The story of crossing Brittany by bike
Summer is over but the cycling tourism season is not. In fact, the Abicyclette Voyages travel agency team, specialised in organising bike trips on many EuroVelo Routes, might argue, every season is biking season. To prove this, they set themselves the challenge of touring the section of La Vélodyssée, part of EuroVelo 1 - Atlantic Coast Route, in Brittany in February 2020.
A 3-day challenging gravel epic on the Vélodyssée
The EuroVelo 1 – Atlantic Coast Route that we wanted to ride offered us the opportunity of crossing Brittany by bike from North to South. We were interested in exploring La Vélodyssée, on which we organise dozens of tours each year for bicycle travellers, who come from all over the world to take a traffic-free bike trip along the rivers and canals.
We thought that we were preparing for a winter challenge when we planned to cycle the 490 kilometres long tour in late February. However, we were very much mistaken! From 2°C in the morning to 18°C in the middle of the afternoon, it almost felt like a heat wave. Although this made for pleasant conditions for cycling, it unfortunately reflects the climate crisis’ impacts.
The first stage of La Vélodyssée
The rendezvous is at sunrise on the port of Roscoff at the foot of the lighthouse. The daylight is superb and reinforces our motivation to start the journey. Following the signposts of La Vélodyssée, we weave our way through the small roads of the town. Not long afterwards, we feel small under the viaducts of Morlaix. They are made out of granite and steel and are very impressive. A brewery, opposite the train station, ends up convincing us that the city is the place to refuel. To leave the city again, we climb on an old railway track that has been converted into a greenway.
Now, the route takes us along the Nantes-Brest Canal. The flow of water through this hilly landscape is an impressive engineering accomplishment, even by today’s standards. The curves prevent us from having an overview on the effort needed and the remaining distance. Eventually, we reach the summit, the Tranchée des Bagnards, named after the convicts who dug the canal connecting Nantes and Brest.
Finally descending again, we reach the impressive Abbey of Bon Repos. The imposing building no longer has windows. Watched from the canal, it looks like a captivating and intriguing ghost house. The old outbuildings a few meters from this mysterious abbey away are our sleeping place for tonight. Despite the looks, we find there exactly what we came to seek: a good rest.
Stage 2: from Saint-Gelven to Redon
The abbey was still covered in darkness when we wake up and we continue our Brittany bike crossing in the dark. A few kilometres after the abbey, we find an old railway track from where we enjoy a glowing sunrise before entering the Morbihan territory. This departmental border is difficult to identify precisely without a map. Landscapes and layouts are changing. We find the Nantes-Brest Canal again which meets the Blavet, the river which crosses Brittany up to Lorient. Pontivy offers us the first coffee and real meal of the day, on the terrace and in the sun.
We then begin a succession of three stages of 25 kilometres. The castle of the dukes of Rohan in Josselin directly overlooks the canal as if to protect it. We bypass it, climb the historic alleys in the city centre in search of a bistro with a terrace service to enjoy the 18°C.
At 5pm, Michèle and Frédéric, our hosts for tonight, are awaiting us in their Yellow House. Used to welcoming our bicycle travellers during the summer season, we are pampered in turn by this generous and warm couple. Breton beer has been waiting in the fridge since the day before in anticipation of our arrival. Our guests comfortably install us in their beautiful and carefully decorated rooms. They recommend a very unique flea market restaurant where everything is for sale: the chair on which we are sitting, the table on which our second beer of the evening is served, even the plate from which we eat.
Stage 3: from Redon to Bourgneuf-en-Retz
On the next morning, Michèle and Frédéric, were undoubtedly better in getting up early compared to us. At 6 AM, they served us one of the best breakfasts we ever had. We are moved by the attention, care and generosity of our hosts.
Back on the road, we quickly arrive in Blain. Still filled by the breakfast, we decide to continue a little further than these initial 50 kilometres before treating ourselves a coffee and sweets. We wonder if we will be able to finish the day’s long section before it gets dark.
The route since we left Nort-sur-Erdre and the Nantes-Brest Canal was a fun mixture of paths of various widths and small roads. After more than 280 km in a straight line, we are enjoying the turns which follow one another pushing the pace each turn. At this rate, Nantes will quickly be reached.
We ride up to the medieval quarter of the city of the Dukes of Brittany, Bouffay. From here on, the route continues on the southern hillside of the Loire. The path turns out to be hillier than expected. Now, we feel the weight of the saddlebags becoming heavier, but soon we are rewarded with small panoramic roads and charming alleys. We finally descend for good and reach the Martinière canal close to the ocean.
Using our last energy, we start a race against time. A mix of stress and excitement rises gradually and pushes us to energetically get back in the rhythm after each intersection. The route winds its way through historic towns and harbours and the seaside resorts that have developed since the end of the 19th century.
Brittany bike crossing: We made it!
At Pornic, we pass the symbolic mark of 200 kilometres. In the distance, on the other quay, there is a long queue already formed in front of the city’s famous ice-cream shop. Our last two kilometres border the ocean. And as a final reward, the sun spectacularly sets on the. Having been on the saddle from sunrise to sunset, we feel the work of the day. Even though our tired bodies have found their rhythm and are advancing at more than 30km/h. At this speed we reach Port du Collet on the waters of the Falleron, the modest river on which the historic border of Brittany rests and on which our trip ends.
This travel report is an advertorial of Abicyclette Voyages. If you are interest in this or a different cycling travel adventure, visit their website and find various offers related to EuroVelo 1 – Atlantic Coast Route and other routes.