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Riverside parks and vineyards guide you, while quiet lanes tucked away from main roads wind you through the green and yellow countryside and scattered rural hamlets. Here’s how to embark on a Loire Valley bike tour and lose yourself in daydreams of bygone centuries.
The Loire Valley is accessible even for the most casual of bikers. This trip marked the first time I cycled so many kilometres over a number of consecutive days and the first time cycling in France. I covered 100 kilometres, eased out over five days with two leisurely days wedged in between, and ploughed through the rigorous parts knowing there was a reward.
Why Cycle in the Loire Valley?
Biking the Loire Valley is not just a feat of endurance, but a scenic slideshow at your own speed.
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.
Cutting through a slice of the countryside not far from the metropolis of Paris, the journey was long, yet it was with the same desired effect – to see a destination actively and thereby cover more ground, but without giving up on the little comforts one needs after full-day surveying with sporting intent.
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 on an adventure sightseeing holiday 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.
This is what Headwater is known for – combining active, cultural and outdoors focused sightseeing, with the promise at the end of a long day of historical, family-run accommodation, and the reward of fine regional gourmet paired with some of the best local wines.
Loire Valley Bike Tour – A Five Day Adventure
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 splendour added to the fairytale feel. This would be a continuing theme of the trip.
I was presented with the map on my first morning at breakfast in the Château de Chissey, the neon inked trail marking a long circular route that would take me through more fairytale Châteaux, 15 villages – including Onzain, Chaumont, Candé-Sur-Beauvron, Chitenay and Troussay – the historic town of Amboise, and the endless vineyard flanked countryside.
It was a cycle route that would last five days – a journey that would see me cover a 100-kilometre route in Touraine, 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.
Having been given all the relevant materials and biking equipment, my task was simply to leisurely pedal through the winding roads, forest tracks and the valleys of Loire via a set of very detailed instructions.
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 traveller 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 the 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’ when no long 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, sparkling 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 the Loire Valley, combining its history for political, economic and artistic activity with al fresco relaxation. Tea shops, handicraft stores 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 speeds 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 on 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 the Loire Valley – 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 glistens against the sharp blue summer sky.
Its interior is nothing short of 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 antique 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 dishevelled 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 the Loire, where I slept like a Princess.
Cycling in Loire Valley – Things to Know
Is Cycling in the Loire Valley Hard?
For an experienced cyclist, no. For someone who rarely cycles but enjoys it, there are options to adapt the route to speed and difficulty.
There were times when I would cycle harder and faster to challenge myself, or let the child inside me loose as I powered downhill as the wind blew in my hair, my delightful screams picking up the pace of my wheels. On my rest days, I would take on board some of the suggestions and light routes outlined in the trip notes to keep up the momentum and the adrenalin my body was starting to crave.
Is an Organised Loire Valley Bike Tour Worth it?
With Loire’s famous cycling paths and the steady stream of green signs and tiny villages to direct you, it was hard to get lost. But should I have taken a wrong turn, the local representative was only a phone call away and the hotel eagerly awaiting my arrival by a certain time, so that I could dine and dabble in Loire’s many gastronomic delights on the menu that evening. For me, the indulgence of fresh produce from the giant gardens of the valley was both a reward and a perfect excuse to refuel for the next day ahead.
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