Home to the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Vendée Globe, the Atlantic Loire Valley has sport high on its agenda.
Taking part in one of the region’s runs is a great way to experience its visual treasures, from urban landmarks to vineyards and the River Loire to the Atlantic Coast.
The region is also a paradise for cyclists, with over 2,800km of dedicated cycle paths and three major cycling routes: the Loire à Vélo, the Vélodyssée and the Vélo Francette.
Our top 4 running races for 2019
Nantes Marathon, 28 April 2019
Distance: 42km / half-marathon / 10km
Explore the Atlantic Loire Valley’s capital city as you run around it! This urban trail attracts around 17,000 runners from all over France and beyond. Keep your eyes up for signage pointing to the major landmarks, such as the impressive château, cathedral, Musée d’Arts and Machines de l’Île.
www.marathondenantes.com (French only)
Loire Marathon, 12 May 2019
Distance: 42km / half-marathon / 10km / 12km canoe + 17km run
Fancy running along the banks of the iconic River Loire? This mighty waterway is the lifeblood of the region, punctuated by numerous majestic châteaux. To really immerse yourself in the Loire lifestyle, bring a partner and try the canoe-run combo.
www.marathon-loire.fr (French only)
Foulées du Gois, 23 June 2019
Distance: 8km / 4km for pros
Linking the mainland with the island of Noirmoutier in Vendée, the Passage du Gois is a unique tidal causeway submerged and revealed according to the tide. Test your nerve on this unusual route and get a breath of fresh Atlantic air.
www.lesfouleesdugois.com (French only)
Foulées du Saumur-Champigny, 9 September 2019
Distance: 29km / 17km / 9km
This race winds its way through the troglodyte caves and vineyards of nine Saumur-Champigny appellations, at the heart of the Loire Valley wine route. If you’re not a runner, no problem: Nordic-style walks are another way to soak up the surroundings.
www.saumur-champigny.com (French only)
Hugging the Atlantic coast, this is France’s longest cycle route (1,200km) and one of the most dramatic, linking Roscoff with Hendaye. Atlantic Loire Valley’s 400km section begins in Saint-Nicolas-de-Redon, winding its way along the River Erdre until it reaches Nantes and Saint-Nazaire. It then heads along the beautiful Jade Coast on its way to Bouin in Vendée, before linking up with the island of Noirmoutier, where this year’s Tour de France will start. The forest near Saint-Jean-de-Monts, pretty Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie, the Brem-sur-Mer vineyards and the Marais d’Olonne salt marshes and the buzzy resort of Les Sables-d’Olonne beckon cyclists further on.
La Loire à Vélo
Most people associate the Loire with majestic châteaux, pretty villages and world-class wine – and what better way to explore these than by bike? The Loire à Vélo trail follows the mighty River Loire for 230km, beginning in Montsoreau and passing the châteaux of Saumur, Serrant, Oudon, Brissac, Angers and Nantes, as well as the magnificent Fontevraud Abbey. Also worth exploring on the way are Saumur’s troglodyte caves, with underground passages also accessible by bike, and the Loire’s miniature islands such as Chalonnes and Béhuard, which are must-sees for wildlife lovers.
The Vélo Francette
This pretty cycle trail is France’s newest, linking Ouistreham in Normandy with the Atlantic resort of La Rochelle. Within Atlantic Loire Valley, the northern section meanders through the peaceful Mayenne department, following the eponymous river on its way through Laval and Château-Gontier to Angers. It then heads east along the Loire as far as Saumur. It’s an ideal family-friendly option if you’ve got the kids in tow.
The islands by bike
Atlantic Loire Valley’s islands of Noirmoutier and Yeu are perfect for exploring on two wheels, both offering carefully planned-out and marked routes. Explore Yeu from its ‘capital’ Port-Joinville, enjoying a four- to five-hour circuit that takes in the Pointe du But, the Grand Phare lighthouse, the old château and Port de la Meule. Twice the size of Yeu, Noirmoutier has 80km to satisfy your pedals: a northerly route that cuts through a nature reserve; a central trail through the salt marshes; and a southern itinerary around the town of Barbâtre, passing a series of lovely beaches and the famous Passage du Gois, which connects to the mainland at low tide.
Sarthe in the saddle
Sarthe is one of Pays de la Loire’s lesser-known departments, but with a network of cycle trails exceeding 400km it shouldn’t be overlooked. Most of the routes link Sarthe’s main highlights so you can punctuate your pedalling with local culture. Learn the history of the bicycle at La Belle Échappée museum in Fresnaye-sur-Chédouet (on the 29km Alençon-Mamers trail), admire the Abbey of Solesmes (on the 26km Noyen-Sablé trail), and raise a glass in the vineyards en route from Ruillé-sur-Loir to Château-du-Loir (25km). The medieval city of Le Mans and the amazing zoo at La Flèche are also start and end points to cycle trails in Sarthe.