Cycling in the Loire Valley: what to see, what to do?


Loire ValleyAtlantic Loire ValleyCycling Tourism

Du Val de Loire à la Côte Atlantique, la Loire à Vélo s'étire sur 900 kilomètres, un vaste terrain de jeu pour les amateurs de vélo, de nature et de patrimoine.
© D. Darrault / CRT Centre-Val de Loire - Du Val de Loire à la Côte Atlantique, la Loire à Vélo s'étire sur 900 kilomètres, un vaste terrain de jeu pour les amateurs de vélo, de nature et de patrimoine.

Reading time: 0 minPublished on 9 February 2024, updated on 15 April 2024

It's one of the most popular cycle routes in France: from Cuffy near Nevers in the Loire Valley to Saint-Brevin-Les-Pins on the Atlantic coast, cyclists can explore Europe's last wild river between legendary châteaux, hillside vineyards and authentic villages. Breathe in the scents of royal gardens, fly over the river in a hot air balloon or step back in time in one of the largest medieval abbey towns. These are just some of the ways you can take in the sights and sounds of this 900km cycle route... Saddle up!

Visits not to be missed around the Loire à Vélo

- Charité-sur-Loire and its priory Its magnificent priory church, Notre-Dame, almost disappeared in the 19th century to make way for a new road linking Paris and Nevers. But the writer Prosper Mérimée, a great defender of heritage, had the church listed. The priory is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an important stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. Founded in the 11th century under the auspices of the Order of Cluny, it is a jewel of Romanesque art, with richly carved decorations, capitals, pilasters and two remarkable tympanums. A good introduction before exploring the narrow streets of this pretty medieval town.

  • Briare and its canal bridge 14 bridges and 7 locks... In Briare, a charming town between Sancerre and Gien in the Loire Valley, all roads lead to the water! This old canal station boasts the oldest canal in France, dug in 1642 during the reign of Henri IV, and above all the most magnificent canal bridge. Designed by Gustave Eiffel and the engineers Daydé and Pillé, this 662 metre long structure, suspended 11 metres above the river, is one of the largest in the world and one of the most spectacular. No fewer than 62 candelabras and four lantern obelisks line the canal bridge, which was lit by electricity at the end of the 19th century! Admire it on a leisurely pedal or on a boat cruise, before visiting the Deux Marines museum and the canal bridge.

  • Orléans The Hôtel Groslot, the Maison de la Coquille, the Hôtel des Créneaux and the Hôtel Cabu, which houses the Museum of History and Archaeology, are just a stone's throw from the banks of the Loire. Leave your bike behind and stroll through the old centre of Orléans, full of Renaissance monuments and facades. Don't miss the Maison de Jeanne d'Arc, a half-timbered house rebuilt exactly as it was when the heroine of the Hundred Years' War stayed here in 1429 to free the city from the English, and the fascinating new Orléans Museum of Biodiversity and the Environment (MOBE), especially if you're cycling with the family!

  • Amboise For once, you'll have to climb to explore one of the many nuggets of the Loire à Vélo route: the château d'Amboise and its adorable village. Perched on a rocky spur, this magnificent Gothic palace offers a 360° panoramic view of the river and its UNESCO-listed landscapes. It's a sight to behold before visiting the château's Renaissance and 19th-century galleries. The highlight? The Saint-Hubert chapel, the architectural jewel in the château's crown and home to the tomb of Leonardo da Vinci, is closed to visitors due to renovation work, but you can still admire its beautiful decorations carved in tufa stone using the Histopad provided. And to get your legs back in shape before hitting the road again, take a stroll in the two-hectare park, which has been awarded the Jardin Remarquable (Outstanding Garden) label and the LPO Bird Sanctuary label: over 90 species of birds can be seen here!

  • Tours Here's a welcome break after all the effort of the Loire à Vélo route. The International City of Gastronomy, Tours is a gourmet town where you can sample the famous rillettes de Tours, Sainte-Maur-de-Touraine, a delicious PDO goat's cheese and nougat, all washed down with Touraine wines, of course. You'll have plenty of time to recharge your batteries before strolling through the narrow cobbled streets of the old town, lined with half-timbered houses and remarkable buildings such as Saint-Gatien Cathedral, a masterpiece of Gothic art, which houses the tombs of the children of Charles VIII and Anne of Brittany. In between visits to the guinguettes, head to Savonnières, a pretty village on the banks of the Cher, to board a traditional Loire boat for a cruise along the river.

  • Troglodyte villages Did you know? The Saumur region has the highest concentration of troglodytic sites in France! Dug out to extract falun or tuffeau, the white stone that is emblematic of the banks of the Loire, thousands of kilometres of underground galleries have been converted into mushroom beds, wine-making cellars, basket-making workshops, as at Villaines-Les-Rochers, or tourist sites. But not all troglodyte dwellings were humble dwellings. Some stately homes were dug into the hillside, such as La Grande-Vignolle in Turquant, whose ashlar façade stretches for 150 metres, the small manor house in Souzay-Champigny and Château de Morains in Dampierre-sur-Loire, both semi-troglodytic. Near Chinon, on the route of the Loire à Vélo cycle route, you can visit - during certain religious festivals - the Romanesque chapel of Sainte Radegonde, built around the tomb of a medieval hermit.

  • Saumur A fairytale castle on a hill overlooking the river... Saumur invites you to put your feet up between two excursions on the Loire à Vélo. After a visit to the castle's Museum of Decorative Arts and the Horse, head for the Cadre Noir, the prestigious riding school that has trained generations of elite riders. Take a behind-the-scenes tour of the saddlery and stables, and book a place in the main riding arena to watch the riders at work with their horses: a true masterpiece! If you're a family, why not take an investigative tour? A series of puzzles will lead the children through the day of a gala horse!

  • Fontevraud Abbey Here's a must-see! Founded in the 12th century by Robert d'Arbrissel, a monk inspired by the Benedictine rule, Europe's largest abbey is remarkable for several reasons. Often run by women - 36 abbesses between 1115 and 1792 - and the final resting place of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her son Richard the Lionheart, whose remains can be admired, Fontevraud Abbey has also been a major centre for modern art since 2021: over 900 works by leading artists from Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and Edgar Degas to Maurice de Vlaminck and Kees van Dongen are on display.

  • Angers Another castle on the banks of the Loire à Vélo? Yes, but not just any castle! Built in the 9th century to protect the town from Viking longboats, the château d'Angers hides behind its 17 defensive towers a masterpiece unique in the world and listed by Unesco: the Tapestry of the Apocalypse, the oldest and largest surviving medieval tapestry (1375). Measuring 103 metres long and 4.5 metres high, this extraordinarily beautiful work depicts the Apocalypse of St. John, as well as episodes from the period (plague, famine and the Hundred Years' War). The greenest city in France, Angers, in the Pays de la Loire region, offers long walks through cobbled streets lined with half-timbered houses, Anjou Gothic residences and meandering riverbanks such as the Ile de Saint-Aubin, a Natura 2000 site that can be explored by bike through meadows and pastures populated by migratory birds. Not to be missed are the mosaics of Isidore Odorico, a brilliant artist from a long line of craftsmen whose Art Deco works are scattered throughout western France.

Must-do activities on the Loire à Vélo route

- Pay tribute to the genius of Leonardo da Vinci at the Parc Leonardo da Vinci in Amboise Don't forget your pencils at the Château du Clos-Lucé in Amboise, the last home of Leonardo da Vinci: children aged 7 to 12 are invited to play the role of the famous painter, sculptor and inventor's pupil. The challenge? Draw a machine based on the incredible inventions created in the Leonardo da Vinci Park. Climb aboard a tank, ride in a paddle steamer, cross a swinging bridge... The genius inventor's intuitions have been transformed into life-size models and machines for all ages to try out. The most impressive is the life-size flying machine with a wingspan of 12 metres, on display in the Aviation Hall, a testament to Leonardo da Vinci's fascination with space.

  • Tasting the wines of the Loire Why not combine cycling with wine tourism? With no less than five vineyards, 400 tourist cellars and 51 appellations of all colours, the Loire à Vélo is a fabulous route for wine lovers. Nantes, stronghold of Muscadet, Anjou, Saumurois, Touraine, land of AOC Chinon and Bourgueil, or Sologne and Sancerrois... So many names inviting you to indulge in experiences ranging from visits to cellars, sometimes troglodytic, to walks through the vineyards and tastings at châteaux. The best? Tasting Chambord red wine (AOC Cheverny) in a private room at the château, where 14 hectares have been replanted with organic vines, or Chenonceau AOC Touraine wines under the vaulted ceilings of the château's historic cellars.

  • Get carried away by perfumes in the gardens of Chaumont sur Loire and Villandry If the Loire Valley has been known as the garden of France since the 15th century, it's because of its fertile "pays de cocagne" and its generous natural environment, the cradle of exceptional gardens. Decorative kitchen gardens, ornamental gardens, simple gardens, sun gardens or water gardens... At the Château de Villandry, a dozen or so gardeners look after this unique group of Renaissance-style gardens (7 hectares), classified as a historic monument, in accordance with the rules of organic farming. And at the Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire, the gardens are celebrated each year with a major festival and laboratory for contemporary creation, where each square of garden explores the issues of the day in terms of eco-responsible development.

  • Dancing in a "guinguette" on the banks of the Loire Ah, the tranquillity of the banks of the Loire in the evening, when the lanterns are lit and a gentle breeze rustles the leaves along the river. From one end of the Loire à Vélo route to the other, guinguettes along the banks invite you to have a drink, eat a fish fry, watch a show or listen to a concert. At La Soupette à mémère in Savonnières, you can enjoy buckwheat pancakes from Touraine and crêpes with jams from the garden while watching the sun set over the Cher. Shop for local produce at La Corne des Pâtures, an eco-responsible guinguette in Baule, near Beaugency. And dance the night away under the centuries-old trees of La Guinguette aux Babins in Orée d'Anjou!

  • Canoe under the arches at Chenonceau This is an exceptional castle in many ways, not least because of its location: this Renaissance masterpiece was built on the Cher, a tributary of the Loire. Don't miss a visit to the Château des Dames, where the memory of Queen Catherine de Médicis and the philosopher Louise Dupin, a pioneer of feminism, still hangs in the air, before embarking on an unusual cruise. Gliding under the arches in a canoe at sunrise or sunset is an unforgettable experience. Shall we take you on board?

  • Sleeping in unusual places Do you know what a toue is? It's a flat-bottomed boat typical of the Loire's inland waterways, and it's also one of the unusual types of accommodation you can try between two Loire à Vélo rides. From Saint-Florent-le-Vieil, you can take a trip on the Anguille sous Roche, a capan toue for a lovely cruise on the river among kingfishers, egrets and grey herons. Would you rather sleep in the trees? At the Manoir de l'Espérance, near Saint-Brévin-Les-Pins on the Atlantic coast, you can climb into a former fishing lodge. And if you prefer to go underground, try a night in a troglodyte dwelling such as La Cavée du coteau, on the heights of Vouvray (with an outbuilding for bicycles).

  • Watch the sun rise over the châteaux of the Loire This is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful ways to see the Loire châteaux and the royal river! Aboard a hot air balloon, a thousand and one details reveal themselves: the architectural richness of the prestigious residences, the incredible layout of the formal gardens, the life that pulsates along the banks... The key is to get there early, well before sunrise, to make the most of the experience. Amboise, Chenonceau, Chambord, as well as the Château d'Ussé, nicknamed Sleeping Beauty's Castle, the Royal Fortress of Chinon and the Château de Rivau... Don't forget to visit all these magnificent castles!

  • Elephant rides in Nantes In Nantes, all roads lead to a place that Jules Verne, local boy and prolific writer of futuristic novels, would not have denied: les Machines de l'Ile! Built on the site of the former shipyards, this bizarre site pays homage to the intuitions of Jules Verne, the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci and the city's industrial past with its mechanical bestiary, complete with swarms of butterflies, giant hummingbirds and an 8-metre-high heron to pilot. Better still, climb on the back of the mechanical elephant for a unique parade: the view of the Loire from its 12-metre height is incomparable!

  • Art at the mouth of the Loire It's hard to resist this pretty estuary walk at the end of La Loire à Vélo. With no fewer than 33 works of contemporary art spread over 44 kilometres, there's no shortage of opportunities to feast your eyes on this exceptional artistic journey. A veritable open-air museum, the estuary is also an incredible reservoir of biodiversity: this area of 20,000 hectares of marshes, reeds, wet meadows and swamps is the second most important migratory route for birds in France. Grab your binoculars!

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