Loire Valley Cycling
A less-than-lively bar in Candé-sur-Beuvron.
Loire Valley Pictures | Loire Valley Cycling Map
The more the world worries about the environmental damage caused by travellers' desire to see so much of the world, the more smug cyclists become - and the more investment is made in eco-sensitive solutions.
La Loire à Vélo is one of the best: a network of 800km (500 miles) of carefully created cycle trails that threads through the château-rich country of the Loire Valley from Nevers to the Atlantic estuary. It enables visitors to see the region at their own pace and get fit with a full support system of cycle-friendly hotels and trains, baggage delivery systems, cycle parks and locks, and rentals if need be.
Using a combination of lightly used minor roads (60%), woodland tracks and dedicated bike paths (40%), the network allows you to explore in safety and serenity.
Note that the prevailing wind blows in a westerly direction so cycling west to east is easiest.
Loire a Vélo is a cycle network of designated biking trails along the Loire River, generally broken into 'easy' one day 40km/4 hour stages. Most of the paths which may be cycle-only asphalt tracks, gravel paths or small country roads with little traffic, have little or no gradient, with an altitude difference of only 190m over the whole 800km length.
The bridge in Candé-sur-Beuvron.
The route runs from Cuffy near Nevers and ends at Brévin-les-Pins, opposite St Nazaire at the mouth of the Loire river. Extreme cyclists could consider adding 1,885 miles to their trip by joing up with EuroVélo 6 cycle route that goes east to the Black Sea.
Camping cyclists beside the Loire River.
A more pricey, facility-packed campsite with pools and rental bikes but no promised wifi.
Hotels, B&Bs and camp sites with the Accueil Vélo logo offer facilities for cyclists such as baggage transfers, bike repair stations and rental facilities though knowing France their intentions may be honourable but their ability to fulfill plans 100% is questionnable. Lunch always comes first.
A sample Loire Valley cycle path.
Heading for Orleans from Blois on a dedicated cycle track.
Trains and cycles along the Loire:
Trains marked with a cycle graphic can carry up to 6 bikes per carriage for free, and in the summertime there are 3 trains a day each way along the Loire that haul bike wagons fitted to carry 40 bikes. None of these services require reservations or extra payment.
Serious cyclists not admiring a Château Chambord tricycle.
Getting to the Loire Valley
Flights to the Loire are most convenient going to the pretty and central city of Tours, where there is an excellent tourist office that is loaded with cycling information near Tours' gorgeous railway station (La Gare de Tours), and bike rental shops nearby.
By rail, take Eurostar from London Waterloo to Paris' Gare du Nord and change from there to Montparnasse station. High-speed trains (TGVs) from this station take half an hour to reach Vendôme - Villiers-sur-Loir, and about an hour to St-Pierre-des-Corps on the outskirts of Tours. Some trains continue on from here to Tours' station.
A Loire cycle route suggested by the Telegraph newspaper
Along the Loire from Saumur to Orléans (about 155 miles)
This is the historic section of the Loire Valley, through the vineyards and orchards of Touraine, the Garden of France, via gracious Renaissance châteaux as far as the river's northernmost point at Orléans. Trains run along the Loire, so a cycling trip could scarcely be easier. Drop the car at a station, pedal along the river bank until you've had enough, hop on a train and return to Go. Or do the whole thing by train from the UK. Riding upstream may seem counter-intuitive, but gives you a better chance of wind assistance.
La Loire à Vélo is an itinerary designed for cyclists, on a mixture of minor roads and dedicated cycle paths, mostly following the river. Signage is a bit patchy - as a general rule, keep to the quieter road along the left (south) bank.
The greatest problem is what to leave out: one stretch of the Loire alone, not forgetting its tributaries the Indre and Cher, could fill a month. For those less well-versed in French kings, mistresses and religious wars, châteaux in private ownership such as Cheverny and Ussé may be more fun to visit than the grandes places such as Chambord, Amboise and Blois.
Châteaux are not the only attraction.
Saumur's Ecole Nationale d'Equitation, the equine Académie Française, is worth visiting, as is nearby Fontevraud Abbey with its Plantagenet royal tombs.
Troglodyte dwellings in the white cliffs beside the Loire and Cher are a local feature - the attractive little town of Montrichard is a good base for troglo-tourism and wine tasting.
Orléans has a lot going for it: cheerful bars and restaurants in the old quarter between the cathedral and the river. Make your entry via the Pont Royal, up the arcaded Rue Royale to the vast Place du Martroi, where St Joan rides a green horse.
Travel from UK: either overnight car ferry Portsmouth/Caen (Brittany Ferries), or by train from London via Paris.
Day 1: Saumur - Fontevraud, 10 miles
Day 2: Fontevraud - Candes - Ussé - Langeais - Azay le Rideau, 30 miles
Day 3: Azay-le-Rideau - Montbazon - Azay sur Cher - Chenonceaux, 35 miles
Day 4: Chenonceaux - Montrichard - Cheverny - Chitenay,30 miles
Day 5: Chitenay - Blois - St Dyé - Chambord - Beaugency 35 miles
Day 6: Meung sur Loire - Cléry St André - Orléans, 15 miles. Train to Saumur or London via Paris.
Cycling the Loire Valley
France Pictures | France Travel Guide | France
Map | Loire Valley Cycling Map
Photos of Loire Chateaux and towns
Chenonceau | Chaumont Garden Festival | Cheverny
Villandry | Chambord | Amboise | Blois | Clos-Lucé
Tours town | Blois town