The Loire Cycle Route
From the source in the Massif Central to the Atlantic coast
By Mike Wells
Guidebook to cycling the Loire, France's longest river, from its source in the Massif Central to the Atlantic. The 1052km (654 mile) route incorporates a section of EuroVélo 6 and the popular, waymarked Loire à Vélo, taking in extinct volcanos, vineyards and châteaux. Cycling is mostly on cycle paths and minor roads.
SeasonsThe whole route can be cycled when the mountains near the source are snow free, usually April-October. Stages 7 to 26 can be cycled at any time of year, though April-October is the best period.
CentresA point-to-point route with no particular bases.
DifficultyApart from a steep 1000m climb to reach the start and a few ascents and descents in the first six stages this is a straightforward route that is generally downhill or level. Mostly asphalt surfaces in good condition suitable for hybrid or touring cycles. Much of the route follows dedicated off-road cycle tracks, suitable for family cycling, though there are a few short sections where main roads are used.
Must SeeMont Gerbier de Jonc and the volcanic hills of the Ardèche, Le Puy-en-Velay, Charollais hills. After Nevers the route follows La Loire à Vélo, France's most popular cycleway, passing many of the royal châteaux (Chambord, Blois, Chaumont, Villandry, Amboise), vineyards (Sancerre, Touraine, Chinon, Saumur, Anjou, Muscadet), and historic cities (Orléans, Tours, Angers, Nantes) of the Loire Valley.
This guide describes a 1052km cycle route that starts at source of the Loire in the Massif Central mountains of central France and finishes at the Atlantic opposite St Nazaire. It descends past extinct volcanoes, crater lakes and deep gorges before joining EuroVélo route 6 and the fully waymarked Loire à Vélo, France's most popular cycle trail. Following the river downstream in 26 stages, the route is generally downhill or level often on dedicated traffic-free cycle tracks.
Packed with a wealth of useful information - from practical planning advice to fascinating insights about the river and its surroundings - the guidebook features detailed route descriptions and informative mapping. Details of facilities and places to stay, and a French glossary are included.
The route goes through the heart of France as the Loire becomes the royal river, bounded by extravagant châteaux, fields of Charollais cattle and vineyards. It passes through historic cities like Orléans and Tours, continuing past Angers and France's fourth largest city Nantes.
Getting there and back
Food and drink
Amenities and services
What to take
Safety and emergencies
About this guide
The Loire Cycle Route
Prologue Getting to the start
Stage 1 Gerbier de Jonc to Goudet
Stage 2 Goudet to Le Puy-en-Velay
Stage 3 Le Puy-en-Velay to Retournac
Stage 4 Retournac to Aurec-sur-Loire
Stage 5 Aurec-sur-Loire to Feurs
Stage 6 Feurs to Roanne
Stage 7 Roanne to Digoin
Stage 8 Digoin to Bourbon-Lancy
Stage 9 Bourbon-Lancy to Decize
Stage 10 Decize to Nevers
Stage 11 Nevers to La Charité-sur-Loire
Stage 12 La Charité-sur-Loire to Sancerre
Stage 13 Sancerre to Briare
Stage 14 Briare to Sully-sur-Loire
Stage 15 Sully-sur-Loire to Orléans
Stage 16 Orléans to Beaugency
Stage 17 Beaugency to Blois
Stage 18 Blois to Amboise
Stage 19 Amboise to Tours
Stage 20 Tours to Bréhémont
Stage 21 Bréhémont to Saumur
Stage 22 Saumur to Angers
Stage 23 Angers to Montjean-sur-Loire
Stage 24 Montjean-sur-Loire to Ancenis
Stage 25 Ancenis to Nantes
Stage 26 Nantes to St Brevin-les-Pins (St Nazaire)
Appendix A Stage summary table
Appendix B Facilities summary table
Appendix C Tourist information offices
Appendix D Youth hostels and gîtes d’étape
Appendix E Useful contacts
Appendix F Language glossary
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Stage 7 - A new traffic-free voie verte route for stage 7 between Roanne and Digoin is nearing completion. This uses canal towpaths and an old railway track-bed for most of the stage. The section from Iguerande to Vindecy Gare had already been constructed when the guide was published in 2016 and forms part of the route. Since then work has started on the rest of the stage. From Roanne to Briennon a voie verte is being developed along the towpath of the Canal de Roanne á Digoin starting from the canal basin in Roanne. A road bridge is used to cross the Loire from Briennon to Pouilly-sous-Charlieu Just N of Pouilly-sous-Charlieu, a new voie verte along the old railway is joined and followed to Iguerande where it joins the book route. This is 3.5km longer than the route in the guide but is mostly traffic free. North from Vindecy Gare the voie verte route now continues to St Yan. Turn L in centre of St Yan (D982) and follow this to reach beginning of Digoin. Turn L at second roundabout (Bvd de Macon) to reach cycle route V51 along towpath of Canal du Centre in Digoin. This is only 1km longer than the book route.Work started in autumn 2017 and is due to be completed by the middle of 2018. When complete the route between Roanne and St Yan, which will become part of véloroute V71, will be 4.5km longer than the current stage 7.
When I read the first line... I knew I was reading a book written by someone who loves cycle touring.
The river Loire is the longest in France and winds its way from the volcanic Massif Central all the way to the sandy beaches of the Atlantic Coast. It's a route covering more 1052 kilometres (654 mile), including a section of EuroVélo 6 and the popular, waymarked Loire à Vélo.
When I read the first line in Mike Wells new book, Cycling the Loire Cycle Route, I knew I was reading a book written by someone who loves cycle touring. Because to tour by bike is the very essence of getting your head deep into your surroundings. On a bike, you aren’t whizzing by things so fast that you miss everything but the most obvious. In fact, you often seem to be absorbing things by osmosis alone. But to get the best out of a tour, you have to do your homework.
So when I sat down, one windy, rainy autumn Northern Ireland day to start reading Wells’ book, I expected a treat.
And now that I have read it, I know that I was right. In fact, I was so right, the book will likely be the basis for a tour in the Loire Valley next year. I won’t be the only one. The Loire Route, going as it does through a part of France that has a “gentler, slower pace of life than in the great cities...” is the most popular cycle route in all France.
Wells’ introduction of this wonderful route is unlike that of many route guides which focus almost entirely on the route. Instead, he starts with the assumption that most readers will want to understand the people and the countryside of the Loire Valley every bit as much as to whether he or she should turn right or left at a particular junction. And Wells is right.
Most touring cyclists enjoy the ambience of where they are cycling as much as the actual turning of the pedals. For them, Wells provides all kinds of interesting detail. Readers are not only told where the famous châteaux and cathedrals are located, for example, but why they are located there, and who the owners were.
To Wells, the history of the Loire Valley is every bit as important as are its chateaux, so starting with the Roman occupation, and going pretty much to the present, he provides it. Not in huge detail, mind you, but in just nine or so fascinating but concise – and never boring – pages. He does much the same with the food and wine. There is such a wide variety of both to experience along the route and Wells manages to provide a first class overview of them.
But all of this is just an introduction to a fantastic route and it is the route that will be ultimately judged.
The route can be ridden in either direction, and many thousands of cyclists ride each way each year. However, a guidebook needs to go in one direction, so Wells assumes that most people riding it would prefer to get in as much downhill advantage as possible and thus start their riding either at Mt Gerbier de Jonc, the source of the Loire, or at least ride towards the Atlantic coast from wherever they chose to start. Remember though, for those who do want to start at the official starting point, Mt Gerbier de Jonc isn’t the easiest of places to get to. Fortunately, Wells provides solutions.
Equally important, at least in my view perhaps, Wells discusses what type of bike and tyre widths are appropriate. It’s important because as is the case for many Continental routes developed for cyclists these days, some portions of the Loire route have gravel-covered cycle tracks. Not all. In fact, most are asphalt covered as are, of course, the quiet roads that the route also uses. But there are some gravelled sections and for me, with a touring bike that was made in 1978, the type of surface is critical. I have 23s on my bike (as was the norm in 1978) and that’s the biggest tyre I can fit. Not the best tyre width for gravelled surfaces, but Wells does say that really just about any cycle will be fine.
Then, Wells provides a look at the route itself. The Loire is very long, the longest river in France, in fact, and thus the route is longer than many people might have time for, so he divides the actual 1052km cycle route into 26 sensibly-sized stages. For me, that means I would need about three weeks to do the entire distance allowing for some of off-bike days. But, bear in mind the complications of the Mount Gerbier de Jonc starting point. Getting home from St Nazaire is very much easier with excellent connections to Paris and elsewhere. See bike-train information here.
The detail of each stage’s presentation is really easy to follow. Route directions are quite specific and indeed, very well supported by small maps covering the full day’s ride. These maps, drawn to a scale of 1:150,000, and with plenty of detail, are easily read and comprehended. So much so, in fact, that I would imagine they could possibly be the only maps you would need, although I would always have the appropriate IGN or Michelin maps in my handlebar bag. By the way, for those who like to use GPS, as I do, Cicerone provides a download link details of which can be found on their website. And if you don’t use GPS and don’t glance too often at a map, then I suppose you can just go by the signage as Wells provides all the waymarking you’ll see along each stage.
At the end of the book you’ll find a most complete appendix with an enormous amount of data, all of which will make planning simpler. Each stage, for instance, is broken down by distance between each town on the stage, with cumulative distances alongside and the altitude of each of those towns in that stage. He then suggests the availability of meals and accommodation, tourist offices, bike shops and rail stations. Then, again for each stage, he gives addresses, phone numbers and website details of the tourist offices as well as contact information for hostels and gites. And finally, as is so often the case with Cicerone cycling books, there is a really complete list of contacts of various cycling organisations, ferry and other transport companies and cartographic companies before he closes off with a French/English language glossary.
It’s all great stuff. Read and enjoy it, but remember the only thing better than reading a well presented touring guide is actually do the ride.
Bob Zeller, Freewheeling France
This book contains all you need to know, as well as a sense of the spirit of the river and life along it to inspire you.
Seven Day Cyclist
It’s the usual high-quality stuff that you’d expect from Cicerone with detailed maps, altitude profiles, tourist
information etc… and, from the English-speaking perspective, probably the definitive description of the route.
Leafing through the book, it does make me wonder why I am sitting at my computer here at home with the
prospect of returning to work tomorrow morning rather than out there doing Mike’s job… Mmm…
Andrew Sykes, Cycling Europe
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Mike Wells has been a keen long-distance walker and cyclist for over 20 years. He has walked all the major British trails, the GR5 through the Alps from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean and has explored the Italian Dolomites' Alta Via routes. He has also walked in Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Norway and Chilean Patagonia.
Mike has cycled the C2C route across northern England as well as the Camino and Ruta de la Plata to Santiago de la Compostela. He has completed an end to end traverse of Cuba, a circumnavigation of Iceland and a trip across Lapland to the North Cape.
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