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  • Writer's pictureClaire @ fromthegrapevine

Bikes and wines along the Loire


Photo of Claire amongst the vines at Parnay, just outside Saumur

Despite the early start and the queues at the airport, flying Ryanair from Stansted is as straightforward as jumping on a bus, and just one hour from take off, we find ourselves in the heart of the Middle Loire. My sister and I had landed in Tours, a proud and clean town, bustling with bikes, trams and narrow streets full of interesting shops and bars.

Our mission was to cycle west from Tours to Nantes in less than seven days. Roughly following the Loire river downstream, the mileage is only around 200km, so with the terrain being flat, and with a tailwind, we were hopeful of an easy ride.

In terms of drink, I was expecting a more obvious bragging of the vineyards of Anjou, Saumur and Touraine in the City. Restaurants had extensive wine lists featuring wines from across France, and there were always local options, but most people were drinking beer, wines by the glass, or at a push, a "pichet" - a 500ml small pitcher.


Photo showing the facade of the Hotel de Ville in Tours, France
The Hotel de Ville in Tours.

Day Two - Tours to Bréhémont

We had picked up two hire bikes and installed our own pannier bags. The Val de Loire cycle route runs along the south bank of the Loire for this stretch - flat, and straight, with a mix of smooth tarmac and fine gravel forest trails. With a tail wind we are pedalling along quite speedily.

It was a Sunday and many families were out on bikes, and we saw many other cycle tourers laden with pannier bags, and we forced them all to say "bonjour".

We didn't pass many coffee opportunities until we reached Savonnières, which was packed with cyclists and walkers all needing the same refreshment. It was a pretty town, so worth a wander and stretch of the legs, as well as the much needed coffee, water and a wee.



View of Savonnieres from the bridge over the Loire
View of Savonnieres from the bridge over the Loire

We purposely built slack into our timetable so that we could stop en-route and be tourists. Our stop for the afternoon was Chateau Villandry There were acres of manicured gardens to explore, a maze, vegetable plots and a lake, as well as art installations and the chateau itself.

Culture ticked off, we pedalled onwards and into Bréhémont early enough for a cheeky beer at the only bar in the hamlet. Our Airbnb accommodation for the night was a couple of miles west of the town, at Rupanne, and is highly recommended. And reasonable. A budget of around £60 per night got us some great places!


Picture of the main road leading to the Brehemont high street
The road into sleepy Brehemont

We pedalled back to Bréhémont in the evening where the choice of restaurants was "Delicies de Sarah" and a specialist fish restaurant, which was fully booked. There would have been other places in the villages further away, but having only our 2-wheeled steeds, we didn't want to stray too far into the unknown.


Sarah's place didn't disappoint, and we paired our meal with a local AOC Chinon Angelique (100% cabernet franc.) It was reasonable price and served in the 50cl pichet again. It had a lovely brambly hedgerow quality that seemed appropriate in this country backwater on the banks of the Loire.


Photo of a small pitcher of red wine (Chinon AOC) and a full glass next to it.
Our pichet of Chinon

Day Three - Bréhémont to Saumur

We left early as the weather forecast predicted temperatures rising towards thirty degrees by the afternoon. There was peaceful nature reserves to travel through, small towns and riverside gravel paths.


We continued to see other touring cyclists, especially in the town of Montsorreau, whose cafés and bars heaved with lycra-clad MAMILs and pensioners who were motor homing in the area. We heard a disproportionate amount of English voices in this town, before heading west through Turquant, and Parnay, where encounter the first hills of the route, but more importantly, we finally we see vines!


The route passes by the end of the driveway of Domaine de Rocheville, a winery and vineyard that offers tours and tastings. I persuaded my sister that we should call in. Since the first vintage in 2005, the estate has produced Saumur Blanc, Saumur Champigny, followed by a Saumur rosé and finally a Crémant de Loire.


It was too hot to sit out on the terrace in the early afternoon heat (and the staff claimed it was too windy to put the umbrellas up, although I suspect they couldn't be bothered - people arriving on bikes are unlikely to be spending hundred of Euros on boxes of wine). Instead, we sat in the cool interior where we were given generous samples of each wine, and whilst they were all excellent, we chose the Saumur Champigny to purchase to enjoy when we arrived at Saumur.

Photo of Claire with glass of wine in hand on the terrace of Domaine de Rocheville
Wine tasting at Domaine de Rocheville

From Domaine de Rocheville, we continued west, and the route gave us a glimpse of the troglodyte caves at "Parcours Troglodytique". We then entered the town of Saumur, its chateau high on the cliff top overlooking the town and river below.


Day Four - Rest day in Saumur

Unlike the MAMILs who parked their bikes next to ours at the hotel, we weren't pedalling 600km in 5 days, and were taking it easy with a rest day in Saumur. Time to be tourists!

We rode up to the Cadre Noir in the morning, the national equestrian school where in days gone by, the French cavalry trained. Nowadays, only the best riders get to live and train there, practising in dressage, show jumping and cross country, as well as putting on monthly shows for visitors. Our trip hadn't coincided with a show, but we joined a tour and got to see around the schooling rings, stables and tried to understand what the guide was saying (the tour was in French!)


Horse looks out of his stable door where my sister is reviewing a picture of him on her phone
One of the Cadre Noir's horses approves my sister's photo


With temperatures rising in the afternoon, we headed for Caves Ackerman. Set within the deepest troglodyte caves in Saumur, the vintners have combined winemaking (and sales) with historical interest, and immersive art. For a modest entry fee, visitors can take a self guided tour through the caves. The first set of caves show how sparkling wines have been made and stored through the years. The second set of caves contain art installations, some involving light shows, which give the caves a spooky feel. In the final set of caves there are old fashioned games - large scale shove ha'penny, boules and bowls. The temperature is at a constant twelve degrees, so the caves were a respite for a while, but then became very chilly!


Photo of my sister reading information boards in the Ackerman cave
Chilling in Ackerman caves

Back in the tasting room, we tried the sparkling wines. There was a bone dry Royal Crémant de Loire, which was a classier affair than the Cuvée Privée, which was demi sec and rougher on the palate. We were impressed with the drinkability of the sparkling Royal Rouge made from 100% Cabernet Franc, with a slight sweetness and so we bought some as a refreshing 'day drink'.


Once back in Saumur, there was time to take a trip around town on the land train, see the chateau close up, and enjoy a slap up Mexican meal.

Day Five - Saumur to Angers

This was the hardest day of cycling. It felt as though the temperatures were notching up even higher (reaching into the 30s by Midday), the signage on the route was less reliable meaning that we strayed off route several times, and there were other challenges en route, such as having to cross the river on a self-propelled chain ferry. We watched a couple ahead of us as they struggled to hold the boat, whilst load their bikes via a steep bank, and decided to find an alternative way around the river.


Another frustration was that the check in time of our Air BnB was 5pm, so we arrived into Angers dripping in sweat, our clothes sticking to us, and having to kill a couple of hours. We obviously sat in the shade enjoying a beer before attempting anything else, but then found a wonderful launderette where we washed and dried all our stinky clothes whilst sitting out of the sun enjoying their free wi-fi and comfy seating area.

After a wonderful (and inexpensive) Italian meal at Le napoli on the recommendation of the AirBnB host, we came back and enjoyed our chilled Ackerman bubbles in the shady cool courtyard. Finally the stresses of the day were washed away!


A photo of a bottle of Ackerman Royal Rouge with two filled glasses
Chilled bubbles at dusk

Day Six - Angers to Ancenis

A pleasant day of cycling, starting early due to the heat. We saw beavers nesting on the river on the edge of the city, and stopped in a small town when we spied a decent boulengerie for a pain au chocolat. By lunchtime we parked up in the quaint riverside town of Saint Florent-le-Vieil and attempted to emulate the French tradition of a 2-course Plat du Jour. Washed down with a glass of Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, it was a pleasant rest stop.


The route into Ancenis crossed the Loire on an impressive suspension bridge, which was the only time we had been forced to cycle on a busy road. The bridge was too narrow for cars to overtake us, so we pedalled as hard as we could over the 412 metre span with mildly irritated motorists on our tail.


Once into Ancenis, the town was compact, but with a castle, some bars and restaurants and our impressive accommodation located in the old cottages between the town and the waterside.


Photo showing the road bridge crossing the Loire into Ancenis
The suspension bridge into Ancenis


Day Seven - Ancenis to Nantes

The final day of cycling, and a shorter day. It would also be extremely flat as we passed through country lanes alongside agricultural land before joining a wide riverside path on the north banks of the Loire about 10km from the City and following it all the way into the city.

The cycle lanes in the city remain segregated from traffic, so you feel safe, although they zig zag everywhere and if you don't know where you're going, it can be chaotic until you understand the lay of the land.


Nantes is a large university city (the 8th largest City in France) and combines the old historical centre with more modern boulevards with trams. The Loire river dissects the City from North to South and the smaller Erdre river slices through the northern part of the City. There is a large island in the middle of the Loire river (the Ile de Nantes) which has its fair share of the urban sprawl, and no less than 6 bridges connecting it to the north bank.


We hand the bikes back and discover that public transport is excellent and free on weekends to everybody.


Time for our first rosé, which was deserved and welcome relief in the perisitent heat.


Photo of Claire and Rachel enjoying drinks in Nantes
Cheers! Tours to Nantes cycled, time for a glass!

We planned and executed the holiday independently, using RyanAir flights (Stansted to Tours, Nantes to Stansted), a mixture of Airbnb accommodation and Booking.com. The Route is available as a GPX track on the website https://en.francevelotourisme.com/cycle-route/la-loire-a-velo-loire-valley-by-bike. We used Detour de Loire for our hire bikes - they offer one way hire between the towns of Blois, Orleans, Tours and Nantes, and their bikes were reliable and comfortable. Along with the trekking hybrids (that we hired), Electric bikes and mountain bikes are also available.

However, if you were interested in doing this route with less work, there are numerous companies that offer a similar itinerary but with hotel accommodation (minimum four star), guides, mechanics and they will transport your luggage whilst you cycle, or rescue you if you get tired. Something to consider if you don't fancy launderettes!




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