A 4-day bike ride through France’s famed Loire Valley promised to be a big adventure for our family. Though we are all bike riders to some measure, we had never done a tour like this with our two teenage children.
Fortunately, the Loire Valley offers moderately easy terrain, spectacular views, an embarassment of castles, and the good food you’d expect from this region. While there are countless companies that will book the whole tour for you, we opted to cobble together our own route and accommdations. For those who wish to follow in our wake, here is our itinerary.
We started off in the town of Blois, where we parked our car for the weekend in an underground garage. (cost: €27). From there, we walked to Detours de Loire, where we had reserved bikes for four days for five people (our nephew Peter had flew in to join us).
Five bikes, helmets, packs and emergency kids cost us €430. The nice thing about Detours de Loire, aside from the friendly and helpful staff, is that they have several shops around the region. So you don’t necessarily have to find a way to cart your bikes back from your final stop.
From Blois, we headed northeast where we found the route mostly flat, an easy start for our first 17 km that would take us to the legendary Chambord.
While it’s tempting to seek out places off the well-trod tourist path, it’s also sometimes worth checking out the mainstream ones. Chambord is definitely magnificent, and worth a whole day or more to see the entire site. That includes 90 rooms in the Renaissance-era chateau, and the 5440 hectacres that surround it, including a little village with shops and various restaurants. Cost for five tickets: €39.
We spent just over a half a day at Chambord, because we still had 20 km of biking ahead of us to get to our sleeping quarters that night. Riding southwest, we encountered some minor ascents, up and down about 50 meters or so. Nothing severe, but we were definitely worn about by the time we arrived at le Chateau de Troussay.
Troussay bills itself as the “smallest chateau in the Loire.” The owner, Isaure de Saint Marie, has essentially dedicated her life to learning how to restore this sweet little castle, transforming it into a B&B along the way. Those efforts have made her a bit of celebrity.
She greeted us with picnic baskets with cheese, sausage, honey and bread for an improvised dinner, which we ate at tables in the backyard ground. Our bedrooms were the former stables, and we slept soundly after a long day. Cost: €369, including room and food.
In the morning, we woke up to a hearty breakfast before we rolled out for the day to our next destination.
For most of the 22 km, the terrain was flat, to a slight decline. Though with a few surprises along the way.
Our desitination this morning was Chateau de Chaumont. Just before we hit the town, there was a brutal climb up some windy roads to reach the castle. We were pretty winded, but the result was worth it. Originally built in the late 10th century, Chaumont was at one point owned by Catherine de Medici, wife of King Henri II. 5 tickets: €47.
The castle itself has been wonderfully restored, and the inside gives you some great glimpses of various periods. Chaumont and the grounds have also become a contemporary art center. So depending on when you visit, you can see some rather fantastic exhbitions.
From Chaumont, we had a 12 km ride that again, as mostly flat, but ended with a spiteful 50 meter climb the end to sap the last of our energy. We arrived at the La Chataigneraie, a lovely little chambres d’hotes. (Cost for 1 night, 5 people: €126.50.) After dropping our things, we gathered our strength and rode down a hill about 2 km to a delightful little restaurant called Le pied dans le plat.
The restaurant is cave like, built right into the hillside. But we will always remember is the presentation of the hanging meat on a stick. (brochettes). Cost of dinner for four: €125.50.
Next morning promised to be fairly easy going. Only 9 km to our next desination. But there is one part I would do differently, it was probably this stretch. There were multiple choices in terms of directions, and we opted to take one through the town of Charge. Alas, this included a drop of about 40 meters, and then rather steep climb back up those 40 meters.
Still, we survived and arrived at Chateau de Clos Luce still in mostly good humor.
The brick and freestone architecture was a very different look from anything we had seen up to that point. (Cost: €43 for 5 tickets.) But it’s claim to fame is that Leondardo da Vinci moved here in and spent the last three years of his life at the castle. The surrounding park is named for him and the chateau has a collection of various scientific gadgets from the era, and holds various workshops and cultural events throughout the year.
For lunch, we exited the grounds and walked directly across the street to a little restaurant called Le Maitre d’Art. We were lucky to get squeezed in, and ordered a mix of quiches, chartecuterie, soup and salad that were delicious and satisfying. (Cost for lunch for 5: €88.)
Fortunately, it turned out we were just up the hill from the final destination for the biking portion of the trip. In a few minutes, we were in the town of Amboise, and pulling into the Hotel Le Clos d’Amboise. For our last night on the road, we decied to pamper ourselves, and this hotel was superb. Part of the motivation: It was our wedding anniversary the day we arrived. So while we stuck the kids in another room, we stayed in a bit more upscale setting. (1 night, 2 rooms: €239)
The back had a small pool and ping pong table, which kept the kids entertained all afternoon.
At dinner, we left the kids for out own little getaway. First, a stroll through Amboise, which is an adorable town some amazing talks around the Loire River, and great views to the looming architecture on the hill.
And then our own anniversary dinner.
The first order of business was celebrating our daughter’s birthday with brunch on the terrace. Followed by more pool and ping pong time for the kids.
The bike shop had a store in Amboise, and so we dropped our gear there, and then I took a train back to Blois to fetch our car. After loading up and checking out, we decided to hit one last castle on the way home: Château de Chenonceau. (5 tickets: €56)
This may have been our favorite chateau of the trip. From the parking, there’s a long walk through he gardens to reach the castle, whose history is notable because it has often been run and maintained by women throughout the centuries.
It’s placement over the water, however, is breathtaking.
By the time we stumbled back to our car, we had probably experienced the maximum castle experience one can absorb in four days. But despite some aching legs and sore muscles, it was hard not to think about plotting our return to see even more of this region’s wonders.