Spanning both the south coast of England and the north coast of France, the Tour de Manche is a cycle route that crosses the English Channel twice to form a loop taking in some of the most delightful rural scenes and coastlines. Along the 620 mile (996 km) route, you’ll explore both the similarities and differences between these two beautiful regions.
On the English leg, you’ll ride through glorious Devon, across Dartmoor National Park, and along the Jurassic Coastline into Dorset before reaching Poole, home to Europe’s largest natural harbour.
After a short ferry across to Cherbourg, you’ll make your way through the green fields of Normandy, past numerous historic sites from WWII and ancient castles, and west along the picturesque coastline of Brittany to Roscoff.
This Collection is jam-packed full of quaint villages, quiet country lanes, artisan markets, crumbling castles, far-reaching coastal views, ancient monuments, bustling harbours and golden, sandy beaches. Not to mention the wonderful changing cuisine as you hug the shores of England and France. If you like seafood, you’re in for a treat!
The full route has been proposed here in 11 stages, measuring between 33 miles (53.4 km) and 71.4 miles (115 km). You can, of course, choose to combine any of the stages or split them further. Thankfully, in these regions there are frequent towns and villages, many with a great selection of guesthouses, hotels, hostels and campsites to choose from. Just be aware that it’s best to book ahead to guarantee availability, especially in the peak summer season.
Summer and the shoulder seasons are the best times to attempt this circuit, when you’re most likely to get the best weather and longer days. You should always be prepared for inclement weather, however, as these western reaches are well known for plentiful rain!
Although most of the Tour de Manche is on quiet country lanes, there are some sections on bridleways or Voie Verte that are unpaved. Ideally, tyres of 28mm width or larger will help you on these sometimes uneven or bumpy surfaces. If you want to avoid these, you can re-route those sections to stay on the roads.
Find the ferry timetables here for Poole - Cherbourg (brittany-ferries.co.uk/ferry-routes/ferries-france/poole-cherbourg) and Roscoff to Plymouth (brittany-ferries.co.uk/ferry-routes/ferries-france/plymouth-france). The Poole crossing takes just four and a half hours, whereas the Plymouth crossing is longer, taking between six and eight hours. Overnight crossings are a great option, especially if you book a cabin so you can get a good night’s sleep and shower on the journey.
Although you can start from any point on the Tour de Manche loop that you choose, Plymouth is a great place to begin your 11-stage trip, thanks to its many transport links. It’s on the main Penzance train line from London, which also carries bikes (although it’s best to check if you need a reservation).This first stage leads you northwards out of this maritime city from the port, along the wonderfully traffic-free Plym Valley Trail and climbs up onto Dartmoor National Park, the only place that you can legally wild camp in the UK outside of Scotland!After the Plym Valley Trail, you’ll join Drake’s Trail to Yelverton, and then lanes into Tavistock, a gorgeous market town to the west of the moor. You’ll skirt around Dartmoor’s edge, passing over the River Tavy, through historic Lydford, and then onto the Granite Way to finish off the first stage in Okehampton.This town, built on the medieval wool trade, seems to have it’s own microclimate, so make sure you have your waterproofs close to hand when you visit!
From wild and remote Dartmoor, down to Devon’s capital of Exeter and then along the spectacular coastline of East Devon, you’re in for a real treat with stage 2. Underestimate it at your peril! Coming down off the Moor, you’ll find that the first half of the stage is a little lumpy but mostly downhill. Follow the signs for National Cycle Route 279 which takes you along smooth roads parallel to the A30, through Tedburn St Mary down to the Quay in Exeter. This makes the perfect place for a morning cuppa, with many little cafes on the Quayside, with swans, geese and cormorants in the River Exe to watch!Take the cycle path from here away from the road, down towards Topsham on National Cycle Route 2, as you skirt the eastern edge of the Exe Estuary, the biggest producer of farmed mussels in Europe! Before reaching the seafront in busier Exmouth, you take a gradual cycleway climb through Littleham towards Budleigh Salterton and the River Otter.After the cycle paths alongside the Otter, your final challenge of the stage is Peak Hill, aptly named. Thankfully it’s less steep in this direction, giving you lovely views of Sidmouth town at the top, before dropping down to claim an ice-cream or fish and chips on the beach!
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You’ll leave Devon behind as you continue east on stage 3, taking in the breathtaking Jurassic Coast of Dorset. Be prepared for a hilly ride as you navigate around Lyme Bay and finish in the county town, Dorchester.After splashing through the ford in Sidmouth, there’s a sharp hill out of the town past the Norman Lockyer Observatory, as you continue to follow National Cycle Route 2 parallel to the coast. You’ll ride through Branscombe - possibly one of the most quaint villages on the south coast - and on through Beer, where you can take a dip in the sea on the small pebbled beach if you fancy.From Seaton, you’ll follow the River Axe inland to Axminster, before climbing out of the town on Cook’s Lane. There’s a long section of rural lanes next, with some great views down over Lyme Bay, and you skirt the edge of Bridport. Climb up gradually to the Hardy Monument where you can look out over five counties, before descending to Dorchester past the ruins of Maiden Castle.
I’ve deliberately made the last stage in England a little shorter, to accommodate for afternoon channel crossings from Poole. Therefore, this is the shortest stage at just 33 miles (53.4 km). You’ll need to factor in some time for the Sandbanks chain link ferry, too, or alternatively ride around the harbour to the north.Make your way out of Dorchester to start, rejoining National Cycle Route 2 near West Stafford. This stage is very flat, so you may be surprised how quickly it wooshes by! Pass through the little village of Wool next, served by its own train station, and pay a visit to the Velo Lounge Cafe if you’re in the mood for elevenses or just a great coffee.There’s a short diversion off Route 2 after Stoborough to miss off the leg to Corfe, as you head towards Studland on a mixture of lanes and tracks to catch the Sandbanks ferry. This runs every 20 minutes during the day, and costs just one pound on a bike, so make sure you have a coin handy!From part of the world’s most expensive real estate on Sandbanks (yes, really), make your way to the port at Poole to catch the ferry by taking the Sandbanks Road next to the water, and then the cycle path around Parkstone Bay.
After landing on French soil in Cherbourg, your first stage is a ride down through the Manche region of Normandy, past many historic battle sites from World War 2 and war graves. You could take a few extra days here to visit these, including the well-known Utah Beach, if you would like.After a diversion to see the gorgeous harbourside in Cherbourg, you start this stage with a road climb out of the town towards La Glacerie on a country lane. This is the only significant hill on this stage, which is otherwise pretty flat or downhill.After cresting the climb you’ll start to head downhill towards Brix, a pretty little town that’s well worth a diversion for. From Rocheville, you’ll pick up the 'voie verte', which can be translated to green way, and are French signposted paths open for non-motor traffic, including walkers and runners, cyclists, and roller skaters. You’ll usually find these along river or canal towpaths, or disused railway lines, which means that they're usually pretty flat. This combination of easy riding and no traffic make these a great choice for touring cyclists of all ages, and there’s plenty more of these on this Tour.Follow this traffic-free route past Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte, through farmland and marshland to Saint-Symphorien-le-Valois, where the voie verte takes a change in direction to head east. It’s easy riding to end the stage as you follow this all the way into the heart of Carentan.
Huge swathes of the Tour on stage 6 follow the River Vire, yielding an easy and tranquil route along the flat for most of the stage, before getting a little hillier at the end to reach the town with the same name.In the middle of the stage, it’s well worth taking some time to explore the gorgeous Medieval town of Saint-Lô, perhaps stopping to enjoy a plat du jour here?Start by leaving Carentan behind to head south, over the marshland reserves to the village of Saint-Jean-de-Daye on lanes, before joining the River Vire in nearby Saint-Fromond. You’ll follow this well-surfaced gravel track along the river through Pont-Hebert and into the centre of Saint-Lô. Take in the ancient town walls that still stand today in this place that hosted the 2016 Tour de France prologue.After Saint-Lô, continue along the river trail along this brilliant traffic-free cycleway. You’ll skirt the edge of Condé-sur-Vire, pass by the beautiful Château de l'Angotière, and finally leave the riverside at Pont Fancy. You don’t stray too far though, running parallel to the waterway as you both head east from here. After some lanes to La Graverie, join the voie verte for the last stretch into central Vire.
Enjoy a hillier start today before descending to the bay of Mont-Saint-Michel, a remarkable landmark out to sea that characterises the Normandy coastline and draws visitors from all over the world.
Although you have a long climb to start the stage up to 985 feet (300 m), this is all easy-going on the traffic-free voie verte. Descend from this high point past Sourdeval before a second smaller climb, then pass the waterfalls at Le Neufbourg as you head south-west on a long gravel trail descent to join La Véloscenie - Manche cycle route.Keep your eyes on the bay as you look out for the impressive island rock of Mont-Saint-Michel as you near the sea. You’ll follow this cycleway to join the River L-Oir heading west, skirting Ducey and Pontaublaut to reach the coastline. Ride along lanes between the vast arable fields here parallel to the coast, where you’ll turn to head directly to Mont-Saint-Michel when you reach Beauvoir. After spending some time exploring this incredible place, choose from the many campsites and guesthouses nearby.
Wave Normandy behind as you continue west on stage 8, riding through the Ille-et-Villaine region of Brittany and finishing in the Côtes-de-Armor after Saint-Malo. You’ll find this area isn’t far from Normandy, yet has quite a different feel. Take the coastal road along the Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel, though Cherrueix, Le Vivier-sur-Mer, and Saint-Benoît-des-Ondes. This area is famous for mussels, and you can see the fishermen along here and their equipment by the bay.You’ll see a loop on the Tour next, a visit to the seaside town of Cancale, known as Brittany’s Oyster Capital. Why not take a pause here to try some fresh shellfish and a drink in one of the many restaurants here?Your next leg is a trip through Saint-Malo, a lively walled port city with a long history of piracy! You can find ferry connections here to the Channel Islands, as well as Poole and Portsmouth if you wish to make a shorter loop out of the Tour de Manche.For the last leg of the stage, you need to navigate around the River Rance estuary, so you’ll head inland to cross the river at Pont Saint-Hubert, and shortly after pick up another voie verte in Pleslin. This heads north to Tréméreuc, where you’ll rejoin roads to finish near Ploubalay.
The spectacular Cap Fréhel awaits on stage 9, before hugging more of the Breton Côtes-de-Armor coastline past Saint-Brieuc to finish in the small town of Saint-Quay-Portrieux. You’ll start the stage on quiet lanes to cross the River L’Arguenon, following the straight road through rural Brittany into the market town of Matignon. If you’re lucky enough to pass through on a market day, be sure to try the fleshy, sweet peaches on sale here. Up next is the jaw-droppingly beautiful Cap Fréhel. This peninsula has dramatic rocky cliffs and is relatively uninhabited. Take a diversion off route to visit the lighthouse at the very tip and look across the channel to the south of England on a clear day. The roads are silky-smooth and quiet, undulating as you make your way back inland on the western shores. There are many coastal swimming opportunities on this stage if you fancy a dip, as you next pass along the long Plage de Nantois before the Port de Dahouët. This is a great place for lunch or a refreshing drink, watching the sail boats bobbing in the pretty port.After crossing the impressive Viaduc des Ponts Neufs, take gravel tracks and lanes to the edge of Hillion and around the Bay of Saint-Brieuc. This large town is pretty busy, so you’ll take the lower route around the coastline rather than climb up through the centre.Finish the stage by climbing back up from sea level onto lanes that head north to the quaint town of Saint-Quay-Portrieux.
On this penultimate stage, follow the coastline of the Côtes-de-Armor department to finish in the major town of Lannion. You’ll start by following parallel to the coast atop the cliffs, taking a series of quiet, rural roads between the fields and past villages including Bréhec and Plouézec.Do take a stop to admire the Abbaye de Beauport on the edge of Paimpol, the partly restored abbey housing a museum to explore too. After passing through the centre of the port town Paimpol next, cross the River Le Trieux over the grand Pont à Saint-Julien suspension bridge.You’ll take more lanes across this agricultural heartland next before taking the next bridge, Pont de Tréguier, across Le Jaudy, closely followed by Pont Noir over Le Guindy. Join the voie verte here for more peaceful riding, leading you past the Étang du Bois Riou and then back to the coastline at Bassin du Lenn. Ride around this popular coastal region before finishing the stage in bustling Lannion. If you haven’t already, be sure to try some Breton crepes and cider here.
You’ll finish the last stage of the Tour de Manche in the Breton department of Finistère, ending at the port of Roscoff to take the ferry to Plymouth and complete the circuit. You’ll also pass through one of my favourite towns in the whole of Brittany; Morlaix.From bustling Lannion, the first part of this final stage’s ride will be along lanes to the coast, through Ploumilliau to Saint-Michel-en-Grève. Follow La Lieue de Grève around to cross the river on the Pont du Douron, before taking the coast road to Locquirec. You have a steep climb up next as you join the Route de la Corniche, a spectacular coastal road atop sheer cliffs looking out to the deep blue waters of the channel that you’ll soon be sailing on. Continue around past Plougasnou, through quaint Térénez and then down to the town of Morlaix, where you’ll find the striking double-layered viaduct looming over the town centre.After an explore in this gorgeous place, with old shop fronts and cafes galore, the very last leg of the trip is back up north-west to the coastline and the salty sea-town of Roscoff. You’ll follow the River Penzé for part of the way, and pass through Saint-Pol-de-Léon as you near the port. There’s a few places to stock up on French delicacies here before your ferry home to complete the trip.