BEAUNE One of the most impressive cycle routes in France is the almost completed circuitous 800km Saône et Loire Voie Verte in Burgundy, built along abandoned railway lines and canal towpaths. Less than two hours from Geneva, this voie verte was begun in 1997 and follows a route away from car traffic through staggeringly beautiful countryside, past historic chateaux, quiet villages and terraced vineyards. It has dramatically transformed the region by enabling cyclists and roller-bladers to start their journeys from points such as Mâcon, Cluny, Chalon or Dijon. There are no steep gradients and it’s possible to hire bikes in most towns. On beautiful days, particularly along the canals and wine routes, the cycle lanes are packed.
The project has brought much-needed vigour, imagination and jobs to the area with the opening of new restaurants, cafés, B&Bs and terroir shops, making it an ideal weekend or Easter getaway. Some travel groups offer planned itineraries with transport for your luggage as part of gastronomic or wine-tasting tours. You can also rent a canal barge and do biking side tours.
A more recent voie verte is the 700km ViaRhôna from Geneva to the Mediterranean. Here you can bike along a 2,000-year-old route tracing the Rhône River and 19th-century canals and former railroads down to the Camargue.
While the Lake Geneva region may boast an impressive network of cycle routes, both the Pays de Gex and Haute-Savoie have much to learn from their Burgundy counterparts. There are plans to transform the old St Genis to Divonne railway route into a voie verte, or at least a combined tram-bike route, but no one is making any decisions. Small portions have been gravelled, but these are a far cry from what the Burgundy or Rhône initiatives have already achieved.
For the moment, you can bike from Geneva to the other end of the lake following the “L’Ain à vélo” signs to Divonne, and then travel along clearly marked SuisseMobile routes to Lausanne and the Lavaux wine area and on to Montreux. The itineraries are numbered – No.1 for Geneva to Andermatt and No.5 from Lausanne to Romanshorn. You can complete the 180km lake circuit via the Haute-Savoie, but many roads are positively dangerous, particularly for kids, given the lack of designated cycle lanes. On the French side, they have been debating for years over whether to turn the old St Gingolph to Évian railway into a bike trail or a tramline.