Loire Valley cycling highlights

Back in France’s opulent royal heydays, the Loire was the place to be seen in style. A succession of over 300 fairytale châteaux are scattered along France’s Valley of the Kings; they dot medieval towns, tower over river banks and emerge as the mighty centers of vast deer-filled forests. In between, swathes of vineyards produce some of Frances most celebrated wines, with tastings a-plenty, and linking them all – a myriad of off-road cycle routes, quiet back roads and forest tracks to make up one of France’s best gentle cycling destinations.
You can expect smooth, flat, traffic-free cycle paths with easygoing pedalling and as much time spent exploring châteaux and vineyards as spent in the saddle. And with a glass of spectacularly good Loire wine awaiting you at the end of each ride, cycling vacations are rarely this serene.

Loire Valley cycling highlights

Blois

Cobbled streets circle Blois’ crowning glories – a magnificent royal château and towering Gothic cathedral – although this pretty town offers more than just another castle. Busy markets fill its arcaded squares almost every day of the week, offering a bright variety of local produce typical of the Loire, including fresh fruit, goat’s cheese and rillettes – a type of pork paté – as well as saucisson and other French favourites. A trip in a traditional wooden boat along the Loire is an unmissable out-of-the-saddle experience here.

Chambord

So big it deserves its own spotlight, the Château de Chambord is, without doubt, the King of the Loire castles. Built to satisfy the extravagant tastes of King Francois I but never completed, this 400-room hunting lodge is elaborately carved and sublimely situated. Kids will love exploring its mind-bending double-helix staircase – with two intertwining flights that never meet - while it vast parkland is now a nature reserve, protecting wild boar, stags and eagles. Cycling the 7km through the huge Forêt de Boulogne before reaching the châteaux de Chambord at its heart is a highlight of any vacation here.

The Châteaux

From renaissance extravagance to medieval masterpieces, the striking Loire châteaux play out stories of kings, queens, battles and intrigue. Don’t miss delightful Chenonceau – a gift from King Francois I to his mistress Diane de Poitiers, stately Chaumont overlooking the Loire, the family-friendly Château de Fougères-sur-Bièvre, immaculate Cheverny with the Loire’s largest collection of fine art, Villesavin and its unique wedding dress museum, and imperious royal Amboise.

La Loire á Vélo

This almost 800km stretch of cycling bliss runs all the way along the Loire River from Nevers at its far-eastern reaches to its Atlantic estuary at Saint-Nazaire. Along the way, this fully-signposted cycle route winds along quiet back roads and traffic-free cycle paths through some of the most beautiful stretches of the Loire Valley – including Tours, Blois, Amboise and the Château de Chaumont. Any cycling vacation in the Loire Valley is likely to make use, at least in part, of this superb cycling superhighway.

Loire Valley food and wine

The local delicacies of the Loire are one of the best reasons to hop on your bike. Traveling at a gentle pace on two wheels gives you the freedom to stop in local markets, at vineyards and in tiny restaurants as often as you wish. Don’t miss locally grown asparagus, freshwater fish, goat’s cheese or rillettes (a coarse pork paté) on fouace bread. When it comes to wine, the abundance of small-scale excellent appellations – wine regions – offer a huge variety over easily-pedalled distances. Cycle tours may take you through the delectable Chenin Blanc of Vouvray – don’t miss the pétillant or sparkling wine here – the Sauvignon whites of Cheverny or the light Cabernet Franc reds of Bourgueil. Keep an eye out for signs saying ‘Caveau degustation –vente’ – indicating cellars offering tastings and wine sales.

Taking the family

The easy, flat and short daily rides, along quiet back roads and designated traffic-free cycle paths make the Loire Valley a top choice for family pedalling. Kids as young as two years old will be able to get involved – with trailers and bike seats available – while older children will love the freedom of being able to explore the fairytale castles safely under their own steam. Be aware, helmets are compulsory in France for the under-12s.

What does a Loire Valley cycling vacation entail?

Days of gentle cycling on a hybrid bike – designed to tackle on and off-road trails with ease - interspersed with visits to châteaux, local markets, degustations at vineyards and time to soak gently in your hotel pool. Taking it easy to enjoy the finer things is the way of life when you’re cycling the Loire – pleasant pedalling connects fine views, fine wine and fine, French cuisine.

You can expect to stay in comfortable family-run guesthouses with a relaxed, friendly vibe. Although opportunities to base yourself in more luxurious château-hotels – and live that Loire dream for real even just for a night or two – are just as plentiful.

Rather than basing yourself in one hotel and doing day trips from there, these vacations will usually see you cycling to a new hotel most nights – but don’t worry – you won’t need to cart your luggage with you. Your cycling specialist will transfer everything for you and it’ll simply be awaiting your arrival each evening. What could be easier?

How fit do I need to be?

Loire Valley cycling vacations are less about notching up the miles and spending all day, every day in the saddle, and much more about being a more peaceful, more efficient, more relaxed way to explore than by car. You’ll be covering around 25 to 50km per day on mostly flat, smooth roads and paths – that’s around two and half to five hours on the bike – but rarely in one go. Think a gentle hour’s pedalling before a wander round a château, before another hour takes you to a leisurely lunch. And repeat in the afternoon. To be honest, the cycling here is so easy that it makes the perfect trip for families to tackle together. And if you’re still worried, electric bikes can be hired for that little bit of battery-powered assistance.

Our top France cycling Vacation

Loire Valley self catering farm cottage, France

Loire Valley self catering farm cottage, France

Perfect Loire Valley country cottage for two

From 560 to750 per cottage per week (sleeps 2-4)
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If you'd like to chat about France cycling or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Do I need to fly?

If you’re traveling from elsewhere in Europe then no – why add a carbon-heavy international flight into your otherwise pretty carbon-free vacation?

Accessing the Loire by train is straightforward – if slightly lengthier than a flight. Eurostar services link London to Paris from where high-speed TGV services are available to Tours (35 mins) and Blois (1 hour 30mins). Chissay, another popular starting point for cycling tours, is accessible via local train services from Tours in just 45 minutes.

Best time to go

With most cycling vacations to the Loire Valley self guided you’re not restricted by set departure dates and can choose when to travel. In general the best times are between April and mid-October, when temperatures are pleasant and there’s a higher likelihood of dry weather. The height of summer, July and August, while gorgeous for sunny cycling, are also very busy in the Loire and you’ll need to book early to secure accommodation around its major sights. Avoid the peak crowds by going in May and June, when the Loire weather is still warm and (mostly) sunny, or in September, when the grape harvest will be in full swing.
Written by Sarah Faith
Photo credits: [Page banner: David Darrault - Cycling For Softies] [Top box: Cycling For Softies] [La Loire a velo (Amboise): Daniel Jolivet] [How fit do I need to be?: David Darrault - Cycling For Softies] [Best time: Daniel Jolivet]
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