Donald Hirsch's London to Paris route
In 2007 I accidentally invented an ideal way of cycling independently to Paris, with almost no traffic or hassle and only minor cost and prior organisation.
I’ve since heard from many hundreds of individuals and small groups who’ve taken up my route. They’ve come in every shape and speed: from unicycles to a triple tandem; from Big Ben to Eiffel Tower in under 22 hours to a family stretching it over a two week holiday; from a dogged little boy aged six to an 81-year old sustained largely on good white wine. Mainly, people contacting me after the ride have remarked on two things. First, their appreciation of being shown how to pick their way through quiet forests in the suburbs of Paris to emerge magically near the Eiffel Tower. And second, their delight in the fantastically hospitable B&Bs en route, particularly those in the Pays de Bray, a charming sub-region of Normandy that none of us had previously heard of, which remains a peaceful rural idyll.
It all started when I heard of the Avenue Verte, a disused railway line that was meant to be the basis of a London-Paris cycle route, but then found out that it petered out about 30 miles south of Dieppe. I nevertheless set out with some friends to ride to Paris, via Newhaven-Dieppe and this cycleway. We looked for a way of getting as far into the city as possible through the parks and smoothly-surfaced woodland trails of the banlieues vertes (green suburbs, where I’d once lived).
And we were astonished to find we could get to within a mile of the Eiffel Tower before emerging onto city streets. I enjoyed the route enough to post it online, and as more and more people used it, gradually built up a website guide, complete with maps, directions and accommodation ratings. The helpful feedback I got from users made it possible to develop and update it continuously from a distance – I’ve only ever ridden it twice since that first ride in 2007!
I really enjoy this voluntary “travel guide” role, helping people share my hobby of over 40 years – cycle touring. Many people travelling solo or organising small groups find it hard to know where to start in planning a trip of this type, and my site tells you pretty much all you need to know. While it’s important to book your accommodation and your travel back (via Eurostar is simplest) in advance, this doesn't have to be a huge project. You don’t need a support team, and the whole thing need not cost more than £300 for a lovely four day holiday (or much less if you camp).
The most unexpected part of this project for me has been the emergence of bed and breakfasts along the route, run by local owners, and the amazing quality of some of them. The locals of Pays de Bray have really risen to the opportunity of having my route and the “official” one pass through their area. They’ve had quite a tough time economically, and have willingly adapted to what British cyclists need: a fine welcome, a delicious meal en famille and a sumptuous breakfast with local produce to give you energy for the day (not the stereotypical French petit-dejeuner of coffee and croissant where the accent is on the petit!).
You can read a lot more about this adventure on my website. But why take my route to Paris rather than others? Here are four possible reasons:
1 It’s relatively short – I reckon the lowest mileage low-traffic route from the Channel (130 miles Dieppe to Eiffel Tower). The official one is significantly longer (150 miles plus, depending on variation). This is particularly relevant if you have limited time.
2 It provides that peaceful stretch through the forests, which makes the entry into Paris feel calm. The official route is relatively low-traffic but through busier suburbs.
3 It comes out on the West side of Paris, which means you end up at the Eiffel Tower, rather than arriving on a canal from the north-east. Everyone gets a buzz (and a photo opportunity) out of arriving at Paris’s most iconic landmark.
4 My descriptions are very precise, and my easy to use printable map and guide has been road-tested by hundreds of riders.
Above all though, enjoy your cycle ride. And let me know how you get on.
For more advice from Donald go to our top tips section.