Loire by bike
March 4, 2015 8:36 AM   Subscribe

We are finally going on our (rather belated) honeymoon, and we've decided to spend several days in Paris and the Loire valley. I think we've got the Paris bits down, but don't have a whole lot of info on the Loire area - can you help us? Oh yeah, and we're going to do it all by bike.

We're familiar with the Cycle Loire website, but beyond that don't have a good idea of the best towns to locate ourselves. Right now we're thinking 2-3 days each in Tours and Blois - we would do day trips out of Tours, forward our luggage to Blois, and then bike there and do some more day trips. Some specific questions we have:

-What's the best way to handle bike rentals? Is there a particular company there that would allow us to pick up the bikes in Tours and drop them off in Blois, or will we have to return to Tours to bring back the bikes?
-Are these towns good choices for what we want to do? For this part of the trip, we're looking for chateaus, wineries, and good food. Would it be more worthwhile to do a more traditional bike tour (i.e., one night in each town from Point A to Point B)? Is there a better pair of towns that we could center ourselves around (that would be reachable by single-day bike travel from each other), or should we just pick one town and stay there?
-Do you have hotel recommendations in either town that participate in the Loire cycling program? The website has a list, but neither of us have been to the area and are looking for personal experience.

If there's anything we must not miss, or anything else that you would recommend for that area, let us know! (We'll be there early May.)
posted by backseatpilot to Travel & Transportation around Tours, France (6 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: OMG! Ok so I'm from Tours and have done a week on the Loire cycling trail starting from Tours all the way to Nantes and I had the best time. Truly. Such a good idea for a honeymoon.

- I used this company. The neat thing was that I returned the bike in Nantes, not Tours. My boyfriend and I did it old school and decided to camp all the way so our bikes were DYING under the weight of the tent and all the food (we had bottles of olive oil and wine like good french people which is ridiculous). The bikes were fine enough. The road is very smooth so don't worry.

- Do hire side bags to put on the bikes, they are handy.

- The great thing to do is to stop and hotels or BnBs along the way and go to restaurants and drink the fantastic wines. in Saumur, if memory serves me right, you can visit troglodytes caves and taste wine which is awesome. You can also do it in Savonierres. After you leave Tours, if you have time, stop to visit the Villandry castle - AWESOME gardens.

- Stop in little towns and buy stuff to have picnics later by the river.

- Personally I would go the other way (no towards Blois, towards Nantes).

- When you arrive in Tours go to the tourism office and buy the map/booklet for Loire a Velo, it's 12 euros and super worth it.

- My favourite village was Les Rosiers sur Loire and Saint Remy La Varenne which is so beautiful and they have a restaurant on the river with great wine dead in the centre of the town and you can climb all the way up through small streets and have a beautiful view. (we were there on july 14, Bastille day, so we saw the fireworks from there - amazing).

- my favourite bits were def between tours - saumur- angers.

I'm so excited for you I reaaly want to do this again. if it was me I would ride from Tours to Angers in 4-5 days and sleep in nice B&Bs and visit wineries along the Loire path and stop at cute restaurants.
posted by Sijeka at 8:59 AM on March 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My boyfriend and I did a chunk of the Loire à vélo route in May of last year and it was AWESOME. Highly recommended.

We started in Tours, spent a night in Amboise and ended in Blois, where we also spent a night. Loved it. The route was exceedingly well marked, very pleasant (mostly pathways/off road, with some on road stuff through the small towns and quiet roads through vineyards), and mostly flat/good pavement. May is also not a busy time of year for the route (both according to our own experience and according to the hotels we stayed in), so it's a good time to do it and the hotels and such are a little cheaper.

For bike rental, we rented from Détours de Loire who did the whole pick up a bike at one end (including any bike accessories you need - paniers and whatnot) and drop it off at the other end. They have quite a few outlets along the way, so you have a lot of flexibility in where you can end up.

We really liked both Amboise and Blois, and the chateaux in both of those towns were trip highlights. We also stopped at Chenonceau (which we went out of our way for) and Chaumont (which was fine and on the way between Amboise and Blois, but not a must-see, in our opinions). All of the little towns are well set up for receiving the cyclists, with most having bike parking and luggage storage near the tourist attractions.

As for hotels, we stayed at Pavillon de Lys in Amboise, which was lovely; I really recommend that town . We carried our own stuff, since it was a short trip and our suitcases stayed back in Paris, but from what I could tell they participated in the Loire à Vélo program. In Blois we stayed in the Ibis Blois, which was cheap and totally fine, but nothing to write home about.

Both Amboise and Tours have weekend farmer's markets too; in Amboise it happens on Saturdays and in Blois on Sundays. I also agree with the above about stopping in little towns and having picnics.
posted by urbanlenny at 12:35 PM on March 4, 2015

Best answer: We did this trip. Had a fabulous time, though we probably didn't need to see quite so many castles. Our favourite was Chaumont, but no one seems to agree with us! I would skip Chambord, as it's a bit of an empty shell.

I can recommend this hotel in Blois and this one in Tours. Both had secure bike parking.

I suggest booking accomodation ahead of time, and also looking up places to have dinner. Not that you'll necessarily need to, but we were so knackered by the end of the day, so it was good to have those decisions made already. I'd also recommend spending a day in Tours, it's a pleasant city.
posted by kjs4 at 7:43 PM on March 4, 2015

Sorry, kjs4 just made me realise that I meant we didn't really care for Chateau de Chambord, not Chaumont (which we didn't visit). It is a very empty shell and even its gardens and outbuildings aren't very interesting, as most of them have been turned into art galleries rather than preserving their original use. The chateau is neat looking from the outside, but not really worth a long visit.
posted by urbanlenny at 6:44 AM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've taken a handful of multi-day bike tours with Randonnee Tours, including through the Loire Valley. It was perfect.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 8:03 PM on March 5, 2015

Response by poster: We just finished up the biking part of the trip! Here's how things went:

We stayed at the Hotel Mirabeau in Tours and the Hotel Anne de Bretagne in Blois. Both are very nice hotels - decently sized rooms, good bathrooms, friendly staff. Definitely would recommend both of them. The Mirabeau has a garage around the corner for bicycles, and the Anne de Bretagne has a locked open air garden in the front of the hotel for bikes.

We chose Detours de Loire for bike rental; I initially contacted another company but they never responded back. Detours de Loire was good with communication and was able to give us exactly what we wanted - a tandem, rear rack, panniers, and handlebar bag. The bike was waiting for us in the shop in Tours when we showed up, and it was a short walk from the hotel so it was easy to get the rental. The shop in Blois is literally next door to the hotel. They also handled our baggage transfer which went flawlessly (but it was pricey - I think it was over a hundred euros just for the luggage transfer).

The bike itself was a stout beast, an Arcade tandem which they fitted with flat handlebars and comfort saddles. Not what I would have chosen if there were more options, but it got the job done. They supplied a lock, a mini pump, and a flat repair kit. I wish they had supplied a multitool as part of the kit, because we did have some mechanical problems on the road and I didn't have any tools to fix them. They were very responsive when I brought the bike to the shop for repairs, though. Bring your own tool!

The route:

First day was to Villandry and back, about 25 miles total on the trail. Very nice! Recommended, especially if you like formal gardens. Still owned by the same family that's had it for centuries - it had a very personal feel to it.

Second day was our transfer day, Tours to Chenonceau to Blois, total 51 miles. Tours to Chenonceau was pretty easy. Chenonceau to Blois is the longer leg and includes some difficult hills, especially if your dérailleur is busted and you can't shift in to low gear. We used a mix of the Loire a Velo route and Google directions. The chateau itself is very beautiful but also incredibly crowded. It was probably the most tourist-oriented of all the ones we visited.

Third day was Blois to Cheverny and back along the Chateau a Velo trail network, another 25-ish miles round trip through some pretty woods. I think this one was the most interesting to me since the family that's owned it for five hundred-odd years still lives in it. The rooms are all decorated as their ancestors had them set up, and there were lots of family photos of the current generation, plus their private kennels and stables. There is also a wine tasting room right outside the gate where you can try over a hundred wines from the Cheverny and Cour Cheverny appellations, which we both really enjoyed.

Last day was to Chambord and back, another 20-something miles on the Loire a Velo route. I would probably give it a miss; the outside is very stunning but inside there's not much. It is located within a huge nature preserve, though, so if you're looking for hiking or extra cycling miles it could be worth it. We were going to detour to Bracieux to visit the Chocolatier Max Vauche, but they are closed on Mondays.

Oh, and food! Favorites were L'Arome in Tours and Bistrot du Cuisinier in Blois. Les Halles in Tours was also a perfect place to get picnic supplies. We did run into some scheduling problems when we would leave a chateau a at around 4 and find that all the restaurants were closed. And little was open Sunday afternoon and Monday. So plan for that.

Thanks for all the suggestions from everyone!
posted by backseatpilot at 10:51 AM on May 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

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