Biking from lighthouse to lighthouse on the French Northwest Coast – Meanderings through France n° 218
By Annick Dournes & Frédéric de Poligny
The “Vélo Maritime” is a biking itinerary that will take you from Roscoff in Brittany to Dunkirk in Northern France. On the way you will discover unique landscapes, ports, fortresses and no less than 50 lighthouses. A great way to get your fill of fresh sea air!
If travelling abroad is getting more and more complicated with the Covid pandemic let’s hope it will soon get easier. The “Vélo Maritime” is open year round, waiting for you when things will get easier. In France we can still bike without having to wear a mask and it surely feels wonderful to be able to breathe in a fresh salty air along this new biking route.
The “Vélo Maritime” is 1,500 km long. It’s part of the huge biking route that goes from Kyiv in Ukraine to Roscoff in Brittany. The list of the different sites on the French itinerary is amazing. The Abbey of Mont Saint Michel and its bay, the fortified city of Saint Malo, the Pink Granite Coast, the D-Day landing beaches, the cliffs of Etretat, the Somme bay, the Opal coast, Deauville or Le Touquet are just a few examples of what you can discover on the way.
Of course you don’t have to do it all in one go and shorter itineraries are organised for a half-day or one to several days, every option is possible. From England you can easily take a ferry from one of the numerous ports linking the UK to France and start your bike tour right at your arriving port. From Dover to Dunkirk or Calais, from Newhaven to Dieppe, from Poole or Portsmouth to Le Havre, Cherbourg or Saint Malo, from Plymouth to Roscoff, all these options take you to a possible point to start your tour from.
Lighthouses are obvious landmarks of the “Vélo Maritime”. Whether on islands or capes, in ports or cities the route will take you to more than 50 different ones. Each one is unique but they all are set in beautiful sites and very photogenic. Cylindrical, square, octagonal, made of stone, pink granite or red brick, high or low, sober or exuberant … they are a vivid testimony of our rich maritime architecture. Ten of these fifty lighthouses are open to visitors.
Some of them really are worth the visit. Dunkirk lighthouse was built right in the harbour. It is open on weekends and after climbing its 276 steps you will have a great view over the city and the Flemish coastal plain. You will spot from far away the Gravelines lighthouse with its black and white spiral. From its top on a clear day it offers a 50 km long vision of its surroundings! In Calais the lighthouse has been built right in the city next to a church and is surrounded by houses.
In spite of its simple architecture the Ailly lighthouse is a historic monument and you’ll only have to climb 91 steps to get to its top and have a view of the beautiful cliffs of Saint-Valery-en-Caux. Close to Barfleur, one of the most beautiful villages in France you can see the Gatteville lighthouse, the second highest French one. 11,000 blocks of granite have been used to build this 75-metre high “candle”. The Frehel Cape lighthouse is one of the most powerful ones in France and it offers amazing views over the La Latte fortress, Saint Malo, the Channel Islands and the coast of the Cotentin peninsula.
These are only a few examples of all the lighthouses and other great sites that are must see on the “Vélo Maritime”. There are many ways to discover this route. The website will give you plenty of information to organise your trip. Where to rent a bike, downloading maps and itineraries, GPS guide, how to have your luggage taken from each stage of the trip to the next, where to sleep… Find out more at https://www.lavelomaritime.com/
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny