In the summer of 2022, my friend Alex and I cycled from Brighton, England to Barcelona, Spain. I took a notebook, and wrote about the trip day by day. This report is based mostly upon those notes. Also included are some pictures I took, and some drawings from the trip made by another friend of mine, Benj (A.B. Wade), who joined us for the first leg of the journey through France and has kindly allowed me to use some of his work here.


The Route

Brighton to Paris

We met up at the Palace Pier on a rainy Tuesday morning, before heading east along the coast to Newhaven. The weather soon brightened up, and after a visit to Lidl for supplies and we boarded the ferry to Dieppe. Before long the white cliffs of the Seven Sisters, and then Beachy Head, dipped below the horizon.

Tue. 31.5.22
The white cliffs are almost out of sight.

L'Avenue Verte is a cycle route between London and Paris which uses the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry. The French section is for the most part very well maintained. From Dieppe to Gournay-en-Bray it follows an old railway line through the Norman countryside. It was hard to believe how easy it was as we sped along the smooth tarmac, far from traffic, no chance of getting lost. The route then splits, with a shorter option heading south through Gisors and a longer way heading east through Beauvais. We cycled straight past the fork and went east. After the distance we had covered in the last 24 hours we were confident that we'd get to Paris much too early if we took the shorter route. Plus the map showed a lake just north of Beauvais, and we felt like a swim.

Alex and Benj beside the lake

Plan d'Eau du Canada, Beauvais

This fork of L'Avenue Verte then becomes less direct and more interesting as it winds through small towns and farmland. There is a steep climb to a church in Clermont which is a total detour, but well worth it. We spent a few quiet minutes in the church, cooling off and regaining our strength after the effort. By the third night we had made it to a beautiful forest south of Pont-Sainte-Maxence, and the next morning we took our time and explored the nearby town of Senlis.

people chatting and looking through clothing stalls

Street market, Senlis

We bought some supplies from the market, chatted with the locals who were very friendly, and with a full day ahead of us to reach Paris we cycled on in high spirits. However, as is often the case when approaching a city, the quality of the route steadily decreased. Inconsistent road surfaces, traffic and missing signage meant that at some point we left the route altogether and ended up following the Canal de l'Ourcq into Paris. After navigating the city centre in the rain and climbing to our hotel in Villejuif I was exhausted.

Fri - 3.6.22 11:22pm
At the hotel. Tired.

Paris to Dijon

After a weekend in Paris we continued our journey south, this time taking the EuroVelo 3 cycle route. The EV3 runs all the way from Trondheim to Galicia, so we only saw a small section of it. Cycling along the banks of the Seine was a serene experience. Parts of the route follow old dirt footpaths between trees, sometimes just a few feet from the water. We progressed at a slower pace so we could take it all in.

Benj, our bikes leaning against a bench on a footpath canopied by trees

North-east bank of the Seine

The EV3 then took us along two canals, Canal du Loing and Canal de Briare before joining up with the EV6 heading north-west. Aside from some beautiful towns, Montargis for example, there isn't much to say about this section, it kind of just keeps going. We saw a lot of swifts and herons, so if you like canals, swifts and herons you'll love this section of the EV3, but for us, after a couple of days we were getting bored of the straight, flat paths.

After 3 days on the EV3 we made it to Briare, where the canal joins the Loire river, and we joined the EV6 heading south-east. This section was especially enjoyable for me. It may seem like a small difference to be cycling beside a river rather than a canal, but the change was invigorating. The river provides for a wide variety of life. We saw beavers, owls, even a snake. We were surrounded by wildlife. Usually in the form of thick swarms of flies which are too small to see before they hit you in the face.

canal bridge over the loire

Canal bridge over the Loire

The EV6 continues close to the Loire before heading into southern Burgundy. Using riverside paths, canal paths and roads which took us through some interesting towns and communes.

an unusual church in Pierrefitte-sur-Loire

Church in Pierrefitte-sur-Loire
Apparently one of only two still bearing the national motto.

It has a good variety of scenery and even some hills, passing directly south of the Parc naturel régional du Morvan before turning 90 degrees left and heading north-east towards Beaune. When it reaches Chagny it heads south-east once again, but since we wanted to see Dijon we took the V51 cycle route up to Beaune. As we approached this famous wine centre we saw steady increases in both the number of tourists as well as the price of just about everything. From Beaune we decided get a train north to Dijon before cycling back south to avoid too much backtracking through the endless, unshaded vineyards. I would only recommend this part if you are very interested in seeing the small, wine-producing villages, and no doubt sampling their wares.

Wed - 15.6.22 1:30
The vineyards of Burgundy are full of confused Americans riding around in circles on electric bicycles.

Dijon to Avignon

Once we had made it back to Chagny we briefly rejoined the EV6 which took us to Chalon-sur-Saône. From there, La Voie Bleue allowed us to follow the Saône all the way down to Lyon. The first half of this section was wonderful. It almost never left the river, and was almost never joined by motor traffic. We took it slow, mostly due to the heat, and simply flowed with the Saône past a series of picturesque towns and landscapes. Predictably the ease with which we travelled did not continue, and after Mâcon the surface turned from smooth, consistent tarmac to a varying blend of sand, dirt, rocks and potholes. According to the owner of a vélo café, this shouldn't be the case for much longer, but at the time the route was still under construction. Hopefully, by the summer of 2023 it should be smooth cycling all the way to Lyon.

After visiting Lyon we continued south, past the confluence of the Saône and the Rhône, and into the Rhône valley. Upon leaving Lyon to the south the VR (ViaRhôna) took us along some busy main roads with heavy traffic before we could escape back to the riverside paths. This combined with the weather (38ºC/100ºF with strong headwinds) and other factors made it probably the toughest day for me.

a busy junction with cars, bicycles and an abandoned e-scooter

Junction south of Lyon
La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière can be seen above the cyclist in red.

Conditions didn't improve much for another 3 days, until we got close to Avignon. According to another frustrated cyclist heading the same way, this wind coming up the Rhône valley was quite unusual for this time of year, in fact he had been expecting the opposite. The paths themselves were mostly good, apart from some steep gravel hills on the first day, and by the second we had pushed through to Valence where we met Ralph, our companion for the remainder of this section.

In the following 2 days we would cross the Rhône countless times. Something which would have been a more pleasant experience if not for us having to literally hold on to our hats to avoid losing them in the river. Despite the unrelenting headwinds and my poor condition, the beauty of the Rhône valley and our good company is what I remember most.

view of Andance and the hills behind from across the river

The sign says it's Andance


the sun setting behind a jagged wall of rock, from across the river

Sunset in the valley

Avignon to Barcelona

From Avignon it's just a short ride south-west to Beaucaire, where the VR joins up with the EV8. The Mediterranean was within reach and we cycled on excitedly, making short work of the paths through the marshes. The following morning we finally made it to Le Grau-du-Roi, and after navigating some kind of watersports event at the mouth of Le Vidourle, the sea. We were thrilled to have cycled France from coast to coast, and promptly sought out the nearest beach bar where we could relax a while and celebrate.

As we cheerfully cycled on through the seaside towns on Le Golfe d'Aigues-Mortes we noticed that we could sometimes see in the distance our greatest obstacle, the Pyrenees. As we approached the mountain range over the next three days its stormy peaks would slowly reveal themselves, and while we weren't sure how far we'd have to climb in order to traverse this hurdle, I for one couldn't wait to find out.

While the EV8 seems to follow the coastline as much as possible, it does go inland now and then. From Villeneuve-lès-Maguelone we left the EV8 to go out to Maguelone Cathedral which is basically on a rock in the sea, but the path is only open during the day. We spent the night on a tiny strip of land before cycling along the path which joins back up to the EV8 near Frontignan.

bike and tent on a path in the sea

Footpath leading nowhere, near Maguelone Cathedral
To the left is the path which is only accessible during the day.

From there it was an easy ride along the beach paths to Agde, where the route goes inland again. Through Béziers to Capestang there were some hills and more headwinds, so we decided to cut out a winding section of the EV8 and take the main road to Cuxac-d'Aude where the EV8 goes south again. We were anxious to get to the mountains, so despite a lack of signposting and some rough terrain between Narbonne and Leucate we were making good time. It was then just a matter of following the route south through a series of beach resort towns, ending with Argelès-sur-Mer.

tree in the middle of a path between two massive lagoons

Canal de la Robine path, between Étang de l'Ayrolle and Étang du Charlot

Mon - 27.6.22 6:30pm
The mountains are well in view now, looming ahead.
Dark and dangerous they seem.
116.8km today
cycle path along a coastal road with shadowy mountains ahead

Cycle path to Argelès

If you go through Argelès, watch out because the route took me down an overgrown footpath which turned out to be impassable. Just follow the cycle paths along the main road. At this point the EV8 turns to the west, skirting the foot of the mountains up to Maurellias-las-Illas before finally making the passage. There are actually two cycle routes here, one heading up much higher, and one through the mountain town of le Pertús. We played it safe and went for the second. It was definitely a tough climb, but manageable, and the winding roads are quite peaceful and scenic. Upon reaching Pertús we thought since we were there we should make the additional climb to Fort Bellegarde, which was well worth it.

road through the mountains seen from Fort Bellegarde

The Pertús pass

Fort Bellegarde and the road into Spain

Spain, from Fort Bellegarde
At 420m, it offers some great views.

The EV8 on the Pertús pass seems to end at the border, and since we were almost on the alternative route already we decided to descend that way. The alternative route ended up being more of a mountain bike track, and with our fully loaded touring bikes we were forced to get off and push a lot of the way. The parts we could ride were lots of fun, and towards the end it turned into a thrilling descent.

Alex pushing his bike up a steep trail

Luckily there was often shade

And so we found ourselves in Spain. Specifically la Jonquera, where we celebrated our victory with a few (noticeably cheaper) beers. The EV8 on this side of the Pyrenees was mostly gravel, so we continued at a slower pace, taking in the landscapes full of small fields with crumbling stone walls and quiet little towns as the EV8 took us gradually to the beautiful Costa Brava. We enjoyed the beaches of l'Escala for as long as we could, but had to move on before too long. It was getting late and there was apparently a beach where we could camp on the other side of the cliffs. It was a slight detour but a worthwhile one.

sunrise on a beach

Sunrise, Platja de la Platera

Now we were getting close to our destination, but we had a problem. The EV8 follows the coast to Sant Feliu de Guíxols, but then it turns back on itself, heading inland and ending near Sils. Our maps showed some patchy local cycle routes from there to Barcelona, but these were broken up by sections where the main road was the only one. We thought maybe we could just follow the coast, but upon closer inspection the mountainous coastline looked impassable. We decided to follow the EV8 back up and round to Sils and try our luck on the main roads.

At the end of the EV8, when Alex had sensibly found somewhere to camp, I looked for some trails to follow. However once again I was led down an overgrown path where I fell and was temporarily trapped in a thornbush, before having to turn back. I learned my lesson and from then on I simply followed the roads. While this wasn't ideal, it did get me there fast. The roads are obviously very direct, and cycling on the hard shoulder with speeding traffic constantly passing will definitely motivate you to get where you're going.

For the final stretch I found my way to the Besòs river, which passes through the mountains and into the city. There is a somewhat inconsistent cycle route along its east bank, which while being a welcome break from the road, was often so rocky that I had to leave it and come back further on, hoping the surface would improve. Then suddenly the path became smooth tarmac, and as I looked up I realised I had made it. 2,333km, 32 days, and I was there.

Fri - 1.7.22 1:47pm
Made it to BCN.


Cycling through somewhere like western Europe isn't dangerous, but being on a bike every day and camping every night can get uncomfortable. There are many bike touring how-tos out there, so I'll just go over the main points about how we got through each day in one piece, and some things which made the trip more enjoyable.

The first thing is water and food. Throughout France and Spain we found an abundance of taps, although I would avoid drinking the tap water in Barcelona. Most days we would find a supermarket (usually Aldi) in the last town we visited, and buy our supplies for the night. Then first thing in the morning we would go to the next town for a café & croissant, and usually buy something to take away for lunch.

Alex eating a sandwich at a picnic bench with no table

Picnic benches are great

Next is sleep. Apart from when we were visiting a city and had to find a hotel, we simply camped wherever was suitable. Ideally in forests or wild areas. Coming from England, we found it much easier to free camp here than back home. There is simply more space and the public don't seem to mind. Obviously we tried to be discreet, setting up at sunset and packing up early, but even when someone would stumble upon our camp they were invariably respectful.

view from a tent on the bank of the Loire

Loire river
I can't think of a better place to wake up.

Clothing is obviously important. We did this trip in June, and it was hot. We had fleeces with us which we never wore, and my 3 season sleeping bag was totally unnecessary. A good hat, light shirt and shorts were all we needed for almost the whole trip. Oh and plenty of underwear, although I didn't wear socks once. For footwear I just had some flip-flops and a pair of boat shoes, which served me very well.

first person shot of the Seine with my boat-shoed feet soaking in the water

A jetty on the Seine
Docksides are minimal, easy to wash and a great way to stay cool.

We had to know where we were going, and I must thank Alex for doing most of the route planning. I wouldn't have made it without him. We mostly used OsmAnd combined with additional overlays of national and international cycle routes for our maps. However taking your phone out whenever you want to check the map is not ideal, and if I were to do a similar trip again I would invest in some kind of handlebar mounted navigation system.

map showing every place we camped

Our route day by day
Alex marked every place we slept.

When everything was going well we could worry about how to entertain ourselves on the road. Benj had a Bluetooth speaker, and I brought a small AM/FM radio which I hooked onto my brake wire. It didn't handle bumps well, but when it did work it was nice to hear the local stations as we travelled. In particular it was exciting to hear the Catalan stations starting to come through when we approached the Pyrenees

my handlebars with my radio attached

My radio wedged above the handlebar bag

I also wanted to have a way to make music, and since I'm not much of a singer I brought an ocarina, which I think is a perfect instrument to travel with. It's interesting to note how it sounds, and how it feels to play it in different environments. In the middle of Paris was no good, but by rivers, and especially in forests it sounded quite special.

Mon - 6.6.22 10:12pm
I walked away from the camp and played my ocarina. The reverb in these woods was beautiful and I had a good jam.

Our Experience

Wed 1.6 9pm
I feel like a swift, unable to settle.

We had bought tickets to see The Smile on the 5th of July in Barcelona, so we had to get there before then. We set off on the 31st of May which would give us plenty of time to stop and explore along the way, and to deal with any problems, mechanical or otherwise. For the most part it all went quite smoothly, but there were some noteworthy occurrences which I will now describe.

Thu 2.6.22 9:10am
I keep remembering this bare-arsed gardener
we saw yesterday.

We didn't have many incidents with the wildlife, but there was the occasional large mammal, probably a boar, that would investigate our tents at night.

Thu.2.6.22 11pm
A wild boar or something approached our camp about 20 minutes ago. Before I saw it the sound was terrifying. Then it stopped in front of my torch and it was amazing.

the outside of 'Le Bistrot'

Le Bistrot, Pierrefitte-sur-Loire
This must be one of the friendliest villages in France. If you're in the area, I'd highly recommend going to this place.

Barca-headed baguette-bearing Belgian beer elephant

Barca-headed baguette-bearing Belgian beer Elephant - It's always good to have someone watching your back. This little friend was given to me at a Delirium-sponsored street gig in La Charité-sur-Loire. As well wearing my Barcelona hat when I didn't need it he also kept hold of my bread and stopped motorists from passing too close to me.

On the hottest day of the trip we were in Lyon. It was such a nice place, and our last major stop before Barcelona, so we decided to look for somewhere to enjoy ourselves that evening. We ended up at a Depeche Mode tribute gig (which was very good) where we got quite drunk. I hadn't managed to climb to the Cathedral yet, so afterwards I decided to cycle, severely dehydrated, up to La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière. While this was a stupid thing to do, and I felt awful the next day, I have to say it was worth it.

Blind man steals invisible bicycle

One night we set up camp in a park in Valence, a town on the Rhône, and were approached by two fellow travellers who joined our camp. One of these men was Ralph (Mic on a Bike), who ended up cycling with us all the way to Avignon, and providing both music and great company. His bike was more like a forklift, and carried amongst other things a guitar and a fairly large amp, which he played music from as we cycled. Upon arriving in Avignon we set up and started busking. We did very well for about half an hour before the police moved us on.

3 partially tanned/dirty lads sat round a nice fire

Near an old castle on the ViaRhôna, about 8km from Sorgues
Left to right: myself, Alex and Ralph

The trip was relatively painless for the most part, and we were almost never out of food or water, however on the last night before we reached Barcelona, it all went wrong for me.

Fri - 1.7.22 1:47pm
Last night was an ordeal. We followed the EV8 back inland until it stopped. I carried on, following my maps apps, which led me down an overgrown path. If I turned back I'd have to go back several kilometres, so I pushed on. It eventually became impassable, so I had to turn back. That's when I fell sideways into a thorny ditch, my bike on top of me. It took me several minutes to climb out, covered in scratches and bites.
Lost my radio in that ditch.

Afterwards I made my way to the road and looked for a spot. Climbed up a hill to camp before finding the ground too solid to pitch my tent. At this point I had no food, little water, and the mosquitos were all over me. Eventually I found a spot close to the road and managed to sleep.

On the flight back to England I fell asleep, and before I knew it we were circling above Brighton while we waited for a free runway at Gatwick Airport. Amazingly it took a month of cycling to get there,
and only a little sleep to get back.