By Maggie LaCoste
Few names evoke more reverence in this part of France than Joan of Arc, and today we head east for Orleans, the last destination of our biking adventure on the Loire. From the pleasant village of Montlivault to St-Dye-sur-Loire to the medieval gem of Beaugency, we bicycled up the Loire toward the town that Joan of Arc liberated in 1429, an event that has been celebrated every year since then.
Montlivault was our last stop on the Chateaux a Velo itinerary. Our entire biking itinerary today, from St-Dye east was on the Loire a Velo route, with a large part of the ride on or near the river. St-Dye is a very interesting short stop, having served as the main port for the building of Chambord in the 16th century. You can just imagine how busy this area was during the construction of the chateau when you ride past the sprawling quaysides on the route. As we pass through the town, quiet on a Sunday morning, we are treated to the ringing of the bells before services begin.
We soon reach the bridge crossing at Muides-sur-Loire, and what a treat this bridge is. The bridge was recently widened in both directions to accommodate bicycle traffic heading both east and west along the Loire. Bicyclists now have a very safe, wide dedicated bike path to cross this very busy bridge. We passed many bicyclists riding over the bridge early this morning, and once again we were treated to the ringing of the church bells after Sunday services.
From here to Beaugency, the Loire a Velo path runs on the north side of the river, and from this bridge heading east towards Beaugency, riders are in for a real treat as most of the route is a dedicated greenway, free of any traffic other than bicyclists, and an occasional walker. The route does pass the Saint-Laurent-des-Eaux nuclear power plant, one of the few located on the eastern part of the Loire. Just around the village of Tavers, there is a short gravel stretch which connects to the paved route that brings you just to the outskirts of Beaugency. Soon you begin to see Beaugency’s medieval bridge from a distance. At first, the 22 arches are a bit of a blur, but with every pedal stroke, they come into better focus. The structure is amazing, the only medieval bridge still standing on the Loire. The bike path delivers you right into the town of Beaugency, along side the Hotel de l’Abbaye, one of the oldest structures in the town and a very popular hotel. We stop for coffee and a mid-morning snack, do some sightseeing and then resume our journey to Orleans.
After leaving Beaugency, there are two gravel sections, one about 8 km long, shortly after Beaugency, the other shortly after the Meung-sur-Loire bridge. Other than these sections, the path to Orleans has some of the prettiest scenery on the river. The town of Meung-sur-Loire is definitely worth a stop. Although small, the town has played an important role in the history of this section of the Loire. In medieval times, Chateau du Meung was the weekend and holiday home of the bishops of Orleans. Recently restored, this castle is open to the public with most of the rooms available for touring. Kids especially will love the underground cellars and dungeon. The town church is also quite famous, with a stain glass window featuring the Maid of Orleans. There is a small Office of Tourism and the staff actually seems like they will do anything to make your stay in the area pleasant and enjoyable. When we were leaving town, we saw the remains of the medieval bridge that Joan of Arc seized from the English in 1429.
After the second gravel section, the bike route follows the Loire levee and there are really some great views of the Loire, especially the area by the famous Pointe de Courpin and the ornithological reserve at the confluence of the Loire and the Loiret rivers. There are information boards along the route with explanations on the sanctuary and the levee system, and a water chart showing how high the water got on the last major flood. These information boards really enhance the value of the Loire a Velo trail, as tourists from other countries can learn more about the important role that the Loire plays in the environmental balance of this region.
The last few kilometers into Orleans was perfect. The sun finally peeked through the clouds. Another perfect day of memories along the Loire. Tomorrow will be dedicated to all things Joan of Arc, the Maiden of Orleans.