France: cycling around Loches

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Loches is a small town in the chateau region of France. We know (or knew) it quite well from family camping holidays in the 1990s. It's not always a good idea to return to places from one's past but we did for a week this autumn with our bikes – Sandra and me, that is. We were six the last time but the other four are now grown up and do their own thing. It's almost fifty years (1962) since I cycled in France. My brother has cycled there more recently and he told us the French don't cycle much but being the nation of the world's greatest bike race they do like cyclists. He was right.

The camp site at Loches – Camping la Citadelle – was closed for the winter. We don't camp in October anyway, so we stayed at Le Logis du Bief, a town house 'gite' on a small river by the side of the park. It might as well have been summer when we arrived: blue skies and temperature around 30 degrees. Mind you, it had been 30 degrees when we'd driven through Birmingham on the way down through England. The average for Loches in October is apparently about 13 degrees.

We set off cycling to the nearby village of Montrésor on a warm Sunday afternoon and the first thing we noticed was there were no other cyclists. None. No joggers either, or horse riders, nor even any horse droppings on the road. We were cycling on a road coloured yellow on the map. The next size up is red, to be avoided on a bicycle perhaps but some red roads are empty. This yellow one was empty. The few cars that did go by gave us a very wide berth indeed. Montrésor was empty. According to Sandra's guide book the village is the prettiest in all France. Imagine Broadway in the English Cotswolds empty on a Sunday afternoon.

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The village of Montrésor

Perhaps we'd see some cyclists the next day. Our landlord thought we were mad cycling all the way to the chateau of Chenonceau and back but it's only 40 miles. "Ah, you are so sportif," he'd say, as we arrived back. Jean-Claude and Moha, his Morrocan partner, are lovely hosts and made us truly welcome in the gorgeous little gite. They also run a B&B next door but he hates the traffic that runs along the narrow street past his front door. The traffic didn't seem much of a problem to us but whether they are still there next year remains to be seen.

The road we took had been plotted by Sandra in Google Earth, her first attempt at this method of cycle route planning. Well chosen. More empty roads in rolling farmland and forests of oak. It is so quiet the only sound is acorns falling to the forest floor. Chenonceau is my favourite French chateau.

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The chateau of Chenonceau in an upside down pond

The chateau, privately owned, is undergoing repairs. As you walk through the rooms with antique beds and portraits of ducs and duchesses you remember all this was once real: the parties, the hunting, and above all the decision-making when the French, Spanish, and British jostled to rule the world. "You were ze best," says Jean-Claude. I mutter something about the Royal Navy. A few days later we were at Chambord, not beautiful, just huge.

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The mighty, preposterous chateau of Chambord

Chambord was too far to cycle from Loches in a single day but we'd cycled a loop south of Loches and a loop across the flats to the west. The land to the west is a sort of plateau all the way to the Loire and the chateau of Villandry, known for its magnificent gardens. We've been there before of course.

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Navigating by map – more fun than a GPS

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Another empty road

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Evening light south of Loches

We decided that once you know these roads there is some superb cycling to look forward to. Looking at a map beforehand it's harder to judge. It depends on the traffic. Most of the roads are not in the least bit busy and you can cycle along in a very relaxed manner. Occasionally you come to a busy road but these are not neccessarily the ones shown red on the map. Signposting is mostly ok but people you ask for directions don't seem to know the way to the next town. To be fair, there is perhaps always more than one way there. Why there are so few cyclists is harder to fathom in the land of Le Tour and the bicycling onion man. It is not the behaviour of motorists – they are strangely courteous towards cyclists.

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Clockwise: bike near field, Chenonceau, crumbling pool, Le Logis du Bief

The municipal camp site of Loches that our family stayed at in the 90s is now in private ownership, surrounded by tall hedges and gated off from what used to be a lively public walkway from the town to the public swimming pool. Nowadays there are more cabins than tents and it seems the pool shut down for good in June this year, its concrete cladding crumbling to pieces. Things move on and the places of happy days are gone forever. That is why it's not always a good idea to go back. I went over there a second time but Sandra didn't want to and I know why. The ice cream shop up at the chateau has been expanded and sells nothing but tat. No silver salamanders or small French tapestries fine enough to frame.

End-of-season melancholy perhaps, but Loches is still a lovely French town. We really enjoyed our stay and plan to go again next year if Logis du Bief is still open.


If 1,000 miles of driving and 12 hours on a ship seems a bit excessive for just 120 miles of cycling, there is actually more to it than that. Besides, next time might be part of a longer trip. We'd forgotten how deep France really is.

10 comments on “France: cycling around Loches”

  1. Hilary wrote:

    Ah, happy memories! As you say there is some superb cycling and the chateaus are magnificent, if not always to my taste!
    I'm puzzled by the lack of cyclists that you report. We saw large parties of French club cyclists at the weekends and also quite a few German and Dutch cyclists following the 'Loire a Velo' routes. Don't tell me they all put their bikes away for the winter in October!
    I love cycling in France. The roads are so much quieter, drivers more considerate, the towns are all different and interesting (British towns are all clones of each other with identical shops etc) and then of course there are all those wonderful cake shops! Roll on next summer! 😀

  2. Kern wrote:

    We have cycled only in Alsace in France and loved it. French cuisine is so wonderful (although one needs more than croissants for breakfast).

    I love the photo of Chenonceau, Patrick. That is a great play of lighting and composition.

    the only sound is acorns falling to the forest floor ...

    What a great line – it makes you want to be there.

  3. Chris wrote:

    There's something particularly sad about rundown swimming pools (I'm thinking of Sunset Boulevard and The Swimmer).

    'Never go back' is advice with some merit. Although if you've spent some time exploring you do at least know what to do differently next time. That's what I thought after my short rides along the Canal du Midi a couple of years ago.

    The chateau of Chenonceau in an upside down pond makes my head hurt 😕

  4. Patrick wrote:

    Thanks for the comment Kern. I almost fell in the river taking that photo.

    Hilary wrote: Don't tell me they all put their bikes away for the winter in October!

    I suppose cycle tourists have mostly gone home. It was more the French people I was thinking about. Except in towns, in the four days we cycled I counted three cyclists: an elderly man in red on a training run and an elderly couple also in Lycra. In Loches – a decent sized town – no proper bike shop, no cycle lanes, no bicycles leaning on walls. It does have a brand new swimming pool and several patisseries selling nothing but delicious cakes. As you say Hilary, wonderful! But they shut for three hours in the middle of the day. A government minister wants to ban ketchup in schools to protect the traditional French diet. France seems more French than Britain is British. They aren't falling over themselves to harmonise with the rest of the world and I think that is part of the attraction.

    Chris wrote: I'm thinking of ... The Swimmer

    Good film.

  5. Jim wrote:

    I was lucky enough to have a weeks cycle/camping in France a month ago. I was suprised at the lack of cyclists. We also struggled to find a cycle shop in the small towns and villages. We found the French motorists to be much more aggressive than their English counterparts. Being beeped and shouted at a few times. However the French people in shops and campsites were lovely although not [suprisingly] as polite as the Germans. I won't bother mentioning the rude, aggressive, hysterical Easyjet check in girl at Biarritz airport [oh, shucks I have].
    Isn't travel by bike great?

  6. Patrick wrote:

    Jim wrote: We found the French motorists to be much more aggressive than their English counterparts.

    Oh well. It must happen then, but they don't seem to have that reputation. Mind you, I've found Danish and Dutch motorists to be fairly aggressive when you stray off the cycle path to somewhere you should not be. Rules iz rules.

  7. Nardus Ferreira wrote:

    Dear Patrick, We are planning a trip for July 2012 in Southern France. I would like to get your opinion or anybody who knows the area. Our route looks like this: Perpignan -Thuir -Castelnou -Eus -Olette -Axat -Quillon -Limoux -Carcasonne (down canal de Midi) -Narbonne – Perpignan. We plan on doing this in 7 days. We are expereinced cyclist and will be training hard but are concerned that the area might be to hilly going from Perpignan to Eus, Axat & Quillon.
    Any comments are welcome. Regards, Nardus South Africa

  8. Garry Lee wrote:

    Good account, Patrick. I've been in France about 25 times on my bike, but I prefer Spain! Germany isn't as scenic as either, but it's a great country to cycle in. A suggestion for the enquiry from Nardus.
    Plot the ride on GPSies.com and it will tell you exactly how much climbing there is in it.
    Use track creator and click along the route.

  9. Kern wrote:

    Hi Garry. Which parts of Spain?

  10. Nardus Ferreira wrote:

    Thanks Garry, very useful site. It seems a bit hilly from Perpignan to Eus. I think we will have to change our route because we have friends joining us whom are not so experienced. Any further route suggestions from Perpignan are welcome. We would like to go down Canal de Midi from Carcasonne, so basically we are looking for a scenic route from Perpignan to Carcasonne. We would like to visit some of the "Most beautifull villages of France" on our way. Regards, Nardus

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