As you can tell from our love of active travel, we adore any trip that includes activities such as hiking, biking, or any other type of experience that’ll get your heart rate up while exploring new destinations. Today’s guest poster, Pam Wilson from You Call it Chaos, I Call it Life, is here to take us on a dreamy bike trip through the Loire Valley. Complete with beautiful landscapes, gorgeous gardens and, of course, regal chateaux, this is one trip that could certainly make you say, “Paris who?”
My friend, Patti Seagraves, and I spent a week with biking the Loire Valley with a Backroads Active Travel group, challenging ourselves each day and having the trip of a lifetime while doing so. The company took care of everything, which made the trip incredibly stress-free. Everything is organized for you and about you. The leaders plan for exciting fun days filled with biking adventures, amazing food tours, and tons of local history.
We began exploring Loire Valley began with a wine tasting and picnic lunch in Chinon. After meeting my bike and getting instructions, we set off on a 13-mile ride through the valley. About half-way through, Frantz pulls the van to the side and stops us to look at our first (of many) castles.
After crossing the Loire River, we biked to Chateau de Rochecotte, a beautiful country estate where we spent two nights. The first evening, we enjoyed a reception on the roof patio as a group before going to a lovely dinner complete with locally-made wine. It was so gorgeous that Patti and I don’t want to leave.
After a French breakfast on the second morning, we rode 15 miles along farm roads when all of a sudden, my chain popped off. Patti and I up-ended my bike to fix it. I am covered in grease afterwards, but happy that we were able to solve the problem together.
Arriving at privately owned Chateau de Gizeux, which dates back to the Middle Ages, we learned that the current family is renovating the property, one giant room at a time. We were able to see original art work that was painted ON the walls and hidden with fake walls during the war. After a tour, we tasted the wine, which is made at the chateau. Walking along the underground tunnels, we came upon a gated tunnel that they told us was an escape route during the war.
We followed our tour with a picnic lunch with local delicacies. After a ride back to our lovely castle, Patti and I nap (it is a vacation after all) and meet our group for dinner at The Blue Windmill. The Chef and owners speak very little English, but the food was locally sourced and exquisite.
Day three finds us packing up and moving on towards our next chateau. We ride to Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau and tour the exquisite gardens of flowering plants and vegetables. Patti and I wander around the gardens conjuring up stories of princesses who might have lived here. Enjoying lunch in a local café, I was able to sample Beef Bourguignon, a local treat as well as the best Quiche Lorraine I’ve ever had.
That evening we stayed in the Chateau de la Bourdaisiere, which sits on a hill and has rooms named after queens (we are given Catherine’s room). The grounds are beautiful and the food continues to inspire.
On day four, we are moving once again. I was running late because I needed an ear warmer. Looking down the hill I realized the group was waiting for me. I took one look at that hill and knew I needed to ride down. I got to a place where I thought it was safe, hopped on and sped down the hill. It was like flying. Smiling, I joined the group and we set out to ride along the Cher River. It was raining and cold on this day and by the time we arrive, I am soaked through. None of us have any intention of letting rain or cold hold us back.
Later in the day, we arrived at the famed Chateau de Chenonceau, a gorgeous castle built by Henry II for his mistress. When he died, his wife, Catherine de’ Medici from Italy traded castles with her. This chateau interested me even more when I found out that people escaping the Nazi’s from northern France came through the castle on their way to safety.
The leaders had planned a picnic, but because of the rain, moved us into a covered space nearby. Luckily for us, a school was on a field trip and they picnicked with us, which was great. It was fun to listen to the kids talk and laugh in French. People are just the same everywhere!
For the next two nights we stayed at Chateau de Pray, a castle behind the town of Amboise. You might recognize Amboise as the tiny village where Leonardo de Vinci lived. After exploring the village, we enjoy an evening out on our own. Frantz Noel, our leader joins us, because at this point, our group has bonded to the point of becoming ONE.
Day five finds us riding through lush green forests and over-hanging trees. It’s a gorgeous ride through the country side. When we arrive at Chateau de Chaumont, we were able to tour both the chateau and the international garden festival. Patti and I were astonished at the level of creativity the artists brought to their displays. Later in the afternoon we had a deliciouslunch at a local bistro. I will forever remember the home-made ice cream and chocolate sauce worth writing home about!
That evening we had dinner at our chateau. The Chef earned a Michelin star but refused it because he didn’t want the pressure. Each course is more amazing than you can imagine. Let’s just say that it was a good thing that we rode every day! The company was as lovely as the meal and we all enjoyed our last evening together. Knowing that the next day was our last, we stretched the evening out as long as we could.
Our last day, we road together as a group. Once we make it up the hill, we chat about our week together, promising to stay in touch. Helen and Mike are heading back to Paris, Patti and I are heading South. While the week seemed to have flown by, I felt as if I had lived a lifetime on my bike. Riding through the rain and in traffic, with a GPS and written directions, through gorgeous countryside on bike excursions that challenged us all in different ways made for an incredibly memorable trip.
Exploring this beautiful region on bike was harder than I expected and fun in ways I couldn’t have imagined. It challenged me and enlightened me. And while I don’t have thighs of steel, I have memories that will last a lifetime.