Bicycling the Loire: My Choice for 2011

By Maggie LaCoste

After a great deal of research and debate, the Loire River is my summer bicycling choice for 2011!  The two runners up were the Atlantic Coast veloroute, and the Canal du Midi, both of which lost out because of the timing of my trip–late July to mid-August. The Atlantic is too busy with French vacationers, and August is too hot in the South of France!  So next month, I will continue the slow travel adventures that I began along the Loire last summer, a week that provided some of my favorite bicycling memories. This summer, I will spend 2 weeks biking the Loire a Velo, looking for the best attractions, the best accommodations and the best stages along the route.  I’ll share my route planning thoughts with you, my checklists as my trip gets closer, and I’ll also bring you stories from the road during my trip.

Good planning will be more important this summer, especially in lodging choices because of the declining value of the American dollar this year versus last.  My strategy will be to stay more nights in smaller towns and villages where costs are much less than in the larger cities.  Over a two week trip, the savings really add up, so I will be scouring the internet looking for the best small inns with the best prices.  I will be renting my bike again this year from Detours de Loire.  Their Trek bikes are perfect for biking along the Loire, and they have an extensive network along the river, in case we have any problems.  My husband and I will take the TGV direct from Charles de Gaulle Airport to St. Pierre des Corps, the TGV station for Tours, and upon our return, we’ll take the same TGV back to Charles De Gaulle Airport after returning our bikes.  It is possible to return to Paris from other destinations along the Loire, but since we will not be spending any time in Paris, I prefer taking the TGV direct to the airport. This not only saves time and money, but it will also allow us to spend most of our last day on the Loire.

This week I will finalize my starting point, which will be somewhere between Nantes and Angers.  From there, we’ll travel along and around the Loire to Orleans, and then back to Tours on our last day.  There is so much to see along the Loire, and so many new bike trails to explore that the decisions are always so difficult.  We will spend more time this year exploring the vineyards around Angers, Saumur, Chinon and around Tours, so I know that two weeks will go by very quickly.  I’ll look forward to keeping you up to date on my planning, and new routes that I am considering.  When I look over my pictures from last summer, I can only imagine the adventures that await me in just a few weeks!  Here are just a few of my favorites:

Chateau Bouvet Ladubay in Saumur

View of the Loire from Saumur centre

Bike path through the troglodyte area

Tasting time in Chinon

Views along the Loire bike path

Picnic time along the Loire

More wine tasting

Traditional gabarre

No description needed

Foie gras vendor at local market

Hot air balloons over Amboise castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Maggie LaCoste

I love the adventure and unpredictability of experiencing France by bike. Cycling in France is the ultimate slow travel adventure, an opportunity to see it through the back door in a way few tourists experience. One week on a bike in France and life takes on a different meaning! I created Experience France By Bike to inspire recreational cyclists to visit France the slow way....by bike, and to be the best source of information for planning the perfect bicycling adventure. I encourage readers to embrace the uncertainty of the road ahead and to take the path less traveled, exploring roads, towns and villages that you would never experience traveling by car.

  1. I’ve been wandering through your site and am absolutely amazed at the careful research you’ve put into it… it’s a very generous thing to do.
    My wife and I arrive from Canada Sept.10 for a week in Paris, then a week cycling in the Loire. We haven’t yet picked accommodations or a route, but like the idea of finishing in Tours, so we can catch that train you mention direct to CDG.
    We’re planning to rent bikes from Detours de Loire and wondered what’s the best way to carry our stuff. We always do travel light, one carry-on bag each. Have you seen the trailers that Detours rents? Or would we be better to try to pack our luggage for the whole trip into panniers?
    Many thanks for all you’re doing.
    Paul Wilson
    p.s. You mentioned that it’s possible to get a hard copy of the Loire a Velo map by request online. I didn’t notice a place on the site to make that request. Can you point me to it?

    1. Hi Paul! I’m so glad that you find my blog useful! I’m working hard on information sources as I will be publishing a guidebook on biking the Loire next spring!
      Regarding how to carry your luggage, personally my husband and I prefer panniers. They require that you pack carefully, but there really isn’t that much that you really need for biking, and with a change in hotel almost every day, you can often wear the same things to dinner more than once. If you do not own panniers, they are available for rent from Detours. Another option you can consider is bag transfer. The cost for this is based on the distance you are traveling, but if you have to rent panniers, you would already be spending some money anyway, so you need to do the math. There is a chart of the Detours website where you can figure out how much it would cost to have them transfer your bags. If you want to buy panniers, I would suggest that you look at the Bike Bag Shop–there is a link to them on my home page. The other question you need to answer in figuring out the right solution for you is what are you going to do with the luggage that you carry your stuff over the ocean in. We use a number of different solutions for this, but the easiest thing is if you can find a place to store your non-biking luggage and non-biking clothes(assuming you will have this from spending a week in Paris!) The only thing you want to carry on your bike is what you need for that week in the Loire. Sometimes the bike rental location will let you leave a bag there, if you are picking and dropping off the bike at the same location. You can ask Candice at Detours if this would be possible. If we can’t find a solution to this question, we bring our most foldable luggage and put them in our panniers!

      Regarding hotels, I will be publishing my route and my hotels within the week, so there may be some ideas for you. To request the “Loire a Velo” map, send an e-mail to: crtcentre@visaloire.com. Ask them to send you the Loire a Velo map and the Le Pays de Chateaux a Velo map. This second map details the 400+ km of trails around Blois that are not part of the Loire a Velo circuit.

      Hope this information helps and thanks for reading Experience France by Bike!

  2. So it looks as though we should have been cycling the Loire next year instead, when your brand-new guide book is out. Maybe we’ll go a second time.
    Thanks for your quick reply. I’ve just sent off my request to Loire a Velo for the two maps. Earlier in the week, I was thinking we might just use Detours, and purchase one of their ready-made self-guided tours. But suddenly that page on the Detours website vanished.
    I did send an e-mail and got a response from the woman you mention, Candice. She explained that they’re not assembling any more self-guided tours for 2011.
    No matter. Your website has inspired me to put our own adventure together, and at a cost that’s a good deal more reasonable.
    I appreciate your words on panniers. I have an ancient pair of compact Cannondales, but we might well be better renting some from Detours. And if we stayed on the last night at the same hotel as we did on the first night, perhaps we could leave suitcases and extra stuff there. (Or I suppose we could just buy some new panniers here and make them our suitcases. I’ll take a look at the Bike Bag Shop.)
    We fly back to Canada on Sat. Sept. 24 at 2 p.m. In mapping out how much time we’d have available for riding, is it realistic to think we could get from the Loire Valley to that flight at CDG by leaving the Loire that morning? And is Tours the place with the fastest connection to CDG, or are other centres in the Loire equally quick? I’ll check out all this train stuff myself, of course, but I’d value your opinion on those logistics.
    I’m looking forward to your route-and-hotels post.
    Regards
    Paul

    1. HI Paul!

      Glad to hear that your planning is advancing! Let me respond to each of your inquiries:

      1. If you can read road signs, are flexible and like adventure, and want to experience France in a way that few people do, then you are perfectly suited to ride the Loire a Velo on your own. I think it’s goofy when people tell me that they spent $1,000/day for a fancy bike trip and they spent their vacation with a bunch of Americans–why leave home? The tourism officials charged with developing this bike route are doing everything they can to make this route the easiest one in France/Europe to ride. The biggest challenge riders have is always wanting to stop because there are so many attractions! With that said, it is always wise to check out the cost of self-guided tours, just to make sure you are getting the most for your money. In the Loire, two companies I would look at are Detours in France, (www.detours-in-france.com), ask for Laurent. Even though they are based in Burgundy, they have self-guided bike trips throughout France. I have used them before and they are a first-class outfit and their prices are a fraction of any American-based outfitters. Their 4 night classic(cheapest level) self-guided tour of the Loire is 665 Euros per person. That comes out to 332 Euros for 2 people/day. Included in that is your bike rental, the transportation of your luggage from one hotel to the next, your hotel/B and B for the night, and your route information. Bike rental for Trek/Cannondale level bikes is about 16-17 Euros per person per day, and a lovely small hotel/B and B in the countryside will run about 110 Euros including breakfast. Route information is easily available from local tourism offices, so the only thing you are not getting if you go it alone is baggage transfer. The difference in price: 332 Euros for two people/day not counting food versus 145 Euros for two people/day. Personally, I want to be the one that selects where I stay, and as long as they have a great shower and good bed, I would prefer to spend money on a great dinner. The great news is that there really isn’t a wrong solution, the main idea is to go out and give it a try. If you like it and have a great time, you will go back, and if you go back, you may want to do it on your own. The other group to look at for self-guided tours is Loire Valley Tours, http://www.loire-valley-tours.com.
      If you haven’t read it, you can take a look at an earlier post I wrote about guided, self guided trips.
      2. Regarding your stuff/where to store bags and panniers, you just need to figure out what works with your schedule. The two best solutions are to either stay at the same hotel at the front and end of your trip and store bags there, or make arrangements with the bike rental place to store bags there. Of course, if you pay to have your baggage transferred, this won’t be a problem. I would rent panniers until you decide that you are going to do more bike trips. If you decide to buy, I would contact Wayne at The Touring Store, the link is on my home page. He is really knowledgeable and helps people from all over the country get ready for bike trips. We use waterproof Ortlieb bags and love them!
      3. The best towns to get to from Paris are Blois, Angers, Orleans and Tours. All are accessible by TGV from Paris. I use the Deutche Bahn website for all of my train research. It has the most comprehensive compilation of train schedules for Europe. Website is http://www.bahn.de, and click on English. Also, if you are going to take the TGV from Paris, be sure to buy your TGV tickets as soon as they go on sale for the dates you want–they get progressively more expensive as tickets are sold. For all local travel, just buy tickets as you need them–local travel along the Loire is very cheap, and bikes are always free on all non-TGV trains.
      4 My husband and I always travel the Loire from west to east, but either way is fine. The route is signposted in both directions. A lot if European guidebooks go from east to west. Since we are often there in the summer, we try to take advantage of the winds which often blow off the ocean–I love having a tailwind!

      A couple of additional thoughts: if you are planning to have a relaxing trip, I would plan no more than 35 km/day. There is a LOT to see and do along the Loire, and after all, you want to enjoy all the wonderful parts of being in France, including relaxing and having a second cup of coffee along the way. Also, if you have panniers on your bike, that will be a bit more work. Look at the local tourism websites to get an idea of what attractions you want to see–mushroom caves, troglodyte dwellings, vineyards, Leonardo Da Vinci’s house, castles, abbeys, markets, etc. Pick several attractions for each day.

      Don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any additional planning questions!

  3. Hello Lady of the Loire:

    Thanks for doing that math. The savings by pedaling off on your own are clearly quite dramatic. A million years ago, just after Marnie and I were married, we spent several months wandering through Europe on bicycles, packing a tent, sleeping bags and cookstove. We’re past the camping stage now, but I do believe we can find our way from town to town. We don’t even mind getting lost on occasion, and probably have just enough French to get ourselves out of a jam.

    I’ve looked through the itineraries of the tour companies you mentioned and borrowed liberally from their routes. I was thinking about this ride, which, as per your advice, is west to east:

    Sat. Sept. 17 – train from Paris to Saumur
    Sun. Sept 18 – Saumur to Chinon/ 40 km
    Mon. Sept. 19 – Chinon to Azay-le-Rideau/ 40 km
    Tues Sept. 20 – Azay-le-Rideau to Tours/ 35 km
    Wed. Sept. 21 – Tours to Amboise/ 35 km
    Thurs. Sept. 22 – another day in Amboise/ side trip to Chenonceaux
    Fri. Sept. 23 – Amboise to Blois/ 35 km
    Sat. Sept 24 – early morning TGV back to Paris/ CDG airport (that Deutche Bahn link you provided is great)

    So, any fatal errors with a plan like that?
    The idea would be to rent Treks and panniers from Detours de Loire in Saumur and arrange to have them send our luggage to Blois to be picked up at week’s end.

    How busy would the Loire be in that third week of September? Should I be booking ahead for the bikes with Detours de Loire?

    And what are your thoughts on booking all the accommodation ahead of time? Perhaps I should at least book that first night in Saumur (your Logis link shows the nice three-fireplace Les Terrasses de Saumur for 85 euros) and the last night in Blois. Any recommendations there, perhaps not too far from the train station? And is it common for the small hotels and B&Bs to have a washroom/shower in the room?

    Finally, Tues. Sept. 20th is our anniversary, when we’d be rolling into the Tours area. Have you come across a nice place there to stay and to dine?

    Really enjoyed your travel shots from last summer… you and your husband clearly know how to picnic well.
    .
    Thank you for sharing your expertise and enthusiasm.

    Paul

    1. Hi Paul,

      So glad to hear that plans are progressing perfectly for your trip. The itinerary that you have set is perfect–as a matter of fact, it is almost identical to the one that I did last summer. We just had a few more deviations. Only comment, be sure to get good directions when leaving Chinon as we found it rather tricky to find the right route leaving town. Regarding your questions, yes, I would go ahead and reserve bikes. That will insure that the bikes that you want will be waiting for you in Saumur. September is still a busy time in the Loire as it is grape harvest time. I would be sure and reserve hotels at least on the weekends. All the B and B’s that I reserve have full bathroom facilities in the room–sometimes a shower rather than a bath, either works for me. When you book a reservation, you should be able to see what the facilities are. Regarding where to stay in Blois, that is always a tricky question because for such a gorgeous city, I find the hotels very lacking–most are large chain hotels, which I hate. Two exceptions are Cote Loire Auberge Ligerienne, which is on the river and is very lovely. I will caution you though, that their “small room” is indeed a very small room, learn from my experience and get the next larger room! Cote Loire is on the river and will be about a 10 minute ride to the train station. Another option would be Hotel St. Jacques which is closer to the castle and the train. If you need additional suggestions, you might take a look at TripAdvisor. Regarding a suggestion of restaurant in Tours for your anniversary, I do not have one today, but if you are willing to wait until after my trip, I will be happy to send one along then. Keep up the good work and let me know if you have any more questions!

  4. Thanks for another helpful reply. Knowing that the route makes sense to you, I’ll start making some reservations.
    I like the sounds of your hotel suggestions for Blois… my big concern there is making sure on the morning of Saturday Sept. 24 that we make the 7.55 Regional-Express that doubles back to St-Pierre-des-Corps for a 9.02 TGV that gets us to CDG airport in time for that 2 p.m. flight home.
    Anyway, we’ll have returned the bikes to Detours de Loire the day before, so it’s going to be fine. And by then, we will have seen much and eaten much … guilt-free of course, thanks to several hours of pedaling each day.
    You’re getting very close to your big ride, and I am sure you’ve got every detail in place. I look forward to your adventures via blog… and welcome your offer to send along a suggestion for anniversary dining in Tours.
    All the best
    Paul
    p.s. I wrote a piece that ran in The Spectator newspaper last week, about a waterfront ride that starts in Niagara, curves around past Toronto, then follows Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River to the Quebec border. Here’s the link: http://www.waterfronttrail.org/gwta_web/pdf/gwta2011wilsonarticle.pdf

    1. Hi Paul,

      I would recommend that you look at these hotels, closer to the train station: Anne de Bretagne, about 200m to train station, the Ibis Blois Center Chateau, about 10 minute walk to train station and the Hotel Saint Jacques, also about 5-8 minute walk. I am afraid that the Cote Loire might be too far to walk that early, and I definitely would not count on a cab arriving on time in Blois! When we were there our cab was at least 10 minutes late. I will follow up upon my return with some restaurant suggestions for your anniversary. Can’t wait for my trip to begin and hope to have some great stories to blog about!

      Maggie LaCoste

  5. Maggie:
    Thanks for those tips on hotels near the train in Blois… we’ll definitely follow your advice.
    I see that right now in the Loire Valley they’re predicting a bumper vineyard crop and one of the earliest harvests on record, thanks to warm, dry conditions. May it stay that way for your trek… and may the wind be at your back.
    Looking forward to your posts.
    Paul

    1. Hi Paul!

      Don’t want you to think I forgot about restaurant recommendations for Tours. I am still sifting through my paperwork and will send some thoughts to you later in the week!

      Maggie LaCoste

      1. Hi Maggie:
        Thanks for your note. It was wonderful to follow your 2011 tour of the Loire… the markets, the chateaus, the slate quarry, the troglodyte caves, the pull-it-yourself ferry crossing, the new friends along the way, it all sounded so interesting. And it seems you managed to duck any serious rains. Marnie and I hope our luck is as good as yours.
        I’ve got everything booked. The train from Paris to Saumur, then Blois to CDG. And the bikes, as you suggested, through Candice at Detours de Loire. And the hotels too: Saumur/Hotel Londre; Chinon/Hotel Diderot (looking forward to that jam you mentioned); Azay-le-Rideau/ Hotel Biencourt; Tours/Hotel du Manoir; Amboise/Hotel le Blason; Chenonceau/La Roseraie; and finally, in Blois, as per your recommendation, Hotel Anne de Bretagne, where we’ll make that short dash to the train station on the Saturday morning.
        We’ve decided to pack our stuff for this trip, the first week in Paris included, in panniers and save the 180-euro transfer charge. We bought one pair and are borrowing another pair from a friend.
        You described getting a little lost on this year’s outing… and if that happens to you, I am positive we’ll get lost more than once, no matter how well signed the route may be. And that’s OK. But what about maps? I see mention on the Loire a Velo site of the Eurovelo 6 series of maps, and map No. 2 stretches from Angers to Blois, 1:100,000 scale, 1 cm=1 km. I was thinking I would look for that map in Paris the week before. Do you think it would be adequate?
        I also see mention on the same site of a 14-euro “Guide Pack for Exploring the Loire a Velo Trail.” Is it worthwhile?
        Of course, what we really need is the new Maggie LaCoste guidebook… maybe next year!
        Hope you’re now having fun wandering through all your photos, keep those Loire memories alive.
        Regards
        Paul

        1. Dear Paul,

          I am sending along some map recommendations that I just sent to another couple leaving soon for the Loire. I have had so many notes about this, I think I may actually do a post on maps. Also, if you haven’t seen it, take a look at the suggestions for connecting to the TGV at Charles de Gaulle which I posted last week. I will send the restaurant info along next week. I am waiting to include some pictures for you.

          Here is the map info:

          Send an e-mail and request a copy of “La Loire a Velo” from http://www.visaloire.com. Go to the “contact us” section and request a copy of the map in English. They send them pretty quick. This map will give you an overall understanding of the Loire itinerary. You need to understand that you could really do this route with no map–it is really unlike anything you have ever done in the US. It is signposted in both directions, so as long as you can read signs and pay attention to signs, you won’t have a problem.

          With that said, I like to have a map. So when you get to the Loire, go to the tourist office in your first town and ask for a copy of the map, “La Loire a Velo” which is published by EuroVelo 6. They cost 2 or 3 Euros, and they really are the only maps you need if you are a map person. They come in a series, and normally the tourism offices just carry the one that is for their region. For example, Number 2 in the series is for the region from Angers to Blois. Depending on where you are going, this could be the only map you need when you are on the Loire a Velo itinerary.

          There also is a free map series called La Loire a Velo En Touraine, and I think its a series of about 5 topographical maps, not very easy to read, but they do have some attraction information which you might find interesting. They are free and also at the local tourism offices. Ask for them by name if you don’t see them out on the racks.

          The one map that you do need if you are going to go on Les Chateaux a Velo Itineraries, which I wrote about is called “Les Chateaux a Velo” and it is a map of the 13 itineraries that go to places like Chambord, Cheverny, Bracieux. You really need this map and once again it is free of charge, but you probably won’t be able to get it until you are in Chaumont, Blois or that general area. All of the route information in that region is by itinerary number, so you need to know the number of your itinerary. Word of advice: as you get near Chaumont and Blois, be sure you watch the bike signs, and be sure that you look for the Loire a Velo symbol if you are staying on that route. When people have never been before, they sometimes pick up the Chateaux a Velo route without knowing it! You can take a look atwww.chateauxavelo.com to get an idea of where their routes are.

          Maggie LaCoste

  6. Thanks for the map advice, Maggie. That Eurovelo 6 (No. 2) map sounds perfect as a back-up… and it’s comforting to hear how well they’ve signposted the route.
    Just reread your May post about Top Reasons for biking the Loire and it’s very helpful.
    Paul

    1. Hi Maggie:
      Just a note to let you know we had a wonderful time in France… one magic week in Paris, followed by seven sunny days along the Loire. Thanks in great part to your valuable tips, the trek by bike was perfect – the bike rental, the hotels, the route, complete with castles, caves, picnics with fine wine and sinful food.

      We did get lost several times, but never seriously. In Tours, we asked a couple of people for directions, but they weren’t cyclists and we remained lost.

      Then I spotted a guy riding down the street
      on his bicycle, newspaper tucked in his back rack. His name was Yves. He told us that because Tours is building itself a brand-new
      Light Rail Transit, construction would make it more
      complicated to get to our hotel. He said he would ride most of the way
      with us.

      We talked as we rode. Yves asked where we were from. Canada, we said,
      halfway between Toronto and Niagara Falls, a city called Hamilton.

      “Hamilton!” Yves said. He then explained that he’s a doctor, a
      hematology researcher at the University of Tours. And Hamilton, he
      said, is famous in his field because McMaster is the hematology
      capital of the universe. He’d never been to Hamilton, but wanted to
      some day. He was very impressed that we were from that place.

      We pedaled some more, still talking, and mentioned to him that on that
      day, we were marking our 36th wedding anniversary. At that point, Yves
      whipped out his smart phone right there on the sidewalk, and made a
      reservation for us at his favourite restaurant. It better not be
      fancy, we told him, because we had packed no finery. In fact, like
      the man who directed us there, the restaurant was warm and friendly.
      The meal was great.

      We encountered a number of people like this. The friendly-factor really gets bumped up when you’re riding a bike… and also if you attempt to speak a little fractured French.

      All the best to you… and good luck with that book.

      Paul Wilson