22. May 2009 15:19
You don’t have to be training for the Tour de France to enjoy a cycling holiday in France. The Loire Valley offers gentle pedalling and spectacular villages and chateaux to stop off at, says Alison Willis from France holiday specialist, Lagrange...
Most serious cyclists probably head to the Alps or Pyrenees for their French cycling fix; spending a week recreating the mountain stages of the Tour de France. But if you’re like me and prefer your cycling with gentle slopes and meandering curves rather than steep inclines and chicanes, then the Loire Valley could be your answer.
A massive project is underway to create a cycle path spanning the breadth of Europe from Saint Nazaire on the Atlantic coast of France crossing 10 countries and over 3,650km (2,268 miles) to reach the Black Sea in Romania. The section that follows the Loire in France more or less completed, so base yourself somewhere like Azay le Rideau in the middle of the route and the Loire is your oyster.
Being the Loire, there are plenty of beautiful places to visit within an easy cycle of Azay. To the west is Ussé - one of the Loire chateaux - known as Sleeping Beauty’s castle as it inspired Charles Perrault to write the classic fairytale. Perfect for young and old romantics alike, visitors can easily get drawn into the fairytale, as Ussé is set on the edge of the dark and mysterious forest of Chinon.
If you’ve still got energy left, 27km (17 miles) further down the river to the west is the village of Candes St Martin, classified as one of the plus beaux villages de France.
To the east, Villandry is known as much for its gardens as for the chateau itself. The chateau’s ornamental kitchen garden with vegetables of contrasting colours laid out in geometric patterns has to be one of the most beautiful vegetable patches I’ve ever seen.
Further east, cycle through the historic town of Tours and along to Amboise, home to the Chateau du Clos Lucé where Leonardo de Vinci spent his last days. Today Clos Lucé offers a fascinating glimpse into his genius; 40 machines are exhibited, reconstructed by IBM from de Vinci’s original drawings.
So what are you waiting for? Get on your bike and ride!
Good guidebooks for this kind of holiday include Cycling the River Loire: The Way of St Martinand Cycle Touring in France - Eight Selected Cycle Tours, and recommended maps are Loire Cycle Route: Orleans to the Atlantic (669km) and EuroVelo Route 6: Atlantic to the Rhine (6-map set).
Find holiday accommodation in Azay le Rideau with www.lagrange-holidays.co.uk. See www.loire-a-velo.fr – the cycling guide to the Loire Valley, and for more on the cross-Europe cycle path, see
Author: Alison Willis