History, Romance, Revenge: The Loire Valley has it All
As one former participant on our Bicycling the Castles of the Loire Valley tour said, “the scenery was gorgeous—sunflowers, wheat fields, vineyards, forests and, of course, the fabled châteaux dotting the riverbanks and hillsides.” But if the landscape or the varied architecture of the area’s three hundred plus castles aren’t enough, the history resonating throughout the valley will make you feel like you’ve biked right out of the twenty-first century and into a fairytale.
Indeed, tour leader Jonathan Hancock says “this tour has all the elements of a best-seller: romance, liaisons, murder, revenge, forced weddings, and charismatic historical figures.” A little digging into the history of the area, which was a favorite playground of royalty for centuries, shows that he’s not kidding! On this 101 level tour you’ll enjoy leisurely rides through rolling hills and still have energy to stroll the halls where kings and queens once roamed.
Take, for instance, the largest castle in the Loire Valley: the Châteaux of Chambord. Originally built by French king François I as a royal hunting lodge, the castle is surrounded by a wall as long as the highway circling Paris, and inside is the largest enclosed forest in Europe. The castle is rumored to have hidden such famous artworks as the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo when the collections of the Louvre and Compiègne museums were secretly stored in the Loire for safekeeping at the start of World War II. Today you’ll find inside the castle an extraordinary double-helix staircase, which is said to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci.
Da Vinci himself enjoyed the Loire, spending the last three years of his life in the town of Amboise at the invitation of François I. He lived just down the street from the king’s castle in the house of Le Clos Lucé, where you can now see several life size models of his inventions. Leonardo died in the arms of the king and is buried in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert in the castle of Amboise.
If artwork and invention don’t entice, you’re sure to be drawn to the castles that boast a more dramatic history of royal romance and revenge. You can witness the Château of Blois, for example, where King Henri III had his rival Duke de Guise murdered in 1588, and where he himself was assassinated eight months later by a fanatical monk. After visiting this château you can also say you’ve been to the place where Joan of Arc stopped before departing with her army to drive the English from Orléans in 1429.
Or perhaps you’ll like canoeing under the stunning Château of Chenonceau, the bridge castle Henri II built for his mistress Diane de Poitiers, much to Queen Catherine de Medici’s chagrin. Exploring the two separate gardens constructed for these women, you’re bound to feel traces of the deep rivalry between them.
At the Château of Langeais, you’ll sense even more hostility between husband and wife. One of the great halls there was the scene of the forced wedding between King Charles VIII and Duchess Anne of Brittany in 1491. While their union brought peace between the kingdom of France and the duchy of Brittany, the fourteen-year-old Duchess was less than pleased; she arrived for her wedding day with two beds.
The modest daily mileage and gentle terrain on this tour are great for beginners, but intermediate or advanced cyclists can always add extra mileage. And in addition to the traces of historical happenings on this tour, everyone enjoys visiting a local chocolate factory and viewing some fantastic topiary art. So whether it’s riding through vineyards, retracing the steps of nobility, or appreciating medieval, renaissance, and classical architecture all in one place, you’re bound to find cycling the Loire Valley appealing for both its echoes of the past and its lovely scenery of the present.
Our upcoming tours to cycle the Loire Valley are July 21-27, July 29-August 4, and September 16-22—we hope you’ll join us! Check out a full itinerary here or call us at 1-800-685-4565 for more details.
Find out more about our tour rating system here.