Loire Valley cycling trip: Day 1, Tours to Chinon

Dave and I had been looking forward to this for months. After racing his Ironman in Nice, France, we would head north to the Loire Valley and do a 5-day cycling trip!

We took the TGV train (très grande vitesse – it means very high speed), which regularly travels at speeds of 200 km/hr (and is capable of much, much more). There was no direct route from Nice to Tours – we had to pass through Paris. It was a 5 hour ride from Nice to Paris. We just had time there to drink a bottle of wine at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, go out for dinner, and get a good night’s sleep, before catching the train west to Tours.

We had booked rental bikes from Detours de Loire, a bike shop a stone’s throw from the train station, and the bikes were great. Perfect touring bikes, equipped with everything we needed, from pumps to water-proof panniers. The people there were great – they had everything ready for us. We stopped at a nice little restaurant for lunch, then headed out to start our adventure.

We had pre-booked out accommodation for the whole trip (it was over late June and early July, and I wasn’t sure how booked-up everything would be, so we decided to play it safe). It was around 3:00 by the time we were on our bikes and leaving town, and we were commited to covering 70 km that day, to end up in the ancient and historic town of Chinon.

All loaded up, and ready to depart from Tours.

This photo is kinda funny. We did not yet know how well sign-posted the trip would be. A friend had recommended the route to me, and I had purchased a great little guidebook, Le Loire à Vélo, which is available in both English and in French (although the English edition can be hard to find). The book has got excellent route maps at a scale really appropriate to biking – extremely well done and useful – as well as lots of info about interesting places to stop (castles, wineries, restaurants, and more) along the way.

So I had the map out, ready to navigate us out of town and follow the recommended bike route. Little did I know that this bike trail has been a huge tourism project, funded both by UNESCO and various levels of government (the Loire Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage site), and the whole route is really well sign-posted. So we were standing here, figuring out which way to go – and now, looking at the photo, I notice that the Loire à Vélo route signs are right there, over our shoulders!

First thing we did, heading south out of town, was cross the River Cher, a tributary of the Loire. We would follow its banks for most of the next 25 km, to its confluence with the Loire, and then continue along the Loire for another 30 or so km.

Another nice surprise as we headed out of town! We had expected from our maps to be navigating along roads. But we found out that most of this bike route is on bike paths where cars are not allowed, or on very minor paved roads with almost no motor-vehicle traffic!

I had the guidebook strapped to my handlebars (you can tell they designed the guidebook with that in mind – it’s the perfect size and shape, coil-bound and printed on stiff paper). Dave had a more regional map of this part of France, that showed where all the castles are, strapped to his bike.

This is the pretty village of Savonnières, on the banks of the River Cher, 18 km out of Tours – and these are the traditional flat-bottomed boats (because of the sand bars) that have been used on the Loire and its tributaries for centuries.

Most of our route took is through rolling agricultural land: wheat fields and poppy fields. And most of it was on paved cycle paths – so peaceful and quiet, and such a treat to be able to ride such long distances without having to be constantly on the defensive due to cars. Since we had only trained in from Paris that morning, we’d only started our 70 km ride in the mid-afternoon.: not a lot of time for poking around. So we don’t have many pictures of the next sections, as we were a bit worried that we’d be late getting to our accommodation.

Oh yeah – and the occasional stretch of cobblestones. They definitely shake things up!

After following the banks of the Cher and then the Loire for 54 km,  our route took us south, away from those rivers, across some rolling country to Chinon.

And then into the lovely ancient village of Chinon.

Chinon is on the banks of the River Vienne, which we would bike along as we continued our trip westward, to where it flows into the Loire. But we were glad that we wouldn’t be doing that tomorrow. Knowing we would have lots of km to cover in only a few hours on Day 1 of our trip, we had booked two nights in Chinon. As we descended into the old Medieval part of the village, we were really glad that we’d had the foresight to do that. The village was intriguing, bordered on its south side by the river, and on its north side by a steep cliff with three castles brooding over it.

It was late by the time we were checked in and cleaned up. We found an outdoor restaurant in the village square to eat at, then climbed the stone spiral staircase to our room in the Hotel Gargantua, looking forward to Day 2, hanging around and exploring Chinon.

  1. #1 by Travis Macy on July 28, 2012 - 4:51 am

    Wow, cool trip! Gotta like France.

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