Sunset on the Etang de Boulet in Feins
©Sunset on the Etang de Boulet, Feins|Clo & Clem
ExperienceCycling adventures in the north of Ille‑et‑Vilaine

Cycling adventures in the north of Ille‑et‑Vilaine

As soon as there is a hint of fine weather, bloggers Clo & Clem, love going off on impromptu expeditions near where they live which is very lucky as Ille-et-Vilaine is full of hidden gems to discover!

They live in the north of Ille-et-Vilaine, near Combourg, at the heart of Romantic Brittany. Not far from their home they can go along the River Rance or the towpath beside the Ille-et-Rance Canal and do various water sports at Etang de Boulet. Here they tell us about a cycling weekend.

DAY 1: CYCLING ALONG THE BANKS OF THE RANCE

When we are out and about, we try to use gentle forms of transport so we have time to admire the scenery. Cycling is a pleasant way to get around and luckily there are plenty of cycle trails in the north of Ille-et-Vilaine. After hiring bikes in Combourg we begin our adventure in Saint-Suliac, classed as one of the loveliest villages in France.

Saint-Suliac : a character village classed as one of the loveliest villages in France

As soon as you get to Saint-Suliac, you see straightaway why the pretty village is among the loveliest in France.

Saint-Suliac is a typically Breton village with narrow, flower-filled streets and granite cottages with coloured shutters. Originally a fishing village, Saint-Suliac has a very pronounced history.

Inside the church which was built during the 13th and 14th centuries, there are lots of votive offerings in the form of suspended model ships which serve as a reminder of the ‘Terre-Neuvas’ fishermen who spent many long campaigns fishing the Newfoundland cod banks between the 16th and 20th centuries.

We carry on down to the harbour. Overlooking the village, the Oratoire de Grainfollet, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was built in 1894 by fishermen and their families when their prayers to see all the mariners return safe and sound were answered.

Before heading for Saint-Malo, we sit on a bench facing the Rance. The deep-sea fishermen of days gone by have made way for holiday makers – some having a leisurely swim at the beach, others windsurfing, catamaran and optimist sailing or sea kayaking at the Centre Nautique de Rance water sports centre.

The Rance Valley

Next we get back on our bikes and pick up the Vélomaritime® cycle route which passes through Saint-Suliac on its way to to Saint-Malo.

The cycle route takes us to Quinard tidal mill at Saint-Jouan-des-Guérets. The Rance is dotted with tidal mills and the one at Quinard is the largest. Built in the mid-19th century, the mill was operated by the force of the tide but it stopped being used in 1925 and today it is derelict.

We arrive in Saint-Malo via the Tour Solidor, a keep comprising 3 towers on the estuary of the Rance. Built in 1382, the Tour Solidor served as a watchtower to keep a close eye on the Rance estuary and defend Saint-Malo. Today it houses the Maritime Museum.

The opposite bank of the Rance is also interesting to visit. The scenery is wilder and we take the opportunity to stop at La Richardais for a picnic of local produce bought at a shop in a local speciality shop in Saint-Malo. The view from the Pointe du Grognet is simply magnificent!

Near La Richardais, Le Minihic-sur-Rance on the opposite bank to Saint-Suliac was also a fishing village in the past. Just as Saint-Suliac had its oratory at Grainfollet to protect its Newfoundland fishermen, Le Minihic-sur-Rance had the Oratoire de Notre Dame de la Miette. Le Minihic-sur-Rance was also one of the largest shipbuilding centres in the region.

The 45 metre long dry dock can still be seen today at the Anse de La Landriais.

After our day out in the Rance Valley, we meet the Ille-et-Rance Canal at Montreuil-sur-Ille. The Rance Valley has offered us lots of surprises with its pretty villages, rich history, beautiful river bank scenery and emerald green water.


DAY 2: THE ILLE-ET-RANCE CANAL AND ÉTANG DE BOULET (LAKE)

We continue our cycle trip not along the banks of the Rance, but along the towpath of the Ille-et-Rance Canal near Montreuil-sur-Ille.

Cycling along the Ille-et-Rance Canal

The 85km long Ille-et-Rance Canal is the oldest canal in Brittany. Begun in 1804 under Napoleon I and completed in 1832, it runs from the centre of Rennes to Saint-Malo. Back in the day, the canal was mainly used to transport goods, but with the arrival of railways and roads, it gradually fell into disuse.

Today, the old towpath has been converted into a greenway, a path free from motorised traffic through peaceful, wooded countryside. We cycle along the towpath past many lock-keeper’s cottages. The scenery is beautiful, and in places the sky and clouds are reflected in the waters of the canal.

The Ille-et-Rance Canal is well-known for the eleven lock staircase at Hédé-Bazouges, which allows boats to move through the 27 metre elevation.

Just next to the eleven locks, we go to meet Sarah from Grain de Méliss, a herb grower. She grows, gathers and dries the herbs herself maintaining respect for the environment and biodiversity. She produces herbal teas, edible flowers and seasonings.

Etang de Boulet

The Ille-et-Rance Canal is fed by channels from various lakes. The largest source lake is the Etang de Boulet. It was enlarged in 1828 and now contains 3 million cubic metres, making it the largest lake in Ille-et-Vilaine!

It is a Natura 2000 nature conservation area. It is possible to cycle around the lake on a 6.7km trail through the countryside.

The Etang de Boulet is also an ideal place for water sports. Sitting on the beach beside the lake for our picnic, we watch a group of catamaran sailors on the lake.

The Centre Nautique du Domaine de Boulet at Feins, an approved French Sailing School (École Française de Voile), offers lessons and trips aboard dinghies, catamarans, windsurfers, kayaks, paddle boards and pedalos!

Around the Etang de Boulet

We finish our cycling weekend by visiting the area around the Etang de Boulet, through Sens-de Bretagne to Vieux-Vy-sur-Couesnon and the Couesnon Valley.

The Couesnon rises in Mayenne and flows through the north of Ille-et-Vilaine into the sea at Mont-Saint-Michel.

Near Vieux-Vy-sur-Couesnon, we visit the remains of the Mines de Brais, now overgrown. Between 1879 and 1951, iron, lead, silver, zinc and pyrite ore was extracted from the hillside. A discovery trail details the history of the mines and the workers’ village. Today the former industrial site has become a natural attraction which is home to protected species like bats.

In fact we found lots of places to visit during our cycling weekend in the north of Ille-et-Vilaine. We delved into history with the Terre-Neuvas Newfoundland cod fishermen of the Rance Valley and the industrial past of the Mines de Brais. We also enjoyed cycling through conservation areas along the Rance and the Ille-et-Rance Canal towpath and around the Etang de Boulet. Finally, we discovered the rich heritage of the pretty village of Saint-Suliac, the Tour Solidor and the Eleven Locks. We never dreamed there would be so much to see so close to home. Our cycling adventure allowed us to take the time to explore and appreciate our region.

USEFUL INFO

Bike hire

We hired bikes from Maxi Vélo at Combourg, near our home. Combourg is a small town at the heart of Romantic Brittany. Max Vélo has hybrid bikes, mountain bikes and electric bikes.

More info about Maxi Vélo

Overnight accommodation

We stayed at the Clos des Anges at Dingé, a B&B run by Fabienne, a great traveller who has lived abroad and travelled the world. The house is splendid ! It is a spacious comfortable house built in 1832 which Fabienne has converted into a little paradise with a large vegetable garden and an orchard. We particularly loved our room, which was attractively decorated with touches of foreign travel, and the generous breakfast ! Fabienne makes her own fruit juice with apples from the orchard and makes her own jam too. Everything is either home-made (cakes and yogurt) or bought from local producers (honey and goat’s cheese from Dingé itself).

More info about Clos des Anges

Clo & Clem, Blogueurs

Ille-et-Vilaine is absolutely brimming with different cycle rides to discover a myriad of delightful curiosities and landmarks.

Clo & Clem, bloggers

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