The ViaRhôna is a recently completed route with 815 kilometers of cycling track, from the Geneva Lake, all the way to the mediterranean sea, following the Rhône river. The itinerary’s quality makes it a great idea for a family cycling trip, thanks to the numerous infrastructures along the road and abundance of greenway paths.
For a nomadic family, 2021 was quite of a let-down. Since settling down in the French Alps, we chose not to undertake any major trip, instead focusing on exploring the surrounding area around our new home. The highlight was definitely thru-hiking the wonderful Queyras National Park.
I had the hitch for a change of atmosphere, so I took advantage of the abnormally warm temperature between Christmas and the New Year in France (temperature reaching 18°c when we arrived!) to start a cycling trip between my hometown, Valence, and the mediterranean sea, some 300 kilometers further down the country.
My five-year-old kid, always up for some fun, chose to join me in this adventure along the ViaRhôna during the school holidays. Although I had cycle around Taiwan before, this made our first ever family cycling trip! Hopefully my wife and the little brother (soon turning two) will join us next time.
What kind of equipment should I bring?
I’ll share with you my bike touring equipment list, but what you should bring is still quite personal and depends on the way you’re planning to make this trip. I’ll focus on the kid-related part, as entertaining your kid during a family cycling trip is rather important!
- Bike repair kit
- Bike lights
- A bicycle lock
- A pump
You have two options for a family cycling trip : either get a bike trailer, or get your kid a bike. Only you can answer this question, as that would depend on your kid’s age, his physical condition and the time you have. Obviously, using a trailer will allow you to cycle longer distances each day. I would cycle about 80 kilometers a day, there’s no way I would have done that if my kid had a bike. Darian was totally fine with the idea of being in a trailer, but I had to find some ways to entertain him :
I got him a Lunii for Christmas, a fun storytelling box that made his stay in the trailer less dull. I also brought a small camera so he could take pictures.
Don’t forget to take into account that your kid will be colder than you are if he sits in the trailer.
Fast-drying clothes are the best. Don’t forget a suitable cycling pants. The extra-cushion is insanely valuable if your bike saddle is not the most comfortable. Cycling gloves could be useful too.
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
If you plan to camp, getting a portable stove would be a good idea.
Make sure to carry some food.
Where to get the necessary equipment?
Where to buy a bike and suitable items?
If you’re already in France, I would recommend using the most popular second-hand website in France, called Leboncoin. You can find pretty much anything on the website, from clothing to technical equipment. Most people will accept to ship it over to another location around the country. You can also try to find sellers near your place to perform a face-to-face transaction.
I bought the trailer, a Cougar Chariot 2, on Leboncoin, as well as my whole camping set-up.
You can also buy new items in Decathlon, the most famous French sports shop.
Can I rent a bike?
Yes you can! Most major cities have bike shops offering this possibility. Here’s a list of bike rental companies.
You can also pay a tourism agency that would take care of everything.
How to Plan my Itinerary?
Planning your cycling itinerary is surprisingly easy thanks to the well-thought ViaRhôna’s website.
How to know if a section is suitable for a family cycling trip?
Thanks to the website, you can check the stage’s difficulty and find the ones more suitable for a family cycling trip.
How not to get lost?
Signposting throughout the route is amazing. Be on the lookout for the ViaRhôna logo at any given intersection. If you can’t see one, it probably means you’re on the wrong track!
I occasionnally got lost for a short bit, thanks to my jump-head first mentality. I can only suggest to be extra careful at any major intersection, as well as downloading the maps.me app in case of doubt.
Download each stage’s PDF before heading out!
The whole ViaRhôna route is broken down is multiple stages, ranging from twenty to fifty kilometers. You can download a PDF on each stage, including the stage’s map, as well as the various attractions not-to-be-missed on the way.
Where to Sleep?
Although our family cycling trip was rather short, we found the way to find very different ways of spending the night : from an hotel room in Avignon, to a wild camping night near Arles, or a night spent in a local’s home, thanks to Warmshowers, an hospitality website aimed at cyclists, our stays were quite diverse.
Where to find a Paid Accommodation?
Since the cycling path is going through various major cities, you won’t have much problems finding accommodation without diverting much from the ViaRhôna.
The official ViaRhôna’s website offers an extensive list of accommodation, including some not listed elsewhere. A lot of economical options are included, such as numerous paid camping grounds.
Where to find a Free Accommodation?
Paying for a hotel room can quickly add up if you decide to undertake a major trip. Therefore I want to give you a few options to spend the night without having to pay.
Before starting, I had a look at many websites such as Trustroots, BeWelcome or even the newly-born Couchers, to no avail. In the wake of Couchsurfing’s abrupt paywall change in May 2020, it has gotten harder than ever to find a host, but I got the chance to find a former Couchsurfing’s user hosting me through Warmshowers, a website for people engaging in bicycle touring. Out of all the platforms I’ve tried for this trip, Warmshowers is by far the one with the most hosts located close to the path. Have a look, and don’t forget to host fellow cyclists before the start of your trip. Having positive references will make the whole process much easier!
I gathered a list of all the best Couchsurfing alternatives for your convenience.
My 5-year-old son was quite enthusiast at the idea of wild camping. We’ve done that a bunch of time together, but it was strictly in the French Alps, high in altitude. For the last night of our trip, we crossed a remote area on the ViaRhôna between Arles and Port Saint-Louis, right in the Camargues National Park. Although hunters are numerous, we found a hidden spot close to the path, set up the camp at night, and left early in the morning.
Many bike touring travelers choose this option due to its cost-effectiveness. On the way I met a Swiss guy who had just camp for a full week in a row.
If this option interests you, I’ll suggest having a look at the 8 Wild Camping Tips‘ article I wrote a while ago.
What kind of roads should I expect to cycle on?
There are two modes of travel on the ViaRhôna route:
- A greenway path, representing 60% of the entire route, only used by cyclists and pedestrians.
- Bike paths and small local roads used by cars where the traffic is usually light.
I was pleasantly surprised by the road’s quality. Some sections are in a state-of-the-art condition, even better than the car road! You’ll cycle almost all the time on a asphalt road. Gravel paths such as the one pictured below are quite rare, and at that point you could still take the car road located ten meters away.
Problems I encountered on the ViaRhôna
The signposting is honestly better than I could have imagined, but some intersections are tricky. Tiredness can sometimes cloud your judgement, therefore it’s a great idea to take a break and/or being careful when reaching a new city. You might end up on a major road not very suitable for bikes otherwise.
Some parts of the ViaRhôna are filled with obstacles to prevent cars from entering the path. At times, it can get slightly too much, I remember a couple of kilometers strech, with about ten or fifteen of these obstacles. It can make it particularly complicated to find a groove on your bike.
My major problem was due to the fact that I had a trailer behind, making passing most of these obstacles a task where I got to focus thoroughly.
Luckily I made it without crashing, but I want to point out one occurence where my trailer just couldn’t go through this concrete barrier. I got to be helped by strollers on both sides of this bridge, connecting the Gard‘s department with the Bouches-du-Rhône and the city of Arles.
How to find free water spots?
I can’t stand having to buy a water bottle whenever I’m thirsty. Thankfully, the water is drinkable right from the tap in France. You can find a fountain or a water source in most cities and even villages around the route. You can use the maps.me app to locate them.
How to get to the cycling route?
The ViaRhôna route is well-connected with numerous train stations on the way.
Can I bring my bike aboard the train?
You can bring your bike aboard the local train (called TER) for free. You can book your ticket on oui.sncf. You don’t have to specify you have a bike when booking, but be aware that there’s usually just one compartment suitable to board with your bike. Ask officials when you get to the station.
Where to repair my bike?
Hopefully you won’t need this section, but if you do, here’s a list of most bicycle repairs shop close to the ViaRhôna.
If you only have to do so minor repair, I found many bike repair public stations in major cities (Lyon and Avignon come to mind).
How to leave Port Saint-Louis (the ending point)?
Port Saint-Louis and its beach ten kilometers further are the ending point of the Via Rhôna. There’s no public transportation to the beach, so you’ll need to cycle back to the city aforementionned. From Port Saint-Louis, you can of course cycle back towards Arles, or there’s a local bus costing just 3€ (not accepting credit card, better if you get the exact fare although they have some change), reaching Arles’ train station after a one-hour trip.
They accepted my bike on the bus, as long as I managed to fit it in the luggage compartment. I also could fit the bike trailer. As the operation can take time, I’d strongly suggest to get to the first bus stop to have more time to charge it in.
Leboncoin – the best place to find second-hand items if you’re already in France
Oui.sncf – to book a train ticket around France
And you? Have you cycled the ViaRhôna? Are you planning a family cycling trip around France? Share with us, and feel free to ask if you have any questions, we’ll back to you shortly!