The Loire River – Valley of the Kings
France, land of enchanting fairy-tale castles, villages unchanged by the march of time and a cuisine unrivalled anywhere else. The mere mention of its name stirs within us a desire to experience its culture and to see first-hand the iconic landscape that helped to shape the intriguing history of France. There is no better way to fulfill these dreams than from the seat of your bicycle.
Touring France by bicycle is a cyclist’s fantasy come true. The “vélo” is the “King of the Road” in France. Dedicated cycling paths abound in the Loire Valley and, at the rare time that a bicycle needs to merge with local traffic, friendly motorists yield the right of way. This is the way of life on the road in France and is in fact required by law. Our adventure this coming year leads us on a winding pathway that follows the route of the peaceful Loire River, the last “wild” river in Europe. Unlike most European rivers, the Loire has been allowed to continue its historic course unhindered by dams, diversions and other man-made alterations. The Loire is the longest river in France and is an area rich in natural environments and sumptuous landscapes. Known as the “Valley of the Kings”, it is easy to see why the French monarchy chose this splendid yet tranquil setting for their numerous chateaux. As we cycle along the valley, we will have the glorious opportunity to explore some of these awe-inspiring feats of architecture that seem to greet us around every corner. The spectacular country palaces offer a glimpse into the life of royalty in pre-revolutionary France. Of course no trip to France can be complete without a visit to Paris. Though our itinerary focuses on the Loire River Valley and all its treasures, we have saved a day to explore the city lights and sites of captivating Paris.
Our travels will be punctuated by delectable exposure to the culinary artistry of the chefs, bakers and wine-makers for which France is renowned. Whether you are enjoying a simple picnic at one of the myriad of outdoor tables offered trail-side, snacking in a quaint village café or feasting in one of the many fine dining establishments we will encounter, you shan’t be disappointed. The Loire River and its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean has made this region a destination for seafood lovers for centuries. You might like to try some freshwater fish with its already exquisite flavour enhanced by a traditional “beurre blanc” sauce, a butter sauce flavoured with shallots and vinegar. Goat cheese is the trademark dairy product of the Loire region and it predates the Roman era. Centuries of experience have resulted in several mouth-watering varieties. Pair these with an outstanding specialty wine produced in the Loire Valley for a most memorable French experience. If you crave dessert you’ve come to the right place. Try “Tarte Tatin”, a sinfully delicious concoction of butter-caramelized fruit and pastry first created in this area during the 1800s. And the breads….in France you’re spoilt by choice. Some of the recipes for French breads are so perfect that they are dictated by national legislation. Step into a bakery, breathe in the wonderful aroma and admire the rich brown crusts lining the brimming shelves. You might even find yourself yielding to the time-honoured local tradition of heading for the shade of a tree with a fresh-out-of-the-oven baguette secured to your bike by a bungie cord.
The icing on the gateau is the delightfully pleasant climate and a terrain that is ideal for cycling. While no 600 kilometer bicycle ride can guarantee endless sunshine and continuously flat pedalling, this region of France comes close. There are enough hills, mostly gentle ones, to provide variety and the more enthusiastic hill-climbers can leave the riverside and soon find themselves pedalling their way over more undulating countryside. We hope that you will be able to join the Coasters Cycling Club in 2018 on this fascinating sojourn into the heart of France.
Valley of the Loire Cycle Trip – DAY 2
Cycle from breathtaking Sancerre, down to the Loire river bank and on to the very photogenic Gien
(1) At last, our first chance to climb upon our trusty bicycles and start our cycling adventures. Today starts off with a soaring descent from the Colline de Sancerre (Sancerre Hill) down to the banks of the Canal Latéral of the Loire River.
Begin by heading down the hill beside Hotel de Rempart. At the roundabout, turn sharply right (onto the road that rises slightly, not the one that immediately heads downhill). Ride down to the T-intersection.
Turn left to follow the old tourist route along the impressive old railway viaduct through Saint-Satur.
5 km - Continue by turning left onto the peaceful and shady greenway beside the Canal Latéral.
9.5 km - At Bannay the trail crosses to the left side of the canal then crosses back and meanders away from the canal. Eventually it will bring you out onto the left bank of the Loire River itself where the route settles onto the top of imposing levees.
The levees and dykes near the Loire River were first constructed centuries ago to contain the potentially devastating floods of the river. These are usually nicely paved and open only for cyclists. Their elevated position allows lovely views over the river with its islands and moving sandbanks as well as a good overlook of the acres and acres of cultivated fields that line this fertile valley. The levees are still maintained yearly. Their disadvantage can be exposure of cyclists to the prevailing westerly winds which can be quite strong.
13 km – Do not cross the bridge into Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire but continue along the left bank of the Loire.
(2) 22 km – The path turns to fine gravel and almost kisses the Belleville-sur-Loire nuclear power station before it begins a wide detour away from the river towards the highway then back to the Loire.
27.5 km – Rejoin the Canal Latéral à la Loire for a short distance, soon heading back to the Loire itself.
34.5 km – Cross the bridge over the Loire to Bonny-sur-Loire and begin to follow the tranquil pastoral course of the River Cheuille, a smaller river which merges slightly further on with the mightier Loire.
After Ousson-sur-Loire the trail becomes rougher but it remains a very pleasant ride.
41 km – Pass but do not cross the bridge heading to Châtillon-sur-Loire.
Notice the superb, old lock of Les Combles that once allowed Loire freight ships to make their slow and ponderous way up a long canal to the port of Briare. The strong currents here often made this a dangerous undertaking and resulted in about ten shipwrecks a year. From Briare, ships could connect to the Briare Loing Canal that would convey them into the Seine River which flows through Paris and empties into the English Channel at Le Havre.
(3) 45.5 km – Arrive in Briare
The canal here at Briare is one of the oldest canals in France with its beginnings initiated by Maximilien de Béthune, Duke of Sully, under King Henry IV, to support the grain trade and reduce food shortages back in 1604. (We’ll meet the Duke of Sully again at Sully-sur-Loire). The original canal was finished in 1642. Briare is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the bridge present here today – the 122-year-old canal-bridge masterpiece. This bridge allows the canal to carry boats OVER the Loire River for a distance as long the height of two Eiffel towers (662 meters). Indeed, in 1890, Gustave Eiffel, the designer behind the Eiffel Tower of Paris, was also the designer of this intriguing bit of infrastructure, wrought iron flourishes and all. The metallic bridge structure is made up of plates held together by millions of rivets. Its fifteen granite piers were solidly built to support the whole structure using early compressed-air techniques. Once the Briare Canal Bridge was finished it completed a grand waterway system linking the Loire, Seine and Rhône Rivers. The Briare Canal Bridge was the world’s longest navigable steel aqueduct in the world until the Magdeburg Water Bridge spanning the River Elbe was opened in central Germany in 2003.
Cross over the Loire on the famous Briare Canal Bridge, traversing the edge of the canal that carries boats over the Loire, then head downstream once more along the peaceful marked route.
50.5 km – Climb the short ascent into the town of St-Brisson-sur-Loire, with its interesting medieval castle. If you have time, venture through the gates into the park surrounding the castle and take a peek at this first castle that we encounter on our route.
The Château de St.-Brisson-sur-Loire was built by the de Sancerre family in the early 13th century on the site of a 12th century construction. It was first a medieval fortress but was transformed into a grand and stately manor house during the 16th century and was inhabited until 1987. It has fifteen furnished rooms that can be visited, from the kitchens to the laundry and from state rooms into private apartments. Inside also is the Children’s Museum which traces the history of the life of a child growing up in the region. The park offers outdoor games and each summer the château presents firing demonstrations of medieval war machines. The moat of the old medieval fortress also holds many interesting activities.
Adult admission is 8.50 euros. Picnics are allowed in the park and those touring the Loire by bicycle receive a discount on entrance fees and can use a bike garage in which to park their bicycles.
56 km – Cross the bridge over the Loire into Gien. Be careful because there is no cycle lane on the bridge.
As you approach the magnificent town of Gien, take time to appreciate the timeless view of the ancient stone castle and church set off by the eighteenth century bridge and its sturdy reinforced piers.
Once on the other side of the river turn right along Quai Maréchal Joffre. Ignore the Loire route signs that direct you to turn to the left onto Place Saint Louis but continue straight along Quai Maréchal Joffre and you’ll soon find yourself on Quai de Nice and the doorstep of our hotel for the night.
Our hotel for tonight is the Hotel Le Rivage; Address is 1 Quai de Nice in Gien; Phone number is 011 33 2 38 37 79; E-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. The hotel has an on-site bar. There are many restaurants, cafés and other eating establishments within close walking distance of the hotel. There is a grocery store (Alimentation Generale) that can be found by walking along the quai back to the bridge, turning right on Avenue Maréchal Leclerc (the continuation of the road that crosses the bridge), walking one block and turning left on Rue Gambetta. The store is at 22 Rue Bambetta, about 100 meters further.