Over more than 600 km, the Vélo Francette cycle route crosses the west of France, from Ouistreham to La Rochelle. This is the opportunity to discover the natural, heritage and gastronomic riches of 7 departments and 3 different regions on two wheels. We tested it between Ouistreham and Domfront, criss-crossing Calvados and Orne, from north to south.
La Vélo Francette, 617 km through the West of France
617 km through the West of France, this is what the Vélo Francette offers to cycling enthusiasts. Starting from the Channel and descending towards the Atlantic, this cycle route crosses 7 departments, 3 regions (Normandy, Poitou-Charentes and Pays de la Loire), 3 regional nature parks and more than twenty towns.
Among the major sites, the Vélo Francette allows you to discover the Landing Beaches, the Mayenne towpath, the Loire Valley between Angers and Saumur, beautiful walks in the Thouet valley, the Marais poitevin, before arriving at La Rochelle. On the road, the traveling cyclist can make stops at Domfront, Laval, Angers, Saumur and Niort.
All along the route, the Accueil Vélo services (accommodation, rental companies, tourist offices and places to visit) are offered to cyclists. They are highlighted on maps with a dark green pictogram.
Plus d'infos sur le Vélo Francette website.
Between Ouistreham and Caen
We are in no rush to get on our bikes. Because the walk can start on foot, treading the kilometers of fine sand ofOuistreham, on the beach of Riva-Bella. The town has the charm of a peaceful seaside resort, punctuated by the comings and goings of the ferries that connect the British city of Portsmouth to the French coast.
In 2014, the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings put the town in the spotlight. But the story of Ouistreham goes far beyond D-Day. This is evidenced, for example, by its delicate 12th century Romanesque church.
Go! Direction the marina of Caen, fifteen kilometers from the English Channel. The route, ideal for young and old, takes place on a cycle path, along the old towpath. We meet the Pegasus bridge, at least a faithful replica of the bridge whose takeover by British paratroopers is a heroic event of June 6, 1944. Just next door, the little café Gondrée, listed as a Historic Monument, would have been the first house freed from the Germans.
Along the way, a visit to Bénouville castle, dating from the end of the 18th century, allows you to admire the imposing grand staircase of honor, built entirely in stone. Of neoclassical architecture, the building is one of the few intact constructions of Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, one of the most famous architects of the Age of Enlightenment. The castle, which now houses the European Institute of Gardens and Landscapes, is surrounded by a delightful 9-hectare park, refreshing in summer.
A stopover in Caen
Normandy was very marked by the Allied bombardments in 1944: Caen was nearly 75% demolished. This city of 107 inhabitants has nevertheless retained a picturesque historic center, delimited by three imposing old buildings: the Abbey of Men, Ladies' Abbey and Castle, one of the largest in Europe.
The Abbaye aux Hommes, which houses the town hall, has an illustrious founder: William the Conqueror. It is in the church of this 11th century building that he now rests. In fact, just his left femur, several desecrations of his grave having dispersed the rest of the bones.
Explore the city by bike thanks to 101,5 km of cycling facilities. The people of Caen have also widely adopted this mode of transport. One of the managers is called V'éol, it is the self-service bicycle system, with 40 stations and 350 two-wheelers.
After settling down in a downtown café, bustling with student life, a bit of nature is needed. You can take tours of the racecourse, the "green lung" of Caen, or go to a landscaped park of 17 hectares, near the Memorial : it's here " Bird hill », A mosaic of gardens built on a ... former municipal landfill.
Finally, the Garden of plants, hosts not an exotic greenhouse, but also the flora of Lower Normandy and remarkable trees such as a Japanese sophora, planted in 1750. But in order not to make the apple trees of the Norman bocage wait any longer and we put our heads in the handlebar.
In Normandy Switzerland, by bike
From Caen to Clécy, the Vélo Francette runs along the vast meanders of theOrne. She sees the calves of cyclists more strained, the flat relief giving way to hills, with meadows, hedges and orchards. Welcome to Suisse Normande!
It climbs, it climbs ... Who would have thought to have vertigo in Normandy? The Roche d'Oëtre with its steep 118 m is one of the most spectacular points of the Armorican Massif. It offers a magnificent panorama over the valley hollowed out by the Rouvre.
From this natural belvedere, four walking routes are available for those who want to set foot on the ground. On the Roche d'Oëtre, a building allows you to enjoy a coffee while admiring the view. The interior also houses a tourist office, a regional products shop and an exhibition space ...
Before reaching Flers and its castle, cyclists discover another way of pedaling in the town of Saint-Pierre-du-Regard. Indeed, Pont Erambourg bike rides cover 6,5 km in the Noireau valley. No risk of collision, trains have not been running on these rails for a long time.
A former iron and steel region
We have forgotten it, but the Norman bocage had also turned to the steel industry. Between 1901 and 1978, twelve mines in the region supplied factories in Nord-Pas-de-Calais with iron ore. South of Flers, in the Orne, the Francette bike runs alongside the track of an old railway, bordered by small disused stations.
At the level of the town of Châtellier, you can deviate a few hours from the cycle path to observe the remains of this industry. Over 34 km, the circuit of forges and mines reveals an unsuspected metallurgical heritage. AT Saint-Clair-de-Halouze thus rises the last headframe of Normandy, above a mine which sank 400 m underground.
Around the Vélo Francette, ruins bear witness to the even more distant past of this industrial activity. Classified as a Historic Monument, the Varenne forges have been a site of iron production since the 16th century. Today it is the most complete and best preserved set of wood forges in Europe.
Domfront, medieval city
From Flers to Domfront, the Vélo Francette gently sloped through the green countryside of the bocage. Upon arrival, she meets her cousin the Veloscenia, which connects Paris to Mont-Saint-Michel.
At the gates of Domfront, it's hard to miss the impressive cliff on its left, in which a mysterious house is encrusted. It is the “Chalet du brouillard”, the construction of which in 1895 must have been very daring. But the real point of interest of this mound is the Domfront castle, whose origins date back to the 11th century. Even if only ruins remain, its keep throws some thanks to these two sections of walls of about 25 m.
With its narrow streets, the medieval city of Domfront reveals its past in small touches, with its eleven towers of the ramparts and its half-timbered or chestnut-lit houses. In the axis of the main street, Saint-Julien church stands out with its monumental appearance, its reinforced concrete structure and its Byzantine-inspired style.
Below the rocky outcrop of Domfront, you should not fail to take a look at Notre-Dame-sur-l'Eau church. She appears to have one of her limbs amputated? Normal ... Four of the six spans of its nave were cut down to allow a road to pass in 1836. Sacrilege! Fortunately, Prosper Mérimée saved the rest of the building by registering it in 1840 on the First List of Historic Monuments.
To prepare your stay, consult our Normandy online guide
How to get there ?
From Paris to Caen by train
SNCF Paris-Caen line, Intercités coral trains. About ten round trips per day. Bike accepted disassembled in a cover.
From Caen to Ouistreham by bus
Shuttle between Caen station and Ouistreham, bicycle accepted in the baggage hold. Information Green Buses, 0810 214 214.
Where to rent a bike?
- Loc Vélo, in the artisanal zone rue d'Audrieu in Bayeux. Tel: 06 46 34 37 21. Convenient, you can have your bikes delivered to the Orne, at the place and time chosen.
Relay point near Caen: Accrovélo in Fleury-sur-Orne. Phone: 02 31 37 26 13.
- Riva Leisure 77 avenue Maréchal Foch, Ouistreham. Tel: 02 31 97 19 04. This establishment rents bicycles or tandems for the half-day, the day, and the week.
- Electrobike: 24 rue du Havre, Caen. Tel: 02 31 24 38 59. Need assistance to climb the slope? Renting an electric bike saves you a lot of effort to better focus on the landscape.
- Bike Station: 4, rue Vaucelles, Caen. Phone: 02 31 83 34 15
- Sports Quay: 17, rue de la Pigacière, Caen. Phone: 02 31 93 26 26
- The Bike House: 54, quai Amiral Hamelin, Caen. Please note, this associative space, located near the train station, does not offer a rental service. On the other hand, in the event of a problem, a repair assistance workshop is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 15 p.m. to 18 p.m. The place also serves as an information point for cycle tourists.
Or sleep ?
- Laurence's Shop : Les Rochers, Ségrie-Fontaine. Tel: 06 35 90 63 64. In the countryside, Laurence owns a farm where she sells her local products, such as tasty seasonal fruit jellies. It also offers accommodation in a double room, from € 45 per night, or in a 32 m2 yurt, from € 50. Do not hesitate to consult his Facebook page to be aware of the latest arrivals in his store.
Find your hotel in Swiss Normandy
Where to eat ?
- The Riva-Bella : av. Commander Kiefer, Ouistreham. Tel: 02 31 96 40 40. Chef Patrick Durant works wonders in this restaurant of a four-star hotel devoted to thalassotherapy. Its light and tasty cuisine is appreciated especially as the tables have a view of the dunes and the sea.
- At the end of the street : 60 rue de la Gare, Flers. Tel: 02 33 65 31 53. The setting is just as sober as its cuisine is refined. At the end of the street, the talents of chefs Yohan and Anaïs Lelaizant are combined. For dessert, we won't hesitate to invite teurgoule, a Norman specialty made from rice pudding. And if we are more cheese, then it will be a Camembert seasoned with green apple and a juice of Perry. À la carte or two menus at € 18,50 and € 23,50.
- At the Normand Site : 2 rue des Châtelets, Clécy. Tel: 02 31 69 71 05. In the heart of a quiet village, local products cooked with ingenuity will awaken the taste buds. Packages from € 24,50 to € 39,50.
Where to taste local products?
- La Monnerie Distillery, at Cerisy-Belle-Étoile. Phone. : 02 33 66 39 07. The owners of this Calvados distillery will not fail to show you their “topette”, a flask for cycle tourists.
- The dregs : rue de l'Orne, Saint-Rémy. In this organic craft brewery, on the edge of the Vélo Francette, you will be welcomed with open arms by Erika. His small business has just won the Gold medal at the last general agricultural competition for Caenette, a typical Belgian white beer.
- The cellar of Calvados Comte Louis de Lauriston: rue du Mont-Saint-Michel, in Domfront Calvados isn't just about apples. The Calvados Domfrontais has the particularity of having a high percentage of pears in its composition. This distillery also offers delicious pommeaux, ciders and perries.
Véloguide - La Vélo Francette, from Normandy to the Atlantic, Nicolas Moreau-Delaquis, Éditions Ouest-France, 144 pages, € 14,90.