In France you’ll find 4 kinds of roads

  • Autoroutes
  • Routes Nationales
  • 'Yellow' Roads
  • 'White' Roads
Red and yellow and marked with an ‘A’ on your Michelin, these monstrosities are to be avoided at all costs by the cyclist. It’s illegal to ride on them anyway, even if you were insane enough to try.
The original autoroutes, these 2-4 lane highways crisscross the country. They are big, fast and dangerous for people on bikes. There are often no shoulders to speak of and trucks that don’t want to pay the tolls on the autoroutes burn down them. Only use these ‘red roads’ (the colour used in signposting) if you have no other choice.
The yellow départementales are larger, faster (up to 90kph, but usually 70), and busier. Often you will take these to get somewhere fast, or they are the only option. For the most part these roads are perfectly fine for bicycles.
The white départementales are by far (my opinion only) the way to go, if you have the option. They are the smallest roads and consequently are sometimes virtually traffic free. This is your low-stress option if you hate traffic. However, they meander from village to village, totally disrespecting the concept of the straight line!

Distances

You’ll never go far without a village or town in Languedoc. Even in remote Lozère, villages dot the mountain valleys. This certainly has its advantages – you are never far from water and food for example – but could slow you down a little if you are the type to stop and explore every place you pass by.

Just to give you an idea of the size of Languedoc, it is around 300 km (in a straight line) from Cerbère, at the Spanish border, to Avignon, just on the border with Provence.

Signposting and Finding Your Way

Generally very good. At every intersection you’ll have choices of either the towns your roads go to, the number of the route, or both. Often it’s the first one, so it’s necessary to know where you’re headed!

Sometimes as you enter a village it won’t be clear which way to go. Head for the center (nearly always a church), then go in the direction you think you should. You might not see the sign you want in the center, that’s my point. Often, the signs are outside the old center, usually at the first crossroad or intersection.

To find out how to decipher common road signs in Languedoc, click here.

Refilling Your ‘Tank’

The above statement about the number of inhabitable places in Languedoc must come with a warning – not all of them can feed you! I have friends who live in villages near Montpellier who don’t have a shop of any kind. This extreme is pretty uncommon, however, and you are usually going to find at least a bakery.

Be careful though, between 12pm (or sometimes 1 or 2pm)  and 2pm (or sometimes 4pm) you might be out of luck, unless there is a restaurant in town, then you are good until around 2pm or 3pm. Yes, it’s confusing, and it’s really a crap shoot from my experience. Be prepared and carry something to nibble.

In general, you’ll find the following types of places to fill up:

Supermarkets: only in bigger towns, usually on the outskirts. Often you’ll find little versions of the big ones in the center of town.

Restaurants / Brasseries:  just about anywhere, but tiny villages won’t have them, probably.

Cafés / Bakeries / Bars: thankfully in nearly every place where people live.

Markets: it’s possible to hit farmers markets nearly every day of the week, if you are an expert planner. I have a Markets in Languedoc page where you can start your plan of attack!

Pit Stops

One of my pet peeves about the whole of France is the near total absence of public bathrooms. In bigger towns you can find them in train stations, malls, etc., but even then you might need to pay. Out in the countryside some villages that see tourists will have free facilities, but you may end up using restaurants or cafés when things get urgent! For the more adventurous, between towns there is ofter empty countryside…going ‘bush’ is certainly a possibility.

Dangers and Annoyances

On the road traffic is your biggest enemy. Having said that though, French drivers are (in general) very respectful towards cyclists. I’ve never had any accidents caused by a driver and only a few times have felt a car passed a little too close for comfort.

Language

Knowing French basics will certainly make life on the road easier, not to mention infinitely more rewarding. More and more people here are speaking English, especially the younger generations, but you will be rewarded with kindness if you attempt French.

It’s not necessary to be fluent, or even study French grammar, to get along. Find yourself a phrase book and memorize, unless you have time to study properly. If you have time and would like to come to Languedoc and learn a little French, there are, of course, language schools.

Many words in English are the same as French, but this unfortunately does not hold true for bikes. Check out this extremely useful list of words related to cycling.

Travelling by Bike

If you are contemplating a cycling holiday for the first time, or you would like a few tips, here’s a starter guide. If you are here on a ‘regular’ holiday but would like to get out on a bicycle, see these suggestions of guided and self-guided rides in the area. Looking for a place to stay for you and your bike? Check out these places.