Seeing the lovely Loire Valley from the saddle

Riding through vineyards in the Loire Valley.

Riding through vineyards in the Loire Valley.

The damaged garage roof, smashed guttering and fascia, thought to have been cause by debris from a plane     Picture: Dan Wells

Ice block crashes from sky into garage roof

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Will this work with your bike, madame?’

Fortunately it wasn’t a complicated piece of machinery I was being asked about, but a glass of fine French white, produced in the Loire Valley, ready to be tasted.

And despite a kind vineyard owner’s concern, it turns out the beauty of a cycling holiday means that the odd glass of vin blanc or rouge does indeed ‘work’.

Thanks to Sir Bradley and his compatriots’ stunning success at the London Olympics, cycling has seen a huge resurgence. More and more people are finding the idea of getting in the saddle appealing, and some tour operators are reporting a whopping 300% boost in the sale of holidays by bike.

This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the Tour de France and, in August, 20,000 amateur cyclists will take part in a 100-mile race along the 2012 London Olympic route as part of the world’s largest cycling festival, RideLondon.

With so much buzz around a sport based on something pretty much all of us did as a child, my husband and I decided to see what all the fuss was about. But rather than racing up mountains and through valleys, we chose a gentle jaunt around the Loire Valley in central France.

Armed with some well-equipped bikes - loaded with panniers, trip monitors to calculate speed and repair kits - and just a map and set of directions, it was up to us to negotiate the 25-35 mile route each day.

It certainly proved to be a challenge in some parts. The odd wrong turn led to a few extra miles and a quick reassessment of our location, as well as - needless to say - a few heated exchanges.

Some people might choose to move their own luggage, but we travelled in style, with our cases transported for us. In fact, the only real hardship was the occasional grey, drizzly day.

But isn’t that the fun of adventure? The thrill of successfully navigating an unknown route, getting up hills you didn’t think you could, while taking in beautiful sights, interesting history and a bucket-load of culture?

The Loire Valley has a reputation for fine wine and great food - along with great art, architecture and 300 chateaux to discover.

The advantage of cycling is having plenty of time to admire these historic buildings from the outside, or to stop off and explore their impressive grounds.

Straddling the Cher River, Chenonceau was once at the centre of a dispute between Catherine de Medici, wife of Henry II of France, and her husband’s long-time lover Diane de Poitiers.

Even more striking are the three-tiered gardens at the chateau at Villandry, as well as the horticultural work of art created by the Countess of Venant at the Chateau de Valmer.

The picturesque towns and villages of the Loire are rich in history. Amboise, with its own towering castle, is home to the Manoir du Clos Luce, where Leonardo da Vinci lived the final three years of his life. Despite being bombed during the Second World War, Tours still has a wonderful old town with leaning wooden-beamed buildings and cobbled streets.

The pace of cycling is a great way to enjoy the scenery. From quiet roads along the banks of the Loire, as well as its sister rivers, to custom-made gravel tracks, we happily made our way across the picturesque valley.

TRAVEL FACTS

Ellen Branagh was a guest of Macs Adventure on their six-day Chateaux Of The Loire Valley In Style cycling holiday, graded as ‘moderate’.

Price, from £1,335 per person, includes accommodation at luxury hotel-chateaux, luggage transfer each day, breakfast, some evening meals, maps and route plans. Go to macsadventure.com or call 0141 530 1950.

Train fares from London to Amboise start at £96 standard class return per person. Go to raileurope.co.uk

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