It would be nice to be able to say that you'd cycled the Tour de France, but it would actually be a lot nicer to spend a week cycling the Loire Valley, stopping off at the vineyards you pass for a tipple, sleeping in comfortable rooms in pretty medieval towns, appreciating the objet d'art on display in the fairytale châteaux and eating well in the restaurants along the way – the ones with the amazing terraces opening out onto views of the river valley.
Day One: Tours
French trains are bike friendly and with a bit of foresight it's relatively easy to bring your bike down from Paris by rail. Though bike hire is available locally as well. Arrive in Tours, take a stroll around town and visit the cathedral before topping up your tank for the weeks ride in one of the local restaurants.
Cycle west out of Tours to Saint Genouph, then cross over the river Cher to Savonnières for the Château de Villandry and it's gardens, which is about a 20km ride. Villandry's graceful gardens, dating from the 16th Century and in the Italian Renaissance style, are more of an attraction than the actual castle. Who would have thought you could make a feature out of vegetables, but this is technically a potage garden, laid out like a huge patchwork quilt divided by box hedges, over three levels and to the south and west of the house.
12kms of cycling south and you reach the Château d'Azay-le-Rideau. This famous, photogenic chateau might be familiar to you from picture books of fairy-tale castles: it's perched by the Indre River which its Italian Renaissance style is reflected prettily in. Inside the period décor deserves to be described as sumptuous, complete with grand spiral staircases and rich tapestries.
From d'Azay-le-Rideau it's a 50km cycle - the longest riding day in this itinerary - to Bleré, near Chenonceaux. Château de Chenonceaux's many arched covered bridge mirrored in the River Cher is one of the enduring images of the Loire Valley. A fitting castle for a princess, this graceful Gothic to early Renaissance chateau has rounded towers and arched windows, offering up a view of the river and beautiful gardens.
Stay overnight in Bleré.
From Bleré it's about 12kms of riding along some of the prettiest back roads in the whole valley, to get to Amboise, which is another Loire town with a lovely château. Château d'Amboise is also reputed to be the burial place of Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo came as a guest King Francis I in December 1515, and lived and worked in the nearby Clos Lucé, which is connected to the château by an underground passage.
From Amboise, château hop on to Chaumont and Château de Chaumont which dates from the 14th Century: which is why its appearance is largely medieval, with a hint of Renaissance. Catherine de Medici, the castle's most famous owner, bought it in 1560, and it's had several famous visitors, including Nostradamus and Benjamin Franklin, before it was taken over by the government and made into a museum.
Chaumont also has an ancient viaduct which you should look ever before cycling on towards Blois. As you near Blois the terrain becomes more varied, and the town of Blois takes advantage of it by sitting on a little hill. Which means it has a nice view, as well as being rather charming, and having some nice shops and restaurants. It's a larger centre which makes it a popular choice as a base for cyclists planning a loop of the nearby châteaux.
Blois also has its own château: Château de Blois, where Joan of Arc was blessed by the Archbishop of Reims before she set out with her army to fight the British in Orleans. It's also been the home of several kings and a favourite palace of King Louis XII. By the time the Revolution came around the Gothic palace hadn't been refurbished for more than 130 years, and though it was looking a bit shabby it was still a target for demolition as a royal favourite. But it was saved by its location close to the centre of town, and the way it was constructed around a central courtyard – features that made it very suitable for use as a military barracks. It was ransacked though, so the interior pieces are accumulated in a museum way, rather than a genuine inventory of the castle's original contents.
From Blois it's a 14km cycle to Cheverny and the Château de Cheverny, which looks like a full size doll house in white, with grey sloping roofs and plenty of large windows in perfect symmetry. It was built by Henri Hurault, Comte de Cheverny, but he lost it to the crown, though a generation later his son brought it back from the King's mistress. The family was forced to sell up again during the Revolution, but again managed to buy it back twenty years later during the Restoration. Château de Cheverny has been open to the public since 1914, and was one of the first chateaux to do so, more proof of how important it is for the family to hold on to it despite the modern costs of keeping a chateau – they still own it today.
On the last day of cycling amongst the chateaux it's a leisurely 17kms from Cheverny to Chambord and the Château de Chambord which is spectacularly detailed on the outside, with rounded towers and turrets, lots of large windows and roofs in places rounded and in places sharp – it takes a photo to properly describe it. It's also the largest of the Loire Valley castles, with 440 rooms, 84 staircases and 365 fireplaces, whose chimneys help provide for the fascinating design of the castles rooftop.
This itinerary travels west to east along the most popular region of the Loire: chateaux central, between Tours and Blois via Chenonceaux and Chambord. It's about 145kms worth of riding to cover, which most people will find quite comfortable on the pave
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