The Loire Valley. Nestled in west-central France, this lush stretch of greenery is where Rémi and I passed our spring vacation.
As a holiday-goer you will find chateaux, vineyards, cathedrals, old cities, photogenic landscapes and hiking and cycling trails to occupy you, if you so wish, from dawn til dusk (all of the aforementioned was thoroughly enjoyed by the two of us - except the dawn bit).
You might also pick up a few facts about the rich history of the area, some of which includes:
- A conquest of the region by Julius Caesar (somewhere around 50BC) and the introduction of the wine grape by the Romans, a legacy that lives on until now;
- A failed invasion by Attila the Hun around 450AD;
- A growth in Christianity that spurred the development of the region, making the area the religious and political hub of France (and the cathedrals are testimony of this!);
- The Loire River, which runs through it, acted as a border between England and France during the Hundred Year War (the war in which instigated the construction of numerous medieval fortresses, some of which we see today);
- It's where Saint Joan of Arc underwent much of what she is famous for;
- It's where, during a long, peaceful post-war period, French aristocrats holidayed (and there we have the reason behind all the chateaux constructions that were more about Renaissance than fortification);
- French aristocrats, admiring the artistry of the Italians, invited many Italian artists, sculptures, gardeners and architects to work here; Leonardo Da Vinci lived and died here;
- Apparently the plague and the War of Religion shifted the monarchy to Paris, and soon after the region began to decline in political and strategic importance;
- During WWII it was the border between German-occupied and unoccupied France.
- Most of the chateaux were used as hospitals during this same period, and some were used as passageways to exchange prisoners of war.
Nerdery aside, here are some pictures of our adventure! We cycled from Orleans to Angers (300km) in 6 days, and were lucky to have three out of six days of nice weather (of the not-so-nice three, only one day - with a max of 7 degrees and too much wind and rain - could be deemed as horrendous; the remaining two were cold but bearable).
Some tips for planning your own trip to the Loire Valley:
- We hired our bikes from Détours de Loire. They have several offices dotted around the district, so if you ever get into trouble they're not too far away to lend a hand. For instance, on day three, tired of our sore bottoms, we visited their shop in Tours, where they handed over two gel-covers without a moments hesitation.
- We stayed in bed and breakfasts (chambres d'hotes), which are numerous. We were very happy with our stays at Le Clos Elisa near Chambord, La Tufolière in Rochecorbon, near Tours (you'll be sleeping in a cave, but a very nice one!), and La Bouquetterie, in Saint-Mathurin-sur-Loire, a quaint town sandwiched between Saumur and Angers.
- We loved our lunch at L'Auberge du Bon Laboureur, which is just next to our favourite chateau of the trip, Château de Chenonceaux.
- There are tourism offices along the way, each of which homes a number of maps and suggestions regarding their immediate region.
- Think ahead re: your dinner, especially on Sundays and Mondays, where many restaurants and supermarkets are closed. You might have more luck in big cities like Tours and Angers, but smaller towns need planning.
- We had internet-access for most of the route, but having back-up maps in your bag is a good idea.
- 50km a day (on average) often left us a bit short of time to explore, so unless you're a super fast cyclist I'd recommend averaging less.
- The route is mostly flat, but there are hilly bits. Be prepared.
- A guide to the wines of the region.
- Some local cuisine to look out for.
- And the official Loire à Vélo website.