The Good Life France

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Cycling in the Loire Valley

Facade of the chateau de Chenonceau, white stone and black slate roof, Loire Valley

It began like this. “We should do another bike trip,” my husband said a year ago.

“Mm hmm,” I replied.

“Before we get too old,” he added.

Too old? Surely, mid-sixties isn’t too old, I thought. I’m energetic, I exercise (not a fanatic, but once or twice a week), and I golf. Golf is exercise, isn’t it? Especially if you walk the course.

“Definitely,” I said. “But not a place like Provence or Tuscany where the hills are killers.”

Encouraged, my husband set about exploring various guided biking trips; the kind where your luggage is taken from hotel to hotel, the food is excellent, and there are other participants involved. Previous trips to Provence and Vietnam had these ingredients and were wonderful vacations.

Loire Biking – chateauxand the gentle roll of countryside

We settled on the Loire Valley as our destination. We love touring in France – the people, wine, food, history and beautiful buildings that are centuries old combine to make it one of our favourite destinations. On the tour company’s website, the route was described as having lush valleys, green woodlands and charming villages, as biking through vineyards and picture-perfect villages, through tranquil hamlets and fields of wheat and sunflowers. Along the way we would see the Chateaux of Chaumont, Chenonceau, and Villandry to name a few. To make it even more appealing, each day offered options allowing for shorter or longer biking routes.

“We need to get in shape,” I said.

That prompted weekly spinning and Pilates classes starting in June. By mid-August we had ditched Pilates in favour of spinning twice a week. Confidence buoyed, biking gear packed, we arrived in Tours on September 16th.

Loire Valley on two wheels

The Chateau de Chaumont, Loire Valley on a misty morning

On day one, we assembled at the train station and eagerly greeted fellow bikers from United States, Australia, and Canada. A short bus ride took us to Domaine de Champalou where we tasted Vouvray wines and enjoyed a picnic lunch. Next we saddled up and pedalled off through wooded back roads, vineyard covered hills and small villages for 22 miles. A good deal of it in the rain.

The highlight of day two was Chateau de Chaumont, a fairy-tale castle in a woodland setting. Not only is the turreted chateau beautiful but so too are the grounds where the International Garden Festival occurs each year. From the chateau we road to Amboise, once home to Francois 1st and his royal court, to enjoy lunch and a stroll through cobble-stoned streets. Today, Amboise is a bustling market town but in the past it has been home to famous figures like Mary, Queen of Scots and Leonardo da Vinci.

Who can resist the Chateau de Chenonceau? Originally built in the 16th century, this chateau was extended with a series of arches to cross the river Cher. Henry II gave Chenonceau to his mistress Diane de Poitiers, however, Henry’s wife, Catherine de Medici got her revenge when she ousted her rival after her husband’s death. Clearly the walls of this chateau have heard many interesting conversations. But if you go, you must also spend time exploring the grounds and beautiful formal gardens.

Formal parterre gardens at the Chateau Villandry FranceChateaux from a bike saddle

Just when I thought I’d seen the most beautiful chateau in the world, we visited Villandry, another 16th century chateau, on day four. What is most spectacular about Villandry are the Renaissance-style gardens. Imagine vegetables like cabbages, peppers, aubergines, beetroot, carrot and Swiss chard laid out in swirls, squares and triangles with geometric precision then carefully tended to form the most wonderful and colourful designs. I agree, it’s difficult to imagine.

The route on day five took us along the peaceful Indre River, through forests and orchards and more small towns built of pale stone to Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau. After a delicious lunch at a local restaurant, we road to Chinon and took the elevator (!!) to the chateau high on the hill overlooking the town. Henry II of England lived here and expanded the chateau during his reign. It’s also been conquered by Philip II of France and been used as a prison for some of the Knights Templar during the 14th century.

On our last evening together I asked my fellow travellers what they enjoyed about the trip. Beyond the fun of biking, people mentioned the gardens, the way family and food is central to French life, the quiet hillside villages, the amazing meals, the beautiful countryside, and great companionship.

A winning formula. Who knows, we just might do another bike trip.

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs at A Writer of History.  She is the author of three novels, Time and Regret,  Lies told in silence and Unravelled available from Amazon

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