The Tops in Touring: Road Cycling's Best Spots

A Biking Renaissance in France's Loire Valley

The ultimate trip for sybarites who don't mind getting sweaty. Some places you choose for the scenery or the culture or the challenge; this one you choose because you want to be ridiculously pampered and live like the rich and the royal who've been coming here for centuries. You stay in a different four-star riverside chateau every night. The cuisine is oh so haute. And did we mention that you're in the heart of one of France's great winemaking regions? (By the way, the cycling's not bad either.)
But Joan of Arc and the Renaissance and the Middle Ages all still live in the amazing chateaux of the Loire; eating and drinking your way through the countryside is only a part of the charm. Set out from Tours to visit Amboise (with Leonardo Da Vinci reportedly buried in the chapel), the town within the town of Blois, the immense Chambord and Chenonceaux. All will plunge you back centuries to drink in the life of the decadent royals. And an hour in the extensive formal gardens and parks will fortify you for the next leg in your journey.

Practically Speaking:
The planning of this trip can be as pampering as the trip itself; leave it all—hotels, meals, schlepping—in the hands of an operator who can simply hand over the handlebars and send you off with a guided group. Or you can save some money doing a self-guided tour (hotels and luggage handled, but you're free to move at your own pace and without "tourist companion" baggage).
It will be somewhat pricey; this is France, after all, and you're not here to skimp on eating and drinking. But there are affordable hotels and tours that can keep the costs to $125-$150/day (after airfare). Or you can go the superluxury route (in keeping with the Medicis) and spend up to $500/day without blinking.
Below are two of Europe's major cycling tour operators, but there are loads out there. If you go with a less-reputable outfitter, request a client list and get some opinions from people who've gone, and remember to inquire on their cancellation policies and maximum number of cyclists per group.
Backroads (801 Cedar Street; Berkeley, CA 94710; 1.800.GO.ACTIVE; is the Microsoft of bicycle touring. The company has the nicest catalogs, the shiniest vans, and one of the largest tour selections worldwide—28 countries in all. If you're looking for a reliable trip that offers high-quality accommodations, easy pedaling, and a top-notch van-shuttle service, Backroads is an obvious choice, but this kind of quality will carry a high price tag. Also, be sure to get a firm quote on the number of people in each group; their popularity means that sometimes the numbers can swell to up to 20 riders.
Euro-Bike & Walking Tours (212 Sycamore Road; Dekalb,IL 60115; 1.800.321.6060; is a bit like a bicycle supermarket: Pick a place in Europe and they can take you there. All guides are multilingual, and they really know their way around. Founded in 1974, Euro-Bike Tours has one of the strongest track records in Europe, with well-chosen itineraries and reasonable prices. Accommodations are very good, but not super-luxurious. The cuisine never disappoints, however—one reason why Euro-Bike enjoys many repeat customers.

David Noland is a full-time professional freelance writer specializing in adventure travel, sports, and science. His book, Travels Along the Edge , published in 1997 by Vintage Books, is now in its fourth printing.

Published: 11 Oct 1999 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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