A leisurely cycle round the Loire

We've had several enjoyable short trips to France in the last few years with me cycling and Dennis accompanying me on a 49cc scooter. However whenever we've tried to go for a fortnight or more something has gone badly wrong. The year before last Dennis' ancient Honda 90 gave up the ghost and had to be left in France while we returned on the train. Dennis' accident last year meant that another scooter was left in France and we again returned home on the train. Understandably Dennis has had enough of scooters so this year we took the car with my bike in the back. If we could return with all limbs in one piece and with the same vehicles we started with the trip would be considered a great success!

The idea was to have a holiday that we would both enjoy. Enough cycling to keep me happy but definitely a holiday, not a mile eating exercise! Neither of us had ever visited the Loire but I remembered being shown slides of impressive chateaux as an end of term treat during French lessons. Its a shame I don't remember much else from French lessons! I knew it was also noted for its well signposted cycle routes and for being part of Eurovelo 6 that runs from the Atlantic to the Black Sea. It was also not far to drive from the cheapest ferry crossing to Le Havre, making it the ideal choice.

I wasn't too sure about taking my bike in the car, I'd only done it once before, it felt like cheating. Taking the car on a camping trip meant that it was very tempting to keep adding things 'just in case' but with my bike filling most of the boot we couldn't carry much more than we had on the bikes!

Loire Cycle 001

We decided to start from Saumur, it was straightforward to get to and seemed an interesting town. It was also the starting point for ' Lonely Planet Cycling France' chateau explorer route which I intended to follow for the first few days. I can't say that I enjoyed the drive there, it seemed to go on forever. We had also arrived in a heatwave and were way over dressed. I was amazed to find myself sitting outside the tent at 10.00 pm wearing shorts, vest and flip-flops and still too hot!

Loire Cycle 007 Saumur and its chateau viewed from the campsite across the river

Loire Cycle 008

We decided to stay for 2 nights in Saumur and spent the morning exploring the town but by the afternoon I was itching to get on my bike. I decided to cycle to the huge abbey at Montsoreau and meet Dennis there. Lonely Planet gave a detailed description of how to get there but I soon got fed up with reading the details and decided to choose my own route. This was how I ended up slogging up a steep hill on a very hot day while going in the wrong direction in an area famous for its flat, well marked, cycle routes! Still, I got there in the end and I had wanted to cycle a few more miles! This rather set the pattern for the whole trip, ignoring Lonely Planet and making the route up as we went along according to whatever took our fancy. It wasn't always the most logical route but we enjoyed it!

The following day we set off along the Loire before branching off to follow the river Vienne towards Chinon.

Loire Cycle 011 Chinon

It was again very hot and I was having trouble with my eyes constantly watering and feeling very sore. I'm not sure if this was a form of hayfever or if it was just caused by the bright light but it was very unpleasant and constantly wiping my eyes with the back of my mitt only made things worse. Cycling with my eyes closed was most comfortable but rather impractical. By the time we reached Usse I'd had enough. We'd only covered 30 miles and it was still only early afternoon but I really couldn't go on. It was very unexpected and rather frustrating – I'd heard of stopping because of sore legs or saddle sores but not sore eyes! There was however a snag. The campsite was closed for refurbishment. I'd been looking forward to a shower but faced with a choice of looking for another campsite or staying on the pleasant grassy pitches here I decided to stay put. We had plenty of food and water and the nearby village had excellent public toilets. What more could you want? We were later joined by about a dozen motorhomes who obviously had the same idea.

Overnight thunder brought a welcome relief from the burning sun and I had no further eye trouble. We set off across the bridge opposite the magnificent chateau.

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It was a beautiful morning with that lovely fresh, after the rain, smell. We were now back alongside the Loire, passing through small waterside villages with old boats moored.

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This was delightful cycling and I was very glad that I hadn't pressed on this way yesterday when I would have been unable to enjoy it. Unbelievably, the next campsite we were intending to stay at was also closed for refurbishment! Unlike the last one which was almost finished this looked badly in need of refurbishment and we were quite happy to loop round to the outskirts of Tours where the campsite was large and almost empty. There were a few other cyclists staying there, all German or Dutch couples and all sporting full Ortlieb front and rear panniers with an enormous rack top bag as well. We took advantage of being on the outskirts of a town to enjoy a large take out pizza.

Next day we followed the well marked Loire a Velo route to the town of Amboise where we had lunch on a bench under the massive medieval walls. It was extremely pleasant cycling all the way to our intended campsite at Chaumond sur Loire where we found ourselves camped next to 2 old CTC stalwarts from north Devon.

Loire Cycle 029 Excellent cycle path Chaumont sur Loire

We'd no sooner packed the tent the next morning when the heavens opened and it poured with rain for an hour or so. I had been about to set off, but decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and so settled down to another cup of tea under a shelter covering the sinks. It continued to rain on and off for the rest of the day as I followed the marked route through Blois. Blois was much bigger than I had realised and I was very glad of the cycle signs which led through little alleys and then under a horrendous roundabout. Dennis was left to work out his own route as we arranged to meet up again at Chambord, the largest chateau on the Loire.

Loire Cycle 040 Its certainly an impressive approach

Loire Cycle 032 Not sure why I've got my eyes shut!

As it was still raining we thought we would pay to wander round the interior for a while but it is most impressive from the outside, the inside being mainly full of hunting trophies. We'd had 2 campsites that were closed, the one we'd intended staying at tonight seemed to have vanished altogether. Unfortunately looking for it meant cycling along a road raised on an embankment which was both narrow and dead straight encouraging the traffic to travel at frightening speed. I could see a cycle path below me but the banks were too steep to get down to it. We eventually concluded that a canoe centre must once have been a campsite and pedalled off in search of another, mightily relieved to be back on safer roads. Fortunately we soon found a very pleasant site by the river and decided to stay 2 nights as we liked it so much.

Loire Cycle 043 Riverside campsite

Loire Cycle 046

We used this as a base to visit the splendid chateau of Cheverny. This meant retracing our steps past the chateau at Chambord but I was very happy to ride up its imposing wooded drive for a second time. Cheverny was the most attractive of all the chateaus we visited, elegant and pretty with a sumptuous interior.

Loire Cycle 042

As I said, our route wasn't always logical, and so the next day's route took us back to Chambord for the third time, past Cheverny for the second time and onto Chenonceux for yet another splendid chateau.

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We were now heading back towards Saumur visitng the places we had missed on the way out. One of these was the medieval town of Loches on the banks of the river Indre.

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Loire Cycle 067 Gateway into the medieval town

Our final port of call was Azay le Rideau, a town on the river Cher that we had passed through briefly but hadn't seen much of as it was a Bank Holiday Sunday and horrendously busy. This time it was much quieter and the large wooded campsite by the river was my favourite of the trip. And, surprise, surprise, it also had a fine chateau!

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We spent a leisurely 2 nights here before cycling back to Saumur through countryside that reminded me of an impressionist painting with its billowing clouds and distant trees. I'm afraid the telegraph wires rather spoil the effect in the photo.

Loire Cycle 075

It was a good feeling, cycling back into Saumur having finished the ride where I intended to for the first time in 3 years! It had been an excellent trip which we both enjoyed and was hopefully, the shape of things to come!

7 comments on “A leisurely cycle round the Loire”

  1. Kern wrote:

    Luckily you did not have to cycle the entire trip with your eyes shut – you would have missed some splendid scenery. :) The Loire is on our "Someday" list, and you make it sound more than worthwhile. Great photos. Did you try the local wine, Hilary? You passed by some worthy (if not familiar) names.

  2. Patrick wrote:

    Kern wrote: The Loire is on our "Someday" list.

    We're thinking of going there this Autumn, and like Hilary & Dennis, driving there with the bikes on the car (or possibly in a van). We've had a number of (non-cycling) family camping holidays on the Loire, all in the 90s. I remember most of those chateaux, and the gateway into the medieval town at Loches... been there many times and had ice creams at the kiosk just nearby. That's because we used Loches as a base. It has a good campsite with a nice public swimming pool next to it and we might be headed there again. Never been to Chinon or Saumur.

    I'm curious about cycle paths in that region. French roads aren't noted as being cycle-friendly (although drivers generally are, I think – the French love cyclists more than they love actually cycling). We're looking for a resource with all cycle paths shown on for the Loire. Well... haven't looked yet but will be soon. The cycle routes link might help (thanks).

    Anyway, pleased to hear you had a pleasant trip and both back in one piece. Nice photos. It does get hot. Next time you might try an absorbent headband to keep sweat from your eyes. They work. It was a hot day when we went to Azay le Rideau. The campsite looks very nice indeed. Our favourite chateau: Chenonceau. Best garden: Villandry. Best wine: no idea! (I don't drink it but Sandra does)

  3. Mary wrote:

    Sorry to read about your eyes giving you jip Hilary, I hope they are feeling better soon, horrible is being uncompy in the eye department. YOu looked like you and Dennis (apart from your eyes of course) had a fabulous trip.

    (Just a thought, were you wearing sun cream? If you sweat and it runs into your eyes bringing suncream with it, it burns eyes like nothing else can!)

    One day, one day... I am going to try to venture into Europe.

    I have to find out how to sort my passport first. Next 2 years its Scotland for me, but then.... I think I shall be ready for some warm weather, some basking on terraces outside pubs or whatever the French call these places, and yes... Knocking back the vino.. I mean, tasting the fabulous wines from different French regions.

    Great post

    :)

  4. Hilary wrote:

    Thanks for all the sympathy! The eye problem was really only on one day and I think was because my sunglasses weren't dark enough for the intensity of the light. I'm used to the sweat stinging eyes syndrome, this was much worse. I had a similar experience hillwalking in snow with the sun reflecting off the snow tho hard to claim snow blindness in the Loire in summer! I did buy a peaked cap to wear under my helmet but by then it had become overcast and the problem had cleared up.

    Patrick, I think Tourist Information offices sell maps with all the local cycle paths on. I didn't really bother with them as I found the roads fine for cycling. I used them if I came across them, some were great, others very convoluted going round in a big loop to avoid a stretch of road that had very little traffic anyway. French drivers are a revelation – they always give you loads of space.

    I'm afraid I missed out on the wine. We hardly drink anyway but the red wine seemed too heavy after cycling and we couldn't chill the white so we didn't bother. Its not the same out of a plastic mug either! :)

  5. Alan wrote:

    Great report. Glad it worked out, that mixed motor/cycling thing.

    With all those chateaux, no wonder the French are so good at fairy tales!

    I had problems last year with bugs in my eyes, so I bought some sporty sunglasses from Lidl. They come with a foam band to keep sweat from my eyes, in theory. Haven't tried them out in anger yet.

  6. Patrick wrote:

    Just re-read this Post as we're off this weekend for a few days in the Loire... not actually in it but staying at Loches. Bikes on the back of the car and looking forward to some pleasant cycling – the weather forecast is looking okay.

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