A Biker's Reverie

Loire River - History & Geography
  |  Gorp.com
The château at Blois
The royal chbteau at Blois is an architectural hodgepodge.

The Loire River valley is probably best known for its castles. There are indeed more than just a few, and many of them are historic and architectural wonders. However, there is a great deal more to the Loire River than most people realize. With its source in southeastern France's mountainous and natural Auvergne region, this longest river entirely within France runs for a total of 634 miles, first to the north and west until at Orlians it curves southwest through the stretch of historical castles and the wine region to Tours, Angers, Nantes and finally the Atlantic.

The Haute Loire of Auvergne is considered by some to have France's most spectacular scenery. A rugged landscape that includes the largest volcanic region in Europe, the area is also crisscrossed by trails of all kinds. Within easy reach of Avignon, Lyon and Clermont-Ferrand, the lands at the sources of the Loire are a cycling treat that few foreigners experience.

It is not until well beyond even Bourges a short distance to the west of the Loire and site of the magnificent Saint-Etienne cathedral at Orlians that the well-wheeled feel of the"Loire Valley" begins. It is, of course, at the walls of Orlians in 1429 that Joan of Arc rallied the French troops in a string of unexpected victories against the English. It is also just outside of Orlians that the first in a string of elegant chbteaux pokes its spires through the trees and bares its flanks to the water's edge. The rolling countryside and quiet county roads in this stretch make for outstanding cycling. Beaugency, Chambord, Blois, Chaumont, Amboise and Chenonceaux are the A-B-Ch's of mortar and masonry in and upon which the soap opera of aristocratic Renaissance France was played out. To the clink of goblets full of local world-famous wines, Charles VII, Charles VIII, Frangois I, Catherine de Midici, even Leonardo da Vinci and many more engaged in monarchic games. Further west and all the way to the ocean, there is wine and more wine (Vouvray, the vineyards around Tours, Chinon, Saumur, Anjou, Muscadet) and a host of unusual attractions: magnificent troglodyte homes, the castle gardens of Villandry, the waterside calm of Azay-le-Rideau, the Charles Perrault (author of Sleeping Beauty)-inspiring towers of Ussi, the Abbaye de Fontevraud (with the remains of Richard the Lion-Hearted).


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