By Maggie LaCoste
For those of you lucky enough to be bicycling along the Loire River this summer, SNCF will be offering free bike transportation again this summer. Train Velo Loire, is the French train service run by TER Centre and Pays de la Loire. The program was started last summer as an experiment, was hugely successful and will be offered again this summer. The normal charge for bikes is 5 Euro, so the savings per train ride is 10 Euro for 2 people or about $13.
The bike program will run from Sunday, July 1 to September 2, 2012 and will provide free bike transit for cyclists on all Interloire trains from Orleans to le Croisic. Bikes are carried in special cars that hold up to 34 bikes. The service is totally free, although riders are required to purchase a second class ticket. No reservations are required. The following are some of the major towns that are served by this train line: Orleans, Beaugency, Blois, Amboise, St. Pierre, Langeais, Saumur, Angers, Nantes, St. Nazaire and le Croisic. There are three daily roundtrips and two on the weekend.
This service is just one additional way that the Centre and Pays de la Loire departments are working to encourage cyclotourism along the Loire. Part of the service is supposed to include assistance in loading and unloading bikes from the train. If in fact this is true, this will be a big feature because loading and unloading your bike from trains can be a bit challenging, particularly the old trains with steps!
One of the wonderful features of bicycling the Loire is the accessibility to trains along the route. This enables cyclists to pick and choose those areas that they want to bike, using the train to fill in the gaps, thus making the most of your vacation time. For example, can bicycle several areas in the western Loire, and then take a train to Amboise, where you can explore the chateaux of the Centre region. The train network along the Loire also provides cyclists with more options for bike rental pickup and return.
Train schedule information is available on the Loire a Velo website, but unfortunately only in French. But if you use the following codes, you should be able to determine which trains run on which days:
SDF: Saturday, Sundays and holidays
SF SDF: Except for Saturdays, Sundays and holidays
VE SA: Friday and Saturday
DF: Sundays and holidays
If you are planning to visit the Loire and use this Interloire service, please send me a note and let me know about your experience!