The Loire Valley is known as 'The Garden of France and Cradle of the French Language', The lush landscape combines with architectural and cultural heritage to make this an area of outstanding natural and cultural excellence. High on everyone's list of special attractions are the numerous chateaux along the river - around a thousand remain in the Loire Valley out of a total that was once much greater, with some 300 along the river itself. The reason for this over-abundance of great houses is simple - just about every one of the country's serious movers and shakers - from kings on down - built here over the centuries.
The Valley between Chalormes-sur-Loire and Sully-sur-Loire is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and this is an ideal section for an extended cycle tour. Starting at Chalonnes and heading east, the route follows the river to Angers, Saumur, Tours, Amboise, Chaumont-sur-Loire, Blois, Beaugency, Orleans, Chãteauneuf-sur-Loire and finally Sully. The distance is around 300 km (185 mi). The riding is not too hard, and this is a splendid way to see and appreciate the best that the Loire Valley has to offer - which is very good indeed.
What an experience - the banks of this delightful river are ablaze with sunflowers and home to the finest examples of the castle-builder's art, from imposing medieval fortresses like Angers and Amboise to Renaissance masterpieces like Chambord and Chenonceaux and spectacular gardens like Villandry. This is also the home of great white wines, with the vineyards of great domaines everywhere, so there will be plenty of opportunity to sample fine vintages and enjoy the distinctive local cuisine (river fish a speciality!).
Shops in most of the Loire towns rent bicycles by the day for those who prefer to explore locally rather than make the full journey.
WHEN TO GO
April to October
TIME IT TAKES
A week to cycle from Chalonnes to Sully, with ample sightseeing time included.
The Royal Abbey at Fontevraud - resting place of the English King Henry II, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine and their son Richard the lionheart.
Leonardo da Vinci's manor house at Clos-Luce near Amboise - now a museum dedicated to the great man and his revolutionary ideas.
The chateau at Cheverney – see stunning interiors full of original furniture, tapestries and paintings (plus a Tintin museum ... this is Captain Haddock's Castle).
A side-trip to see the extraordinary troglodyte dwellings of Les Goupillieres near Azay-Ie-Rideau on the banks of the Indre River – the caves were made by quarrying the limestone used to construct the magnificent château.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
The fairy-tale chãteau of Usse, begun in the 15th century and re-modelled in the 1600s, provided inspiration for the timeless tale of Sleeping Beauty.