(English) Bike touring in France : "la Loire à vélo"

1. What is the best time to pedal on the Loire by bike?

Definitely not the one we chose.

The Loire à Vélo is the first major cycling route that we took in March 2016. We only had 2 days to reach this cycling route from Troyes. France was slowly emerging from the winter, and little by little the rain was replacing the snow. Idyllic…

We followed it full west, that is to say pile-hair in the right direction to try the prevailing front winds to Nantes (it seems far when one has the front wind). This should not stop you from doing it in this EAST to WEST direction. It is really an extraordinary sensation (when, like us, we live far from the sea) to roll several days in a row, to conclude a journey by seeing the horizon open towards the ocean and to owe it to our own efforts. The period we had chosen was particularly windy and windy. In addition, off-season, greenways and cycling routes do not seem to be monitored or maintained. The wind had thrown many branches and trunks on our way, sometimes obliging us to wade through the soggy fields to continue.

The Loire is a fairly wild river, with great variations in flow. A good part of its banks are wild and absolutely undeveloped. It thus happens regularly that the river extends out of its bed, covering the fields and paths around sometimes several hundreds of meters. Obviously, out of season, there will be nothing and nobody (no signaling or deviation) to warn you of these overflows and we have regularly came across completely impassable areas and had to turn back several kilometers to recover a road. In summertime, however, these paths along the banks and undergrowths must be enchanting and fresh. Just check the climate and weather before you go.

2. To what type of audience is it adapted? Following the Loire to go to Nantes, it is not the most direct way when you see all the towers, turnings and convolutions of the river. But if, in addition, you follow scrupulously all the signs of the itinerary of the Loire à Vélo, you are not returned! The smallest village with a Gothic church or a medieval farmhouse pulls the cover to him so that the official route of the Loire to Vélo passes through its downtown.

For a cycling trip in family during his holidays, the Loire by bike is very pleasant and finally quite easy. It is pretty flat, there is plenty to see and visit and you can stop every hour for a diabolo on the terrace. When it comes to a long-haul journey as it is our case, sometimes there are moments when you just want to see the odometer advance without having to hang all the poorly maintained paths that just slow you down.. We recognize that certain portions of the Loire by bicycle are borrowed by sports cyclists or locals for their daily commutes because they are well adapted to these uses (see the section "infrastructures" for more details).

3. What types of landscapes can be expected? We will not knock you out with long descriptions of landscapes. We let you make your own opinion. Just know that we followed a rather short part of the Loire and that the diversity of the landscapes that it crosses is probably even more impressive.

4. Culture and Heritage As we highlighted above, everything is done to make you cross the smallest village with the least interest and located less than 500m from the Loire. From time to time, we were a little frustrated with our application to follow the signs. It must be admitted that some villages do not present any interest all the more during the low season which makes for the blow really dead season. Not a shop, not an open bistro, closed museums ... In short, we repeat but, the Loire à Vélo, wait for the beautiful days before pedaling!

You will cross some of the most beautiful villages of France. Their beauty will nail your beak but you will be surprised by the desertification of these paradisiacal places. Real estate speculation linked to tourism makes summer holiday villages and ghost towns the rest of the time. You will also pass by all the castles of the Loire valley which can be visited in season. If history and Rococo do not attract you more than that, many coffee shop and cultural places have flourished around the itinerary. Cyclists are often invited to relax. We particularly enjoyed our afternoon at the Fondation du Doute in Blois. The exhibits are really nice and the entrance is free. But the little thing to know is that one of the friendliest bar in the city is located just in there. Held by an association, prices are very low and you can find good quality products and beautiful surroundings. Finally, we can not describe the heritage of the Loire without evoking the wine. You will find them everywhere. Numerous troglodyte cellars are accessible a few dozen meters from the official route. For our part, we made quite a big detour towards Chinon (a beautiful coast to climb) to join a buddy, Boris Desbourdes, who makes family wine at Domaine de La Marinière.

5. Where to sleep ?

As you know, we particularly appreciate the Warmshowers network because it allows us to meet warm people and often very committed to issues related to sustainable development (see our article on this subject). The advantage when traveling the Loire by bike is that it is almost certain to find a Warmshowers at each stage. Why is that ? This is statistical! Having a bike path close to home has a tendency to encourage us to use it and therefore to travel by bike and thus to receive travelers by bike at home ...

An example here with the portion of the Loire located between Orléans and Chambray-lès-Tours. Each red marker represents a Warmshower.

On our third night, we've been hosted by this wonderful family thanks to the Warmshowers platform

As we were told earlier, by the time we left, it was rainy, haily, snowy, windy and muddy ... We were beginners on a trip and not really motivated for wild camping in these conditions. But as everywhere in France, the bivouac is allowed. You just do not set the camp too early and do not get up too late. Choose areas far away from the dwellings and not in the middle of cultivated fields. Beware, the Loire à Vélo is one of the busiest cycling routes in France: local residents have to suffer the regular abuses of some unscrupulous cyclists. So, no faux pas on it. And if your budget allows you, many establishments and campsites are labeled "Accueil vélo" and guarantee you a service linked to your expectations of cyclotourist (proximity with a bike route, shelters for bike, repair kit, useful information ...). From 1 to 5 stars, there are for all budgets and all the desires! To find on the site of the Loire by bike.

6. What about infrastructure? Overall, as long as you do not get too far from the itinerary, it's difficult to get lost. It's all right (except when it's flooded). Signaling

The arrival in the big cities (Blois, Tours, Nantes) was very simple and pleasant as the video shows (at the top of the article). But then ... When we settle in a big city, for a night or a few days, we do not necessarily sleep right on the itinerary. And finding it out of an agglomeration can be a real adventure. I pass you the detail of the crossing of the magnificent zones of activities, the bypasses and other expressways that border our pretty French cities but I think the cyclists among you do not need more. For example, we had a lot of trouble getting out of the Nantes conurbation. To the relief of the local authorities, there was a beautiful bike path to join the itinerary but also works on the axis that it skirted. Obviously, where do we store materials and gear when we do roadworks? And yes ! On the bike paths. Impossible to go through there. We had to borrow the little streets of the suburbs of Nantes. Following the road signs was of no help since they systematically brought back to the fast track which was forbidden to us ... So be sure to equip yourself in paper or virtual maps to orient yourself well and avoid finishing on the bypass. Coating Most of the time, one does not know what type of road to expect when following the signs of the Loire by bike. The type of coating is indicated on their website and on local maps that you can find at tourist office. We advise you to know well in advance about the route that you wish to take and the quality of the roads (track, bike path, road, little frequented road ...). In summer, in dry weather, there will be no problem passing just about anywhere whatever your bike looks like. We still had to cross a few sand pits. In wet weather, pay attention to the mud of forest and agricultural roads. By road bike, it does not pass, but then not at all! For those in a hurry, remember that this is not a "cycling highway" that would allow us to connect Nantes quickly and safely even if some portions look like it!

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