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.
Château of Chenonceau – Built on the River Cher allowing the chateau’s unique architecture to be reflected in the water is the “Château des Dames”. 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.
Azay-le-Rideau – A French National Monument, this castle is one of the earliest French Renaissance châteaux. 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 carved 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.
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.
Garden 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 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 quaint village known for its lovely gardens. Don’t miss the opportunity to journey through these modest, but exquisite towns.
The Loire Valley is perhaps best known for the exquisite fine wines that come from the countless vineyards which grow along a 300 mile stretch of the Loire River. The Valley is divided into 5 regions, each with its own distinct climate and soils, providing an extensive 65 appellations that include every style of wine, from red, white and rosé to still, sparkling, sweet and dry. There is no better way to experience and enjoy a little piece of the Loire Valley than through its wines. The largest white wine appellation in France, Muscadet includes three of its own regional appellations: Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire, Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu, and Muscadet Sèvre et Maine.
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.