Following the spectacular valley of the Allier, this could be the most attractive of the Loire-to-Mediterranean cycle routes.
Although the full V70 isn’t yet complete, the 415km of the Via Allier are fully signposted and rideable today– crossing the whole of the Auvergne region from north to south. From its start at Cuffy on the outskirts of Nevers, as far as Langeac at an altitude of almost 600m in the Haute Loire, the route generally follows the river Allier, meaning that for most of the first 200 km, it makes for easy cycling with few hills. Beyond Langeac, riders climb another 600m to reach the highest point on the route, shortly before ending at Langogne in the Lozère.
So what makes this special compared to other north-south French veloroutes? First, it’s a relatively direct route from the Loire towards the Mediterranean. It runs through lightly populated areas, avoiding suburbs and sprawl. It runs through some of France's finest countryside – and by following the river Allier almost to its source, it crosses the Massif Central mountains without a succession of multiple climbs and descents.
Just one word of warning. The part of this route south of Langeac is not recommended between December and March, even for intrepid winter cyclists. Routes may be snowed up.
At 415km, the route from Nevers to Langogne would take a moderately accomplished cyclist four or five days. But there’s enough to see along the way that you could easily plan a longer holiday.
This is ultimately a river valley route of the sort that France does so well. Although it’s mostly on quiet lanes rather than towpaths or former railway trackbeds, there are few climbs to speak of in the first 200km of the route.
As you head upstream, however, the valley narrows into a series of gorges where space is closely fought – and on occasion the cycle route is squeezed out. This is particularly true of the last 80km of the route, after Prades. Still, it’s gentler than any other route you could plan through such glorious scenery, and the views are worth it.
Any road or touring bike will be suitable on this route, which is almost all on-road, and paved throughout.
Yes: the route is signposted throughout with standard French véloroute signage and a ‘Via Allier’ logo.
Although this is an on-road route for now, the authorities are working on traffic-free greenway sections which could ultimately keep you closer to the river. The main focus at present is a cycleway from Pont du Château towards Vic le Comte, a 27km route set to open in 2022.
Although this is a fine route in its own right, it’s as part of a longer cross-country trip that it could come into its own. It begins at Nevers in the Loire valley, connecting with the famous Loire cycle route – and hence the Channel ports via the Vélo Francette. At the southern end, there is as yet no signposted connection to the Med, but it’s the work of minutes with cycle.travel’s route-planner to find an appealing route on quiet roads.
Both Nevers and Langogne have train stations, though do be aware that the service at Langogne is fairly sparse, with some of the routes operated by coaches. There’s a useful train along the valley between Langogne and Clermont-Ferrand, from where you can find connections to Paris, Lyon and beyond.
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Ride reports & comments
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I have just completed this beautiful ride in exactly 5 days. At least the first part of the ride was fairly flat, on minor roads with very little traffic.
However as the Allier gets narrower so the cycling becomes more difficult and the last 80 miles was much more difficult than your description indicated with several sections where the uphill sections went on for at least 3-4 miles.
Accommodation and facilities are limited. There is hardly any traffic in parts and I got the impression that few tourists actually come here.
However the description is rather inaccurate because it gives the impression that the route partially follows the Allier, ie. rather like the routes down the Loire or the Rhône. This is not the case. The route stays close to the Allier, crosses it many times, but it does not go alongside it.
I strongly recommend that the description is revised to emphasise these key points, although this is a. very fine route through wonderful countryside.
I agree with Michael (above), it's a good ride through great countryside (especially towards the end) but pretty hilly. There's one section where you don't actually see the river for 40km or so. I didn't have trouble finding campsites etc in early/mid-September.
Some changes to the description:
The beginning of the route isn't signposted on the mapped route between Apremont and Chateau-sur-Allier. The only cycle route sign turns sharp right just before Apremont (an offshoot of the EV6?). I followed the mapped route but didn't see a sign again until Chateau-sur-Allier. I don't know which way the signed route goes! But it misses the nice village of Apremont.
Between Billy and Vichy there's a brand new off-road route along the river. It's marked as a cycle route on OSM but not yet signed as Via Allier. I think it will be soon - its not quite finished yet (Sep 2022), but perfectly rideable on wide compacted gravel.
After Vichy there is a similar off-road route on the west side of the river, rejoining the mapped route opposite Saint Yorre. This is already marked as part of the Via Allier on the side of the trail, so is 'official'.