Great Rides: Paris to Dieppe along the Avenue Verte
Great Rides: Paris to Dieppe along the Avenue Verte
The hiss of drizzle evaporating on my cooking pan goes unheard over the roar of my stove. I lift the lid and give a prod to our evening’s supper of noodles avec les haricots verts. Raising my cup of Breton cidre to my companion, I smile.
It’s Saturday evening, and we’re sat in a secluded camping plot surround by a wall of pine in Le Coudray-Sain-Germer, some 80 miles by bike from Paris.
Together with a photographer, I’d travelled to Paris for work the previous day to check out the new arrangements on Eurostar for the cycle-rail traveller, following Cycling UK’s campaign Zerostars for Eurostar. Rather than spending the whole day on the train, shuttling between two cities, a couple of days before leaving I’d decided to use the weekend and my time more productively by riding the Avenue Verte from Paris to the coastal town of Dieppe. Fortunately the photographer, Huw, who is also a good friend, was up for the ride too.
For those unfamiliar with this now well-known route, the Avenue Verte (pronounced “veh-TE”) is a joint Anglo-Franco project that connects the two capitals of London and Paris using the ferry crossing between Newhaven in the UK, and Dieppe. Planned to be largely traffic-free, the route was signposted in time for the London 2012 Olympics, but since then has been tweaked and updated.
Given France’s rich cycling heritage, it is perhaps unsurprising that most of this tweaking has happened across the Channel. Apart from leaving Paris, the French route is a dream ride. with long-distance segregated cycle routes or traffic-light sections, all of which are well-signposted.
England lets the Avenue Verte down. While some of the route is off-road, it is also largely unpaved and reportedly unsuitable for many types of bike, which is a shame as you really are spoilt across the Channel.
In France, you have a choice of route, splitting at either Conflans-Sainte-Honorine if leaving from Paris, or from Saint-Germer-de-Fly if leaving from Dieppe. To the west, you can ride through the Vexin area and along Epte Valley, while to the east you face a slightly longer route (c 40 miles more) along the River Oise into southern Picardy rich with Gothic architecture.
It really is a tough choice to choose between. In the end, seeking to make the best of both worlds, I mapped out a route from Paris to take us to Auvers-sur-Oise. Auvers is a small town on the River Oise, where Van Gogh lived and spent his last days painting masterpieces such as Wheat Field with Crows and the Church at Auvers. In many ways, these venues are stuck in a time capsule, and I was keen to visit these sites again and see the same field and corvid descendants Van Gogh had painted in 1890.
Unfortunately, due to people on the track, our train was delayed by a couple of hours. This meant by the time we had checked out the Parisian facilities for loading a bike on Eurostar, spoken to staff and reassembled one bike, the afternoon was already pretty much finished.
For the purpose of the article I was writing for Cycle magazine about travelling with a bike by Eurostar, we had to grab a few snapshots of famous Parisian landmarks. This meant we were soon meandering our way through the bustling traffic of a Friday afternoon, trying to find the Eiffel Tower.
Perhaps it is the sheer density of the traffic combined with generally courteous drivers, but cycling in Paris does not feel as threatening as it can do in London or other large British cities.
Perhaps it is the sheer density of the traffic combined with generally courteous drivers, but cycling in Paris does not feel as threatening as it can do in London or other large British cities. Even though we only had a vague idea of where we were going, and only passing familiarity with the city, reaching the Eiffel Tower while there was still sufficient daylight to grab a couple of photos was relatively straightforward. Photos done, our journey proper could begin.
Our first port of call after the photo shoot had to be a petrol station to buy some fuel for my multi-fuel stove. It took a little while to find one, and then even longer to explain in my fractured schoolboy French that I needed to fill up my fuel bottle with petrol from the pump!
Still rolling through the banlieu at about 8pm and night setting in, we stopped off for supplies at a bakery which was still open to buy some baguettes and a large beer to supplement our intended supper when we reached our campsite some 20 miles away.
Even with the wonders of GPS guidance systems and reasonable cycling infrastructure, exiting large cities by bike is not an easy prospect. There is plenty of stop-starting and breathing in of vile fumes, but eventually all this slowly fades away, until suddenly you realise you’ve escaped the city.
With the hours of darkness upon us, and an intermittent drizzle, we had this moment of clarity when taking a “short cut” through what we believed was a park we found that we were cycling in the dark along a freshly ploughed field. This soon turned into a muddy wooded single track which then dropped into the sleeping village of Butry-sur-Oise, about three miles east of Auvers.
Realising our mistake, but also aware that our campsite was expecting us for 10pm and it was past 9, we decided to miss Auvers which would have been shrouded in night, and plod on. As we silently pedalled through the sleeping villages which seemed to merge with each other, the drizzle soon stopped, and we reached our campsite without further mishap at 11pm, only to find the gates were closed.
Our bidons were empty, and the water lay behind a high fence topped with barbwire...
Our bidons were empty, and the water lay behind a high fence topped with barbwire. We partially quenched our thirst with the beer we had bought earlier that evening, and pitched our tent in the car park with the view we’d make use of the facilities in the morning.
The following morning the skies were clear and the air crisp. Even better, the campsite was open and we were able to replenish our water supplies and make several cups of restorative tea. The “patron” of the campsite kindly said there was no need to pay, but we handed over enough for a single person all the same out of gratitude for letting us use the facilities and not moving us from our spot in the car park first thing.
Though there had been some drizzle the previous evening, this March had been incredibly dry. We therefore plotted the most direct route which would allow us to join the western half of the Avenue Verte. This involved a bit of rough stuff along farm tracks cutting through fields, but was mostly along quiet lanes through still sleeping villages.
By midday, we had joined the Avenue Verte and soon found ourselves in a little town with a well-stocked patisserie. A meagre breakfast and supper and had left us ravenous, so we raided the patisserie twice and it being 01 April enjoyed a “poisson d’avril” for dessert. Twice.
Joining the Avenue Verte pretty much meant we no longer needed our maps or my Garmin. It is impressively and intuitively, rather than excessively, signposted. Few things can disturb a pleasant ride out than the endless stopping to check a map, but route finding really is not difficult when all you have to do is follow the green signs pointing to Dieppe!
Travelling up the Epte Valley through picturesque towns and villages on quiet country lanes with the occasional (courteous) driver makes this route truly pleasant. Add in the benefits of bountiful good cheap French food and drink to keep you fuelled along the way and you’re living / riding the dream.
We took our time, stopping for occasional photo (note: never travel with a professional photographer for a seamless ride!) and the chance to sample the local delicacies. The idyllic nature of the route does not lend itself to rushing, so it was towards dusk when we finally arrived at Gisors on the Normandy border, where its castle built by the English king Henry I in the C12th dominates the centre.
Shops were beginning to close, so we bought some further supplies for our evening meal and pressed on arriving at our campsite, Camping La Belle Etoile outside of Le Coudray-Saint-Germer in time to set up and cook our supper of “les noodles aves haricots verts” in some short-lived drizzle.
Again, we were blessed with sunshine the following morning, and with an early rising also a bakery that was opened on a Sunday. This might not seem such a big deal, but for those unfamiliar with travelling in France, finding anywhere to buy food on a Sunday can be a chore. Needless to say we stocked up with plenty of supplies.
It was at this stage that I should probably confess to quite an error in calculating the remaining distance to Dieppe. I’m not entirely sure how, but for some reason I believed that we only needed to ride a bit more than 30 miles to Dieppe.
It’s probably for this reason we decided to take a little detour from the Avenue Verte and head up a wooded hill close to a curiously named village La Tete d’Enfer (trans. The Head of Hell) which demanded investigating. It was a steady four-mile climb of about 500ft up a poorly surfaced road which took us through a woodland and at what some point must have been the village! For our detour, we were rewarded with a brand new road that made an exhilarating swift swooping descent with a glorious switchback down to Gournay-en-Bray.
Past Gournay, was where we realised my route planning mistake when we saw a sign saying Dieppe was more than 50 miles away.
Past Gournay was where we realised my route planning mistake when we saw a sign saying Dieppe was more than 50 miles away. Despite the unplanned distance ahead of us, the bonhomie of spirit we felt was unaffected – it’s amazing what the sun shining, panniers bulging with baguettes, camembert, pastries and a little red to wash it all down with, can do!
Following the Avenue Verte into Normandy proper, we cut through dairy and cider farms while passing fields flush with the spring’s first growth. The roads we cycled along were blissfully free of motor traffic, which must have been a combination of it being a Sunday but also the well-planned nature of the route we were on.
It was around mid-afternoon when we left Forge-les-Eaux, and encountered what for me was an incredible bit of cycling infrastructure: a 30-mile ,well-paved, segregated cycle route that takes you to the outskirts of Dieppe that cuts through the lush of farmland of the Pays de Bray.
As the afternoon crept on, along this route we did encounter our heaviest traffic, but these were with folk out for a family walk post a sumptuous lunch spread (or so we imagined) and increasingly groups of cyclists who must have come off the ferry earlier that day – all of whom needed a tip of the cap and a hearty “Bon jour!”
Any photographer will tell you, there is a golden hour which comes shortly before sunset. The low sun emits a warm colour which for the skilled can make for more beautiful pictures. It is a magical time, and this evening was no exception.
The increasing chill in the air meant distant church spires poked through a light evening mist in faraway villages and the green hills were bathed in a soft golden light. All of which sent Huw into paroxysms of delight, as well as bringing out his bossy side as he made me keep cycling back and forth along the same beautiful track, so as to capture the “perfect shot”.
Riding the same track, back and forth, forth and back, while having a camera click and whirl at you can spoil the moment somewhat, however my mutterings of discontent fell on deaf ears, and soon ended when Huw rightly mentioned something along the lines of “extra 40 miles miscalculation”…
All good things must come to an end, and so too did this marvellous stretch of the Avenue Verte on the outskirts of Dieppe. It was a somewhat confusing conclusion, which had us riding through a wooded park trying to find the right way in the dark. There are plans to create a more coherent route into Dieppe, but for the moment you have to contend with the main roads.
Not knowing this at the time, we spent a little while trying to discover the next leg of the Avenue Verte, but in the end we gave up, and relied on my Garmin to guide us along some busy-ish main roads into the centre of Dieppe for an arrival a little after 9pm.
We’d specifically chosen the Egg Hotel Dieppe as our final resting point. With an early morning ferry for the morning, we felt the campsite was too far and would require a fair bit of time packing up. More importantly, this reasonably priced hotel (€39 for the night) also kindly stores your bike in a secure cupboard under the stairs, and perfect for the cycling tourist’s needs – presuming you’re not looking for anything more than bike storage, clean sheets and a shower.
The unexpected 40 miles, meant we had done the best part of 70 miles that day. Following check-in, we wandered into town searching for a much-needed feast and a chance to reminisce over what had been a truly delightful weekend jaunt in the French countryside. There is so much going for this route between Paris and Dieppe, and while you’ll not find hills or mountains and the magnificent settings which accompany them, you will have a peaceful and relaxing ride through an idyllic French countryside that everyone should be able to appreciate.
Riding the Avenue Verte from Paris to Dieppe fact file
Distance: 149.5 miles over 2.5 days
Route: Eiffel Tower, Paris to Dieppe via the west wing of the Avenue Verte
Day 1 (1/2 day): Paris to Camping Caravaning Valparis, Nesles-la-Vallée (28.54miles)
Day 2: Nesles-la-Vallée to Camping La Belle Etoile, Le Coudray-Saint-Germer (52.48miles)
Day 3: Le Coudray-Saint-Germer to Dieppe (68.5miles)
Conditions: Clear sunny days with a crisp spring bite to the air, but drizzly evenings – so nearly parfait!
Accommodation: Camping and a hotel in Dieppe
Equipment used: I rode my Surly Disc Trucker and Huw a Specialised Rock Hopper with rack, with Ortlieb panniers and bar bag. We used a Nordisk Oppland 3si tent and an Optimus Polaris cooking stove.
Maps/guides: A combination of classic maps (IGN 108 Paris Rouen and IGN 107 Rouen Le Havre 1:100 000), Google maps and Garmin Edge Tour.
I’m glad I had…a good friend on the ride with me who wasn’t phased by more poor route planning!
Next time I would… hopefully not calculate a 70mile day as 30miles…and would have factored in time to visit Auvers-sur-Oise as originally planned.
Further info: www.avenuevertelondonparis.co.uk
Do it yourself
If you’re looking for an introductory overseas cycle tour, then the Avenue Verte could be for you. Of all the overseas cycle tours I’ve done, in many ways the French side of the Avenue Verte is the simplest and a true delight too. I took the Eurostar to Paris, and from there pretty much began pedalling. Once you’ve escaped the city and found the green signs saying “L’Avenue Verte” you can pretty much pack the map away and enjoy the ride. The biggest challenge is deciding on whether to take the west or east leg, and then working out where to stay. Alternatively, you can take the ferry from Newhaven in the UK and start the ride in Dieppe (two crossings a day) and then take the train back from Paris. Cycling UK members receive a £5 discount off cycle carriage with Eurostar if they choose to use the boxing service. Bon voyage!