Biking the Loire Valley

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Loire Valley, France
By Tom Dwyer

Loire Valley Beauty
Loire Valley Beauty
Just two hours south of Paris is the Loire Valley, once a favorite hangout of French Renaissance kings who built magnificent chateaus along the Loire River – all the better to entertain in lavish style while enjoying the incredible beauty of the landscape. Today, the area continues to lure visitors to explore the splendid French countryside with its historic castles and abbeys, and to taste some of the best food and wines in the world. A great way to experience this gorgeous valley is on two wheels – on a bike tour along the Loire à Vélo trail – a 300-mile bike trail made up of country paths and small roads that winds along the Loire River (the longest river in France, and the last wild river in Europe), through the enchanting villages and towns of the Loire Valley.

The Loire à Vélo Trail
In 2000, the central part of the Loire Valley was named a UNESCO World Heritage site for its cultural landscape and historic towns and villages. The summer of 2005 saw the completion of the first continuous section of the Loire à Vélo trail (98 miles) between the towns of Tours and Angers. When the entire trail is eventually completed in a few years, it will stretch approximately 500 miles from Cuffy in the Cher region, near Sancerre, to St.-Brevin-les-Pins in the Atlantic region. The Loire biking season runs from April to October.

Package Tours with Friends and Family
No, you don’t have to be Lance Armstrong to bike the Loire à Vélo trail. Matter of fact, the whole point is to slow down and enjoy the scenery. Most days, my group from Detours De Loire (formerly known as Amstercycles) biked an easy 15 to 20 miles (on mainly flat or slightly hilly terrain) with plenty of stops for local attractions like the magnificent Renaissance gardens of the Chateau de Villandry, the Chateau d’Usse where Perrault wrote his masterpiece, Sleeping Beauty, and the not-to-be missed 11th century Fontevraud Abbaye royale, one of the largest and best preserved medieval abbeys of France. There were even a few bikers in our pack who thought the lazy lunches and wine tastings were the real raison d’etre of the trip. It helped that we had a van traveling along with us each day, ready to transport any tired rider to the next location. But the Loire Valley is also a favorite destination for serious bikers as well – biking clubs zoomed past us on country roads, dressed to the nines in their colorful racing outfits.

Detours de Loire, a French company, has been operating bike tours through the Loire Valley since 1994. They offer both self-guided tours and custom tours for up to sixteen people; they can help arrange everything from pickup at the airport or train station to securing hotel rooms along the route. They’ll also outfit you with bikes, maps and gear for the trip. In 2006, Detours de Loire will offer a number of exciting packages including an eight-day trip in June biking through the historic and charming towns of Blois, Amboise, Tours, Chinon and Saumur, while exploring castles, vineyards, and overnighting in 400-year-old chateaus. The owner of Detours de Loire, Christophe Marzais, has worked with many Americans over the years.

Another company making inroads in the bike tour market in the Loire Valley is Backroads – the well-respected American company that covers the world when it comes to active travel. They offer a number of biking packages including six-day family bike trips. They recommend that children be at least nine years of age. Backroads can be reached at .

But if touring the Loire Valley sounds great – except for the bike part – then French Links Tours is the answer for Americans setting out from Paris. French Links Tours, the only American-owned and operated tour and event company in Paris, is run by Rachael Kaplan. Ms. Kaplan has made a name for herself in Paris with unique custom tours (her Paris shopping tours are not to be missed) and excursions for disabled travelers. Now she’s begun to extend her services to the Loire Valley.

French Links Tours plans to offer biking tours in the future, as well as disabled travel services to the Loire Valley.

For airfare packages to France, check out Air France.
For more information on biking the Loire Valley contact the French Tourism Board.

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