By Maggie LaCoste
Visiting Chambord by bicycle is one of the most exciting weekend adventures in the Loire, and perhaps in all of France. Whether you take the train from Paris to Blois for a weekend of cycling, or you decide to spend several days of your Loire vacation bicycling, this route is certain to provide memories of a lifetime. The route from Blois to Chambord is part of the Chateaux a Velo circuit, 13 bicycle-friendly itineraries for exploring the Valley of the Kings, and is perfect for singles, couples or families. Itineraries 8,9 and 10 are the most popular routes to or near Chambord. Itinerary 9 is the primary route from Blois to Chambord. Be sure to visit Saint-Dye-sur-Loire, the old port of Chambord. Itinerary 10 takes a tour around Chambord which is referred to as the largest walled-in park in the world and now a beautiful nature reserve. In total, the Chateaux aux Velo itineraries include over 300 km of secure and well-marked bike paths for exploring the chateau country between Blois, Chambord and Cheverny in a way few tourists experience.
Castles in the Pays de Chateaux are difficult to visit unless you have a car, not an attractive option during the busy spring or summer season, as the roads are busy and there is never enough parking. Traveling to such magical areas by tour bus is also not a great option unless you don’t mind being shuttled around with 100 other unfortunate travelers. But fortunately, miles of safe, secure and family-friendly bike routes make this area ideal to visit by bike. From your first glimpse of Chambord as you bicycle toward the castle, your biking adventure in the Loire will be full of special experiences other tourists only dream of! Your biggest challenge visiting this area by bike will be deciding which route to take, and which castles and attractions to visit!
Blois is just over an hour and a half via TGV from the Paris Austerlitz train station. A 9:22 am train will have you in Blois before 11:00. There is also a one-stop TGV from Paris Montparnasse station. Both connections provide for an easy weekend excursion from Paris. If you are not in a rush, local train options are also available, usually at a fraction of the cost of taking the TGV. For example, there is a 12:07 Regional Express train from Paris Austerlitz to Blois with one stopover/change of trains in Orleans, arriving Blois at 4:07. The train accepts bikes and runs somewhere around $25-$35 each way. Most of the TGV options are closer to $70 each way, depending on when you book your ticket. Regional trains are also great for flexibility as they do not require advance reservations like the TGV.
Once you arrive in Blois, a quick stop at the Blois Tourism Office at 23 Place du Chateau to pick up the indispensable Chateaux a Velo map, a stop at the local market for lunch picnic supplies, and of course a stop to pick up your bike and you can be quickly on your way exploring the Loire’s amazing history. You can use Blois as a home base and take day trips to chateau country without any luggage. Or you can spend the night outside of Blois exploring the many charming small towns like St. Dye, Muides-sur-Loire or even Chambord itself. For a once in a lifetime treat, consider spending the night in Chambord at Hotel Restaurant du Grand Saint Michel which is located just opposite the magnificent castle. Be the last to see Chambord at night as you dine on the terrace at the hotel, and beat the crowds as the first to visit the castle in the morning. Note: this hotel is scheduled to undergo major renovations in the fall of 2015. I have not been able to confirm if the hotel will be open during the renovations and/or when it will reopen in the spring. Watch for updates regarding bookings for 2016!
Regardless of your lodging preference and your budget, there are a large variety of accommodation options both in Blois and the Pays de Chateaux including special velotels, velocamps and velogites that specialize in the needs of bicyclists. You can find information on all of these options on the Blois Tourism website or on the Chateaux a Velo website.
To guarantee enjoyment of the chateaux region, audio commentaries have been developed to explain major attractions along the way. A total of 40 commentaries of sites along the Loire a Velo and Chateaux a Velo trails include explanations, accounts and anecdotes from local personalities that are designed to make your visit of the area more lively and informative. These itineraries can be downloaded onto an MP3 player at www.chateauxavelo.com. You can download as few or as many of the individual commentaries as you want, based on the itinerary you will be taking. You can also pick up additional background material on each of the major attractions when you are at the Blois Tourism Office. While you are there, do not forget to pick up a copy of Les Chateaux a Velo, your guide to biking in the Pays de Chateaux.
Bike rental options are numerous and can be found on both the Blois Tourism website or on the Chateaux a Velo website. My favorite bike rental in Blois and along the Loire is Detours de Loire. They are extremely dependable, professional and offer several types of bikes designed for riding the paths on and around the Loire. There is a also a bike rental service in Blois, Traineurs de Loire that offers a one-way rental to Chambord with a mini-bus return to Blois. This service called Cyclo-Bus requires advance reservations and is perfect for families with children or the elderly who want to enjoy the excitement and adventure of exploring the region by bike, but want to keep the biking mileage low. Traineurs de Loire also rents an electric bike suitable for up to a 60 km ride for 17 Euros for the day. This is a great idea if you are new to biking and want the luxury of a small electric assist when you need it. Electric bikes must also be reserved in advance at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sound interesting? If so and you’d like to learn more, your first stop should be to the Chateaux a Velo website where you will learn more about each of the itineraries, accommodations and attractions along the way and download maps. Unless you are planning to visit in July or August, it should not be necessary to make accommodations in advance. If you arrive in Blois without reservations, use the services of the Blois Tourism Office to help you secure reservations during your stay.