I discovered the joy of Voises Vertes when I cycled to Paris in 2009 using the Avenue Verte south of Dieppe; the Voises Vertes are an network of cycle paths across France, often but not always utilising old railway lines that are always beautifully surfaced and well maintained and mostly pass through attractive scenery. It was nothing short of a revelation but having at first sped along the Avenue Verte in just a few of hours, I was concerned that there was possibly more to the area that I had missed, so went back shortly thereafter and have been going back regularly ever since; the cycling, scenery, areas of interest etc are just outstanding.
This time I wanted to explore some of the other Voises Vertes of the Seine-Maritime and Eure regions. We would finish at our regular Martigny campsite south of Dieppe once again, which was all the more poignant as it coincided with reading the final chapters of the book Dieppe: Shame & Glory by Terence Robertson about the failed Canadian raid on Dieppe on August 19 1942; a visit to the Commonwealth Cemetery just outside of Dieppe and some of the battle sites is well worthwhile.
I was still recovering from a knee operation earlier in the year and the trip was intended as a compromise between doing nothing and a full-blown tour, which I was not yet up to. The plan was to drive to each area with the bikes, establish a camping base and then undertake modest day rides of up to 30 miles based on each Voie Verte, where possible venturing out into the surrounding area.
Part-1, Pont-Authou to Evreux
We camped at the Les Marrionneirs municipal site at Pont-Authou located south-west of Rouen, less than two hours drive from the Dieppe ferry. This turned out to be a very nice site, 2-Star but clean, quiet and well situated for the start of the Voie Verte to Evreux, which was just across the road from the campsite. Because of my knee we generally did not do more than 25-miles each day but we managed to cover most of the track in two days, which is 42 km from end-to-end.
The northern section runs by the beautiful Le-Bec-Hellouin Abbey and then shortly before Le Neubourg, a 1km detour eastwards takes you to the impressive Chateau du Champ-de-Bataille. Le Neubourg was a nice town but otherwise unexceptional, though the impressive church there had lots to do with WWII and the town made a good place for lunch. As usual the track was paved and very well maintained but was mostly bordered by trees which obscured views of the surrounding land, though that this provided some welcome shade from the +32oC heat.
In contrast, the southern section mostly runs through rolling countryside and flat open agricultural land until shortly before reaching the regional capital of Evreux, where it winds downhill from the plateau to the valley in which the city is situated. Locating the Voie Verte coming out of Evreux afterwards to return was difficult, indeed had we not come into the city earlier by the same way I don’t think we would have found it.
Part-2: Bernay to Broglie (& beyond)
Bernay was protected from the Allied bombs one night in WWII due to the presence of low cloud and as a result, the buildings there are mostly original (medieval) and the town is very attractive; we also reckon it has some of the best food shops in Normandy! The start of the Voie Verte in Bernay was difficult to find from the published information but was located about 300 metres east of the main railway station (why don’t they say so?) through a small pedestrian tunnel, which goes under the railway tracks. From there it climbs gently southwards out of town through mixed woodland and agricultural land for 13 km until finishing in Broglie, at which point there is a Canadian war memorial commemorating the town’s liberation in WWII.
As the track was relatively short we continued onwards south on the D33 to Montrieul-l’Argille and back to Broglie on the D107 before returning on the track to Bernay, altogether making a very good day’s ride.
Part-3: Dangu (9 km west of Gisors)
We chose to camp at the de L’Aulnaie municipal campsite at Dangu, situated at the northern end of the Voie Verte from Gisor to Gasny. It turned out to be a very nice location, next to a large lake that forms part of the River Epte, along which the cycle track runs, though the village is very sleepy and any shopping (except for a local boulangerie) needs to be done in Gisor. Notwithstanding, the site was poorly looked after in comparison to others I have experienced in France and a little disappointing; as the only campsite which provided access to this Voie Verte there was no alternative.
The Voie Verte here runs 28 km south-west of Gisor down the Epte river valley, generally with good views of the surrounding slopes on either side, though sometimes wooded and winding back and forth across the river until finishing at Gasny. Some 5 miles further on from the southern end of the track at Giverny is located Monet’s house and gardens + and a museum of impressionist art, which are both well worth incorporating into a ride of this area.
After our visit to Giverny we returned to the Voie Verte via a detour along the River Seine on the D100 which provided some really outstanding scenery and areas of interest. In particular Rommel’s WWII headquarters at La Roche-Guyon and subsequently some magnificent cycling on the route de crètes and back roads across the top of the Parc Naturel Regional Du Vexin, just north of Roche-Guyon.
Part-4: Martigny (9km south of Dieppe)
Once again we got our favourite pitch at the Martigny 2 Rivièrs municipal campsite by the side of the river, which overlooks the adjacent lake and onwards to the Bèthune river valley in the distance, along which the Avenue Verte runs south towards Paris. Despite already undertaking numerous rides in this area, we managed to develop some new and equally beautiful new rides this time starting from the campsite, usually incorporating the Avenue Verte as a way to or back from each ride. All-in-all this still remains our favourite track and area for scenery, food and just general ambience, history and interest – it is difficult to beat.
Following this trip we have now tried a number of the Voises Vertes in Normandy and I remain very enthusiastic about them all. However, despite the outstanding cycling they provide, I have come to the conclusion that they do have some drawbacks and should be used sparingly. They can be monotonous at times, frequently missing much of the best scenery and real areas of interest which is often obscured by trees. They also tend to skirt round or entirely miss towns and villages, which means it is easy to just ride past areas of interest unless you know where to turn off beforehand; it is certainly necessary to turn off for a coffee and patisserie or shopping.
At every one of these locations we found the best cycling was almost always on the surrounding roads, often up on the adjacent hills; by their nature the Voises Vertes are usually located on a disused railway tracks and therefore tend to run along river valleys or across flat plateau tops. Other than as a quick route from A to B, I believe the best rides come from combining each Voise Verte with the surrounding roads, thus vastly expanding horizons – physically and metaphorically – and providing a quick route to or from each ride, in fact it is quite a magic formula that produces great cycling.
STATS – MAPS – STUFF
Tour: 1st to 11th June 2011, 11 days
Mileage: + 200 miles
Maps: I used the 1/150,000 Michelin Map 304 – Eure, Seine Maritime, for all the rides which I found to be adequate – the topography is not severe at any point and really doesn’t require anything more than this. Of course if you do need more + contours the French IGN 1:100,000 series is best.
Prices shown are per night for a large tent + two persons, without electricity; you pay extra for each person + electricity. There would be an additional charge for each extra person of about 30% of the price shown. I did not book anywhere and found it very quiet at this time of the year.
Les Marronniers (Pont-Authou)
Camping de L’Aulnaie (Dangu near Gisor)
Martigny (South of Dieppe)
French Voises Vertes Guide
General Cycling & Tourist Information
The following websites are good sources of information on cycling and other related tourist matters
I also suggest Email the local tourist offices beforehand for hard copies of various maps and cycling pamphlets which they are usually very happy to forward by post and are useful for planning.