There are those big biking trips that you spend months preparing. Then there are those short trips that begin with “Hey, it’s going to be nice out this weekend—let’s go biking… in the Loire Valley!”
This little Loire loop—three days, two nights, including two days of biking—is of the latter kind. Beginning and ending in Blois, itself easily reached by train from Paris in 1½-2 hours, this itinerary provides an excellent introduction to the Loire Valley, its castles, its wines and its biking routes. All that with little preparation. Your most difficult decision may well be what to pack in order to keep your biking load light.
Chaumont, Cheverny and Chambord, the three chateaux on this route, are different enough that castle-fatigue won’t set in. The distances covered, about 30 miles per day for each of the two cycling days, is moderate enough to appeal to occasional cyclists while significant enough to attract frequent cyclists who might add a few zigzagging miles to make for a more challenging ride.
While the route is flat, with only a few slight slopes, the distances are great enough that they may be a bit much for children and for those unaccustomed to athletic activity given that you’ll also be doing a lot of walking while visiting the chateaux and their parks and gardens.
This loop covers just a small part of the 500 miles of cycle trails that are covered by Loire à Vélo (Cycling Loire), the Loire Valley system trails going from the outer edge of Burgundy to the east to the outer edge of Brittany to the west, by way of chateaux, vineyards and the towns and cities of Orléans, Blois, Tours, Saumur, Angers and Nantes.
Here’s a 3-day, 15-step itinerary for little Loire Valley loop that begins with a touring day on foot in Blois, reached by train from Paris.
Day 1. Blois.
1. Pack lightly—whatever you can carry on your back and/or in a saddle pack when biking. Take the morning train to Blois from Paris.
2. The castle, tourist office and center of Blois are a 15-minute walk from the station. The Blois Tourist Office is next to the castle entrance. You can pick up a town map there along with maps and information about the chateaux in the surrounding area covered by this loop.
3. Check into hotel or B&B. (Or, since you’ll have packed lightly, carry your bag with you until you’re ready to check in in the afternoon.)
I stayed at the B&B La Maison de Thomas, a friendly little place in the very center of town. The ground floor of the B&B serves as a wine bar in the evening, one of a several places in town to get familiar with Loire Valley wines, particularly the Cheverny and Cour-Cheverny vineyards you’ll be biking past. For other lodging possibilities as well as dining options see the bottom of the article Blois Castle: The Key to the Loire Valley.
4. Visit Blois Castle (read that same article for an overview of its historical and architectural significance) and, if it’s up your alley, La Maison de la Magie, The House of Magic, across the square from the castle. Don’t miss the dragons that emerge periodically from the window of the House of Magic. A bit of wandering between the castle, the river and the cathedral can complete the afternoon.
5. After tasting two or three wines at La Maison de Thomas, you might enjoy, as I did, the relaxed gastronomy at Christophe Cosme’s Le Rendez-vous des Pêcheurs. (Closed Sun. and Mon.). The Blois article mentioned above also lists other dining options.
6. See the sound-and-light show in the courtyard of the castle beginning at 10pm in April, May and September, 10:30pm in June, July and August. An overview of a day in Blois as outlined above appears in the photolog Great Encounters: Blois.
Day 2. Chaumont and Cheverny.
7. Rent bikes from the friendly folks at Traineurs de Loire, 12, rue Saint-Lubin. It opens at 9:30am. You’ll likely walk by the shop during your wanderings on Day 1 since it’s just below the cathedral. If you’d like to picnic you might pack it in Blois before setting off. Otherwise you would have lunch at Chaumont.
8. Ride to the castle at Chaumont-sur-Loire, 20k (12.4 miles) from Blois.
9. There are two entrances to Chaumont: one on the ride near the river, the other upon on the hill behind the castle property. If you want the challenge of a biking up a hill (and the thrill of wheeling down) then take the back entrance. (I took the challenge.)
Give yourself plenty of time to visit Chaumont: the castle (1465-1510), which Queen Catherine de Medicis purchased in 1550 to use in the famous Chambord-for-Chenonceau housing exchange with her husband’s mistress Diane de Poitiers after King Henri II was no longer alive to protect and spoil the latter; the view of the Loire from the castle terrace; the lush castle grounds; the 5-star stables (still displaying its original saddler by Hermès) created during the tenure of Marie Say, Chaumont’s extravagant owner from 1875 to 1938; the animal cemetery for her beloved dogs and monkeys. From late-April to mid-October, Chaumont hosts the International Garden Festival from late-April to mid-October, with two dozen gardens restored or created each year. For garden lovers the festival alone can seduce a visitor a few hours with a lunch and café pause, so you’ll have to remind yourself that you’ve got biking to do.
10a. If you leave Chaumont while the afternoon is still young you might ride to the Chateau de Beauregard. Beauregard is 18.2k (11.3 miles) from Chaumont. Cheverny is then 8.3k (5.1 miles) from Beauregard.
10b. I spent so much time at Chaumont that I rode on directly to Cheverny, a ride of about 22.9k (14.2 miles), give or take a vineyard. Cheverny is described in this article. In addition to the harmony and elegance of the château and its park, a major draw of Cheverny is its kennel for 100 Anglo-French hunting hounds. Since you’ll be arriving here in the mid to late afternoon, you can watch the hounds, tail in the air, devour mass quantities of raw meat during feeding time. The feeding takes place at 5pm daily (with exceptions) from April 1 to September 14. The remainder of the year the feeding takes place at 3pm on Mon., Wed., Thurs. and Fri. (except holidays). It isn’t that they don’t eat on other days but they’re probably out working during the hunting season.
11. Either before or after entering the chateau grounds, you might taste-test some Cheverny and Cour-Cheverny wines right by the entrance at the Maison des Vins de Cheverny, the official tasting table/wine shop of the association of winegrowers from the two appellations. These are the wines from the vineyards that you’ll be riding through on this 2-day loop.
Cheverny is a young, fruity wine largely using sauvignon and some chardonnay for the whites and pinot noir and gamay for the reds and roses. Cour-Cheverny, far less well known and with more cache because of its more limited production (one-tenth that of Cheverny), is made from grape varietal called Romorantin, a grape now specific to this area, cousin to chardonnay, introduced by king Francoise I, and so proprietary that it’s typically written with a capital R.
The tasting table/wine shop It isn’t a cozy setting but it’s the opportunity to learn something about these wines if you haven’t yet had the time or inclination to visit a vineyard between chateaux. The Maison des Vins de Cheverny is open daily from Easter to the beginning of November, 11am-1:15pm and 2:15-6pm. Since the tasting room may be closing before you finish visiting the chateau grounds at that time, so I suggest stopping here before going in—furthermore, that’ll give you time to digest the alcohol before getting back into the saddle. The chateau itself is open until 6:30pm April-October, until 5pm the rest of the year, though the grounds stay open later.
12. There are two good options for a fine meal and a good night’s sleep: the 3-star Auberge du Centre in Chitenay, 7.4k (4.6 miles) from Cheverny, where I enjoyed a most pleasant evening during this loop, and the 4-star Château du Breuil, on the edge of Cheverny, 4.4k (2.7 miles) from the chateau. Both have restaurants. Breuil also has a swimming pool.
Day 3. Chambord and return to Blois.
13. The ride from either of the hotels noted above to the Chateau de Chambord is just over 21k or 13 miles, making for a leisurely morning ride. Here’s an article about Chambord, the Loire Valley’s XXL castle.
14. There’s plenty to keep you busy at Chambord and extra cycling trails to be taken in the area, so in visiting the area you’ll have to make sure that you leave yourself plenty of time to get your bike back to the rental place in Blois, which closes at 6pm.
The most direct route to Blois through the countryside is 16.4k (10.2 miles), but for the more scenic route you’d head directly to the Loire at Saint-Dyé-sur-Loire then ride downstream to Blois, staying on the left (southern) bank of the river until you cross over the old bridge at Blois. That route adds a few miles, plus there are some great riverside photo ops along the way. And on my own trip I encountered such a strong headwind along the river that the last 7 miles felt like three times that, but it was well worth it for the beauty of the ride.
I therefore suggest allowing yourself a good two hours to make it back to Blois.
15. Once you’ve dropped off the bike give yourself 30 minutes to get to the train station—make that an hour so as to relax in a café near the rental shop before taking the train. Back to Paris? Or further down the river to, say, Saumur, for the start of another little loop in the Loire?
Text and photos © 2015, Gary Lee Kraut