France’s new long-distance bike route is another of those waterside routes the country does so well. The Voie Bleue follows the Moselle and the Saône all the way from the border with Luxembourg to Lyon. (Add the Via Rhôna, and you could make this a true north-south route across the length of the country.)
Over half the 680km route is on traffic-free riverside paths. The rest is on minor lanes, often themselves running very close to the rivers. Even the watershed is crossed by means of a canal towpath, that of the Canal des Vosges. This takes you (almost) effortlessly up to a height of 370m in beautiful, quiet, often wooded countryside. There are then a few minor climbs in the upper Saône valley, but nothing to scare the horses.
As yet, the route is unimproved and unsignposted for its final section from Mâcon to Lyon. This part is rideable with a gravel or mountain bike, and navigation is hardly difficult – you’re essentially just following the towpath. But if you’re on a touring bike or with a family, you might want to give this section a miss.
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Rode this route between Chalon-sur-Saône and Lyon. It's quite nice! After Macôn there was a long stretch of gravel that did get kinda hard because of all the rain that week. But we took a detour trough the hills and got rewarded with beautiful views.
If you plan on following the Rhône afterwards, save yourself the trouble and take a train from Lyon to Givors or Viennes. The first 20km are just not worth it: barely rideable trails between the autostrade and industrial lots, poorly signposted, lotsa traffic, nothing interesting to see...
The rest of the Via Rhona southward is very beautiful though!
I’m going to a post a review in roughly 3 sections. I cycled from Luxembourg to Lyon on La Voie Bleue using the cycle.travel gpx files. I did a few variations but still used cycle travel for those. I started the route in Luxembourg as a convenient kick off point and this is also the start that the Chamina guide recommend. Luxembourg City can be accessed by TER from Metz and other french cities and there were plenty of bike spaces on the Sunday morning I did it. The previous day I’d travelled by prebooked TGV from a channel port (Roscof) via Paris to Metz which is the last station on the line close to Luxembourg I could take the bike to. I cycled across Paris between stations.
The route through Luxembourg was a little hilly with lots of vines but clear cycle route guides and a nice treat in that the last climb is via a rail trail with lovely views before dropping down to the Moselle at Remich. I stayed on the Luxembourg side to Schengen -next to the river but they’re was a busy road alongside the bike trail- maybe the German side is better? Before çrossing into Germany where I stayed the night. Next day I was in Apach which is the official start (although there are no Voie Bleue signs- it is the Charles Tremeraire trail) and this was symptomatic of the rest of the Moselle section- lots of post industrial evidence but most of the route was on old but improved chemin de haulage ways. There was almost no climbing. There is a variant outlined in the chamina book to go around Nancy but I stayed on the main route.
The second section starts after Nancy where the Moselle is already heavily canalised and eventually becomes the Canal des Vosges. This section is a lot more rural and very peaceful -make sure you get food early in the day as there aren’t lots of boulangeries en route especially as quite often you are on the canal towpath (fully upgraded) with water on either side. I found this exceptionally beautiful and tranquil. There was more climbing both a little on the route as you climb up the locks and more particularly on some days when you are diverted more onto small local roads. This partially reflects the initial head waters of the Saone too and I wasn’t always interested in following every meander to every local village (especially if it meant a climb) so I did take a few short cuts. I didn’t camp and accommodation on this section was sparse but ok- I found myself mostly in self catering places. I had done some pre planning using both cycle.travel and the chamina guide but didn’t find any major problems - just not much choice on accommodation and sometimes having to adjust my day length to what was there.
The final section is the main Saone river to Lyon. This was mostly peaceful with the housing gradually getting more « french » instead of mountain style and gradually getting busier until you hit Lyon although it was only the final day into Lyon where there were a lot of settlements along the river. There was a modest amount of climbing on the first few days of the Saone. Overall the whole trip was only about 2000m of climbing over 12 days so nothing of great substance but not as flat as say the Rhône route south of Lyon, there are a couple of variants on this section that I didn’t try, including one that goes through a lot of great wine areas. See the Chamina guide or the Voie Bleue website for these.
I found the accommodation in some of this section more pricey than elsewhere but maybe I hasn’t booked early enough. The food here was rich and Burgundian (not great for this vegetarian/pescatarian) but I mostly ate very well.
As mentioned above the route is unimproved and not signposted from Chalon-sur-Saone to the suburbs/outskirts of Lyon. I didn’t find this a major problem but I was off route from Macon until Villefranche sur Saone so I may have missed the worst, south of villefranche any touring bike or hybrid would be fine. I enjoyed the day into Lyon- it was nice after a few quiet days to see more people and towns and cycling in Lyon to the confluence where the rivers join was interesting and safe. In total I cycled about 750km on the route and 820km including cycling across Paris a couple of times and to and from the ferry to catch the TGV. There is now a TGV service from Lyon to Paris that takes intact bikes and I booked mine on using the SNCF app when booking my ticket.