France’s two greatest rivers, the Loire and the Rhône, come tantalisingly close… but to cycle between them, you need to conquer the hilly country of the Haute-Loire and the Ardèche.
Until now. A brand new rail trail, the Via Fluvia (‘Way of the Rivers’), connects Loire to Rhône via fabulous scenery and gentle climbs. It’s a work in progress, so you’ll have to divert onto roads now and then, but this is already shaping up to be one of the country’s finest véloroutes – whether ridden in its own right or as part of a longer cross-country tour.
The old metre-gauge railways of the Vivarais take you up to the watershed near Dunières, after which a former freight line whisks you downhill to Annonay. There’s no railtrail yet after Annonay, which is the perfect excuse to enjoy the glorious descent of the Cance valley to the Rhône at Sarras.
The westernmost section of the route is compacted gravel and not ideally suited to a skinny-tyred road bike, though you can follow parallel D roads. Anything with robust tyres will be fine. From there, it’s paved all the way, fine for anything from a road bike to an MTB.
About 70%. The rail trail extends almost all the way from the Loire to the summit near Saint Sauveur en Rue. Across the top and down to the Loire, it’s a bit more patchy, with several sections where you’ll need to divert onto roads.
Pretty much. The climb over the watershed and the occasional diversion onto a busy road aren’t ideal for a beginner, but the 60 kilometres of glorious traffic-free cycleway certainly are. On balance, we think it’s worth it.
Yes: the completed sections are signed with a colourful Via Fluvia logo. You’ll need to find your own way on the missing sections, perhaps with the aid of our printable map or GPX files.
Both the Loire and the Rhône have fantastic EuroVelo cycle routes along their banks. In fact, the Via Fluvia would make a perfect link in a north-south cycle tour: take the Velo Francette across Normandy to the Loire, then follow Loire à Velo upstream, cross to the Rhône on the Via Fluvia, then the Via Rhôna to the Med. Bear in mind that the official Loire route gives out (for now) at Digoin, so you’ll need to make your own way upstream from there.
For a more unusual connection, you can take the Velay Express steam train from Raucoules to Saint-Agrève (bikes welcome with reservation), then follow the winding Dolce Via route – another rail-trail – down to La Voulte sur Rhône.
There are railway stations at both ends: Lavôute sur Loire and Saint Vallier (Rhône). Both lines are served by TER regional trains, on which bikes are welcome, and connect at Lyon.