Cycling the French Riviera Along the EV8
a bicycle touring guide to Southern France
The European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF) is making strides in its efforts to create an extensive EuroVelo network, allowing cyclists to venture throughout mainland Europe on a road bike. The Trans-European Cycle Route 8 (EV8) is becoming one of the most picturesque within the network, following the Mediterranean Sea for almost 6,000 kilometers from Cádiz in southern Spain all the way round to Cyprus. Spanning 11 countries and 23 World Heritage sites, it’s unsurprising that the EV8 attracts more tourist interest than most other EuroVelo routes.
If you’ve always wanted to venture out on a cycling holiday, what better way to keep fit and explore life on two wheels than to explore the beauty and sophistication of the French Riviera?
From expansive views and sumptuous restaurants to inviting beachfront, we’ve got the perfect week-long cycling vacation for you.
Leg 1 – Cycling Marseille-Cassis-Les Lecques
The first leg of your journey will be one of the longest distances you’ll cycle in a day. Fly into Marseille or fly into Paris and take the TGV down to the south coast with your road bike and you’ll roll into Marseille’s Saint-Charles Station within a few hours.
Take a trip through Marseille’s picturesque Vieux Port and the Old Town (Vieille Ville). As the third largest metropolitan area in the country and largest port on the Mediterranean, Marseille fuses laidback with industrial with plenty of cultures and gritty, urban areas to boot.
On departure from Marseille to Cassis, take the direct option of the Rue de Rome, but if you’re particularly keen on scenery, the Corniche du President Kennedy route is recommended, which is 7km longer. As pit stops go, Cassis is ideal. A quaint little fishing port, its spectacular steep cliffs are a sight to behold. Head east from Cassis along the Route des Crêtes to Les Lecques for the end of your first leg.
Leg 2 – Les Lecques-Toulon- Hyeres
Much of this section of the EV8 meanders through urban and suburban areas and does little to capture the imagination. Although there is some picturesque shoreline, you’ll also encounter plenty of road traffic.
So, unless you’re an experienced, confident cyclist, it’s probably not the best part of the EV8. An easy way around it is to hop on the train from Les Lecques and head to Hyères.
Leg 3 – Hyères-Le Lavandou-Saint- Tropez-Sainte- Maxime-Saint Raphael
Between Hyères and Saint Raphael is a 30-kilometer stretch of cycle lanes and back roads, followed by a 50-kilometer length of cycling on a highway. There’s light traffic along here, so it shouldn’t be too intimidating. Along your way, you’ll encounter beautiful hillside views of the Mediterranean from Le Lavandou before emerging in the opulent surroundings of Saint-Tropez.
Its port contains some of the world’s most impressive super-yachts and it’s where many of the rich and famous hang out in the summer season. It’s by no means cheap, but it’s nice to be able to say you’ve checked it out. When you’re back on the move, the cycle route follows adjacent to the D559 highway, continuing all the way to Sainte-Maxime and Saint Raphael where this leg of the
Leg 4 – Saint Raphael-Cannes
Undoubtedly, one of the most enjoyable scenic routes along the EV8, the 36-kilometer stretch between Saint Raphael and Cannes takes you along the Esterel Mountains. Although this entire leg is on a highway, road traffic is at a high until you approach Cannes.
This leg isn’t just popular with tourist cyclists but locals, too, particularly in the summer. You’ll probably be overtaken by a train at some point, with the train line along the coastline running adjacent to the D6098. As you approach Cannes harbor, it’s a good idea to get off your bike and walk the remainder of the journey to soak up the atmosphere, including the sheer enormity of some of the yachts moored up.
Cannes is arguably the chicest and sophisticated part of the French Riviera, so you can expect plenty of plush Michelin-starred
restaurants and expensive boutiques. If you’re not afraid to spend some cash, you’ll be instantly taken with Cannes. The Cannes Film Festival takes place in the latter half of May, so it’s not a good idea to be around when it is on as the town resembles something of a media circus.
Leg 5 – Cannes-Antibes-Nice
It’s nice to meander out of Cannes and head further east toward Nice via the old town of Antibes. The most enjoyable route is the Cap d’Antibes where you’ll cycle past dozens of homes owned by many of the world’s most famous celebrities. You’ll eventually arrive in Antibes’ port area, as well as its pocket beach.
There’s some mightily impressive architecture here, so do take the time to soak it in if you’re that way inclined. Upon leaving Antibes for Nice, head north around the vast harbor area and return to the bike lanes along the coastal road. When you arrive in Nice, make sure you take a ride along the Promenade des Anglais, which is a haven for walkers, cyclists and rollerbladers alike. Of course, a stopover in Nice would not be complete without a short train ride to Monaco’s Monte Carlo.
Walk through the tunnel, which forms a dramatic part of the area’s Formula 1 street circuit. Furthermore, the spectacular Casino de Monte-Carlo is also a must-see. If you’ve never been to a real casino floor before, you’ll need to do some research about casino etiquette and learn what to say and how to behave at the tables. If you’re playing against the dealer, you’ll still need to be considerate of other players at the table. However, if you’re playing against other casino-goers at games like poker, it’s all about reverse psychology and learning how to throw other players off their game without stepping outside the unwritten code of gamesmanship.
Leg 6 – Nice-Menton
If you’ve made it to Nice and enjoyed all the sights and sounds of Nissa La Bella, you will be ready to head off on your final leg of the journey along the French Riviera to higher ground. The sweeping and romantic Grande Corniche road is a real test of stamina,
cycling up and down the steep slopes in route to Menton and its steep mountainside.
With dramatic scenery, it’s a must, but if you’d rather explore the views without having to saddle up, local trains operate from Nice to Menton every half hour. Menton Old Town is like something from a fairytale book. From the harbor looking up at the Old Town, its quintessential orange rooftops towering over the waterfront.
From Menton, you can take a train back to Nice, which operates flights to most European countries from its coastal airport. Alternatively, Nice operates 13 trains daily to Paris, with journey times averaging seven and a half hours.
From authentic cuisine and unique landscapes to luxury fashion and laid-back vibes, the French Riviera has it all. Exploring the south of France by road bike is an unforgettable experience that you’ll cherish forever. As the EV8 (pictured above in the brown route line) continues its development, you’ll eventually be able to explore undiscovered gems such as Albania and Montenegro, as well as the crystal-clear Croatian coastline and other world-renowned destinations such as Venice and Gaudi’s unmistakable architecture in Barcelona. It truly has it all.