Saturday, August 07, 2010

At the Travel Show Part 3

Eurovelo Routes
Remembering a pioneering bike tour we’d made from Mannheim to Orange (Rhone Valley) in our early days of cumbersome bikes, primitive panniers and quick to wet but slow to dry cotton clothing, we homed in on the Franche-Comté stand, to see what was new. Nantes to Budapest, Eurovelo Route 6 or the Atlantic to the Black Sea (4446 km) runs right through Franche-Comté (F-C). We had found our first (to us) new bike trail. The department of F-C lies south of Lorraine and Alsace, bordering the Rhine close to Basel, then running into the Jura hills along the Swiss border. When we rode through from Mulhouse to Belfort, Montbéliard and along the R. Doubs both cycleways and signposts were few. We made our own tour using the numerous D roads through wooded hills, sleepy villages and towns. The Doubs canal towpath boasted the usual French ‘c’est interdit...’ signs but as all the locals ignored them, we did too. It was not always easy to find places to stay, but we enjoyed the great variety of beds and the memorable notice in one hotel ‘in case of fire, open the window and make yourself known’. Fortunately the night’s worst problem was a violently sloping bed so the uphill body slipped down, the lower sleeper woke up, then walked round to the upper level to take their revenge. We ate wonderful meals, usually choosing the mid-priced menu and didn’t worry too much about what the collection of small birds on our plates had been when alive. We saw hardly any other touring cyclists and only had to joust with French camions for short distances. The Doubs is the rather strange river we had last seen whilst riding in the Swiss Jura, where it flows northeastwards through Pontarlier. As the Jura hills were folded along a NE-SW axis the river cut across the line of the folds in deep gorges until finally by Montbéliard it swung again to flow southwest, eventually into Rhone tributary, the Saone. The booklet we picked up covers the section from Dole to Belfort (187 km) and has detailed maps with information in French, English and German about things to see (lots), tourist offices, bike shops, restaurants, cyclist wardens as well as museums. The cyclist wardens, Velo guards are dressed in red and their aim is to offer assistance, first aid and advice rather than to act as police it seems. The information indicates that certain sections along waterways or by slopes can be hazardous, to careless riders. An accommodation list covers groups as well as individuals. It appears that almost the entire route is traffic free, well-surfaced and ‘signalized’ or signposted we would say. In cities like Montbéliard main roads need to be crossed with care, one section beyond Dole towards the Saone was still provisional in August 2010. Reading the information and looking at the maps suggests that the delightful, varied cities and landscapes along our old route are now accessible to the cyclist with less of the pioneering spirit needed. No doubt the ‘interdit’ signs have vanished too! Check out

What about the rest of the route?
A useful website is which has practical details concerning travel and visa requirements. It also suggests that the whole route is complete, though whether this means all the signposts are in place is debatable. The initiative for these routes came from umbrella organisation European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF). This is consists of representatives from national cycling clubs from inside and outside the EU. It aims both to represent cyclists’ interests generally and to lobby for improvements in cycle routes and improved safety for people on bikes. It may have a better chance of attracting funds designed to increase bike riding in towns and other ‘green’ transport initiatives, e.g. in 2008 the EU transport committee agreed a grant of €300 000 to this end, so not peanuts! The various Eurovelo routes link existing cycle ways and to qualify have to pass through at least two countries. Find more information by typing Eurovelo into a search engine. The websites suggest that 12 routes are at least partially complete, athough some seem to have few real grounds for hanging together. Cycling along many parts of any of them is interesting as we know (largely by chance, e.g. Andermatt to Rotterdam). Within the UK we know that there is interest in that part of the North Sea route (Eurovelo 12) which runs along the island’s east coast and continues after a sea break in the Shetland Islands. However, perhaps Eurovelo 5, London to Brindisi (3900 km) might lack a defining raison d’etre?

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