It’s easy to lose yourself in daydreams of bygone centuries when cycling in Loire Valley. Riverside parks and vineyards guide you, while quiet lanes tucked away from main roads wind you through the green and yellow countryside and its scattered rural hamlets.
The pomp and prestige of royalty and artistry poke through the patches of forest, dominate small towns and stand preserved within manicured gardens – majestic châteaux akin to a grand castle or simply a turret clad stately family home. These are places where kings and lords once resided and ran the villages and towns you lightly pedal through, or where artists, like Leonardo Da Vinci, came to showcase their work as special guests of the Monarchs.
Two wheels are your time machine through the ‘Early French Renaissance’ – 800 years of history, architecture and art. Two wheels allow you to cover vast ground in the pretty and peaceful Loire of today, whose giant garden fields yield the fresh fruit, vegetable and meat produce of gastronomic praise and which bear the source of some of Europe’s most revered wines.
Cycling in Loire Valley, France – Where to go
I awoke in the Château de Chissay like a Princess – with wooden beam ceilings and parlour like rooms overlooking the river Cher, it was not hard to stand in one of the towers and pretend I was one. Built as a royal residence under Charles VII in the 15th Century and now a boutique hotel of 32 rooms, the air of splendor added to the fairytale feel – a continuing theme of the trip.
On this morning, I was briefed on my cycle route that would last five days – a journey that would see me cover a 100 kilometre route in Tourine, considered to be the very heart of the Loire Valley. My bike was adjusted, my panniers were packed with essentials and my luggage would be delivered by the Headwater team’s car to my next hotel (not a horse and carriage or a Prince on a horse!).
A one-hour-cycle along the banks of the river Cher brought me to my first enchanted residence – the 16th Century Château de Chenonceau, whose famous arches and 500 year old vineyard clad gardens line the very river you arrive on. Built on the piers of an old fortified mill, Henri II gave it to his mistress who wanted to recreate the image of Ponte Vecchio in Florence and so expanded the bridge and added the two arches. It remains the most visited of them all.
But this adventurous Princess had more pedal work to do before she could dine in style as a reward for exploring the Loire actively. I followed the well-marked green cycle signs to the cobbled streets of old Amboise, curving through open countryside via narrow paths, slowly passing through village backstreets and eventually crossing the wide-open River Loire.
Exploration here would have to wait until the following ‘rest day’ where no lengthy cycle route was planned. It was onwards to St-Ouen-les-Vignes, navigating crossroads and mini-roundabouts as I glided through rural villages, such as Pocé-sur-Cisse, that sit back to back.
Fois Gras of a quality I’ve never tasted before, sparking rose with a hint of raspberry, and succulent beef cooked to my medium perfection was the hearty reward of my 34 kilometres, finished with a selection of cheeses (mostly goats cheeses) and a calorie laden chocolate dessert to accompany the rich espresso. I admit, it was like this every evening.
Amboise is the most interesting of all the towns in Loire, combining its history for political, economic and artistic activity with al fresco relaxation. Tea shops, handicraft stories and restaurants are set within perfectly square and rectangular houses, side-by-side in a neat row opposite the dominant golden stoned Château Amboise Royal.
Da Vinci (whose last residence, Château du Clos Lucé, is only metres away) stayed at Amboise Château Royal as a guest of King Francois 1st (seen as a “Prince of the Arts”) – a great ‘French Renaissance King’ one who reigned at a time that is seen to mark the start of our modern era. The Chateau once had a secret underground passageway that linked to Château du Clos Lucé so that the king could visit him in privacy, except your best view today as a visitor is from the terraces, whose panoramic views of Amboise stretch far and wide, showcasing rooftops and church spires and large cavalier towers.
From St-Ouen-les-Vignes came the journey to Chitenay, cycling along the Beauvron River via the tiny riverside town of Chaumont, whose Château peaks on the hillside drawing you closer in.
A peaceful riverside stop, where you’ll see many more cyclists at slower speed gliding past the small wooden boats bobbing in the shallow waters. Some of these have been converted in living spaces where people can sleep right on the water in boat hotels for a unique Loire Valley experience.
However, I had to continue as it was time to test out the five kilometres of a newly created cycle path. Marked simply by an archway of trees, it leads you towards the old stone bridge and village of Candé-sur-Beauvron with its giant plant pots that add a dash of colour to the surrounding monochrome stone.
Tackling a slight incline, the legwork was rewarded when I hit the pretty villages of Les Montils. Pastel doors, some resembling the all-too-familiar Greek island blue, dotted the streets either side of the still standing Vieux Porche 12th century archway and 12th century buildings. One street was all you needed to feel lost in time, before emerging onto the yellow field road.
Mustering every last ounce of energy in the heat, I pushed through the quiet country lanes and the Château à vélo routes towards my third resting stop, the Auberge du Centre hotel in Chiteney. Each night, while sampling similar dishes, the sommelier here treated me to wine tastings at my table – white wines with a hint of lemon from La Cave de l’Aubras, the distinct and sharp single grape red from Domaine Du Chapitre and the fruity berry options from vineyards close by.
The next ‘rest day’ was a day of Château hopping, starting with what is deemed as the finest and most splendid of all in Loire – Château de Cheverny. From the outside, on the main street, the grounds appear small, but once you enter the gate, the sea of flat green and ancient trees spread before you until you walk closer the white stone of glistens against the sharp blue summer sky. Its interior is nothing short as its grand exterior, where you will need a least an hour to sample its multiple floors of preserved living spaces. A short trip to the manor style Château de Troussay, whose interior was like an eclectic antiques shop of furniture and decor, rounded off the 17km round trip.
It’s only fitting that the last day of the gastronomic cycle tour through the Loire Valley ended how it began – with a more relaxed cycle through vineyards and sleepy hamlets. The pretty Fougères-sur-Bièvre to be precise, whose Chateau appears before your eyes as you turn a non-descript bend, before you whizz past the mushroom caves and the troglodyte houses built into the rocks, ending in a disheveled heap at Château de Vallagon – the most beautiful and castle-like.
The downhill stretch was the perfect ending, like an air sprint to the finish line that brought me right back to the very beginning…
On the banks of the river Cher in Loire, where I slept like a Princess.
This post was brought to you as a result of #30ActiveDays blog trip, created and managed by Captivate in partnership with Headwater Holidays. Borders of Adventure maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. I really am a Princess.*
*OK, I lied about that.