The Vilaine – a vibrant valley worth visiting
The “Traversées et Escales” initiative is aimed at showcasing the Vallée de la Vilaine at its best, complete with new cycle paths cleared in Bruz, Chavagne, Laillé, Le Rheu, Rennes, Saint-Jacques-de-la-Lande and Vezin-le-Coquet. New territory for you to conquer by bike as you sail down roads and towing paths. This is the perfect opportunity to soak up key natural, farming and industrial sights and spots, meeting local farmers and taking in a patchwork of different landscapes as you go.
Nature at your doorstep
Don’t let the name fool you (‘vilaine’ means ‘dreadful’ in French): the Vilaine is a beautiful river that’s ideal for cycling. You can get to its banks easily from Rennes centre, by following the quays and towing paths. Just a few pedal strokes and you’ll find yourself on the shores of the Etangs d’Apigné lakes before heading south, dodging the hovering dragonflies as you catch glimpses of castles, mills and flower-lined locks. The Vilaine turns more sinuous as it progresses – the valley’s rolling hills emerge as you get closer to the Moulin du Boël, a mill that offers one of the most breath-taking views over the river. The Vilaine reveals its scintillating colours, shifting light under the sun. Cycle past ponds and lakes, as well as forests such as the Bois de Cicé, all hugging the banks of France’s 10th biggest river. From the banks of the Vilaine, gaze out at the many barges, canoes, kayaks and paddle boards bobbing on the waters.
The city is so close, and yet here you are, already deep in the countryside. Horses and cows watch lazily as cyclists and ramblers move through the fields, the birds are singing out, and the great crossing still has many more miles left to give.
- Find out more about the vallée de la vilaine
Stop-offs at the locks and local farmers
The Grande Traversée de la Vilaine’s main route is accessible to all. Starting at the Mail François Mitterrand, it stretches over 45 km. You can complete the trail and make the return journey all in a day – as long as you set off early and make sure your bike can handle it! The towing paths are flat and wide enough for visitors hoping to tow children behind them in a bike trailer. Some of the circuits, however, are much more challenging, and are just the thing for mountain-biking enthusiasts (read on for more details).
Original circuits for curious minds and foodies
One of the striking features of these different itineraries is that they encompass heritage sites and real-life, authentic places where locals live and trade, farms, market gardens, local farmsteads where you’ll be able to refuel with Breton specialities and fruit and vegetables grown in the valley.
Cycle circuits in the Vallée de la Vilaine
Main route – 45 kilometres
If it’s your first time in the Vallée de la Vilaine and you’re looking for a cycling day trip, this is a good choice. The route (marked in red on the map) departs from Rennes town centre and leads to Laillé. It takes in a number of remarkable sites of interest along the way: “local farmsteads, cultural and leisure activities, sports, heritage sites and little-known natural beauty spots”. See a map of the main route
- Length: 4.5 hours – Difficulty level*: 1 – Climbs and descents: Low
1. Boucles de la Flume – 16.1 km
This route skims past Rennes, combining rural and urban landscapes and offering up fantastic views of the city. Discover short-circuit farming, in particular at the Brin d’Herbe shop where you can buy organic produce (honey, dairy products, cider, etc.). See the circuit.
- Route length: 1 hour and 36 minutes – Difficulty level: 1 – Climbs and descents: Low
2. Boucles du Houdoux – 9.9 km
This circuit lasts roughly an hour and focuses on the Château de la Freslonnière and its golf course along the banks of the Flume – a tributary of the Vilaine – before crossing through Le Rheu. A journey through the countryside on the doorstep of the city, with spectacular views as a bonus. Nearby stop-off: the gorgeous Château d’Apigné, a luxury hotel and renowned restaurant. See the circuit.
- Route length: 59 minutes – Difficulty level: 1 – Climbs and descents: Low
3. Boucle de la Morinais – 7 km
A short bike ride near to Rennes, taking you deep into the wetlands and swamps around Saint-Jacques-de-la-Lande via well-cleared cycle paths. Why not combine it with a break in the Mille Pas educational garden? See the circuit.
- Route length: 42 minutes – Difficulty level: 1 – Climbs and descents: Low
4. Boucles du Clos Renaud – 18.7km
A nicely varied route that’s best-suited to mountain bikes and all-terrain bikes – this is the one for you if you’re hoping to give your calves a workout! Setting off from the Ker Lann campus, the circuit leads to the fascinating Lormandière de Chartres-de-Bretagne lime kilns before winding its way to the Fénicat riding centre and along the Seiche, another Vilaine tributary. Less sporty visitors may want to push their bikes for a bit, while seasoned cyclists will be in their element here, darting between the trees and taking the corners at speed before heading towards the Boël lock. See the circuit.
- Length: 1 hour 56 minutes. – Difficulty level: 2 – Climbs and descents: Low
5. Boucle du Verger – 10.4 km
Get some perspective and admire the Boël cliffs as well as the highest towers of Rennes with this Boucle du Verger circuit that takes you through the village of Guichen. See the circuit.
- Length: 1h02 – Difficulty level: 2 – Climbs and descents: Average
6. Boucle du désert – 13 km
Based around Laillé, the Boucle du Désert winds its way through enchanting countryside, taking in farms, horse-riding centres, beautiful prairies, streams and little valleys that make time fly! See the circuit.
- Length: 1h18 – Difficulty: 2 – Climbs and descents: Average
7. Boucle de Saint-Jean – 4.2km
The most challenging circuit and the most spectacular in the valley, designed for mountain-biking enthusiasts and adrenaline junkies! Expect peaks and valleys here as you rise and fall between the Rennes basin and Armorican massif. Dizzying views over the valley on one side, and the Ministry of Defence’s secret base on the other – keep your eyes fixed on the craggy, chalky paths ahead! See the circuit.
- Length: 25 minutes – Difficulty level: 3 – Climbs and descents: High
- * difficulty level > 1: relaxing, 2: discovery, 3: athletic
Guide to the grande traversée
Special signs marked in red for the main route and in purple for the 7 other circuits are here to guide cyclists throughout their experience. A general map is also available from the Rennes tourist office (11 Rue Saint-Yves) and in the town halls in the municipalities you’ll be passing through. The Grande Traversée was officially launched on Saturday 8 and Sunday 9 July 2017, with a bivouac, buffet and star-gazing session.
If you lose your way, the best thing to do is get back to the Vilaine’s towing paths so you can make your way back to the main route. Don’t forget a helmet, reflective vest and plenty of water and sun cream.
The Grande Traversée was designed and set up by cultural cooperative Cuesta in partnership with La Petite Rennes, Cassiopée Astronomie, les Cartoucheries, la fête du Champ à l’assiette, les Tombées de la Nuit, Vents de Vilaine and Destination Rennes. The Ter agency runs this project locally. The illustrations are the work of Rennes-based artist MioSHe. The maps were drafted by Léa Muller.
- More on the circuits and the vallée de la vilaine online at www.valleedelavilaine.fr/