the Loire Valley
The Loire Valley is a cyclists’ delight. Full of
wonderful Châteaus to visit, great food to eat, and wonderful wines to taste.
The Loire River meanders from the Cevenne Mountains and crosses North Central
France about 100 miles from Paris, emptying into the Atlantic ocean. Major
cities on the Loire are Orleans, Tours and Nantes. Our cycling tour focuses on
the region between Blois and Saumur and three Rivers which feed the Loire: the
Cher, the Indre, and the Vienne. Of special interest to travelers is that this
region boasts the highest concentration of Châteaus in Europe. The “Valley of
Kings”, as it is called, was a preferred home of French kings between the
fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. Their spectacular mansions, or Châteaus,
dot the banks of these rivers, in a display of the best achievements of French
and Italian Renaissance architecture.
Our route follows the Loire out of Saumur to Chinon on the Vienne River, then
back along the Loire and crossing to Azay-le-Rideau on the Indre River and
follows it until Cormery. Then crossing to Chenenceaux on the Cher River, then
back to the Loire for stops at Amboise and Chaumont-sur-Loire and uphill to
Cheverny. From there the the impressive Châteaus at Chambord and back down to
the Loire for the final stop in Blois. … a cycling total of 249 Kilometers or
154 miles in five days of riding.
From Charles-de-Gaulle, outside Paris, you have some options on getting you and
your bikes to the starting point at Saumur, nearly 300 kilometers away. This is
where a little research before you leave can help you save time and money. If
you want to take a train into Paris, there’s a complementary bus at the Aerogare.
It will take you to Roissy Gare where you catch a train into Paris. You can take
the RER right into central Paris. But remember: bicycles aren’t allowed during
peak traffic hours. In order to reach the Loire Valley from Paris, you not only
have to change trains, you have to change train stations. From the Airport, you
end up at Chatelet-Les-Halles, then you have to change to Gare Austerlitz; which
means you go above ground and then to the next train station. The train ride to
Saumur is about four hours with a train change in Tours. Unfortunately, our
connections to the bike friendly trains wouldn’t work with our late flight
arrival time; so we went with a second option: a one-way car rental.
Saumur is an ideal place to start a Bicycle Tour, with its grand Château looming
high over the city, overlooking the Loire River. This is where we spent an
overnight in preparation of our first day of riding.
The 1st Stage begins in Saumur and immediately heads up to the hills above the
Loire to Fontevraud l’Abbeye and then down to the Vienne River to the town of
Chinon, a comfortable, leisurely 38 km ride. Although Fontevraude Abbey is in
the heart of France, it is the final resting place of English Kings: Richard the
Lion-hearted and his father, Henry the Second. This made for a good lunch stop
and tour. Chinon, situated on the Banks of the Vienne River, was once a powerful
medieval city; and home to Joan of Arc. We arrived in time to tour the ruined
Château on the hill.
The 2nd Stage starts in Chinon and makes a stop at the storybook Château at Rigny-Usse;
along the Loire River to the gardens at Villandry and ending in Azay-le-Rideau
on the Indre River, a 50 km ride. Villandry was our lunch stop and we enjoyed
touring the colorful sculpted gardens. The highlight of your visit to Azay-le-Rideau
is this Château built in the 16th century by a French tax collector, who was
later executed when they discovered how he got the money to build the Château.
The 3rd Stage begins in Azay-le-Rideau and follows the Indre River Valley; then crossing the Indre to Monts and Montbazon, then
through Viegne and continuing on the south side of the Indre until Cormery,
then we cross the Indre and heads north following the Cher River; crossing the Cher to Civray-le-Touraine and ends in
Chenonceaux, a 58 kilometer ride. The Château Chenonceaux was transformed from a
modest water mill to this splendid Château which spans the Cher River.
Surrounded by elegant formal gardens, this Château is considered by many to be
the most beautiful in the Valley and is well worth visiting.
The 4th Stage begins in Chenonceaux, heads uphill and back to the Loire and the
Château at Amboise and then along the river to Chaumont-sur-Loire, then meanders
through the hills, ending up at the
Château Cheverny, a 67 kilometer ride, our longest ride of the tour. Clos Luce
is just up the hill. It is well worth a stop. Renaissance master Leonardo da
Vinci spent the last three years of his life here at Clos Luce. Not far is
Amboise. Much of the Amboise Château has been destroyed, but you can still get a
feeling of the splendor that prevailed in the days when Leonardo da Vinci made
the short trip from Clos Lucé to visit with the royal families. The Château
Chaumont is on a hill overlooking the Loire and was a favorite destination of
Benjamin Franklin. This was our lunch stop for the day. Château Cheverny is a
classic example of the residence castle. The town of Cheverny is dwarfed by the
castle, yet it has a small down charm that makes an inviting stop.
The 5th Stage begins in Cheverny, goes around the Château grounds through
Cour-Cheverny and follows the Bouvron River to Tour-en-Sologne and through the
Chambord Forest to Château Chambord for a tour, then following the Cosson River
Valley through into Blois, a 36 kilometer
ride. The size of the Château Chambord is mind-boggling. With 440 rooms, 83
staircases and 365 chimneys, it sits on the largest forested estate in Europe.
This Château was chiefly designed by none other than Italian Renaissance master
Leonardo da Vinci. Blois is the Final stop of our tour. In the 16th century, it
was virtually the second capitol of France. The Old Quarter is a well-preserved
area that has some restored 15th and 16th century buildings, including
In Blois, the rail schedules are very convenient with bicycle service every two
hours to Orleans, and then a change to Paris Austerlitz. Our tour was not
complete without spending a few days exploring Paris; one of the great cities of
Europe. Although cycling in the city is an option, we found it enjoyable
strolling and using the metro.
Then it's back to the airport via the train and back home to prepare for another
If you'd like to know more about
this ride, check out our DVD.