Cycling the Loire, A Perfect Adventure

The Loire is one of my favorite cycling itineraries in Europe.  No matter how many times I go there, no matter what season, what area, the Loire a Velo, Chateaux a Velo or a Loire deviation, I always feel totally at home in the Loire River Valley.  The Loire provides every possible experience that you could ask for in an overseas cycling experience.  Imagine cycling along roads where Joan of Arc and the Kings of France may have traveled.  To experience this special region by bike is an adventure into the history of France, one that you would never have in a car or on a tour bus.

Through the forest on the way to Chambord

Through the forest on the way to Chambord

For those who have never cycled overseas, the Loire is unlike anything you have ever experienced before. Nothing you have studied in history or read in tour books prepares you for the experience, and no matter how many days you spend there, it will never be enough!  You will travel along the Loire at your own pace, experiencing 2,000 years of French history and culture, castles, vineyards and gorgeous scenery every minute of the day.

First view of Chambord

First view of Chambord

This itinerary is an adventure of a lifetime, and it is perfectly suited to recreational cyclists. Whether you are 60 or 20, whether you are traveling alone or with your family, whether you have a weekend, a week or a month, and whether you want to bike 20 km or 50 km a day, the Loire has a perfect itinerary for you.

The Loire is perfect for families

The Loire is perfect for families

Don’t worry if you’ve never taken a bicycling vacation before.  The Loire is flat, well signposted and is perfect for recreational cyclists.  You go at your own pace, choosing the distance you want to travel each day.

Bicycle path along the Loire

Bicycle path along the Loire

If you will be doing a lot of sightseeing, you might choose to bicycle 20 km or less.  Traveling by bike along the Loire is a great opportunity to really experience the Loire in a way few tourists experience.  When you travel this area by bike, you have the freedom to travel without timetables, enjoying every adventure you encounter along the way.

Here are some of my favorite reasons to bike the Loire:

La Loire A Velo

The Loire may have been the playground of the kings, but the Loire a Velo has made it the playground for the recreational cyclist. With over 800 km of safe, signposted cycling, this itinerary is perfectly suited for slow exploration by bike.  40% of the itinerary features car-free cycling on cycle paths or greenways, the rest of the itinerary is on low-traffic local/no thoughway roads.  Recreational cycling doesn’t get any better than the Loire a Velo.

Signposting along the Loire

Signposting along the Loire

From Cuffy in the Cher Department to Saint-Brevin-les-Pins in the Loire-Atlantique, the Loire a Velo itinerary spans 2 French Regions, Centre and Pays de la Loire, 6 Departments and includes major towns such as Orleans, Blois, Tours, Saumur, Nantes and Angers.  There has been over 50 million Euro invested in this itinerary over the last 10 years, with the goal of making the Loire a Velo the best itinerary in France for recreational cyclists.

The Loire a Velo website is full of resources to plan a trip, from detailed routing information, suggested itineraries, accommodations, bike rental agencies, campgrounds.  Whatever you need to plan a trip you will find here.  And if you prefer to have a trip arranged for you, you can access information on French tour operators who specialize in Loire bicycling vacations.  The Loire a Velo has over 425 partners, all of whom have met specific criteria to insure quality of service for bicyclists to the region.

Sign indicating a Loire a Velo partner

Sign indicating a Loire a Velo partner

The Loire a Velo website should be your first stop if you are thinking about bicycling along the Loire.

Easy Train Access

Not only are the major towns on the Loire quick and easy to get to from Paris or any other major town in France, a railway line runs right along the river with service to 20 towns.  This makes it easy to explore several different areas of the Loire in a shorter period of time.  There is no charge for taking a bike on a local train, and the cost per passenger is very low also.  During the summer, there are special Velo-Loire trains with larger dedicated bicycle cars that make it even easier to travel along the Loire by train.  Best of all, it’s easy to make your way from train stations to the Loire, as most stations have plenty of signs showing you the way!

Easy to find your way to the Loire with signs like this!

Easy to find your way to the Loire with signs like this!

Chateaux of the Loire

Nothing can describe the feeling you get when you are bicycling down a road and catch your first glimpse of a chateaux from afar. With every pedal stroke, the chateaux gets clearer until it ultimately dominates your vision.  Amazing is the only description I can give.  Unfortunately many chateaux in France are carefully hidden from the public view by majestic trees and other natural barriers, but a bit of planning will insure that your itinerary has at least one major “amazing” moment!

The view bicycling toward Chateau Usse

The view bicycling toward Chateau Usse

Once the stomping grounds for the French aristocracy, the Loire is filled with hundreds of impressive castles.  From the fortress at Angers with its 17 towers and Apocalypse tapestry to Chambord with over 300 chimneys, there are castles in the Loire for every taste.  Castle overload is a real danger, so do your research ahead of time to determine which ones you want to visit.

Langeais Castle

Langeais Castle at dusk

Everyone has their favorites, mine include Chenonceau, with arches that seem to float over the River Cher, the fortified Chateau d’Amboise complete with underground passageways, and Chinon on the River Vienne, which dates back to the 5th century and one of the favorite residences of Henry II and Charles VII.

Many of the 1,000 or so chateaux in the Loire are private residences so you can expect to see them along whichever itinerary you choose to bike. It is really an incredible experience to be bicycling along a quiet, peaceful road when all of a sudden, a giant chateaux appears.  Here is an example of one near the small town of Huismes.  It’s called Chateau de Lavillaumer!

Chateau de Lavillaumer, a privately owned chateau

Chateau de Lavillaumer, a privately owned chateau

Chateaux a Velo

If you bicycle to Chambord you will travel on one or more of the Chateaux a Velo itineraries.  While this circuit links up to the Loire a Velo, it is a completely separate itinerary full of incredible bicycle routes to explore.  It would be easy to spend an entire week or more cycling the different itineraries in the Chateaux a Velo.

Exploring the Chateaux a Velo

Exploring the Chateaux a Velo

More than 400 km of cycling paths and 13 different circuits are possible on the Chateaux a Velo circuit.  In the center of the Loire Valley, between Blois, Chambord and Cheverny, a network of secure, well-marked bicycle paths provide the adventure of cycling in chateaux country.  Regardless of where you start, you’ll find numbered and well-marked routes throughout the area.  Several of these itineraries intersect, so if you are cycling in this area, be sure that you pay attention to your itinerary number on the directional signs!

Note the red numbers on the signs. They correspond to the Chateaux a Velo itinerary number

Note the red numbers on the signs. They correspond to the Chateaux a Velo itinerary number.  Make sure you are on the right itinerary!

Roads in the Chateaux a Velo are a combination of bike-only tracks, gravel paths and lightly traveled country roads.  Itineraries are designed for leisure travel with plenty of time to visit local attractions, vineyards and chateaux. This is a terrific area to bicycle with families.

Quiet low traffic roads for cycling

Quiet low traffic roads for cycling

The Chateaux a Velo website has just recently been revamped, but unfortunately the new website is only in French.  I have not been able to confirm when the website will be available in English, so for the meantime, you can refer to the brochure Les Chateaux a Velo which is in several languages including English and includes a map of the itineraries.  You can also pick up this brochure at the tourism offices in major towns including Blois, Bracieux, Cheverny.

Bicycling doesn't get much better than this!

Bicycling doesn’t get much better than this!

The Gardens of the Loire

Nicknamed the garden of France, the Loire is a paradise for lovers of French gardens, with the gardens of Villandry and Chaumont heading the list.

The gorgeous gardens at Villandry

The gorgeous gardens at Villandry

Villandry is recognized for having the most beautiful vegetable garden in the world.  Interestingly the garden was started to feed the soldiers who were housed at the chateaux during World War I.  Today, the gardens are so extensive that most people tour the gardens at Villandry rather than the chateaux.

Another view of the gardens

Another view of the gardens

The Chateau de Chaumont is renowned for its summer garden show, the Festival International des Jardins.  Like Villandry, the garden show is so popular that many tourists never make it into the chateaux, choosing to spend more time exploring the gardens.

More Villandry gardens

More Villandry gardens

Market Day

Nothing beats market day in France, and the Loire has some of the best:  the Saturday market in Saumur, Orleans, Blois, the huge Sunday market in Amboise, the Friday market in Vouvray and Montbazon and the Thursday market in Chinon, just to name a few.

A small local market near Montbazon

A small local market near Montbazon

If you are bicycling the Loire, you will come upon many small local markets, but be sure to try to plan your trip so that you can go to one of the larger markets. There is no better way to experience the essence of French life than going to market day!

The Sunday market along the Loire in Amboise

The Sunday market along the Loire in Amboise

Gorgeous River Towns

From quaint, picture perfect towns like Candes-Saint-Martin, Montresor and Chenonceau to historic towns like Chinon, Saumur, Amboise, Blois and bustling cities like Orleans, Tours and Angers, the Loire has a concentration of more gorgeous places to visit that any other itinerary in France!

The Loire is steeped in history and you will have no problem filling your “off bike” time with visits to some of the prettiest towns in France. Candes-Saint-Martin and Montresor are both listed in the directory of the Most Beautiful Villages in France, but it’s really hard to favor one town over the other, as they all have such unique characteristics.  Everyone who travels to the Loire seems to have their own favorites.  Here are some photos of mine!

The town of Amboise with its towering chateau

The town of Amboise with its towering chateau

Town of Angers

Town of Angers

Streets of Chinon

Streets of Chinon

The streets of Montsoreau

The streets of Montsoreau

A scene in the town of Langeais

A scene in the town of Langeais

The famous wine village of Vouvray

The famous wine village of Vouvray

The streets of Blois

The streets of Blois

Hopefully by now, I’ve got you very interested in planning a bicycling trip along the Loire.  If so, you will need some maps to help with your trip planning.  Here are some of my favorites:

  • The Loire a Velo map from the Loire a Velo website.  You can download this map and you can also pick up a hard copy of the map at one of the major tourism offices along the Loire.  I’ve used this trip to help plan all of my Loire bicycling trips as it helps visualize the many different options and deviations.  This is just a great map to help develop a travel strategy on where you want to go as well as for plotting daily distances.
La Loire a Velo Map

La Loire a Velo Map

  • Maps #1 and #2  from the EuroVelo 6 map series published by Huber Verlag. This map series covers the entire EuroVelo 6 route, of which the Loire is a part.  Three of the 6 maps cover the Loire:  map #1 which covers the route from the Atlantic to Angers, map #2 which covers Angers to Blois and map #3, which covers Blois to the Canal du Centre.  These maps are so good, they are the only maps that you will need. They are inexpensive unless you try to purchase them from overseas through the mail, in which case they can be outrageously expensive.  Since you won’t need the map until you get to the Loire, just plan to purchase it when you get there.  They are sold in every tourist office, most book stores and many tobacco shops.  I normally purchase a couple of them as they can get pretty worn out on a two week trip.
Huber Verlag Loire Maps

Huber Verlag Loire Maps

  •  There are also a series of free maps that you can pick up once you start on your Loire journey.  The first is a map series produced by Touraine Regional Tourism, called “La Loire a Velo en Touraine”.  This is a series of 5 topographical maps that cover the area from Rigny-Usse and Chinon to Montlouis and Amboise.  While you can access these maps online, they are very difficult to read and impossible to photocopy.  Even the original paper copy is difficult to read.  They are not my favorite maps, but they are free, and are easy to obtain at any tourism office along the Loire.
  • If you are planning to bicycle along the Indre River, you may find the booklet, “Carnet de Route de l’Indre a Velo” helpful.  The map includes the relatively new cycle route along the Indre River from where it joins the Loire at Brehemont, to Azay-le-Rideau, to Montbazon, to Loches and then up to Chenonceaux.  I took this itinerary two summers ago from Azay-le-Rideau to Chenonceaux. You can find the map booklet in all tourism offices along the Loire and the Indre Rivers.
Indre a Velo Map

Indre a Velo Map

  • If you are going to traveling in or near Blois, Chaumont, Chambord, St. Dye or beaugency, you will want a copy of “Les Chateaux a Velo” already mentioned earlier in this post. Many of the itineraries of this circuit join up to the Loire, but it is a totally different group of itineraries than the Loire.  If you are traveling in this area, it is very wise to have a copy of the map, as it can be easy to get confused by the many different itineraries that are part of Les Chateaux a Velo.  This map is also free and is available at all tourism offices east of Chaumont and west of Beaugency.

The Loire and its deviations are very well signposted.  It is one of the few cycle routes in France where you could actually make your way around without a map.  The biggest potential for getting lost is going into and out of the larger towns, either to visit the town and have lunch or to find your hotel for the night.  Tours is one such example.  No matter how many times I go into Tours from the Loire, I always seem to get lost.  So that you don’t begin your day lost, it’s always a good idea to stop into the local tourism office to get directions back to the bike path.  The local bike path maps will always have clear directions for getting back to the Loire, and may even have some interesting local bike paths you may want to explore.

I hope that you will consider making the Loire your destination for an upcoming bike trip.  It will be one of the most memorable trips of your life.

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 am surprised that you do not mention the app for smartphones and tablets:
    http://www.cycling-loire.com/main-news/the-loire-a-velo-releases-its-own-app, which was released a year ago, and has been updated a couple of times since.

    It probably deserves a whole blog post of its own.

    Peter

    1. Hi Peter!

      Thanks so much for the note and you are absolutely right about the loire a velo app! And you are right about it deserving its own post. I actually featured the app on a blog post last May. You can find it here: http://experiencefrancebybike.com/free-loire-a-velo-app-available/.
      It is a great idea to have the link on this post though, so thanks for the suggestion! If you are traveling from the US, it can be a challenge using these apps because unless you are using a French SIM card, you cannot access them from the road, which is exactly when you want to use them!

      Thanks for reading Experience France By Bike, and thanks for your comments!

      Maggie LaCoste

      1. I have tried loading the app on my tablet (I am in England), and then switching wi-fi off: most functions (certainly the maps) seem to remain available (presumably everything is just stored in memory).

        This may mean that as long as users can get access to wi-fi occasionally on their tour, they do not need a French SIM card.

        On the other hand, so many people are now so dependent on their smartphone, that they would welcome a blog-post on how and where to buy a French SIM card!

        I would also welcome a blog-post on maps for phones/tablets: do you prefer MapDroyd / Open StreetMap /NavFree World / cached Google maps, or what?

        Cheers,

        Peter

        1. Greetings Peter!

          Great comments and suggestions! After your earlier note, I updated the Loire a Velo app on my i-phone and I received a notation that the app would work without Wi-Fi. I have not had time to play around with it yet, but I will and will let you know how it functions. Regarding use of smartphones overseas, I have found the situation, coming from the USA to be very frustrating. So many of the cycling itineraries are developing apps so that you’ll be alerted to historical things when you pass them, restaurants along the way, etc, but they all require data transmission, which of course is an issue if you are from outside of Europe.

          Your suggestion about writing a post about purchasing a French SIM card is a good one. I have started this post a number of times, but again, there are no simple solutions. You cannot use a SIM card on some portable devices, such as an i-phone, as the i-phone is “locked”, and therefore you cannot exchange SIM cards. I met with Apple a month ago and was advised that I could purchase an “unlocked” version of the i-phone for $500. That would give me the flexibility to switch out SIM cards whenever I wanted. Pretty steep price to do so, and not an alternative that most would entertain. To use all of the new travel resources that are available on portable devices, you need a very generous data plan that will allow you to keep your device on during the day when you are traveling. These are not easy to come by. Then there is the issue of whether your SIM card will work when you get to your destination. They need to be activated, sometimes in another language. I have friends who have purchased SIM cards, only to arrive at their destination and not be able to get them to work. All of these situations make it challenging to write about a solution that will work for most people.

          There is a new service that has been launched that is a data only plan for travelers. I am trying to find some more information about the company and their reliability for a possible post about their services. In the meantime, I continue to look for solutions that will help bicyclists access some of the new tools that can make their travels easier. It is incomprehensible to me that with all the technology that we have available, no one can figure out a way to facilitate data transmission for travelers. There are no charges for data transmission on a GPS, I am not quite sure I understand why we cannot do the same on smart phones and notebooks.

          Stay tuned for new reports in the future and thanks again for your input!

          Maggie LaCoste

          1. Maybe seek advice from the France forum of TripAdvisor (there are lots of helpful folks on there)? They may be able to advise about the best SIMs, data-plans, etc. for visitors.

            Certainly in the UK it is not illegal to unlock phones including iPhones. See here for the US situation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phone_unlocking#United_States

            Compared to the overall cost of a cycling holiday, and flying from the US to France, it would probably be money well-spent to buy an inexpensive smartphone on arrival in France, and get a French SIM card, so that one is paying a “local” tariff, not a “roaming” one.

            There is lots of advice online, see e.g. this recent UK newspaper article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travel-advice/9432416/The-best-local-SIM-cards-in-Europe.html

  2. Thanks for all these smart ideas. Note the know-how as soon as you visit your page. In addition, I have acquired knowledge through your sharing. Suddenly I consult it from time to time appreciated for your various blogs.

    Philippe’s blog site http://www.iconeby.fr

    1. Dear Philippe,

      Thanks so much for your kind comments and I am glad that you are finding my website useful. I work very hard to make sure that all of the information in my posts are up to date and accurate. Please be sure and pass the website on to your friends also!

      Maggie LaCoste
      Experience France By Bike
      http://www.experiencefrancebybike.com

  3. Dear Maggie…your website is just amazing!
    I am planning to visit France next september and including a bike tour.
    My doubts until now are about the luggages…I am from Brazil and I want to stay for about 2 weeks in France. Part of the trip I want to do is by bike, and the other part of it, by car…
    The option of “Loire a Velo” seems to be good…but how can I lead with the luggages? What do you suggest? Another point: Is it possible to rent a bike in one city and develop it in another city, so I could rent a car and go ahead with my trip?
    regards,

    1. Luggage is always an issue when you are traveling by bike! I have 2 suggestions: either stay at the same hotel/B&B at the beginning and end of the bicycling portion of your trip, and make arrangements to leave your luggage there, or, arrange luggage transfer from one place to the next along your bicycling journey. Both of these options would be available and possible along the Loire. For example, you could rent your bikes and spend the first night of your trip in Angers for example, and then take the local train to Blois and bicycle back to Angers. You could leave your luggage in Angers as long as you stay in the same place for one night on your return. You can rent panniers (bike carriers) along with your bike, and put the clothes you need in the panniers. This is probably the least expensive option. Or you can rent your bike in Angers, arrange for luggage transfer along the Loire, and drop the bikes in Tours or whatever city at the end of the trip. You would pay a drop off charge for the bike, as well as for luggage transfer every night. Definitely a much more expensive option. The bike rental company along the Loire that does luggage transfer and one way bike rental is Detours de Loire, http://www.locationdevelos.com/en/. Hope this information helps!

      Maggie LaCoste
      Experience France By Bike
      http://www.experiencefrancebybike.com

  4. Excellent overview of all the Loire has to offer, just beginning to plan a week long trip from Angers to Blois/Orleans (a velo!), found this post really helpful. Thank you for taking the time to share it.

    1. Hi Maura!

      Thanks for the nice note and I am jealous about your upcoming trip to the Loire! It is really one of my favorites, especially Angers to Blois, so I know that you will have a terrific time. If you do a search on the website for Loire or Loire a Velo, it should bring up a number of other posts on trips from that part of the Loire! Have fun planning your trip!

      Maggie LaCoste