The Loire Valley region of France is home to more than 3,000 miles of cycling routes. Scenic trails run along the river and through the countryside to the doors of majestic Renaissance châteaux, through historic and towns and villages and vineyards. Denise and Kevin Belchambers of Loire Brakes, who run guided e-bike tours of the Loire Valley share some of their favourite places.
What to see in the Loire Valley
When we first moved to the Loire Valley from the UK, it was hard to choose what to see first – there is just so much beauty, culture and history here, not to mention the wines and the fabulous gastronomy.
First – the best times to cycle here are in late spring through to early summer, and autumn – it can be too warm in high summer. In late spring the countryside bursts into life – roses of every colour bloom everywhere, followed by fields of sunflowers, and vineyards turning emerald green. In the autumn, the Loire shimmers in hues of yellow, gold, and deep orange. One of the best ways to experience the stunning scenery and sites of the Loire is by bike – e-bike of course, the luxury way to visit on two wheels! That way you can take it easy, relax, get close to nature and soak up the fresh air.
Chateaux and historic towns
Chateaux are a big part of your Loire Valley adventure and there are several that are absolute must-sees. We like to start a way back in history at the Royal Fortress of Chinon which you can reach via the ‘voie vert’ cycle route on a repurposed steam engine track. The lovely medieval town is dominated by its ridge top fort and was a favourite castle of King Henry II who died here. It’s also where Joan of Arc turned up to tell Charles VII to pull himself together, prepare to be king and give her an army to help him. And of course it’s a great place to have a sip of the local Chinon wines. And you can take a boat ride here on the Vienne River, a great way to see the countryside and the profile of the hilltop castle.
Less far back in time are a trio of Renaissance beauties that take your breath away. The chateaux of Azay Le Rideau, Ussé, AKA the real sleeping beauty as it inspired Charles Perrault to write Sleeping Beauty, and Villandry all have their own special charms. Villandry’s gardens are absolutely wonderful. Azay le Rideau is one of the prettiest and most romantic castles in France when you ride up to it along a cobbled street it really does make you gasp. And Ussé is simply bewitching, perched on a ridge overlooking formal gardens.
The little chateau l’Islette near Azay is where sculptor Auguste Rodin once lived with his mistress and muse Camille Claudel. It’s still lived in, and the beautiful grounds are a perfect place to have a picnic. And less well known but with a fascinating history, the Chateau de Candé is where the former King Edwards VIII married Mrs Simson.
Wine and cheese
But there’s more to the Loire Valley – the famous vineyards produce stunning whites, reds, rosés and sparkling wines, made to the same methods as Champagne. There are a huge number of places to stop for a wine tasting or vineyard tour, but for a really special wine tasting we recommend Saumur, where there is also a stunning chateau. Saumur has a lovely old town and is surrounded by wine producers and wine tasting opportunities including one of our favourites in a stunning art nouveau buildings with jaw-dropping views.
There is a wine to go with every type of food and when it comes to cheese and wine pairing – you’re spoiled for choice in the Loire Valley, so we always advise a cheese tasting when you’re here. The Loire is famous for its outstanding goats’ cheeses – don’t miss Ste-Maure de Touraine, nibble on tasty little Crottin de Chavignol cheese, and pyramid shaped Valencay, which is said to have a flat top due to Napoleon Bonaparte lopping the top off in temper when presented with it at a dinner shortly after he lost a battle in Egypt.
The Loire has so many charms, so many place to fall in love with, so many delicious restaurants, cheeses, markets and vineyards, you’ll certainly never run out of things to do.
Kevin and Denise run Loire Brakes – small group e-bike (which they provide) tours of the Loire Valley. Find out more and join a tour at: loirebrakes.com