By Maggie LaCoste
I hope that the first installment of this two part series has you seriously considering taking a trip on that part of the Loire this year. You may want to wait until you read this post. I’m not sure which of the two itineraries is my favorite. I love them both! In a perfect world, we all could just take a month off and do them both. I meet a lot of young European families who do just that and more, many opting to travel a longer part of the EuroVelo 6 route beyond France.
Detours de Loire in Tours
The first of my suggested itineraries ended in Tours, this one will start in Tours. Tours is the perfect place to start or end a bicycling vacation: there are plenty of trains there from all parts of France and there are very good bike rental options, including my favorite, Detours de Loire. Detours de Loire offers Trek bikes as an upgraded option, well worth it for riding along the Loire, and has a drop-off service in major towns along the Loire. For the purposes of this itinerary, you could pick your bike up in Tours, just a block from the train station, and drop the bike off in Blois at the end of the trip. If you want to start and end your trip in Tours, they will store your extra bags until your return.
The streets of old Tours
From Tours, this itinerary goes to Amboise, then on to Chenonceaux, Chaumont, the Pays des Chateaux, Chambord, St. Dye, and ending in the beautiful town of Blois. If you are traveling with children, I recommend beginning the trip in Amboise and spending an extra night or two in the “Pays des Chateaux”, with its 13 wonderful, flat, safe bike itineraries. Either way, you are in for some of the best sights along the Loire from the castle at Amboise to the home of Leonardo Da Vinci to the castle of Chenonceau to the gardens of Cheverny to magical Blois and the indescribable Chambord Castle. Let’s get started!
Tours to Amboise is an easy 28 km. As you leave Tours, you will be treated to a spectacular view of the cliffs of Rochecorbon, complete with troglodyte dwellings, many of which have been renovated into expensive homes. Be sure to stop and take photos of this beautiful part of the Loire.
Troglodyte caves near Rochecorbon on the bike path from Tours
The bike route follows the Loire for about 14 km, then near wine village of Montlouis-sur-Loire the bike route turns inland for the rest of the route until you are near Amboise. There are many many opportunities for wine tasting along this route, so be sure to stop and find a perfect bottle of wine for a picnic lunch.
Routes are marked in both directions
There is an alternative route to Amboise along the northern part of the Loire that goes from Rochecorbon through the heart of the vineyards to Amboise. I love this alternate route, but would not recommend it if you are traveling with kids as part of the route into Vouvray is along a busy highway. If you are interested in learning more about this route, be sure to get the brochure, Velo Loire and Terrior that details the itinerary. You can also read one of my blog posts, Biking the Loire: Vineyards and Troglodyte Caves on bicycling this route.
Cycle path through the Vouvray vineyards on the north side of the Loire
Regardless of which itinerary you take, you soon reach Amboise, one of the most popular towns along this stretch of the Loire. There is a lot to see and do in Amboise and you will always find the streets, cafes and hotels full of many tourists. Because of its popularity, Amboise can be very expensive during the busy summer months, so if you want to stay here, be sure to plan in advance.
My favorite attraction in Amboise, other than people watching is visiting Le Chateau du Clos Luce, the last residence of Leonardo DaVinci. No matter what age, this place is amazing and is full of operational replicas of DaVinci’s inventions.
The courtyard and gardens at Le Clos Luce
If you walk up to Clos Luce, be sure to spend some time looking at all of the troglodyte dwellings along the walk. As you will see, many of them have been renovated into quite upscale dwellings, many of them serving as weekend homes for wealthy Parisians.
Streets of Amboise
Depending on what castles you plan to visit, you may or may not want to spend time visiting the Amboise Castle. My advice: if you are planning to visit Chenonceaux and Chambord, or Cheverny or Blois, you may not want to spend the time or money on Amboise. As lovely as all the castles are, there is definitely a point of “castle overload” that most tourists reach, so take care to not overdo it. One place to definitely not miss when you are passing through Amboise is the famous pastry shop, La Pastisserie Bigot, located on Place du Chateau, right behind the castle. In operation since 1913, this shop is heaven for any kind of pastry or chocolate and the cafe tables in and around the place are always full.
Windows full of the famous Bigot specialties
And if you are lucky enough to be in Amboise on Sunday morning, be sure to spend some time at the Sunday market which takes place along the river. This and the Blois market are two of my favorites along the Loire, so much so that I actually plan my trip around market days.
Lunch specialties at the Amboise market
From Amboise, you have two options: continue on the Loire a Velo toward Chaumont or take one of two routes to the spectacular castle at Chenonceaux.
Follow the signs to Chenonceaux
This castle is amazing, one of my favorites along the Loire. In case you are wondering, the town is spelled Chenonceaux but the castle is spelled Chenonceau. Most people find it confusing until they understand the distinction. The town is small, but very charming. Clearly the attraction here is the castle.
An overnight here is a very special experience, especially if you are lucky enough to get a room at the welcoming La Rosarie, one of my “Experience France by Bike Best Places to Stay” for 2011.
Main entrance to La Rosarie
From Chenonceaux you will follow the signs back to the Loire a Velo, direction Chaumont-sur-Loire. Be prepared, there is a bit of a hill as you leave the Cher River Valley near Chisseaux, but it’s over with before you know it. The approach into Chaumont is lovely. This is a very manageable town and another great place to spend the night, with several very affordable places to stay, including a nice campground.
Bike path near Chaumont
The attraction here is again the castle, but more important, the castle’s gardens. Chaumont is home to the International Garden Festival which attractions hundreds of thousands of tourists every year from late April to mid-October. If you did not visit the gardens at Villandry, you may want to put the gardens of Chaumont on your list of things to do. Depending on if you are spending the night here, this is a perfect place to also pick up picnic supplies for lunch.
Just follow the signs
From Chaumont you will head toward the small town of Cande-sur-Beuvron. There is a beautiful park here where we always stop for a picnic. You are certain to see plenty of bicyclists at this popular stop.
Picnic lunch in Cande-sur-Beuvron
Cande-sur-Beuvron is the starting point for Chateaux a Velo itinerary #1 so you need to be very careful that you follow the right signs here, depending on where you want to go. You can head straight for Blois, in which case you follow the Loire a Velo signs or you can
Follow this sign to Blois
choose to spend a few days bicycling in the Pays des Chateaux, then head for Chambord and finish your trip in Blois. If you are heading into the Pays des Chateaux, look for the signs indicating itinerary #1.
Follow this sign into the Pays des Chateaux.
The Pays des Chateaux is a wonderful bicycling area with charming French villages, wonderful small B&B’s, vineyards for tasting, and lots of quiet country roads perfectly suited for exploring by bike. This is a perfect area for family bicycling, and offers my favorite approach to Chambord, from Bracieux through the Forest of Chambord.
The Chateaux a Velo website is full of information and maps to help plan an excursion into the Pays des Chateaux, so be sure to download a copy of the map, and take a look at which itineraries you want to explore. My favorites are itineraries 4, 5, 7 and 10.
Routes are clearly marked in the Pays des Chateaux
Regardless of whether you head for Blois or the Pays des Chateaux, be sure to read the directional signs carefully. My husband and I have helped many temporarily lost bicyclists who simply followed a sign with a bicycle, not understanding the many different routes in the area. I always suggest that you have a copy of the Chateaux a Velo map to refer to if you need it.
Tours at the Vauche Chocolate company in Bracieux are popular
Interesting sights along the bike path
The Pays des Chateaux has charming towns like Chitenay, Cheverny and Bracieux, vineyards in Cheverny and Cour Cheverny, castles at Chitenay, Troussay, Cheverny just to name a few. The area is perfect for exploring and simply enjoying the beautiful French countryside. The only rush around here is at the boulangerie in the morning and before lunch!
Auberge du Center, a perfect place to stay in Chitenay
You can visit some of the castles, or you can just enjoy viewing them from afar. This area is perfectly suited to having no agenda other than to enjoy the day: bicycling from one town to the next, exploring each village, having a second or third cup of coffee, buying supplies for a picnic lunch, searching for the perfect bottle of wine, celebrating your time in France.
This area is perfect for family bicycling
My favorite approach to Chambord is from Bracieux through the forest. Bicycling through the forest is a great prelude to seeing Chambord for the first time.
Bicycling through the Chambord forest
As you progress through the forest, you have time to reflect on the history, imagining knights and the king’s horsemen riding on the exact same pathways. Finally there is a clearing up ahead, and it is then that you get a glimpse of Chambord for the first time.
First view of Chambord
As you plan your trip, you’ll no doubt read many comments about Chambord, good and bad. Don’t let these opinions prevent you from enjoying the historical significance of this incredible castle. Better yet, read about the history of Europe at the time of Chambord’s construction to understand the political importance of Chambord to Francois I. With this context, you will be able to understand and appreciate your visit to Chambord, whether you actually tour the castle or not.
Back view of Chambord from dinner at Le Grand Saint-Michel
By mid-afternoon most of the large tour groups have left the castle and are preparing to leave for the day. Use this early part of the day to ride the perimeter of the estate and to have a picnic lunch overlooking the castle. If you are able to get a reservation, I would highly recommend spending the night at Le Grand Saint Michel directly opposite the castle. Staying here was one of the highlights of my last trip to the Loire. If you do spend the night, do not sleep in! Get up early and enjoy having the castle to yourself before any of the crowds appear.
I like leaving Blois for the last stop on this itinerary, as it is one of the most underrated and most beautiful towns along the Loire. Most tourists choose to visit and/or stay at the neighboring town of Amboise. Sad for them. Good news for me (and you).
Approaching Blois from the bike path
Blois is the perfect ending to a trip that has included sights like Chenonceau Castle, the gardens at Chaumont, the castles of the Pays des Chateaux and of course, Chambord.
Streets of Blois
Its hilly streets surrounding the Blois castle are a perfect fairy tale ending to a memorable bike ride. And if you are lucky enough to be there on market day, you are really in for a treat.
Navigating the streets on market day
From Blois, you can easily catch a train back to Paris, or you can make a connection at St. Pierre des Corps and return directly to Charles DeGaulle Airport.
I hope that these two posts have given you some ideas on planning your summer trip to the Loire. Please send me a note and let me know about your plans, and don’t forget to let me know how you enjoyed your trip. The Loire a Velo is a very special place. Relax and deviate off the path. Talk to other cyclists and exjoy the pleasures of experiencing France by bike!
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