Inspiration: Big Trip

Route guide: Le Mans

Amazing roads in France

Le Mans will be hosting the next stage of the Moto2 tour on 19 May. A circuit famous for both car and motorcycle races, it’s also one of the few tracks in the world that holds endurance races. So for our story celebrating the French stage of the race, we’ve switched it up this time to to give you a sense of what 24-hour racing is like. Peter-Jan Willems from Motorcycle Diaries was happy to suggest the best on-road routes in France.

The record distance covered by a Le Mans winner during the 24-hour race is 3,532km – and Peter-Jan has constructed a mammoth, sprawling route which takes in the best of the French roads. “I certainly wouldn’t recommend riding this all at once,” says Peter-Jan. “You’d probably need around seven days to cover this whole distance, but it will give you an idea of how hard the 24-hour race at Le Mans is, even for the professionals.”

Download the route below.

Set off for the sea

Peter-Jan’s route starts from the Le Mans circuit, heading west towards the English Channel and to one of the most beautiful sights in France. “First we ride towards the sea and check out Mont St Michel, which is a monastery perched on top of an island. Similar to the Dunlop Bridge, a lot of people know about it but not many know where it really is. This route is designed to show riders a side of France they wouldn’t usually think of visiting. So once you’ve seen the Mont, it’s time to head south on the rural roads.”

Get off the beaten track

Although Rennes, Nantes and Angers are great cities to explore, Peter-Jan recommends riding through the outskirts and getting into the real French countryside.

“Ride on the outside of these cities and plunge down into the Loire, the Limousin and the Dordogne. Here, you can ride through some of the most beautiful landscapes and take a look at the chateaux.”

Saint-Jean-en-Royans

This route also takes you through two natural parks, Loire-Anjou-Touraine and Millevaches en Limousin. Both are home to protected flora and fauna, and some rare wildlife. Popular with hikers and cyclists, they’re great spots to stop and take a break from the road.

Take to the mountains

As the route heads south, it takes an easterly turn into the Pyrenees. The perfect place, says Peter-Jan, to experience mountain riding.

“This will give you the chance to tackle some famous passes such as the Col d’Aubisque, Col du Tourmalet and Col d’Aspin. Cyclists and skiers love its beauty and challenging landscape, and so do bikers.

Col du Tourmalet, Bareges

“There are some less famous routes as you head back north and around the Carcassonne, an ancient fortified city on the eastern edge of the country. You can test out your bike’s climbing power on the hills of the Languedoc, before heading back down to sea-level and enjoying some distant views of the Mediterranean.”

A view of the Alps

“Before you know it, you’ll be in the Cévennes mountain range and crossing the Rhone Valley towards the Alps. Passing through the valley, you’ll go from lush mountainous countryside to a rockier, colder climate as you get closer and closer to the Swiss border.

“Although you won’t be passing over the Alps, you’ll still see some breathtaking views from the high points of the Vercors Massif, another mountain range. Then, just in case you haven’t spotted enough wildlife, the route heads up past Grenoble and up through the Chartreuse National Park, completing a leg that is one of the most challenging and the most beautiful.”

Ride along the border

The next section of the route heads around the city of Lyon and stays off the main straights to hug closely to the Swiss border. This, says Peter-Jan, gives you the chance to sample some of France’s culinary delights, as well as some of its best riding.

“This part of the journey takes you through some of the best vineyards in France, so make sure you find somewhere to stay overnight on this section of the route! We’re also now in Burgundy, so you’re likely to come across several great auberges that serve beef bourguignon and maybe some escargots if you’re feeling adventurous.

“I’d also recommend a stop at the towns of Morvan and Autun, which have some great archaeological sites. It was once considered the centre of the world, so there’s plenty of history to get your teeth into.”

Saint-Jean-en-Royans

Enjoy a final detour

The last leg of this journey, the route takes you from the outskirts of the city of Troyes and across the Champagne region to the suburbs of the capital.

“Of course, you can head into the centre of Paris from here,” says Peter-Jan. “But I’d recommend heading into the forests that surround the city, the Fontainebleau, instead. Close to Orleans, there are some lovely towns to stop off at, including Châteauneuf-sur-Loire and Meung-sur-Loire which, as you may have guessed, sit on the edge of the river.

“For one last detour use the rural routes to head back up into the Perche National Park. Take in one last view of the French countryside before heading back to the roaring engines and shouting crowds of the Le Mans track.”

Many thanks to Motorcycle-Diaries for photography and info.