Route planning and navigation

Route planning

I plan my routes by drawing a straight line between each point of the diagonal, then varying it to take in the nearest places in the list of  Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, and the FFCT’s list of BCN/BPF hauts lieux touristiques most beautiful places in France. You can find GPX files of these online. This way I’m assured of seeing the best of rural France.

I also include other places that take my fancy for one reason or another, usually related to French literature, art, cinema or history.

To connect the dots I generally cycle along the smallest roads, which are coloured white on the French IGN Top100 (100k scale) maps.

GPS Navigation

I’m currently using a Garmin eTrex Touch 35t GPS device for finding my way between these places. Previously I’ve used a Garmin eTrex H and an eTrex 30. They’re excellent machines once you understand the user interface and their quirks and foibles. The best thing I’ve found for figuring them out is Taming the eTrex 20/30. It’s worth spending the time on this – it pays dividends on the road.

On the eTrex I have Garmin’s City Navigator routable map of Western Europe.

Paper maps

I don’t rely solely on the GPS device, I also take the appropriate set of paper maps, normally from the French IGN Top100 series.

To cross a diagonal takes about 14 of these maps, which is a heavy and bulky load to be carrying on a bicycle, so I carry about 4 at a time, and send the others ahead in two parcels to two post offices, poste restante, and send the used ones home.


To plot the routes and get them onto the device I use a combination of the following apps:


A good piece of software for actually plotting the route manually and creating the GPX files. It’s easy to make sure that each route segment is within the Garmin’s limits so you don’t have problems on the road.

The supplied mapping is terrible though. Very incomplete and poorly shaded, with low contrast. Best to use another app for the actual route planning.

Garmin Express

When you connect your device you can use Garmin Express to plot routes using the same map that you will have en route. This is very useful as it shows you more or less what the device is thinking, and you can see if it wants to put you on a motorway or a muddy farm track.

The Trip Planner can automatically create a route from A to B using your cycle touring profile, which is a great time-saver. It does not put waypoints or routepoints on though, so I use ExpertGPS to enter waypoints based on the trip planner, connect them with the route tool, then save the GPX file on my computer before putting it onto the eTrex.

Google Streetview

A nice way of seeing where you’ll actually be riding, making sure it is actually pleasant and rideable. You can’t always tell from the maps, especially on the yellow D-roads.


I have an annual subscription to the French IGN maps, so I can make sure the route is consistent with the paper maps I use before I buy them, and without getting tangled up in them at the desk.

The route planner is good, but I find that it does not name the waypoints properly, so when I try to put them on the Garmin it says No. Very annoying because I then have to edit them separately.

The user interface is hopeless, but the app is a nice way to share routes and tracks.

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