Avenue Verte to Paris

(two old fools find an easy route to the French capital city)

Riding out one Sunday morning with a group from the Portsmouth Cycle Forum I met a young cyclist at Broadmarsh staring at the signpost and looking lost. I offered my assistance and learnt that he was French, from Paris and had just ridden to London using a designated route, the Avenue Vert. He told me that it used an old railway track for part of the route to Dieppe and then linked up with a Sustrans route to London.

With the wonders of the Internet I researched the route and discovered the Donald Hirsch website. Donald had devised a detailed route from Dieppe to Paris which appealed to me because it is mainly either on designated tracks or minor roads and almost flat (emphasis on the almost). There is also a list of recommended accommodation and camping sites at suitable distances along the way.

My old traveling companion of many years and epic journeys has never been to Paris and was the only Old Fool who volunteered to join me on a leisurely trip with a manageable mileage using Chambre D’Hotes along the way.

We took the train to Brighton and cycled along the roller coaster road to Newhaven for our first B&B, without the breakfast as we had to catch the 10.00 am ferry and thought we would eat on board. We never did as we had the free hot chocolate and coffee provided. It was a bit choppy to start with hence Pop’s queasy stomach, but got more pleasant and stopped raining as we neared Dieppe.

I had printed off two copies of the route directions which proved to be an excellent guide and there was no real need for a map; which threw Pop because there is nothing he enjoys more than to cycle along erratically as he studies his map and doesn’t look at the road. The lesson is not to ride too close to him because you never know when he will suddenly slow up or veer across the road.

From the ferry we rode along the D1 for about five miles and then joined the old Railway track, the Avenue Vert at Arques-la-Bataille. This proved to be just about the best of such tracks I have ever come across; broad super tarmac surface and very well signed, and above all with extensive countryside views on both flanks. The easy cycling we have both come to enjoy more as the years have advanced.

Our first stop was at Mesnieres en Bray, about 20 miles, where we were greeted by Peter and Madeline. Peter is a retired wine merchant which news gave us good vibes especially as we were offered drinks and cakes to settle us in. Bikes were stored in an ancient garage. The house was beautifully furnished and well equipped.

The evening meal was really good with melon and smoked ham starter, duck breast, a selection of cheeses and a desert, and of course excellent wines and a pre-dinner aperitif with canapés. There was even Pop’s favorite tipple, Rose wine, but unfortunately it was not of the quality we usually supply him with on our self catering trips, it was drinkable. But he can’t taste the difference so it was a waste of a good wine.

After a good breakfast we rejoined the route for another 23 kilometers to Forges les Eaux where the track ends and we stopped for coffee. The route is now on very quiet lanes mostly paralleling the old railway track which is now being ripped up and resurfaced to extend the off road route to Gournay-en-Bray and beyond. Work seems to be progressing well and hopefully we will see some new track by next summer; must be EU funding!

Our next stop was at La Landelle ,a quaint old house in a small village at the top of a long hill. We were greeted by Marie with tea and cakes, masses of cakes as she loves to bake. Again a nice room and at the evening meal we were joined by Marie’s husband Thierry and 12 year old daughter Leah for aperitifs and apple juice and cider which Thierry gets from his neighbour in return for helping with the apple harvest. A good calvados was also savored by the connoisseurs, Pop declining because it was not sweet enough. Another great four course meal with copious excellent wines. Marie not only bakes well but is also a talented cook. In the morning we were greeted with a heavily laden breakfast table and urged to take bags of cakes with us for the journey. We were still eating cakes four days later.

This, our third day, was very wet. We got soaked cycling into a head wind across a plateau with little shelter. We lunched at Marines, a dismal town viewed from a bus shelter in the rain, and then braving it we pushed on to our next stop at Boisemont where road works and misleading deviations resulted in me having to ask for directions in a pharmacy where, fortunately, I found a young lady assistant who went to school with the son of our hostess for the night, and she was able to draw me a map to take us the long way round to the Ferme Rose. We were wet and I had to telephone our hostess Claire who told me how to gain entry and then we were able to strip off our wet clothes, switch on all the electric heaters and get a welcome hot shower.

Claire eventually returned from her equestrian duties at her stables and made sure we were comfortable, Dinner was served in the main dining room in the very old farmhouse which had a super wood fired Agar type oven in which veal was slow roasting.

Another great meal shared with Claire and her French husband who after serving on the QE2 as a steward is now running a stone masonary business. Another guest also joined us who was French and was lecturing on computing at the local college. So another lively bi lingual debate about the French tax system, crazy government and employment laws became a little left wingish all aided by several glasses of good wine. The buildings here were obviously once part of the old chateau with a turreted dove tower and large old rambling rooms. I think we were lodged in the servants’ quarters but the accommodation was spacious and very comfortable, and dry.

After another good breakfast we departed to enjoy better weather for our final day of cycling into Paris. Looking at the map the road network into Paris is congested and very busy, but Donald Hirsch has magically devised an amazing and devious route using cycle paths alongside motorways, alongside the Seine, through five forests and parks, over aquaducts, past Versailles, through the Bois de Boulogne and around Longchamps hippodrome. Be careful to avoid the vast number of French racing cyclists who use the hippodrome route as a training track. We decided not to compete. This is a most interesting route and fairly simple, and if you adhere strictly to the guidance, you will only have about a mile of busy Paris roads before you arrive at the Tour Eiffel. Job done.

Oh what fun we had now, cycling along the banks of the Seine amongst thousands of cursing tourists, sometimes on designated cycle paths occasionally on pavements, and sometimes jousting with tourist busses in the chaotic traffic on the roads. We were inspired by the number of French cyclists enjoying the Crack, many on Boris Bikes.

Alas we finally got to our Hotel close to Union, a little way out but not too expensive and with safe storage for our bikes which is a premium in Paris.

A meal was found in a local eatery, nowhere near the standards which we had become used to but cheap.

We had a sightseeing day on a tour bus. This enabled Pop to see all the main bits of this glorious town without wearing himself out with too much trudging although we did walk through the Louvre and the Tuilliers Gardens. Unsurprisingly he declined to visit any museum, any cathedral, the Follies Bergere (too expensive and worries about a heart attack) or a decent restaurant (same reasons). But we did visit a supermarket to view the mushrooms (it was free- no entry charge)

We had already booked our train tickets to Caen and the next day cycled through the almost deserted early morning streets to Gare St. Lazare where we were early for our booked train and were just in time to catch a straight through train which got us to Caen about11.00 am. Unfortunately we had to travel in a first class carriage, obviously without paying the extra, which was only an appropriate way to finish a First Class Trip. Well done oldun.

In spite of the weather this is a most interesting route with some really good places to stay along the way where excellent half board was only about £55 per night including good company and drinks. Thoroughly recommended for old potterers or for speedy youngsters who don’t have time to enjoy the scenery and can do the 129 miles in a day.