By Maggie LaCoste
My next two posts are dedicated to those of you who have written asking for itinerary suggestions for exploring the Loire by bike. As many of you know, the Loire is one of my favorite itineraries in Europe. The route has everything: castles, abbeys, grand cathedrals, troglodyte dwellings, vineyards, fantastic markets, unbelievable food, and great, safe bicycling paths. What more could you ask for? But to narrow my recommendations down to one or two suggestions? That’s a tall order. But I love a challenge, especially one having to do with bicycling, so join me as I explore two of my favorite 7 day itineraries in the Loire Valley.
Each itinerary features some of the best scenery and attractions of the Loire. A week on either itinerary will leave you sad to leave, and anxious to return. That’s just the way it is with the Loire. I’m including some of my favorite photos to give you a taste of what you will see along the way. Whether you choose to follow one of my suggestions, or combine them into your own itinerary, you cannot go wrong with choosing the Loire for a bicycling vacation!
Itinerary 1-Saumur to Tours
Saumur is a perfect place to start a bicycling trip along the Loire. You can catch a TGV right from Charles DeGaulle and 2 1/2 hours later, be in Saumur. You quickly realize that you have made a good choice when you see signs at the train station, pointing the way to the Loire bike path.
Saumur is a charming French town, full of many attractions and small villages to explore by bike. If you are starting your vacation in Saumur, you may want to spend one or two nights here to give your body a chance to adjust. Pick up a bicycling map and a map of local vineyards from the huge Saumur Office of Tourism at 8a dock Carnot, across the street from the Loire.
You can easily fill a day leisurely exploring the adjoining towns of St-Hilaire and St-Florent, visiting the equestrian school and tasting wine at some of the local vineyards. Another favorite trip is visiting the Loire dolmen located between Saumur and St-Florent. The most famous of these megaliths is Le Grand Dolmen, the largest in France and thought to be about 5,000 years old.
Accommodations around Saumur are varied and very reasonable in price. One of my favorite places to stay is Le Petit Hureau, located about 4 km outside of Saumur on the bike path to Montsoreau. Chateau Hureau is a prominent Saumur vineyard, so be sure to sample the local vintage.
As you bicycle from Saumur toward Montsoreau, you’ll be treated to vineyards and troglodyte dwellings made out of the Loire tufa stone, with the bike path actually passing under carved out stone as you approach the small village of Turquant.
Many of the troglodyte dwellings have been renovated and turned into artist’s studios. The area has become quite a tourist attraction and is very busy on the weekend. When you are passing through, be sure to stop and have a cup of coffee at the Bistroglo cafe!
It is a 6 km deviation off the bike route to Fontevraud Abbey, but this is a deviation you really must take, even through there are a few hills. If you go to Fontvraud, be sure to stock up on snacks and water before the deviation, as there is not much on the road until you get to the Abbey. The Royal Abbey at Fontevraud is one of the most special places along the Loire. Started in the 12th century but not completed till the 18th, it is the largest monastic building in the Western Hemisphere. Be sure to visit the Roman kitchens if you go.
The town of Fontevraud-l’Abbaye is lovely. I did not stay here, but would highly recommend it to you. There is a charming, highly rated Logis Hotel, Hostellerie La Croix Blanche right across from the Abbey that would be a perfect place to stay. Otherwise, have a snack and then make your way back the 6 km to the bike path direction Montsoreau.
Montsoreau is a charming small town on the banks of the Loire. The Loire a Velo path runs right through it. The first time I rode this itinerary, we did not stay here, but I made a promise that I would the next time. If you do not stay in Fontevraud, this is a perfect town to spend the night. My favorite hotel is the Hotel Le Bussy, owned by Dominique and Thierry Roi. I don’t think that Dominique speaks a word of English, but she runs the hotel as efficiently and pleasantly. Hotel Le Bussy has the best location in town, right across the street from the Montsoreau Castle. If you can, splurge for a room overlooking the castle and the Loire. You will not be disappointed!
From Montsoreau it’s a wonderful ride to Chinon, one of my favorite towns on the Loire. Be sure to buy supplies for a picnic lunch before you leave Montsoreau. Today will be a perfect day for a picnic lunch along the Loire. The scenery along the route is nothing less than spectacular. On a sunny day, there is nothing more beautiful than the light glistening off the Loire.
Bicycling along the Loire doesn’t get any better unless you add bread, cheese and wine and have a picnic lunch along the Loire!
From the heavier bike traffic, you can sense that you are getting closer to Chinon, then you start to get your first view of the town and it is magical. Chinon does not disappoint. Located on the Vienne River, just before it flows in the Loire, the bike path is the perfect perspective to view the town.
The view from this side of the river is really the best way to soak in Chinon. Once you cross the bridge you lose this wider perspective, and the unique photo ops, so be sure to stop and take lots of photos before you cross the bridge.
My favorite place to stay in Chinon is the Hotel Diderot. If you are lucky enough to get a room here, you are in for a special treat. Hotel Diderot is the kind of warm and friendly place to stay that makes a long day on the bike more than worth it.
Under the watchful eye of Francoise, Martine and Laurent, guests are treated more like family than strangers. Don’t expect a four star hotel. Stay here for the experience….and for the jams served every morning at breakfast!
Be sure to take some time to explore this wonderful small town with a big history. Chinon castle was a favorite of King Henry II, was where the Knights Templar were imprisoned before being taken to Paris to be executed, and was where Joan of Arc persuaded Charles VII to rise up against the English, setting the stage for her famous campaign. And last but not least, visit the vineyards. Many of the best Chinon wines never make it to the US, so seize the moment and enjoy them while you are there!
Be sure to stop at the Chinon tourism office to get directions on leaving town, direction Chateau Usse and Langeais. Otherwise you may get temporarily lost! Once you get on the right road, the route out of Chinon is quiet and peaceful and dotted with small private castles.
Soon you rejoin the Loire take a slight turn to visit the beautiful Chateau d’Usse, often regarded as the inspiration for the castle of Sleeping Beauty. Approaching the castle by bike is really breathtaking.
As spectacular as it is to see, in three visits, I’ve never actually gone into the castle. I’m perfectly happy to enjoy it from afar, and you may too. Whether you go in or not, there is a perfect little cafe opposite the castle which is great for a second cappucino or expresso or even a cornetto. This is a very popular stop for bicyclists, so it’s fun to sit for a while and watch all the comings and goings.
As you once again rejoin the path along the Loire, you are treated to more gorgeous views. One of my favorites is the sight of the gabares, old-style boats that are everywhere on this part of the river. At Brehemont, you will need to decide whether you are going to take the first of two deviations to Azay-le-Rideau. If so, you will leave the Loire and follow the path to Azay. Otherwise, stay on the Loire a Velo, next destination Langeais.
I love the small town of Langeais. I will warn you though, when you cross the spectacular suspension bridge, your first view of the town is a bit dismal. But keep going. When you actually head up the main street and have the castle in your view, it’s totally charming. In addition, there is a wonderful small gite there that I would definitely go out of my way to stay at any day, as well as one of the best restaurants on the Loire. L’Ange est Reveur is one of the most charming gites along the Loire, and the restaurant Au Coin des Halles is one of the best in the region.
Under the watchful eye of Fabrice and Stephan, the three rooms in this gite are practically showrooms for their decorating store. The rooms are warm and cozy with just the right touch of sophistication. The outdoor terrace is a wonderful place to relax and stare up at the imposing castle, one of the few along the Loire with a working drawbridge.
After a great night’s sleep in Langeais, it’s time to move on to one of the most beautiful attractions on the Loire, the Chateau and Gardens of Villandry. The Chateau has recently been totally renovated and furnished, but I visit to see the gardens. I know what you may be thinking, gardens really aren’t your thing. I thought the same thing. Go to the gardens. You won’t be disappointed. The gardens at Villandry are nothing less than spectacular. A couple of hours walking the gardens seems like minutes!
From Villandry it is an easy ride to Tours, the capital of the Indre-et-Loire region, and one of the three larger towns along the Loire. It can be a challenge to ride into by bike. The signage can be confusing, and I’ve never arrived in the center the same way twice. But the good news is that bicycling is popular in Tours and most people will go out of their way to point you in the right direction. Tours is a perfect place to end a trip as there are lovely shops to buy souvenirs that you didn’t want to carry on the bike. There is a beautiful old town with lots of half-timbered buildings, outdoor cafes and restaurants.
There is plenty in town to keep you busy for an afternoon and evening, and the next day you can catch a TGV back to either central Paris or to CDG to catch your flight home. If you have traveled this itinerary, I trust you will have had an incredible experience, and that you will quickly start planning your next visit.
Resources for both itineraries will be included at the end of the second post.
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