I know that for a lot of people, the idea of biking in the French countryside, through the romantic rolling vineyards, just to luckily happen upon a cute little outdoor market in a picturesque village is the stuff that travel dreams are made of. For me, it means a sore behind and legs, bugs in my face and thinking all the time “why didn’t I just drive”?
Well, I wanted to test a new itinerary for biking in the Loire Valley, in the Blois – Château de Chambord area. They announced beautiful weather for this week of April, my daughter Célestine was ready and willing, so we did it. And I must admit, I was totally wrong! We had an amazing day, filled with everything that travelers dream about: the beautiful Loire river with tons of birds sunning on sandy beaches, castles slowly revealing themselves as we approached, a charming picnic in breathtaking surroundings, AND because we had electric bikes with big, soft seats, no aching muscles or bruised buns.
Laura ready to bike the Loire - ©Laura Crotet
We started off in the morning from Blois, just next to the royal castle. As the castle opens everyday at 9 am, if you are interested in French history and architecture, I would recommend starting the day with a visit here before picking up your bike.
On the way out of town, we picked up our picnic at the boulangerie, and then crossed the Loire over the stone Pont Jacques Gabriel bridge, the oldest one in Blois. The Loire à Vélo bike path starts immediately. There are no cars, you are right next to the river, and the path is almost flat the whole time, so it makes for enjoyable and easy biking.
The Loire river
The banks of the Loire River, from Chalonnes to Sully-sur-Loire, are an UNESCO World Heritage site since 2000, making it the first river in the world to be recognized as such. There are only a few dams on the river far upstream, thus the river is allowed to flow freely and offers an ever-changing landscape. You may be tempted to take a quick dip in the river, but there are very strong undercurrents in certain parts, so I would advise against this
The Loire has incredible biodiversity, and because it is a major migration route, we saw an amazing number of different birds. I am not an expert, but I believe we saw ducks, tons of swans (these two I am sure of), cuckoos that announce that spring has sprung, cranes, loons, some birds of prey (Black Kite and Ospreys) and scores of other smaller birds busy building their nests in the trees and thickets along the river.
A ballet of swans on the Loire River - ©Laura Crotet
I love dragonflies, and although there are lots of different varieties to be seen, it was too early in the spring for us to catch a glimpse of any. If you are lucky, you may also observe beavers, but we did not see any during the day.
The Château de Menars
Célestine and I took a short croissant break while taking in the view of the beautiful Château de Menars from across the river. This castle was the home of Madame de Pompadour, who acquired it in 1760. She commissioned the architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel (best known for the Place de la Concorde in Paris, or the Petit Trianon in Versailles) to build two new wings to the castle, and he also did major work to the interior.
The castle was on the market in 2020 for 31.5 million euros (about 37 million dollars). With its 110,000 square feet of living space and 116 acres of gardens and land, it sort of seems reasonably priced, so shout out to all you Powerball winners!
Chez Madame de Pompadour : Château de Menars - ©Laura Crotet
After our little break, we continued to Saint-Dyé-sur-Loire, otherwise known as the port of Chambord. Here, the materials to build the Château of Chambord were unloaded, and the wines and other produce of the region were shipped out to other parts of France. During the construction of the castle, the town was bustling with workers and counted 12 hostels and auberges to house them. François I, d’Artagnan, and Jean de la Fontaine are all said to have sojourned there.
The church in Saint-Dyé - ©Laura Crotet
After the castle was completed and the royal route from Paris to Spain was open on the other side of the river, the village turned to the cotton trade. But that industry slowly went elsewhere as well, and today the village is a quaint and quiet place that you can quickly discover on bike before heading away from the river towards Chambord.
The stretch of the ride, through the village and to the entrance to the forest around Chambord is done on the road, shared with cars. We were comfortable with this, and it only lasts for about 10 minutes so no problem.
The Château of Chambord
Because the day was surprisingly warm, Célestine and I were happy to enter the shade of the Chambord forest, which makes up the largest enclosed park in Europe. The domain is roughly the size of Paris and is surrounded by a 20-mile-long wall. This was one the preferred hunting spots of François 1, and the forest is still inhabited by wild boar, stags, deer, and mouflon. Personally, we were glad to not have crossed paths with any wild boars because, as they say, you don’t need to be faster than the boar, just the slowest person. But that would be me, even with the e-bike!
Then came the highlight of the trip that I think would take, without a doubt, your breath away. The Château de Chambord appears in the distance, still mostly hidden by the forest, but slowly opening its arms to us as we approach. The grandeur of its size, the multitude of its chimneys, the rhythm of its towers and windows, and yet still light and lacey as if slightly floating above its gardens.
We installed our picnic to have a wonderful view of the castle, which we could not take our eyes from while we sipped local rosé wine. Unfortunately, the castle is not currently open to visitors, but of course we would recommend visiting the interior and strolling through the gardens.
The view of Chambord from our picnic - ©Laura Crotet
Célestine and I decided to take a different route back to Blois, via Huisseau and Vineuil, we would not recommend this. Although there is a passage in the vineyards, the bike trail is often on the shared road, and is more physical of a ride than next to the river.
We would recommend either heading back on the same path. Or if you can do a little bit more biking, after returning to Saint-Dyé, head up the river to Muides, cross over and take the bike trail back to Blois from the right bank of the Loire. This way, you will have a different perspective of this amazing river.
There are many bike paths that cross all over the Loire Valley, and it is truly a great way to enjoy the exceptional heritage of the region. Visit the Loire by Bike internet site to learn more.
- Laura Crotet, France Just For You
If you would like to bike through the French countryside, contact us to help plan this wonderful activity into your itinerary.