For us bikers living in the UK, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of boarding a ferry to France at the start of a motorbike journey. The short trip across the English Channel is our gateway to adventure and all the motorcycling riches Europe has to offer.
Many of us will no doubt be fixated on reaching the mountain passes of the Alps or the Dolomites as we roll off the ferry, but this approach risks missing out on so much of what France to offer. And when time is short, a few days spent exploring an area of France closer to home can prove far more enjoyable than slogging your way along toll roads in search of a brief glimpse of mountain pass nirvana.
This is why we’ve teamed up with Brittany Ferries Holidays to highlight some of the French gems to explore during a short break on two wheels.
The coast of Brittany. Photo: Rémy Muet
If you don’t think a weekend is long enough to take a bike trip outside of the UK, then think again. An overnight Friday ferry to the picturesque ports of Roscoff or St Malo will leave you feeling fresh and ready to explore the delights of Brittany come Saturday morning.
Located in the far north west of France, the region can feel wonderfully remote, particularly along its miles of rugged coastline and sandy beaches. There is also a myriad of delightful roads to ride no matter which direction you choose to explore. Highlights include the quaint coastal towns of Douarnenez and Carnac, as well as the wild beauty of the headland at Plougonvelin.
You can pack a lot into a weekend in Brittany, and there’s more than enough to explore if you’ve got more time on your hands.
Friday – Overnight Ferry from Plymouth to Roscoff.
Saturday – Head west to the headland at Plougonvelin before spending the night exploring Quimper Old Town.
Sunday – Make an early start and take a leisurely ride to the seaside town of Carnac, stopping to see the ancient standing stones, before heading back to Roscoff to be home in time for work on the Monday.
Views of Champagne. Photo: Lucie van Dongen
World famous for its fizzy wine, the Champagne region is also keen to achieve a reputation as a haven for motorcyclists. The local tourist boards have come up with the ‘Accueil Motards’ (bikers welcome) accolade for biker friendly accommodation. The criteria include offering secure parking, equipment drying areas, and a basic tool kit to make small repairs.
The beautiful and vibrant medieval city of Troyes is a good place to base yourself in the Champagne region. It is about 230 miles from the ferry port of Le Havre – that’s half a day’s ride if you hustle. From Troyes you can ride out through miles of forests, lakes and vineyards, often on almost traffic-free roads. After a day of exploring you’ll be back in time to enjoy a glass or two of bubbles outside one of the restaurants and bars that litter the streets of Troyes Old Town, before doing it all again the next day.
Thursday – Overnight ferry from Portsmouth to Le Havre.
Friday – Ride the 230 miles to Troyes and relax with a well-earned beer.
Saturday – After putting in the miles yesterday, take a leisurely ride east through the Foret d’Orient, stopping to relax by the lakes dotted throughout.
Sunday – Ride south east from Troyes to the Cote des Bar and take a tour of one of the many vineyards in the region producing Champagne.
Monday – Head north to catch the early evening ferry in time for work the next day.
Taking a break in the Vosges mountains. Photo: Bill Polley
The Vosges mountains are littered with hairpin turns and long sweeping bends, set amid a truly stunning landscape. Basically, it’s a biker’s paradise, and at around 350 miles from the ferry ports on the north coast of France, the area is within easy reach if you only have a handful of days to spare.
The best-known ride is the Routes des Cretes which winds its way from St Marie aux Mines in the north to Cernay in the south for 55 miles. Expect to spend your time leaning into turn after glorious turn until the urge to stop and takes photos of the lush forests and valleys stretching to the horizon becomes too strong.
Thursday – Overnight ferry from Portsmouth to Le Havre.
Friday – Ride the 390 miles (be sure to switch on the cruise control!) to the picturesque resort of Gerardmer.
Saturday and Sunday – Explore the wonderful roads of the Vosges mountains, including the Routes des Cretes.
Monday – Ride north, catching the overnight ferry which should give you plenty of time to reach Le Havre.
Le Roque Gageac. Photo: Michel Séguret
If indulging in great wine and sumptuous food while exploring the history and culture of France takes your fancy for your next bike trip, then the Dordogne could be your ideal destination.
Nestled between the Loire Valley and the Pyrenees, the region is awash with vineyards, historic towns and gorgeous countryside. It also features a network of deliciously winding roads that are perfect for a relaxing motorcycle tour.
Take a ride along the winding Dordogne Valley and catch a glimpse of the grandiose chateaus towering above the river. And be sure to take a trip underground to explore the caves and gorges featuring pre-historic art that the region has become famous for.
Thursday – Ferry from Portsmouth to Caen.
Friday – Ride south the Roman town of Périgueux.
Saturday – Head south east to Le Roque Gageac, a picturesque village nestled between the river and a cliff face. Follow the Dordogne river west before spending the night in Bergerac.
Sunday – Take a break from the bike and explore Bergerac on foot, including indulging in the local food and wine.
Monday – Ride the 370 miles north to Caen to catch the overnight ferry to the UK.
Biarritz and the Pyrenees
The twists and turns of the Pyrenees. Photo: Erika Tango Bean
OK, so this one actually takes a week, but if you have the time available and you’re willing to ride the 500 miles or so to reach Biarritz, a visit is well worth the effort.
Perched on the Atlantic coast, Biarritz is a mix of trendy seaside resort and chilled surfers’ hang out. In summer, it hosts the Wheels and Waves Festival which celebrates both surfing and custom bike culture. You may feel a little out of place parking up your Africa Twin next to custom Triumphs, Moto Guzzis and Harleys, but what you and the festival crowd have in common is a love for the twisting mountain roads of the Pyrenees on Biarritz’s doorstep.
Enjoy the mountain riding by day and relax with great food and wine by night while watching surfers ride waves at sunset. If you’re feeling energetic, why not swap the bike for a surf board and catch a wave yourself? And if you’re not, there are numerous bars and restaurants to relax in after a day in the saddle.
Saturday – Overnight ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo arriving Saturday, then ride 200 miles to La Rochelle.
Sunday – Head south to Biarritz and enjoy a well-earned beer watching the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean.
Monday – Ride out and explore the mountain roads of the Pyrenees, stopping for coffee along the way at St Pied de Port, before returning to Biarritz.
Tuesday –Ride up into the mountains again ensuring you check out the Col d’Aubisque pass.
Wednesday – Take a day off the bike to soak up that Biarritz beach lifestyle.
Thursday – Head north towards home, stopping overnight at Nantes on the banks of the Loire river.
Friday – Ride to Caen in time for the 2pm sailing to Portsmouth.
Starting an adventure with Brittany Ferries
There’s no better way to start your next motorcycle adventure than with a relaxing cruise aboard a Brittany Ferries ship. Experience a choice of restaurants and comfortable lounges, stylish bars and cinemas, live entertainment and well-appointed cabins, before riding into the action on your motorbike tour. With the widest choice of routes from Portsmouth, Plymouth and Poole, Brittany Ferries makes it easy to travel to France and Spain and enjoy the open road. Choose from daytime, overnight or high speed sailings to France, or a leisurely cruise to northern Spain.