Le_Crotoy_Velomaritime©EV4-Emmanuel_Berthier(3)Le Crotoy, itinéraire de la Vélomaritime
©Le Crotoy, itinéraire de la Vélomaritime|EV4 -Emmanuel Berthier

Vélomaritime® ̶ France’s spectacular new coastal cycling route

Time to turn a long-held daydream into a reality and organise time out on a coastal cycling path in France, not just to boost your calf muscle, but your joie-de vivre-too! Did you know that there’s a brand new route in France called ‘Vélomaritime®’, stretching all the way from Dunkirk on the Belgian border to Roscoff in the far west of Brittany? With sea air on tap, plus lighthouses, clifftops and vast beaches ad infinitum, this isn’t something to race along (leave your Lycra at home!) but somewhere to explore slowly, savouring every last breathtaking vista.

The section in Hauts-de-France (Dunkirk to Le Tréport) boasts no less than three beauty spots that have earned the prestigious French award ‘Grands Sites de France’: the Bay of Somme, Site-des-Deux-Caps cliffs and Dunes de Flandre. With only 47 ‘Grands Sites’ in the whole of France  ̶  and up there with the likes of Pont du Gard and Gorges de l’Ardèche  ̶  who could blame us for blowing our own trumpet!

Northern France _ Mers-les-Bains ©CRTC Hauts-de-France - Jean-Luc VerbruggheNorthern France _ Mers-les-Bains ©CRTC Hauts-de-France - Jean-Luc Verbrugghe
©Northern France, Mers-les-Bains | CRTC Hauts-de-France - Jean-Luc Verbrugghe

Bay of Somme  ̶  one of the world’s most breathtaking bays

It’s little wonder the bay of Somme has become a much-loved destination for anyone craving 100% immersion in the great outdoors, because it truly is a scene like nowhere else. You may have heard about its magnificent opalescent light, its everchanging and supernatural skies, and pure nature as far as the eye can see, but being there in the flesh feels like the end of one world and beginning of another. The bay of Somme is also a magnet for birdlovers because of its nature reserve, the ‘Parc du Marquenterre’, home to more than 250 species of migratory birds. Now add to that hundreds of native Henson horses, a flock or two of wild sheep, and a colony of seals on the sandbanks, and hey presto, you’ve got Mother Nature at her very best.

 

You can explore the wonders of the bay on a 3-day cycling trip with Vélo Voyageur.

Soar with the gulls at Site des Deux Caps  ̶  cycling the incredible cliffs on Calais’ doorstep

Wedged in-between Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France, our next ’Grand Site de France’ is the truly spectacular and 23-km long Site-des-Deux-Caps  ̶  so called because of its two stupendously majestic cliffs: Cap Gris-Nez and Cap Blanc-Nez. There’s much more to see besides, including the lesser-known beauty spots Dunes de la Slack and Pointe aux Oies, some rare marine plants (‘chou-marin’ or sea cabbage!), historic treasures such as Fort d’Ambleteuse, and even views over to the south coast of England on a clear day! Allow time to hop on and off the bike at regular intervals, not least because you can also enjoy walking, sand yachting, or simply chilling out on a beach towel. Don’t just take our word for it; they’re beaches so magnificent they regularly feature in France’s Top Ten Beaches lists!

Dunes de Flandre  ̶  seek out the Dunkirk spirit you’ve seen in Christopher Nolan’s epic WW2 film

Though everyone associates Dunkirk with one thing – the famous events of WW2 – scratch the surface and you’ll discover that Dunkirk is also a place where sea, sky and sand merge magnificently into a scene of outstanding coastal beauty. From Bray-Dunes on the Belgian border to the beach huts of Malo les Bains, ‘Dunes-de-Flandre’ is the backdrop for seals, crested newts and herring gulls, and at low tide you can even see a shipwreck from Operation Dynamo or a WW2 blockhouse, taking you to the heart of Christopher Nolan’s incredible film ‘Dunkirk’.

If you really want to get a feel for local people and their culture, park your bikes up on the lively seafront at Malo-les-Bains. Here you’re in pole position to try one of northern France’s favourite dishes, moules-frites (mussels and chips), and for an extra helping of local conviviality, join the locals practising ‘longe-côte’: an aquatic sport involving wading chest-deep in the sea (and the best body and mind workout known to man!).

A change of gear  ̶  a chance to discover new culture and cuisine every time you hop off the bike

In addition to the ‘Grands Sites de France’, the beauty of exploring by bike is that you won’t miss all the other lesser-known gems along the way, including a dozen lighthouses, old fortifications, six belfries collectively awarded Unesco world heritage status (in Rue, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Calais, Gravelines, plus two in Dunkirk) plus an official ‘Monument National’  ̶  the Grande Armée column in Wimille. You also have towns steeped in history (Boulogne-sur-Mer, Calais, Dunkirk), as well as Belle-Époque seaside resorts (Mers-les-Bains, Ault, Onival, Cayeux, Le Touquet, Hardelot), not forgetting Saint-Valery-sur-Somme, Le Crotoy, Quend-Plage, Fort-Mahon, Berck-sur-Mer, Wimereux, Wissant, Malo-les-Bains and Bray-Dunes… How long have you got?

Pedalling at your own pace along the landscapes of the 190-km-long Vélomaritime is not just a chance to get that heady feeling of freedom but also to make connections with people and places along the way. One of the best ways to make those connections is undoubtedly through good food, from top quality seafood in a fishing port to Flemish cuisine in a bistro. Wherever you end up, from a down-to-earth beachfront eatery to a Michelin-starred restaurant, you’ll leave with a great feeling of generosity and warmth, both on the plate and in the welcome.

Local's tip

Lucas JusticeLucas Justice
A recommendation for a great restaurant in Le Crotoy

“I know the perfect address for a feast in Le Crotoy, the Bistrot de la Baie. I recently tasted a sea bass burger with sea aster (an edible plant from the bay), which I can still remember… The menu is based on local products, traditional dishes with a modern twist. The setting is really pleasant. Take the kids – the meals are adapted to suit, it’s a family restaurant where kids can move around without a problem.”

Lucas JUSTICE, Nature guide in the Somme bay
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