The Gironde stretch of La Vélodyssée begins here. From Bordeaux, you can head to Verdon-sur-Mer by train and rent a bike at the station exit. The sight before your eyes at the Pointe de Grave is striking. You can see Cordouan Lighthouse, baptised “the king of all lighthouses, the lighthouse of kings”, reigning supreme 8 km off the Médoc coastline. Erected at the entrance to the Gironde Estuary, it has been listed as a Historic Monument since 1862. Before jumping on your bike, get on-board the boat to reach the lighthouse. A spectacular panorama awaits you at the top of the 311 steps.
The charm of Soulac-Sur-Mer villas
About a dozen kilometres on, La Vélodyssée weaves its way across the seaside resort of Soulac-sur-Mer. One of Médoc’s must-see gems and less well-known that its bigger sister Arcachon. Stroll through the centre of town and admire its 19th-century and Belle Époque villas which make it special. In bygone days, it was a major stopping place for pilgrims on the Santiago de Compostela route. The Romanesque basilica of Notre-Dame-de-La-Fin-des-Terres (UNESCO) bears witness to this. Back on La Vélodyssée, you’re now within reach of long, white sandy beaches.
Bombannes’ Hidden Beaches
Paradise has to be earned! From Soulac-sur-Mer to Bombannes’ white sandy beaches, will take you three good hours. Cycle through the depths of forests, (almost) alone in the world, in the footsteps of resin-tappers. The track was actually used for transporting – by bike – the resin collected from the pines. It was also renewed and used by the Germans during the Second World War to link bunkers along the Atlantic Wall. As you approach Hourtin Lake, the track veers to Maubuisson. Stop off on Bombannes’ beaches. Sun, sea, white sand… Are you still in Gironde or on a desert island?
Back on the bikeway, weave your way through dunes and forests, far from the maddening crowd. At Carcans-Plage, surfers reign supreme. You’d think you’re somewhere on the Californian coast.
Stop-off – for a stroll – through the Cousseau Marsh Nature Reserve, accompanied by a naturalist guide. This preserved space, located between Hourtin-Carcans and Lacanau lakes, proposes 15 km of waymarked tracks where you may be fortunate enough to cross the path of deer, birds of prey, otters and migratory birds… Once you’ve passed Lacanau, you’ll ride along a shaded track which borders the ocean, offering a host of direct accesses for swimming.
La Vélodyssée branches off towards Arcachon Bay. The atmosphere radically changes as you head into an oyster farming area. You ride along the Salt Marsh Nature Reserve which lives in rhythm with the tides. This ebb and flow has led to the existence of a wide variety of habitats, making the Reserve a key migration, over-wintering and reproduction area for many birds. You’re also likely to catch a glimpse of foxes and a few deer and boars as well as the European otter.
After your stroll, stop off at Arès’ charming oyster port to delight in a platter of oysters.
The route continues around the “back” of the Bay, often ill-favoured by Bordeaux locals, who consider it to be silty… yet, it hides a wealth of treasures, like Graveyron Domain, owned by the French Coastal Conservatory. The site cannot be accessed by bike and that’s just as well. An opportunity to stretch your legs and do a 5-kilometre loop starting out from the Château de Certes or from Audenge Port. Although the distance covered is quite short, the landscape is highly varied.
A last ride on your bike and La Vélodyssée across the Gironde scenescape to finish up at Pilat Dune, the ‘show stopper’!
Most of La Vélodyssée stages can be reached by train or bus and have bike rentals close by. Route map downloadable on www.lavelodysee.com
Accommodation list on www.gironde-tourisme.fr