Cycling London to Paris: the French part
Early the next morning, we rolled off the ferry into a grey,cold drizzle that masked the industrial toughness of Le Havre. It was hard to motivate ourselves to get moving after a breakfast of croissants and pain au chocolat in town, where our confident French practice from the previous day was found out quickly by the perplexed locals.
Having forced ourselves to get into the saddle, we picked up a local cycle route to escape this industrial maze of a city, but still managed to get lost in a car park on the edge of town. We were soon joined by an-equally lost Josh, a cyclist from the ferry who was heading off on his first bicycle trip: to Barcelona. His route wasn’t planned, so he decided to join us for the day as he figured we were going broadly in the right direction for him.
It was a relief when we finally left the industrial docks and found ourselves riding along the edge of the River Seine, just down from where it enters the Atlantic Ocean. At the same time, it was a worry, up close, to see the size of the Pont de Normandy, a huge bridge that crosses the river and which we were headed over.
There is a dedicated cycle route over the bridge, drawn on the tarmac between the traffic and a narrow pavement. I decided to look straight ahead and focus on the climb, trying to ignore the trucks roaring along beside me. Not unreasonably, I’m not a fan of cycling over huge bridges and was relieved to make it to the other side where we could get back to riding along quiet country lanes.
I was in luck, the roads were calm and flat and the scenery pretty as we followed the Seine east in the direction of Paris. We made it to the village of Conteville just in time to grab a baguette and Orangina before everything closed for the afternoon, and fuelled up were able to continue past endless fields of yellow rapeseed that cheered up the vista on an overcast day.
In the town of Pont Audemer, we stopped for an afternoon snack of tomatoes and strawberries that tasted as fresh as if they had been plucked from local fields that morning. Soon after we were joined by local cyclists out for a ride who escorted us to the village of Pont Authou, and after a short chat we waved goodbye to him and to Josh who decided to head south whilst we continued east. Our route saw us taking the Voie Vertealong a 42km stretch of old railway line that meandered through beautiful forest and farmland.
The cycle way had been well-designed with smooth tarmac and picnic benches dotted at regular intervals. The route meandered through the town of Le Neuborg and we turned off by the old station to find our hotel, the Acadine, where we had already arranged to store our bikes in their conference room. We showered just in time to find a restaurant still open on the town square where we ordered a good bottle of local red, followed quickly by another, to celebrate our progress so far.
We had an easy start the next morning to get over the evening’s excesses. We were back cycling along the Voie Verte, enjoying the sun and a strong tailwind until the cycle lane finally came to an end in Evereux. Stopping on the outskirts of town at a huge Carrefour for a second breakfast, we adopted the French-method and packed our panniers with baguettes for lunch, which we enjoyed a couple of hours later down by the river in Garennes sur Eure watching ducks swimming furiously upstream to grab chunks of crusty bread.
When hills appeared shortly after lunch, we bemoaned our indulgent picnic as we ambled up and wobbled down through the countryside admiring the tiny villages, some complete with impressive old chateaux hinting at the rich history of the area. With my gears still slipping, I wasn’t enjoying the riding as much as the others and when we got lost on progressively busier roads my sense of humour slowly disappeared.
By now we should have been cycling along forest tracks and through parks into Versailles, but we couldn’t find the right track and locals we asked suggested we stick to the main roads. As it was getting late we followed their advice, enduring a hectic last 10km into the town sharing the road with the hundreds of sightseers aiming for the palace.
The first sight of the famous building was worth the hard work. It was much more impressive and larger than I had imagined and we cycled towards the vibrant Hotel Angleterre looking forward to exploring the next day. We had given ourselves the morning to visiting the palace and gardens, but the snaking queue of tourists in the forecourt meant that we only had time to explore inside with its famous chapel and Hall of Mirrors.
There was a good view of the impressive gardens though as we cycled out through the park, around the top of the Grand Canal where young Parisian families sailed their toy yachts. The route we followed into Paris was one suggested by Donald Hirsch on his website, and must be one of the best rides into a capital city we have ever enjoyed. We hardly ever had to cycle on a road. Instead, the route took us through parks, across an aqueduct and even around the hippodrome before the Eiffel Tower finally came into view.
We arrived in the centre of Paris before we knew it, and rolled up to the huge structure, our end point for the trip; we’d done it. The route we took via Portsmouth was a lovely ride and made for easy cycling, especially over several days when we were able to stop off and enjoy places along the way. Now we had Paris to enjoy. A quick ride from the la Tour to the Gare du Nord, we dropped our bikes off in the hotel. Tomorrow we would be taking the Eurostar home, but tonight we were off to celebrate having arrived, Parisian style.