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Some Brits, when thinking of our closest continental neighbours, may conjure up images of impolite, baguette-wielding fashion obsessed Parisians who seem to spend more time in their local cafes than dealing with the rigours of life. Stereotypes aside, this is a shame as there is so much more to France than its capital. Many wonders can be found by simply getting out of the cities armed only with backpack, a map and a rented bicycle.

The La Loire à Vélo, a cycle trail stretching almost 500 miles across heartland France, offers tourists one of the most diverse and interesting cycle routes in the whole of Europe. Spoilt between spectacular mountain scenery, endless vineyards and stunning historical architecture, it’s a great place to unwind and relax with the family.Below I have shared some highlights of the route starting in rural south-central France, through the source of the river at the Massif Central to its final destination in the Atlantic.Goudet to Le Puy en ValeyThe route from Goudet to Le Puy en Velay is one of the less rugged rides along the valley, although the first part is steep in places. There were plans to flood a section on this route between Chadron and Solignac-sur-Loire, but, thankfully, as of writing it remains unspoiled. 

Cycling this section of the Loire will bring you across Le Puy en Velay; a place like no other in France due to the fact that it is built upon an inactive volcano. As a result, some of its roads and houses are made from local quarry stone coloured ochre, cream and purple stones which are not only unique, but very beautiful. Atop Mount Anis you’ll find a 4th century cathedral, an unmistakable sight with its huge steps and quirky zebra striped doors.

Jean-Pol GRANDMONT

Le Puy en Velay to Sancerre

This is one of the more demanding routes in the Loire Valley. In fact, leaving Le Puy en Velay in the Auvergne region can be pretty demanding for cyclists – especially at rush hour. As the road out has multiple lanes, I recommend dismounting at some junctions. If in doubt, look for signs to Retournac and Vorey and you will see how quickly this busy road becomes nothing more than a quiet country lane.

MASSOT

The mighty Chateau de Lavoûte-Polignac, seemingly built from the rock face itself, dominates this section of the river. It is one of over 300 majestic chateaux of the Loire Valley that can be found dotted along this region of France. However, unless you have a particular affiliation for the more gruesome aspects of French history (the Polignac family in particular being no exception!), there is little point in taking the trip to the top. Your time would be better spent cycling on downstream to investigating the historical hamlet of Le Cros or the Lavoûte-sur-Loire commune.

Sancerre to Saint Nazaire

Starting at Sancerre, descend down until you reach the canal and follow it in a northerly direction. You will find this road to be quiet and flat as you cycle through the myriad of small villages and picturesque towns. For a quick fix of 12th century gothic architecture, take a detour towards the churches in Cosne Cours sur Loire. You shouldn’t miss the flower beds…a sight to behold in summer.

Get back onto the canal path, and ride until you reach just beyond Firmin-sur-Loire. From there, turn right to cross over the Briare Aqueduct (by chance, the longest in Europe) and go through the nearby town of Briare le Canal.

MASSOT

I wouldn’t recommend trying to leave Briare by the D952 as it’s an extremely busy road. Instead, go back over the aqueduct and turn right on to the D951. This route offers much better views of Gien, a town renowned for its fine pottery or ‘faience.'


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The best cycling routes of the Loire Valley
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