5 Reasons to Cycle the Loire Valley
Located south of Paris, the Loire Valley, from Sully-sur-Loire to Chalonne, is considered by UNESCO to be a World Heritage site. Although this French region is perhaps best known for its many castles, it also boasts some lovely historical towns and beautiful landscapes, particularly along the river. Here are five reasons to add the Loire Valley to your cycling itinerary.
- Chateau de Chambord – Originally built as a hunting lodge, this lumbering structure has withstood the test of time. It has come to be known as one of the most recognizable châteaux’s in the world and the largest, by far, in the Loire Valley. The magnificent building boasts several huge towers, 440 rooms, 84 staircases and an incredible 365 fireplaces. It’s even surrounded by a park and a game reserve, complete with red deer for hunting purposes. It is certainly a sight to behold.
- Azay-le-Rideau – A French National Monument, this castle is one of the earliest French Renaissance chateaux. The Azay-le-Rideau is built on an island in the Indre River, its foundations rise straight out of the water. Less ostentatious than most castles in the Loire Valley, you do not want to miss visiting this picture perfect structure
- Chateau Chinon – Located on the Vienne River, the Chateau de Chinon has housed as well as imprisoned many influential French leaders in the past. It was here that Joan of Arc visited the disguised King Charles VII to convince him to build an army to liberate France from England. The Templar Knights craved symbols while incarcerated in the castle’s dungeon which can still be seen today. The castle is divided by a dry moat into three parts, Fort St.-Georges to the east, Château de Milieu in the center, and Fort du Coudray to the west.
- Château of Chenonceau – Built on the River Cher allowing the chateau’s unique architecture to be reflected in the water is the “Castle of the Lady.” It is nicknamed to honor the different madams who played a primary role in designing the castle you see today, from the exterior design to the many rooms inside. Renaissance furniture, a vast ensemble of 16th and 17th centuries tapestries and a great number of masterpieces are a few of the treasures that await a visit.
This breathtaking marvel of design work is considered to be one of the best examples of gothic architecture in the entire world, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has its towers listed as a French National Monument. Rebuilt on the site of a holy cathedral destroyed by lightning and fire, the Chartres Cathedral was designed and erected to honor the sacred relic Sancta Camisia, which miraculously survived the fire and destruction unharmed. The cathedral’s magnificent exterior opens to an even more awe-inspiring interior, with its brilliant colors and detailed stained glass windows. Medieval carvings adorn the doors and porches while hand carved sculptures provide testament to the Christian beliefs of the residents while drawing a comparison to the close ties that were believed to exist between God and the Kings and Queens who ruled during that time. A walk through this amazing cathedral is truly a walk through history.
Although most come to the Loire Valley to visit the ancient castles found there, the gorgeous landscape is often a reason they stay, and come back again and again. This region is often referred to as the Garden of Kings because of its breathtaking landscape to explore. The Loire Valley is a cyclist paradise with its flat, rolling countryside, several old towns to visit and an amazing stretch of the River Loire that remains virtually unspoiled. There are also many smaller rivers to discover here, promising leisurely afternoon rides with incredible views.
Gardens of Villandry
The gardens surrounding the Chateau de Villandry are often referred to as the most beautiful gardens in the world. Among the 15 acres of different gardens featured at Villandry, a few include a water garden, vegetable gardens and incredible ornamental flower gardens, all of which are strategically laid out in formal patterns together with low hedges. Give your legs a break from pedaling, while you take a stroll through an assortment of picture-perfect gardens. Like all the castles in the Loire Valley, the Chateau de Villandry is a World Heritage site and it is currently open to the public for tours.
Home of Several of the “Most Beautiful Villages of France”
Loire Valley is the perfect region if you are looking for picturesque towns off the beaten path. A few worth mentioning include Lavardin, home to only 260 people, Montresor, positioned along the banks of the Indre River, and Apremont-sur-Allier, a quant village known for its lovely gardens. Don’t miss the opportunity to journey through these modest, but exquisite towns.
A trip to France would not be complete without a visit to the Loire Valley. Perfectly located nearby Paris, it offers visitors a chance to experience the natural beauty of the French countryside, access to quiet riverbanks and the opportunity to take a step back in time. Historical villages, ancient castles and incredible works of architecture abound in this small region and promise visitors a journey they won’t soon forget.