Book Review: Cycling Northern France


Cycling Northern France
Richard Peace & Andrew Stevenson 

If you're spending your winter evenings thinking about sunny holidays in the future, then this guidebook could be the perfect companion to planning a springtime getaway. Cycling Northern France is an informative and well-constructed toolkit, brimming with useful material to open up a host of routes in France's northern reaches to those unfamiliar with the terrain.

The 256-page, 22.5cm x 14cm, book is spiral-bound so it spreads out flat on your lap or in a map-holder, while the cover has a useful flap for keeping your page. The book comes in a protective plastic pouch with a waterproof map, which shows useful town centre maps and 1:200,000 maps of all the tours in the book. The book itself includes its own route maps, along with day-by-day directions, elevation profiles, and advice on places of interest and cycle-friendly accommodation. 

The book is actually divided into two parts, with the first 150 pages devoted to detailed itineraries for eight longer-distance tours north of the Loire river: in Normandy there's (1) Boulogne-sur-Mer to Lille and (2) L'Avenue Verte to Paris via Dieppe and Le Havre; in Brittany there's (3) Roscoff to Quiberon, along with (4) St Malo and (5) Cherbourg circulars; while the set is completed by the (6) Paris to Champagne route; (7) Clamency to Dijon in Burgundy; and (8) Strasbourg to Basel in the Vosges region.

As well as these eight tours, the second part of the book details an additional 100-plus routes, covering (rather impressively) all the major low-traffic and traffic-free trails in Northern France. These routes make excellent choices for daytrips and shorter tours, and are highlighted on 1:200,000 Michelin maps in the same way as the longer tours. These routes are a mix of linear and circular, while lengths vary from under 10 miles all the way up to over 200 miles.

There's an awful lot to recommend this book: the layout is excellent, the diagrams and maps are numerous and clear, and there are plenty of high-quality photos to break up the text and inspire you to into action. The sensible use of symbols, fonts and colours mean that even though there's a whole heap of information here, it never becomes overwhelming.

And the excellent design only serves to highlight the comprehensive information. Expect route directions that actually give you a flavour of your potential day's riding, a list of 'don't miss' sights en route, accommodation suggestions, tourist information contacts, and even photographic examples of local signage. In short, there's everything here to make your cycle tour a success. There's even a language glossary, including useful words and phrases in French to describe your bicycle parts and terrain.

Frankly, our only criticism of this guide might be that it's too good: such is the level of detail and insight that some people could find it removes some of the mystery from their trip. More likely, though, is that readers will find Cycling Northern France gives them the information and confidence to ensure their own mini-'Tour de France' is a massive success.

Review: Mike Cavenett