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Rivers and tourism by boat and waterways

Travelling north to south along La Vélo Francette, you’ll cycle beside a good number of rivers, canals and other waterways, all offering great possibilities for nature lovers, for those who like sporting activities or messing around in boats, or for those who simply wish to marvel at the exceptional waterside heritage. Enjoy going with the flow of France’s western waterways on La Vélo Francette!

The Orne River:

the orne riverThe Orne is one of Normandy’s major rivers, flowing up from southern Normandy to join the Channel. Its source is at Aunou-sur-Orne, northeast of Ecouves Forest. The Orne flows along for 170km through the centre of Normandy. Starting at La Vélo Francette’s most northerly point, though, you follow the Orne upstream from its estuary for some way. From the port of Ouistreham to Caen, the river runs in a straight, canalized channel. To the south, between Thury-Harcourt and St-Philbert-sur-Orne, it meanders much more tortuously through the Suisse Normande hills. Beyond St-Philbert-sur-Orne, not much of a detour away from La Vélo Francette’s route, you can take a memorable boat trip out on Rabodanges Lake, set in remarkably unspoilt southern Norman countryside.

Val d’Orne, for boat trips out on Rabodanges Lake: +33 (0)2 33 39 30 30

La Suisse Normande Tourist Office, +33 (0)2 31 79 70 45, +33 (0)2 31 79 70 45

Explore the route along the Orne River

The Noireau River:

The Noireau River is a tributary of the Orne, which it joins at Pont-d’Ouilly. In total, the Noireau runs for 43km through the hilly northern part of the Orne department, and is joined along the way by 11 tributaries, both rivers and streams. Thanks to the quality of the Noireau’s waters, brown trout in particular like to swim up it to spawn, while salmon and lamprey also appreciate its waters. Because of these attractions, anglers very much enjoy fishing from the steep river banks, catching not just rainbow trout, but also lamprey, gudgeon, minnows and sculpin. All told, the Noireau offers fine fishing along La Vélo Francette.

Pays de Condé et Druance Tourist Office, +33 (0)2 31 69 27 64

Explore the route along the Noireau River


The Varenne River:

The Varenne River accompanies cyclists on La Vélo Francette between Fumeçon (near Flers) and Ambrières-les-Vallées. The Varenne is a tributary of the Mayenne River and flows along for 59.5km. You can appreciate this waterway and the delightful meadows beside it on the greenway linking Flers > Domfront. The Varenne is particularly appreciated for its fishing, boasting fine trout. At the level of Torchamp, you can try your hand at all manner of sporting activities.

Centre de Pleine Nature de Torchamp (outdoor recreation centre), +33 (0)2 33 38 70 41

Explore the route along the Varenne River


The Mayenne River:

the mayenne riverThe Mayenne River is ideal for combining cycling and boating holidays. It’s an indirect tributary of the Loire itself, linked to it via the very short Maine River. The Mayenne flows for 202km. The river is navigable from the city of Mayenne down to Angers on the Maine, with 45 locks to pass through. Cyclists on La Vélo Francette ride along the towpath beside the river from Mayenne town to the port of Grez-Neuville. It’s easy to organize holidays along here mixing staying on a boat and heading out by bike to explore the rich local heritage, including that on river navigation, while informative panels explain the flora and fauna in the Mayenne Valley.

Mayenne Tourist Board, +33 (0)2 43 53 18 18

Explore the route along the Mayenne River


The Maine River:

the maine river - franceThis is a rather extraordinary though significant river, running just 11.5km from the city of Angers to Bouchemaine, where it joins the Loire. The Maine doesn’t have a source, as it’s formed directly by the merging of the waters of the Mayenne and Sarthe Rivers, as well as those from the Loir (without an ‘e’), whose own confluence with the Sarthe lies just above Angers. In summer, you can get out on the Maine by riverboat from Angers; on these outings, you can also enjoy stretches of the Mayenne, Sarthe and Loire Rivers, all closely linked with the Maine River. So the Maine offers cyclists along La Vélo Francette several possibilities for enjoying a boat trip or two.

Angers Loire Tourisme, +33 (0)2 41 23 50 00

Explore the route along the Maine River

The Loire:

the loire valleyThe Loire, the longest river in France at just over 1,000km in length, starts out in southeast France, its source on the Mont Jerbier de Jonc mountain, in the department of Ardèche. The stretch cyclists ride alongside when on La Vélo Francette goes from Bouchemaine south of Angers to the gorgeous town of Saumur, so the route is shared with the major Loire à Vélo cycle route for 58km. Consider making the most of the Loire while riding along La Vélo Francette by taking a cruise on the mighty river onboard Le Loire Princesse, a boat that offers you a unique opportunity to enjoy the Loire up close.

Saumurois Tourist Office, +33 (0)2 41 40 20 60


Explore the route along the Loire River

The Thouet river :

Le Thouet à Artanne sur Thouet

The Thouet is a tributary of the Loire, joining the great river from its southern side. The Thouet runs  along for 142km, sloping gently along its route. Its source lies close to that of the Sèvre Nantaise River, both near the village of Secondigny, beyond the town of Parthenay.

The Thouet is shadowed by La Vallée du Thouet à Vélo, a cycle route that now doubles as La Vélo Francette going south from Saumur, the great town at the confluence of the Thouet and the Loire. Explore the rich heritage of the Thouarsais and Gâtine areas and the verdant countryside round and about. There are many surprises to enjoy along this stretch, including the riverside sections laid out for gatherings of families and friends or for fishing.

Pays Thouarsais Tourist Office, +33 (0)5 49 66 17 65

Tourisme en Gâtine, +33 (0)5 49 64 24 24


Explore the route along the Thouet River

La Sèvre Niortaise River and the Marais Poitevin Marshes:

La Sèvre Niortaise River and the Marais Poitevin MarshesLa Sèvre Niortaise is the main river and artery of the magnificent Marais Poitevin marshes. The river starts out near the village of Sepvret in the département, or French county, of Deux-Sèvres. It then runs westwards for 165km to the coast. It crosses the historic town of Niort before irrigating the Marais Poitevin. This marshland is a perfect place to practise ecotourism, enjoying a slower pace of life in this gentle corner of western France. Surrounded by the greenest of natural settings, make a well-deserved stop here, along La Vélo Francette cycle route.

Niort Marais Poitevin Tourist Office, +33 (0) 820 2000 79


Explore the route along the Sèvre Niortaise River


Photos credits : ® T. Houyel, ® La Vélo Francette - J.Damase