PARIS-VERSAIILES-MONT SAINT MICHEL BY BIKE
The Official Guide to the route
by Richard Peace
Published by Excellent Books 2018
Spiral bound card soft-back, with fold-out front cover
Reviewed by Steve Dyster
Is the word “iconic” is bandied about in vain much of the time, then be re-assured that this book - the official guide to the Veloscenic route - links genuinely iconic sights; Notre Dame, Paris, to Mont-Saint-Michel, via Versailles (if you like). On the way it takes in a swathe of Normandy, including Chartres (with its immense cathedral), Alencon, numerous chateau and many fine villages and towns. Two hundred and eighty-one miles of Gallic cycling pleasure, by the looks of it.
The Departments that comprise Normandy have done a vast amount to encourage touring cycling in recent years through the development of long distance routes, many of them with lengthy traffic-free greenways (Voies Vertes). Unsurprisingly, you’ll notice the Richard Peace indicates areas where future developments are in planned. Never fear, Veloscenic is entirely cyclable, but more traffic-free sections are planned.
Passing through several Regional Nature Parks, shown on the general map, you’ll also spot a number of other major cycle routes that link to Veloscenic. Whilst you won’t find guides to all of these - yet - more information, in English, can be found online. Usefully, the general map also shows railway stations on and close to the route.
Amongst the most experienced and enthusiastic of leisure tourers, Richard is an authority on cycling in northern France. Each twist and turn is described concisely in the text and mapped by Four Point Mapping, in a style you’ll be accustomed to from some of Richard’s other recent guides. They also provide mapping for recent Sustrans' guides and maps.
The route is well-signed for the most part, with identified sections underway. Directional instructions in the text are thorough, though some might find the text size be a little diminutive. Having said that for the most part they will not be necessary, .gpx files are downloadable at veloscenic.com . With maps, signs, and route directions, there is little chance of going wrong, especially outside of the major towns and cities.
Hang on a mo! If you can download the routes why fork out £12.95 - that’s a Plat de Jour and a vin rouge - plus.
Well, for a start, this little book, that will fit into your jersey pocket or sit on top of most bar-bags, provides all you need to plan and follow Veloscenic. The days of voluminous lists of accommodation are gone, with a handful of suggestions and links to relevant websites keeping things more up-to-date. Suggested accommodation, facilities, places of interest and links to useful info are dealt with in each chapter, covering a section of the route. Snippets of information enable one to select places to explore further. Others put the route into context, for example, that between Limours and Gometz-la-Ville, the greenway follows the test track for Aerotrain. For a decade after 1964, it was the scene of tests for a proposed high speed train - 300km/hour - that floated on a cushion of air. You will have more time to enjoy the scenery.
The route chapters follow a short, but informative, introduction covering signage, route finding, practical information and lots of advice on travel with bike to and from your trip. Of course, actual daily distance is a personal matter.
Maps take up a lot of page space, but there are also photos that entice. From the front cover, through the fabulous view from the Palace of Versailles, and onward, there are some super images should you be dilly-dallying and not know whether to go. Flick though the pages and take it from there.
Richard recommends a hybrid rather than a racer, to cope with some of the rougher circumstances. However, he adds that, in reality, any bicycle will do. Veloscenic is clearly a route for all cyclists on all kinds of bikes: and this guide tells you all you need to know, before and during your ride. It will make a fine momento of a great tour, when you get home, too.
A really good, handy temptation to head for Normandy.