The Loire region of France is on many a wish list of places to see. There are so many chateaus that one needs to measure ones time and stamina and not bit off too much at a time. There are a number of routes and oh so many chateaux from which to chose that the options are great. We chose a route that started in Saumuer, which is an ideal place to start a Bicycle Tour, with its grand Chateau looming high over the city, overlooking the Loire River. The chateau was built in the the 14th century. Its graceful shape is enhanced by four dominating pencil towers and the views down to the old town and the Loire river are spectacular. Not only was this a home to royalty; but, its past included service as a protestant bastion, state prison and army barracks.
The twisting streets of Saumur wind up the hill through old town to Place St-Pierre which is surrounded by half-timbered houses and Eglise St-Pierre, dating from 12th century.
Stage One: Saumur to Chinon 37,0 km
Next morning we headed out of town with the initial ride our most challenging climb of the day as we wind uphill through the quiet streets with little traffic this morning. There is actually a bike line on the hill, which was a nice welcome surprise. As we crest the hill on Rue des Moulins, past the viewpointand with the Chateau on our right. Pedal on through tiny Champigy, then pass by vineyards on the right. We are on a quiet D road through some woods and only rolling hills. We watch for signs to Fontevraud l’Abbey were we stopped to tour. Although the Abbey is in the heart of France, it is the final resting place of English Kings: Richard the Lion-hearted and his father, Henry the Second. Their tombs lie within. Napoleon converted it into a prison which was its primary use through World War II. It was not until 1963 that restoration began.
The rebuilt Fontevraud Abbeye covers 35 acres, making it the largest monastic complex in western Christendom. After touring we head out again; first riding beside the Abbey wall then on through countryside of sunflowers and woods. We enjoy the quiet solitude. We pass through Courziers and then onto the D117 through Lerne. The quiet D117 eventually meets a busier road, where we carefully cross left and curve around a bit before actually reaching La Roche Clermoult. Just after, we see our 1st sign for Chinon. There is a long; but not difficult climb. We emerge from some woods and at the stop sign, turn left onto the D116, to coast down toward Chinon. We cross the 1st bridge to Chinon and then wind our way to the 2nd bridge. When we reach the main bridge to Chinon centreville and gaze up at the remains of the Chateau it is quite striking in the afternoon sun. We chose a quiet place to stay in the Centreville that was popular with cyclists. Chinon is situated on the Banks of the Vienne River, was once a powerful medieval city and was the home to Joan of Arc. She led an army of three thousand from Chinon to win freedom for France in the battle of Orleans.
Her short, nineteen-year life is honored at the museum in the clock tower of the Chateau Chinon.
We make our way through the old town on our trek up to the Chateau; spanning 400 meters on top of the hill overlooking the old town and river and Chinon’s famous vineyards to the North. The Chateau is in ruins; but, still are great place to roam.
Stage Two: Chinon to Azay-le-Rideau 49,6 km
Today will have a several climbs, plus some level riding on the ridge between rivers. There are no less than 3 rivers on today’s journey. There are no bike paths on today’s ride; but, the roads are not major ones and there are plenty of quiet lanes as well.
We head north out of town with the Viene river to our left and continue till we reach Rue de Chateau … the D16. This climb will get the legs warmed up. Glance right at the looming Chateau as you pedal slowly up the hill. When we reach the crest and a roundabout, we turn and soon are heading downhill. Just past Rochette there is another roundabout and we ride on past vineyards and through Huismes. When we meet up with the D7, we turn right toward Usse. Usse is a pretty little town and our 1st Chateau visit of the day is right on the edge of town. It is the inspiration for the legend of the Sleeping Beauty; storybook. We backtrack to cross the little one lane bridge over the Indre river and ride on to ride beside the beautiful Loire river. After playing hide and seek with the Loire, it comes into view and we ride on through pretty Brehemont, beside the river. This town has provided a rest area with picnic tables beside the flowing river. We pass under the autoroute and bump along on a little road beside the Loire before we really bump along over a stretch of old cobbles toward Villandry. This leads us to the River Cher. Soon we are riding down the tree lined lane leading into Villandry. Villandry is the last of the great Chateaus, but it’s most famous for its gardens. This was our lunch break and a chance to walk through and enjoy these amazing assorted gardens. We walked up to a viewpoint where we could look down and really take in the sculpted textures and designs. The spectacular ornamental kitchen garden is renewed annually by a staff of eight gardeners, who raise and plant 60,000 vegetables and 45,000 bedding plants per year. We highly recommend a stop here.
Leaving the gardens we backtrack to town and turn off uphill. It’s a long and steady climb up and out of town; but there is little traffic on this narrow road. An intersection with at sign for Valleres lets us know that we are going the right way. We get a nice downhill through orchards to Valleres. From here we are looking for signs to Azay le Rideau. We watch very closely for the small turnoff left from the main road. This is the less traveled forested small road to Azay. Unavoidably, we are back on the highway for the final approach downhill into Azay. We checked into our hotel and then readied ourselves for a visit to the chateau. The highlight of your visit to Azay-le-Rideau is this Chateau built in the 16th century by a French tax collector, who was later executed when they discovered how he got the money to build the Chateau.
Surrounded by it’s reflective spot in the Indre River, this is one of the most popular chateaus of the Loire Valley. After touring the Chateau and grounds we wandered through this friendly little town and stopped for degustation in the local wine shop to wrap up our day. A perfect day!
Stage Three: Azay le Rideau to Chenonceaux 55,4 km
The morning ride is moderate rolling hills, with some afternoon climbing betweend the Indre and Cher Rivers. We leave Azay and follow the Indre river through the valley, passing farms and small villages on D roads. In Cormery, carefully turn left onto the unfriendly N road.
Leave Cormery by crossing the bridge over the Indre
You will need to endure the climb up the hill, after the bridge. You’ll have the company of lots of traffic.
With great relief, we leave the N road at the top of the hill by turning right onto the D45
Basically, this route avoids the very busy roads into and around the city of Tours. Eventually we meet up with the N76. We turn right to enter this busy N road; but we won’t be on it for long. Ride through Blere and then through several roundabouts until we see the turnoff left to Chenanceaux
Crossover the Cher river on this very narrow bridge.
We are now on the D81. It will cross over the rail tracks and then intersect with another road, where we turn right to ride into Chenanceaux. We enter the town. The chateau is off to the right and the centreville is straight ahead.
The approach to the chateau is down a tree lined road, with vineyards to the right. We had a place to stay in town and checked in before we returned to the Chateau to tour the gardens and restored chateau.
Surrounded by elegant formal gardens, this chateau, which spans the Cher river, is considered by many to be the most beautiful in the Valley. Inside, the furnishings reflect an age of lavish balls and festivities, held for the succession of royalty that lived on these grounds through the nineteenth century.
The rooms are restored to their full grandeur. The town itself has wine shops which feature wines from the surrounding vineyards.
Stage Four: Chenonceaux to Cheverny 61,0 km
This is our longest ride of the tour. We backtrack past the chateau entrance and continue straight.
There is a long, steady climb on the D81 through Civray
We are working our way over the ridge from on river to another. Once at the crest, there is a long flat ride through the woods.
Continue to the busy D31 Highway, where we carefully cross left and immediately take the right.
This is the back way to Clos Luce; avoiding the main road. Clos Luce is well worth a stop.
Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci spent the last three years of his life here. The manor grounds are home to an assortment of replicas of Leonardo’s works, representing the scope of his imagination. After a visit, we continue on a narrow road and very shortly you are at the Amboise chateau.
Once you reach Amboise, it’s worth a stop to see Chateau Amboise, known as the birthplace of the Renaissance. Much of the chateau has been destroyed, but you can still get a feeling of the spleandor that prevailed in the days when Leonardo da Vinci made the short trip from Clos Lucé to visit with the royal families. It is here, in the late-Gothic Chapelle St-Hubert, that Leonardo himself was laid to rest.
From the hillside château, you are treated to views of Amboise and the Loire River.
We leave the chateau in Amboise and head to the river, where we turn right and leave town with the Loire to our left. Continue on through several small towns and with the river disappearing and reappearing in sight.
Enter Chaumont and continue straight ahead. At the stoplight, turn right. The Chateau Chaumont overlooks the Loire and was a favorite destination of Benjamin Franklin. The chateau itself was obscured with scaffolding for restoration work; but, we stopped for refreshments and walked around the grounds a bit before resuming todays ride and another climb from the Chateau. We meander along some regional roads with a summer rainfall and turn right at the stop sign at Fougeres and ride past the pretty chateau. Continue meandering through a few more towns to Cormeray, where the church steeple is our directional beacon. After negotiating our way out of busy Cormeray, we are heading toward Cour Cheverny. Follow the walled grounds all the way to Cheverny.
The Chateau Cheverny is one of the few Chateaus owned by its original lineage. No large turreted towers or formidable entrances, the Château Cheverny is a classic example of the residence castle. It set a new standard for chateaux and luxury estates in Europe.
The town of Cheverny is dwarfed by the castle, yet it has a small down charm that makes an inviting stop.
As with most Loire villages, wine is a main attraction.
We stayed at a Bed and Breakfast not far from town, in the countryside.
Stage Five: Chevray to Blois 37,7 km
We ride through this tiny; but picturesque little town of Chevray and follow the wall out of town. Then make our way through Cour Cheverny. Sometimes it can be confusing getting through the small towns. It is easy to make a wrong turn. A GPS is always helpful in keeping you on track. We continue on and ride over the Beuvron Fiver tributaries. Ahead are some country roads, woods and a dirt track that gradually climbs. Up ahead is an intersection with stop sign. This is a six way intersection of small roads and paths. Watch the map carefully and chose the 2nd spoke to the right. Just ahead is a barricade. This is OK for bike travel; but not cars.
The dirt track ends and we turn left onto the D112 which takes us into Chambord. You can’t miss the Chateau. The size of the Chateau Chambord is mind-boggling. With 440 rooms, 83 staircases and 365 chimneys, it sits on the largest forested estate in Europe. There is plenty of bicycle parking on the vast grounds. This was a must visit. The double Grand staircase is a da Vinci original: an innovative design with two flights of stairs spiraling around each other. During the French Revolution, the Château was plundered and fell into neglect until it was sequestered by the state in 1915, when the restoration began.
From the roof, you can view details of the architecture and see a commanding panorama of the grounds.
After a lunch break and a chateau visit, we head out, following signs to Blois. There are some nice wooded areas and even some bike lanes; but, the closer we get to Blois, the more traffic we encounter. Up ahead is the very busy D956. Carefully enter .. turning right and up ahead we cross the Loire to enter the busy city of Blois. We wound through town, following signs to the Gare on the hill. As this is our final stop of our tour, before the train trip to Paris the following day, we picked a place to stay near the Gare and headed out to sightsee. In the 16th century, it was virtually the second capitol of France. Château Blois displays four different architecture styles, starting with 13th century, going through the Gothic and Renaissance periods and culminating in the Classic, a virtual history of French architecture.
We viewed the Loire from the Chateau and wandered the streets with half timbered buildings.
Next day we were off by French Rail to Paris. We had done our research of schedules of the trains that took bicycles and were most direct and purchased our tickets on the afternoon we arrived in town, so we were ready.
While you’re in Paris, you should take a couple of days to take in the wonderful sights and the museums. Pace yourself, as there is too much to see in just one visit. Paris has become more and more bicycle friendly over the years and cycles can share the bus lanes.