The Loire Valley Cycle Route (La Loire à Vélo) takes you through one of the most beautiful, and easily accessible, parts of France with the breeze in your face and the river beside you. You’re really getting away from it all.
The Loire Valley Cycle Route
The 900 km/560 mile Loire Valley Cycle Route goes from the little village of Cuffy in the Cher to the coastal village of St-Brevin-les-Pins on the French Atlantic Coast.
The route passes through the Pays-de-la-Loire, the Loire Valley regions and the Loire-Anjou-Touraine Regional Nature Park. It takes in 6 departments: the Cher, Loiret, Lore-et-Cher, Indre-et-Loire, Maine-et-Loire and Loire-Atlantique.
A large part of the route lies within the UNESCO World Heritage Site along the banks of the Loire.
This huge project took more than ten years to build, and the French particularly have taken to this local, free, eco-friendly activity.
You’ll find all the information you need on the Loire à Vélo website. You can also pick up the information and brochures at the various tourist offices along the route.
See below for more on where to hire, stay, eat and more.
Which part of the Loire Valley Cycle Route to choose?
Unless you have a lot of time and plan extremely thoroughly (and are very fit as well), you’ll probably cycle just a part of the route.
Concentrate on one area and if you can, do that in depth. Various parts of the Loire à Vélo cycle route have devised their own mini routes leading off the main route. So different paths might take you on a meandering trail through the Loire Valley, visiting various châteaux. Another one leads you to the Sologne south of Orléans. Another is around Angers. You can take one or up to three days. That’s the joy of the Loire Valley cycle route – it can be as long or as short as you, and your legs, want it to be.
Main Loire Valley Cycle Route
Le Guétin in the Cher to Orléans
The official itinerary of the Loire à Vélo starts at Le Guétin, a suburb of Cuffy in the Cher. This first part is the wildest part of the route and at the Pont Canal in Le Guétin you can see where the Loire and the Allier join. Both rivers at this stage are small, their sources not far away.
This part takes you along the part of the Loire which is less well known to visitors. Instead of châteaux, you have delightful small towns like La Charité-sur-Loire with its monastery.
Around Sancerre and its vineyards
Around Sancerre, worth a visit for the pretty walled town above the river, vineyards stretch into the distance. If you’re on a bicycle you can stop and taste, but buying is a bit tricky. So make a note if you’re a wine lover; this part of France is well worth returning to for a different, bucolic visit. Years ago we came across Pascal Jolivet and his Clos du Roy. They used to be moderately inexpensive; now they’re around £20 a bottle so I am on the look-out for other Sancerre vineyards.
Less well-known sites
The peaceful canal runs beside the river as far as Briare which has a splendid iron Belle Epoque viaduct, the longest canal bridge in Europe.
This is a very pretty stretch of the river, taking you to Gien with its 15th-century château overlooking the river.
Then it’s on to Sully-sur-Loire where the delightful white-stoned château rises out of the huge moat. From here, the route takes you to St-Benoit-sur-Loire with its Romanesque Abbaye, and Châteauneuf-sur-Loire whose splendid bridge has a sound and light show in the summer.
Orléans is a big city, best known for its association with Joan of Arc. It’s a delightful place, with Renaissance and neo-classical buildings, lots of reminders of Joan of Arc and a riverside full of bars, cafes and restaurants.
Many visitors just regard Orléans as the jumping off point for visits to the châteaux stretching along the famous river. So it has a more local feel than towns like Chartres or Blois.
Here’s a guide to Orléans, well worth a stop over.
Orléans to Tours
This is one of the most popular parts of the cycle route. This glorious region was the playground of kings and queens, dukes and duchesses. And they all built spectacular châteaux to house themselves, their lovers, their families and the huge numbers of servants who catered for their every need. And of course, to impress the King and their neigbors.
Pays des Châteaux detour
In this part of the route, you can branch off and take separate rides between some of the châteaux. Altogether there are 300 kilometers of route, but you can choose exactly how far you want to ride. Download or get the map and routes from the local tourist office or view it on line.
The route will take you to châteaux such as Chambord, the largest, and externally grandest, of all the castles in the Loire (it’s rather stiff, formal and cold inside and it was only used as a very posh hunting lodge by François I in the 16th century).
Then there are the smaller, more intimate and more attractive châteaux, like Cheverny, still in the same family.
Back on the main Orléans to Tours Route
The town of Blois is well worth a visit in its own right and is roughly half way between Orléans and Tours. For anybody interested in gardens, Chaumont-sur-Loire is a must for its summer-long huge garden festival.
Amboise makes another spectacular stop with its beautiful château slumbering on the river bank. François I installed Leonardo da Vinci in the nearby Clos Lucé for 3 years before his death; it’s full of the inventions of the great Renaissance man.
Some of the châteaux lie along other rivers that feed into the Loire, such as gracious Chenonceaux which straddles the Cher.
You’ll have been cycling through wine country as well, moving from the Loire Valley wines to the vineyards around Tours such as well-known Vouvray. Tours itself is a historic cathedral city and the chief town of the Loire Valley.
Tours to Angers
This is another delightful stretch with the Regional Park of Loire-Anjou-Touraine to the north, once-inhabited caves to the south and more châteaux along the river and its tributaries like Azay-le-Rideau on the Indre (which is my favourite) and Chinon on the Vienne river.
If you fancy seeing how our very ancient ancestors lived, there’s another bike ride in the Saumur Region taking in a specially created passage through the cave dwellings on the stretch from Chinon to Angers. The secret troglodyte should book one of the hotels here where rooms are carved out of the rock.
Fontevraud-l’Abbaye is an impressive Romanesque complex where the tombs of the Plantagenet royal family remind you of the historic bonds between England and France.
Saumur is delightful, spreading along both banks of the Loire with a wonderful château overlooking the river. Then it’s on to Angers, where the castle displays one of the most impressive, and chilling sights, the Tapestry of the Apocalypse. It ranks with the Bayeux Tapestry as one of the great art works of the past.
Angers to Nantes unusual sites
Charming villages line the route from Angers. Savennières has a Romanesque tower and good vineyards; Béhuard is a surprising, small island with a splendid church, former 15th century royal home and 15th and 16th century houses. The chapel of the former abbey in St-Florent-le-Vieil has a splendid tomb by David d’Angers of General Bonchamps. He was the tactically adroit leader of the royalists fighting the Republicans in the Vendée during the French Revolution.
Ancenis was one of the great ports for the wine trade; Champtoceaux has a fabulous position with a panoramic view of the river.
Then you’re in Nantes, a city that has reinvented itself very successfully. The former capital of Brittany and now in the Pays de la Loire region has an old town and a very lively arts scene. It’s famous for the extraordinary Machines de l’Ile and its different huge machines. Children love this part of the city, particularly if they get to ride (or get sprayed by) the elephant who makes his way slowly through the city. Or just try the carousel for a Jules Verne moment.
Nantes to St- Brévin-les-Pins
After Nantes you’re following the Loire to the sea. On the way you’ll see some of the extraordinary art works that were inspired by Nantes: the house in the river, and the house perched on top of a vast chimney.
All too soon you’re at the seaside resort of St-Brévin-les-Pins where the Loire Valley Cycle route ends and the Loire estuary empties into the Atlantic. It stands opposite the city of Saint-Nazaire, a naval and industrial port. It’s linked to the south bank of the river by the bridge, 60 metres tall and over 3km long.
It’s a far cry from the small river you first saw in the east.
Getting to the Loire Vally Cycle Route Route
Once you’re in France, the most logical way to get to your starting point is by train. You can organize rail travel, and organize space for your bicycles if you’re taking your own on Rail Europe.
Hiring a Bicycle
All major towns from the start to finish have agencies where you can hire a bike from St-Nazaire to the Cher at Saint-Satur.
You can also hire helmets and trailers. Some companies will meet you at the station or wherever you choose that is convenient so you can set off as soon as you arrive. There are also luggage transfer services so you don’t have to carry luggage with you.
Check out the possibilities here.
At every point along the route there are professional cycle repair shops. They are open long hours, offer tourist information and breakdown assistance.
Where to Stay
All along the route there are various forms of accommodation, all carrying the ‘Loire à Vélo’ label.
They include camp sites and gites, bed and breakfast accommodation and hotels. They range in price from less than €50 euros more than €100 a night. The label they carry means that they all offer helpful facilities for cyclists such as secure bicycle parking, repair kits and more. And of course fellow cyclists to chat to!
Or check out the budget hotel chains all over France for an inexpensive option.
Where to Eat
You’ll find recommendations at all points of the journey, from ginguettes beside the river (originally popular dance and drinking places that also served food, but now charming, often open-air seasonal restaurants offering local food) to station brasseries and top Michelin-starred restaurants.
Check them out here.
If you want to cycle for more than a few days, take your own bike. A friend has advised using mountain bikes with slick tyres.
Prepare yourself in advance and ride 20 to 30 kilometers a few times a week to get fit.
Travel light and carry what you need in waterproof, lightweight panniers. Take cycle mitts with padded palms and well-padded cycling shorts.
Take lightweight synthetic clothes which are easy to hand wash and dry fast. Jeans are not suitable.
For first time riders and families, the Loire Valley châteaux rides are perfect. Stay in Blois or Angers and cycle out each day.
If you see something that you find interesting or intriguing, or meet people who want to chat, then do just that. It’s as much fun as seeing all the requisite sites.
Remember this is a trip to enjoy, you’re not training for the Tour de France!
Go with a specialist company
There are some excellent UK companies that specialize in cycling in France, and particularly the Loire Valley. They provide cycles and E-bikes if you want, luggage transport, accommodation and meals, daily route maps and instructions, and on the spot help.
Continue the route
The bicycle routes in Europe are extremely ambitious, with the aim of eventually connecting up the whole continent. At the moment, there are 14 EuroVelo routes, from Finland to Dublin to Valetta, Athens and Moscow. The longest route is the Iron Curtain Trail, 10,400 kilometers from the Barents Sea to the Black Sea.
The French East-West route continues on to Vienna, Budapest and Constanta, making a total of 4,448 kilometers from the Atlantic to the Black Sea. But that’s another story.
Here’s where to discover more about European bicycle routes.