement about cycling through France made me forget my problems pretty quickly.
We had several encounters with Frenchmen and women along the way who were out for an Easter Sunday stroll, enjoying the weather. One old man with hiking poles walking along with a small crew of fit grey-haired madames called out to me jokingly if I would like some help up the hill (I was firstly surprised to understand his whole question and then at myself for being able to quickly respond with a laugh and a “No, merci!”). Another later shouted out “Bien courage!” to us, which felt pretty good.
The first town we got to (Saint-Pol-de-Lion) was actually quite bustling with people for Easter Sunday and felt exactly what I thought old-word France would be like. We zoomed past the church and the shops and the main square, losing our way on the bike route for a time, only to find it quickly again outside of the town.
Not long after that, we were in Morlaix, a beautiful old town right on the river with an amazing aqueduct looming over it, little sailboats dotting its harbour and a big cobble-stoned square in front of the Grand Hotel where we had a snack and took in all the sights and smells around us in. The buildings surrounding the square were old Tudor-style shop fronts (the boulangerie, the charcuterie, the flower shop) with apartments above, all painted different colours…so perfect and quaint and simply lovely.
We then continued along until our path met up with the old railway line. We had a very gradual incline for quite a ways as we biked through the greenway and through lots of families and friends going for their Sunday walk. Almost everyone we encountered would call out a “Bonjour!” in reply to our “Bonjours!” and the bike path was perfect: no cars, tree-lined, dirt well-packed beneath our tires. This is what cycle touring was all about!
As we cycled along side-by-side at a leisurely speed, we discussed whether or not starting with the difficult biking (Japan, New Zealand) and topping it off with this kind of touring was good planning on our part, and both of us agreed: if we had done this first, we would have been completely spoiled for both Japan and New Zealand. So, this is the reward we get for all that hard slogging up mountains in the southern hemisphere! And we haven’t even had any wine or cheese yet!
Before leaving for France, we had set up a Warmshowers host in Locmaria-Berrien. After 68.3 kilometres of biking, we only had to take a brief detour off our bike route to find the little town and our host for the night. Just as we were parked at a crossroads searching the address on Google maps (and deliberating about whether or not we needed to head up a huge hill to the topmost point of the town where Google was telling us to go), I spotted a guy up the street waving his arms at us and smiling. It was our gracious host Maxime! He explained to us (in strong English) that because we had promised to arrive between 6 and 7, and it was now 6:45, he had been looking out for us. We didn’t have to go up that hill fruitlessly; his house was 5 houses away from where we had been standing. Hurray!
Maxime was an amazing host and we were so grateful to have a place to sleep and someone to tell us all about the history and culture of Brittany. Maxime was a young frenchmen who had just returned from a six month cycle trip alone, in winter, cycling through Scotland, England, Spain, France and Italy. Needles to say, he had lots of great stories to share with us.
That first day back on the bikes was exactly what we had hoped for out of France: amazing scenery, a relatively easy, car-free and well-signposted route, lovely little towns, and an incredible French host to converse with, eat with and be sheltered by. Could it get any better than this?
Up next: Christian tells you all about our adventures camping in farmers fields and biking along the Nantes a Brest canal…
Musician, teacher, traveller. Currently on a year-long journey around the world. Bronwyn is one of the founders of onlyamazingdays.com.