Discovering the Pays De La Loire Region by Bike
During the summer months, I’ve always loved spending time in the English countryside, so when the opportunity arose to spend a few days exploring France’s counterpart on two wheels last summer, I was quick to head online to book my flights to nearby Nantes. It’s no secret that the French love to cycle; one of the most popular regions for both locals and tourists alike is the Pays de la Loire, and it’s not hard to see why. It has more than 1,500 miles of marked and maintained trails criss-crossing across the region, including the award-winning Loire à Vélo route, which follows the course of the Loire River through a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
While the Loire à Vélo officially starts at Cuffy in the Cher and continues to Saint-Brevin les-Pins, along 500 miles to the town at the edge of the ocean in the Loire-Atlantique region, our own journey started from Nantes, where we caught a train further east to Ingrandes to pick up our bikes. With less than 400 inhabitants, the town has retained a lot of rustic French charms (despite being the victim of WWII bombings), which made it a great starting point. Our first stop was the ‘Pont René-Trottier’, a footbridge that connects Montjean-sur-Loire with the ‘Île de Chalonnes’ river island. Cyclists dominate the road traffic around these parts, so every few kilometres we would pass families and couples who were also out enjoying the weather together, exchanging friendly ‘bonjours’ and ‘hellos’ as our groups passed by.
We soon reached the ‘Pont du Grand Bras’, a bridge connecting the Ile de Chalonnes’ with the other side of Loire, where we continued our journey on to Savennières. One of the best features of the Loire à Vélo route is that it manages to encompass the best heritage, food and wine that the ‘Valley of Wonders’ has to offer, so we took a break here to try out some local cuisine and sample a few of the wines on offer at one of the local vineyards, before pressing on to our final stop for the day - the city of Angers.
The following morning, after taking a brief walking tour of Angers, to visit the Chateau and explore some more of the city, we headed to the railway station to make our way to Saumur. One of the best parts of cycling in the Pays de la Loire region is that trains have carriages dedicated to storing bikes safely for the duration of your journey, allowing you to pick and choose your route with ease and giving you complete freedom of what you wish to discover on your trip.
For us, our second day took us through the troglodyte cave dwellings of Saumur, a boat trip along the confluence of the Loire and Vienne Rivers near Montsoreau, and finally on to our last stop of the trip, the village of Fontevraud-l'Abbaye, near Chinon, in Anjou, and its breath-taking royal abbey.
Another route that’s available in the region is the Vélodyssey, France’s longest cycle trail along the Atlantic Coast. Complete with more than 750 miles of signposted cycling and spanning 10 of France’s coastal departments, the Vélodyssey is the French part of Eurovélo 1. In the Pays de la Loire region the route follows the towpath of the canal from Nantes to Brest before joining a section of the Loire à Vélo trail connecting with the cycle paths on the Vendée coast, linking to a trans-European route which also runs through Portugal, Spain, Britain, Ireland and Norway. As such, it is now a major attraction for cyclists visiting France.
This summer also sees the opening of La Vélo Francette, a brand new trail from Normandy to the Atlantic. In June 2015, this north to south itinerary joins the 391 miles distance from Ouistreham in Normandy to La Rochelle in Poitou-Charentes, and has been designed to offer a new way to enjoy the serenity of French countryside and its charming little villages. Combining the best of Normandy’s beaches, the countryside surrounding the River Mayenne and length of the Loire Valley between Angers and Saumur, as well as the River Thouet, and in the heart of the Poitevin Marshes to the south, your reward waiting at the finish point is the opportunity to take a dip in the waters of the Atlantic at La Rochelle.
What are you waiting for? Get on your bike!