Article Words : Wanderlust team | 26 May

Go now! Loire Valley

As summer masses make a beeline for the south of France, stay further north to take advantage of a regal range of cycle trails

Why go now?

The sun is shining, the riverbanks are blooming – it’s the perfect time to hit the fine, flat cycle paths of the Loire Valley. Plus French visitors won’t descend en masse until mid-July so it’ll be nice and quiet for a while yet. Go green on the Loire à Vélo (‘Loire by bike’), 800km of signposted, easy-to-ride cycle paths running along and around the Loire from Nevers to the Atlantic coast.

En route, stop off at Chaumont-sur-Loire, this year celebrating the 20th anniversary of its annual and arty International Garden Festival.

A long weekend

The Loire à Vélo links up more than 800 castles, from the petite and picturesque Château de Villandry, to the imposing architectural masterpiece (and home to raspberry liquor), the Château de Chambord.

A network of 15 local cycle-hire companies means you can hire bikes from one place and  return them elsewhere along the route, so you’re not limited to circular itineraries. For a short trip, the Châteaux à Vélo route is an ideal option, allowing you to visit several castles and their gardens without too much cycling in between. Set off early to avoid the crowds at the more famous sights, including the Château de Cheverny, with its resplendent interiors and 70-strong pack of baying hunting dogs.

A week or more

Further eco-friendly diversions include navigating the River Cher in Canadian canoes: the 6km, two-hour itinerary from Chissay to Civray takes you beneath the fairytale arches of the Château de Chenonceau.

Or explore the Loire by kayak on excursions lasting from two hours to three days.

Many bike hire companies and accommodation options offer a luggage transfer service, allowing even those visitors on extended trips to travel light.

Where to stay

The Hotel de Biencourt in Azay-Le-Rideau is a stone’s throw from the château.

Hotel l’Auberge du Centre in Chitenay boasts rooms whose stylish, high-spec décor belies the village’s quaint feel. Both hotels have bike storage and repair facilities.

Where to eat

Atmosphere abounds at the Restaurant Côté Cour in Azay-Le-Rideau.

For a healthy lunch, try Isabeau de Touraine in Loches.

Chez Bruno, in Amboise, offers beautifully executed local dishes at reasonable prices (+33 0 2 47 57 73 49).

Getting there

To keep it sustainable, take the train. Returns to Tours, Blois or Orléans from London on high-speed services start at £89 (transferring in Paris). Journey time is around 3.5 hours, plus a recommended hour to  transfer. Book at www.raileurope.co.uk.

Do say…

“Ce pinard est magnifique – une bouteille de plus pour tenir la route?"

“This plonk is superb – one more bottle for the road?”

Don’t say…

“Allons, rattrapons ce type au maillot jaune”

“Come on, let’s catch up with the chap in the yellow jersey”