Loire à Vélo: cycling the river Loire bike path through France

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Picture: Chambord Castle from Shutterstock
One of the most cycled itineraries in Europe follows a fairy river, among castles and artsy cities, in France.
River Loire Cycle Path, or in french Loire à Vélo, is an 800 km long cycling itinerary connecting Cuffy to Saint-Brevin-les-Pins (or vice-versa if you want to start from the mouth), on the Atlantic Ocean. This bicycle path is part of Eurovelo 6, one of the European long-distance cycling routes...
Loire Bike Path crosses France alternating dedicated bike paths and definitely not busy secondary roads, gravel or asphalted... the result? A marvellous path sprinkled with castles, elegant cities, rich in bicycle touring services, all inside one of the most loved UNESCO sites, Loire Valley.

From the Atlantic to the French backcountry

Saint-Brevin-les-Pins, on the opposite side ofSaint Nazaire, is the village where the river Loire ends its course in the Atlantic Ocean: from this very point we'll start our journey towards the East along the Loire Valley Bike Path by bicycle. On mixed roads in the countryside, we pedal leaving the ocean behind and getting ready to taste a freshly baked croissant or a warm baguette in one of the little villages on our route. Nantes, with its motto Nepture favours the traveller, can be reached after 60km in the easy path suitable for families too. 
In its historic centre, you can visit the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany, the late gothic cathedral, dedicated to Peter and Paul, and other monuments of historic, cultural and artistic interest. Nantes, the city of bicycle travellers, gave birth to Jules Verne, the author of Around the world in 80 days, and truly deserves a visit.Chateau di Josselin loira
Picture: Josselin Castle from Shutterstock
From Nantes we proceed towards the North-East along the river, having the option to ride on its right or left side. Hopefully, with some tailwind, you can easily reach Angers and the majestic Castle of the Dukes of Anjou, 107 km from Nantes. You will pass by the Castle of Champtoceaux and the lovely village of St-Florent-le-Vieil before reaching Bouchemaine, just below Angers. The low hills in the hinterland boast precious vineyards and if you have the occasion, don't miss the possibility to taste a glass of wine from Savennières.
A 7 km detour allows you to reach Angers, but you'll have to leave the Eurovelo 6 Cycling Route.

The heart of France by bicycle

Cycling Loire on gravel and asphalt is amazing: many castles and important monuments, during the trip you can decide to stop by some tower appearing along the way or stop only when your legs demand it. The villages on the sides of the river are deeply connected to it and its course: traditions and lifestyle are consequently strongly influenced by it.
Passing St Rèmy La Varenne and its suspended mill you'll arrive in Saumur, which boasts an unforgettable skyline reflected in the river waters.
In Saumur, you can visit the fortress, part of the UNESCO monuments in this valley.valle della loira in bici
Picture: Roanne Canal by bicycle from Shutterstock
In Candes Saint Martin the itinerary of Loire à vélo leaves the river to continue the Vienne for a short leg.
You will pass Avoine before finding again the main road, in front of Le Chapelle Sur-Loire.
The small islands which you can see seem suspended on the water and host thousands of birds... an ideal place for birdwatching with some binoculars or a telephoto lens.
The signs are precise and it's almost impossible to get lost: you ride along the Cher in order to reach one of the most interesting castles of this itinerary, Château de Villandry, in Renaissance style. This manor boasts six incredible gardens, one more elegant than the other.
Keep following the Cher river to reach Tours, between this river and the Loire.
Tours is a colourful and vivid city, where you can taste a glass of Montlouis. To visit in the urban area: Saint-Gatien Cathedral, Psalette cloister, Goüin Castle and Palace.

Where Leonardo lived his last years...

From Tours you ride towards Blois and Orléans on the Loire Bike Path, passing the area dedicated to Montlouis wine, the majestic Château d’Amboise and Leonardo da Vinci's last house in Clos-Lucé.
Getting closer to Blois you just cannot avoid taking a picture of Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire.castello di amboise
Picture: Amboise Castle from Shutterstock
Blois, city of Francis I, who invited Leonardo Da Vinci in Clos-Lucé, counts less than 50000 inhabitants and a very suggestive fortress.
Two feet from Blois there is Chambord, the biggest castle in Loire Valley (and one of the most sna pped), dating back to the XVI century.
There are many ways to reach this monument, you can decide the most pleasant depending on the time you have and your training level.
Along the Loire cycle path, a tower attracts your attention in the village of Meung-sur-Loire while Beaugency bridge invites you into the village; at the horizon you see Orlèans, probably the old capital of the Gallia Franca called Cenabum.
In Orlèans your attention will be stolen by the cathedral, in neogothic style, which construction began in the XVII century 200 years after the death of Jeanne d'Arc, the lady of Orléans.
Once out of the city, always on mixed roads, you can reach Châteauneuf-sur-Loire where the Musem of the Loire and river commerce is situated.
In Germigny-des-Prés you can stop for a visit of the oratory dating 806, built by Theodulf of Orléans: the complex was way larger at the beginning, then completely demolished by the Vikings.

From Gien into the Loire Valley

Gien appears all of a sudden along the Loire like a princess resting. Her reflexions on the water are unforgettable. Gien gave birth to a very famous French cyclist, Pierre Roland, white jersey as best young at 2011 Tour de France.
Loire à Vélo crosses the river and the lateral canal of Briare to then follow towards Cuffy: land of merchants and trades, this land shows a strong connection to the economy of the past. Mantelot lock is the channel where many boats stopped to cross the river, and the Loire cycling itinerary runs next to it for many kilometres.ciclovia della valle della loira
Picture: The black forest near Montbazon from Shutterstock
The area around Sancerre, dominating the surroundings on the top of the hill, is sprinkled with vineyards and cellars where you can stop for a glass of wine, well... just one! 
Riding on this route, you will reach La Charité-sur-Loire, 150 m of altitude, a quiet village to visit and relax.
Keep following the Loire, once passed the port of Marseilles-lès-Aubigny, you'll reach Nevers, city of ceramic and the Saint Bernadette Soubirous.
To reach the city you just have to follow the itinerary of the Loire à Vèlo until the gothic cathedral. The itinerary Loire à vélo ends in the small Cuffy, just in front of Nevers.

5 castles not to miss along the Loire Cycle Path

The Loire Valley castles are many, too many to visit in one only trip. They enrich your bicycle trip, it's totally worth it!castello di chambord
Picture: Reflexes in Chambord from Shutterstock
  • D’Amboise Castle: the construction of one of the most stunning castles of Loire Valley began in the XII century, but during the Middle Ages this manner was partially destroyed and rebuilt in a more Renaissance-like style. Some say that its Saint-Hubert Chapel contains Leonardo da Vinci's remains. You can find the castle in Amboise: the entrance at the apartments, Leonardo's tomb, and the gardens costs 15,2 €. 
  • Chambord Castle: it is the biggest castle in Loire Valley and its reflection in the Cosson river is one of the most snapped. The first owner was Francis I King of France, who wanted to build a hunting reserve. Its façade is 128 meters long and boasts 365 chimneys and more than 800 carved capitals. 
  • Chenonceau Castle: considered Historic Monument of France since 1840, Caterina de' Medici lived in it. Built by Philbert Delorme, it is available for visits along the Loire Bike Path. 
  • Langeais Castle: dating back to the X century, was owned by Richard I of England, who enlarged it, even if it didn't survive the Hundred Years' War. Rebuilt in a late Middle Ages style thanks to Louis XI, it is conserved very well and open to the public. 
  • Sully-sur-Loire Castle: dating to the Renaissance, it was rebuilt to protect a Roman stone bridge, broken by a flood in the XIV century. Some of its features are its circular towers, giving to the building a sense of harmony.
In order to have more info about the castle in the Loire take a look at this page and good ride along Loire Cycle path.
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Francesco G

ITA - Ho 33 anni e sono piemontese, anche se da qualche anno vivo e lavoro in Lombardia. Dopo un inizio da totale inesperto in questo campo, mi sono avvicinato al mondo dei cicloviaggi e della bicicletta sempre più. Oggi posso definirmi "cicloviaggiatore", e assieme all'altra mia passione - il videomaking - non mi fermerei mai! Cyclo ergo sum, pedalo quindi sono, per cercare di capire perché andare in bici sia così bello, terapeutico, ricco... E ogni volta che provo a capirlo, non ce la faccio, e sono costretto a ripartire sui pedali!

ENG - I'm from Piedmont and I'm 33 years old, I have been living and working in Lombardy for a few years. After a start without any competence in this field, I then approached the bicycle world more and more. Today I can call myself a bicycle traveller and videomaker who would never ever stop. Cyclo ergo sum, I cycle therefore I am. I ride my bike trying to understand why it is so beautiful, rich, therapeutic. And every time I try, I do not understand it. So I must leave again...