By Maggie LaCoste
Imagine having your own personal tour guide with you as you bicycle along the peaceful roads of the Loire a Velo. That’s the basic idea behind Cyclopedia, the first multi-media bicycling travel guide linked with a GPS. Developed by the Office of Tourism of Anjou, Cyclopedia contains information on 33 sites along a 65 km stretch of the Loire a Velo route between Gennes and Montjean-sur-Loire. Along this stretch of the Loire, cyclists are treated to written and audio information on cultural and natural attractions ranging from bird sanctuaries to the Loire flood and erosion control network to the Abbey of Saint-Maur de Glanfueil. Kids absolutely love Cyclopedia, and eagerly await each “ding” which indicates a new attraction is near. Adults love it too, because it adds an educational perspective to an already great ride. Surprisingly, Cyclopedia is totally free, all you need to do is reserve the device from one of 7 local tourist offices: Angers, Saumur, Gennes, St-Mathurin-sur-Loire, Bouchemain, Chalonnes-sur-Loire or Montjean-sur-Loire. I will be picking up Cyclopedia in Angers and I will drop it off in Saumur this trip, and I can’t wait to enjoy the guided experience.
Further east on the Loire, near Blois, is an area for bicyclists called Les Chateaux a Velo. A network of 400 km of marked cycle paths, linked to, but separate from the Loire a Velo itinerary. Les Chateaux a Velo is located between the Loire and the Sologne River and is comprised of 13 different itineraries through the heart of The Playground of the Kings. This network provides easy access by bicycle to chateau like Chambord, Cheverny, Beauregard, Chaumont, Villesavin and Blois just to name a few. All of the routes are marked and have accommodations and restaurants along the way. Your guide to this area is the map, Les Chateaux a Velo, which you can pick up at any of the area tourist offices. Two of my favorite itineraries are route 4 which goes by Cellettes, Chitenay and Cheverny, and route 9 which goes from Blois to Chambord.
Now for the technology part: there are 40 audio commentaries that highlight attractions along the different itineraries. The Chateaux a Velo map shows each commentary along each of the routes. This makes it easy to download just those commentaries that are on your chosen route. It is possible to download the itineraries on your i-pod or MP3 player even before your trip at http://www.chateauxavelo.com. I will be spending three days riding the Chateaux a Velo itineraries this year, so I will download all 40 of the commentaries before my trip. Last summer it was also possible to download the itineraries at the Blois Tourism Office, but I am not sure if this service will be available this summer.
I will be on the lookout this summer for other new devices that are designed to enhance bicycle travel through the Loire. One thing is certain, the local and regional tourism offices in the Loire Region are very dedicated to making this area the premier bicycling location in France, so I am sure I will discover something new to report back to you on this summer!
Only 5 more days until my first day biking the Loire!