Detailed paper maps at a sensible cycling scale are becoming difficult to find in these days of the GPS smartphone, and nowhere more so than in France. If you want contours then you're forced to carry several kilograms of expensive maps at an unnecessarily large scale.
However France has an extensive network of canals and rivers, many with towpaths that are perfect for long-distance touring, and you can find them on Imray Laurie Norie + Wilsons' Map of the Inland Waterways of France. And, if you don't find a towpath next to your chosen river, you can be pretty sure that nearby minor roads won't go up and down many mountains!
This map has formed the basis of my cycletouring in France - I've avoided main roads and motorised traffic but have still enjoyed the cafés and culture in towns and villages that the waterways pass through.
Click on the photos to enlarge them...
2 weeks, Chris
Views of the Nantes-Brest and Ille-et-Rance canals in Brittany, taken during a solo tour in September 2003. No cars or lorries for hundreds of miles - just walkers, cyclists and anglers!
The canals pass through villages with cafés offering cheap and filling 'plats du jour' at lunchtime, whilst well-run municipal campsites can be found in the larger towns. There are also some fascinating museums along the canals.
1847 km / 1154 miles, 26 days, Chris
I chose my route from St.Malo in the north of France to the Mediterranean in the south to include visits to family friends near Nantes, Limoges and Bordeaux. Otherwise I mainly camped wild, enjoying the luxury, solitude and beauty of wild places in which to pitch my little tent each night.
Here are a couple of canal towpaths and some typical vineyard scenery near Bordeaux.
Small boats and a fishing platform on the Altantic coast between Nantes and La Rochelle, and a sandy beach where the Pyrenees mountains meet the Mediterranean Sea.
Dinan is a picturesque town on the river Rance, and Bordeaux, on the river Gironde, is one of the loveliest cities I know, cleaned and pedestrianised in recent decades to show off its magnificent architecture. Carcassonne is a recently-rebuilt, medieval, walled town on the Canal du Midi.
Some rather strange road signs greeted my arrival at Narbonne! I attracted the wild boar piglets by throwing them figs picked from a nearby tree - fortunately their mother was nowhere to be seen. And finally, the climb up a Pyrenees track to this Roman fort, overlooking Spain, was the highlight of my trip - exhausting and exhilarating in equal measure.
424 km / 265 miles, 11 days, Di and Chris
2 weeks exploring the Loire valley and its many magnificent chateaux. Saumur, Cheverny and Chaumont sur Loire represent just three out of the dozen or more chateaux that we passed or visited together.
Most of the chateaux were surrounded by wonderful gardens, as seen here at Cheverny and, the best of them all, Villandry. We also spent a couple of days visiting friends in Nantes where this floral monster had been constructed in the botanical garden.
Di explored several of the chateaux, as here inside Chambord, Chris being content to relax in the gardens outside. But neither of us could resist stopping for cold drinks in this troglodyte cave café at Turquant!
© Di + Chris Bell