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Cycling in the Pays de la Loire

A long golden sandy beach under a blue sky, bikes leaning against railings

France offers a vast network of cycle routes across all regions, with some of the best of them in the Pays de la Loire region. With 2,800km of cycle routes, the Pays de la Loire really does offer something for all levels of riders.

In 2018 the Grand Depart of the Tour de France was from Noirmoutier-en-l’Île, Pays de la Loire. We look at just how fabulous this region of France is for cyclists of all abilities as we follow in the footsteps of the Tour de France…

Cycling on Noirmoutier-en-l’Île

Tour de France riders slogging it out along a steep road, a helicopter swoops low behind to film them

When the planners were considering how best to get the 176 riders, their teams, the press and TV, plus thousands of spectators on and off the island of Noirmoutier-en-l’Île for the Tour de France, they had two options. Either the Passage du Gois, a natural 4.3km causeway flooded twice a day by up to 4m, where the foolhardy die if they jumble up their tide-times. Or the road bridge. Mmm… you guessed right, they opted for the latter. And I highly recommend it.

If you don’t have a bike with you, hire one in the area. You can get the latest model latest electric bikes from Bike n’ Tour. Perfect for exploring this lovely island.

At 20km end-to-end, therefore manageable in a day, Noirmouitier is a delightful backwater with beaches straight from childhood memory; buckets-and-spades, rock-pools to investigate, golden sand and sun. At my hotel, the utterly lovely Le Général d’Elbée, I compared my achievements with the Tour de France stats. Me: 10km. 4 hours (give or take… I did stop for a beer along the way). Fernando Gaviria, Team Quick Step Floors: 201km. 4h 23′ 32″. Oh well.

Nutrition for tour riders is paramount. They burn around 5,000 calories per stage and must eat and drink constantly to top up. I strolled to Le p’tit Noirmout, hard to find but worth it, with an unassuming front hiding its treasures within. As the restaurant was but an oyster-shell’s throw from the harbour, my choice wasn’t hard to decide upon. Oysters, then Fruits de Mer. And a glass or two of wine.

Cycling at St Jean-de-Monts

Vast sandy beach with a wooden pier at St Jean de Monts, Pays de la Loire France

My stage 2 was part of the TDF’s stage 1 – Saint-Jean-de-Monts down the coast. It’s holiday-central for French, Brits, Dutch, Germans, you name it. 8 kms of golden beach and a 400m pier. There is also a vast network of cycle paths, known as the Sentiers Cyclables de la Vendée. Something to suit every level of cyclist here.

Or for something a bit different, you could hire Rosalie! A seven -seater orange quadricycle, with a stripey awning and smiley face on the front.

Highly recommended is a stop off at Thalasso Valdys for a Pause Cocoon which involves some ‘Zen Modeling’ (a body massage) with seaweed kelp cream; Hydromassage bath with seaweed jelly finishing off with ‘marine rain’ (a seawater shower).

Cycling in Les Sables-d’Olonne

Huge area of salt marshes in Les Sables d'Olonne, blue water separated by grassy green paths

Les Sables-d’Olonne is the world capital of yacht racing and situated on the “Côte de Lumière” which covers 105 km² of the Atlantic coastline. Beach holiday heaven awaits in this lovely coastal town. Plenty of restaurants and bars, lots of activities and loads to do make this a family favourite.

The waterfront route includes paths through forests, beaches, marshes and wild coastline and is an easy ride.

Lunch at the restaurant of the Côte Ouest Hotel Thalasso & Spa is a revelation. Tables decked with each and every type of seafood imaginable; lobster; spider crabs, crabs, oysters, clams, mussels, cockles, bigorneau (sounds better than winkles, doesn’t it), langoustine, prawns, shrimps, I’ve probably left some out. The small mountains of discarded shells and carapaces were cleared as fast as they piled up until even I reached a point when I had to admit I’d had enough. It was ‘epic’.

Cycling in La Baule

Two men cycle through lush green countryside along a stream near Les d'Olonne, Pays de la Loire

La Baule is where savvy Parisians escape the unbearable heat and tourist-hassle of the capital in August. The epicentre is Hotèl L’Hermitage, old-money, solid 5-star traditional luxury, it’s been attracting the rich since 1926. Churchill, the Agha Khan, Aristotle Onassis, and Maurice Chevalier have all stayed. The 9 km beach is big enough to land the world’s largest passenger airliner, the Airbus A380, on with bags of room left for beach volleyball, and stripy changing huts. It might sink into the soft sand though.

Early each day only horse riders and pisteurs are about. Pisteurs? We’re not in the Alps. Correct, but this beach is pisted each day not by a Ratrack, but a tractor dragging a harrow. Result? Perfect corduroy sand good enough to ski on if it was snow, and if it was halfway up a mountain.

Up the north coast is an uber-exclusive enclave of villas, each with its high wall, entry-phone access only, cool pines, and private, very private sea front access. These are the holiday homes of the privileged, government ministers, financiers, and the famous.

The riders would have taken in none of this as they sped past at 40 kmph. But I recommend you take your time to discover this gorgeous part of France on two wheels…

Michael Cranmer was the guest of Pays de la Loire tourist board www.paysdelaloire.co.uk and the Vendée tourist board www.vendee-tourism.co.uk

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