Cross the Channel, and you’ll be truly delighted by the second half of the London–Paris cycle route – a lovely amble on rural lanes and superb traffic-free cycle paths, right into the heart of the capital.
(Starting from London? Check out the first half of our guide.)
It pains us to admit it, but cycling in France is better than in Britain. The roads are quieter, the drivers more respectful, and in Paris, safe, physically segregated bike lanes are becoming the norm. In Sussex, even the quiet lanes are menaced by Audis cornering too fast; in France, you can go for a whole hour without seeing a car. Even the railway paths are wider, and the gates at road crossings are less tortuous.
Paradise? Perhaps. But cycling in rural France has its eccentricities, too. Chief among these is the difficulty of finding something to eat. Yes, many villages have a boulangerie and a bar; but the bar doesn’t serve food at lunchtime, and the boulangerie is closed from 11.30am to 4pm. Turn up at 2pm looking for a late lunch, and you’ll go hungry. Better to buy your lunch before leaving in the morning, and pack it in your panniers.
Dieppe to Paris typically takes four days, bringing the total trip from London to six or seven days. A fit, experienced cyclist could do the French section in as little as two.
If you’ve done the full route from London, bridleways and all, your steed must be pretty sturdy. In France, though, the surfaces are much better. There’s only one bumpy off-road section (at Maudétour) and a handful of gravel tracks. These are easy to avoid with a short road detour.
It’s ideal. The gradients are gentle, the traffic sparse, and the scenery inviting. Set a relaxed schedule and you’ll love the experience.
Our downloadable PDF route-book has a full map of the route.
The signage in France is generally excellent. The standard sign is a compass symbol, either black-on-yellow or green-on-white, though the AV logo makes a reappearance in Paris. The route in Paris is not so well-signed and you may need to follow your nose. For the final stretch, it coincides with the city’s pink-signed N/S route; look out for those where Avenue Verte signs are missing.
Before the official French signs were erected, the route was signed by little black stickers with a red pointing arrow. These are still in place, though in a few places route improvements have superseded them. Regardless, they will help you navigate through Paris and the few other places where official signage is missing.
The French route is direct and of consistently high quality; you’ll rarely need to diverge from the official parcours. In the rural Vexin, however, the route designers were often tempted by gravel or (on one occasion) grass tracks, and experienced cyclists with faster bikes may choose to keep to the road.
The Newhaven–Dieppe ferry is subsidised by the French government, operated by the ever-efficient Danish DFDS fleet, and generally a more pleasant experience than the crush of Dover–Calais. Advance booking is required.
Bikes are welcome on board, even though there’s no dedicated storage; you simply lock your bike to the wall of the car deck. Newhaven Port is a rather minimalist experience, just a car queue with some fences, so don’t arrive too early in bad weather; one hour is enough. There’s a Sainsburys nearby if you need breakfast. Dieppe’s port is a short way out of town and better equipped, with a useful port building to top up your water bottles.
The crossing takes four hours.
The fastest way from Paris to London is by Eurostar. Taking a bike by Eurostar is, however, a pain in the seat post. Check out our detailed guide for the full skinny.
If you have the time, you’ll get a better taste of French life on the traditional Intercités trains. The unloved older brothers of the TGV, these still provide a very civilised ‘slow train’ experience. You can take a train to Rouen from Paris St Lazare, then change for the TER (regional) train to Dieppe; or, if it’s easier, take the train direct from St Lazare to Le Havre for the ferry to Portsmouth. Bike space is at the end of each carriage and requires neither booking nor dismantling your bike.
The best-kept secret of Anglo-French bike transport is the European Bike Express. This express coach has a dedicated bike trailer and travels regularly from the south of France to various points within England, with a stop in the northern suburbs of Paris.
(From 2020, there’ll be one more booking-free train option. You can take a Transilien commuter train from St Lazare to Gisors; change for the reopened line to Serqueux, near Forges-les-Eaux; and from there, cycle back along the 32-mile railway path to Dieppe. However, the line to Serqueux is closed until 2020 for improvements.)
Packing your holiday needs into a pair of panniers is the classic cycling holiday and is, of course, more sustainable. On the other hand, a car-borne companion will make your return journey easier (no need to worry about booking your bike onto French trains), and faciliate quick dashes to the out-of-town hypermarket when all the boulangeries have closed. Alternatively, a cycling holiday company will sort all these worries for you.