A Veritable Gastro-Cycling Paradise The Loire Valley

By: Corina Clemence

Envisage a land of mile after mile of nearly flat bike routes that gently sluice across a fertile river valley irrigating some of the world's finest acclaimed vineyards. Picture enchanting renaissance chateaux, charming villages, and sun-flower-filled hillsides. Then, combine all this with cuisine that would make even the most seasoned chef salivate. The few drivers you encounter are courteous and pleasant showing an admiration for the cyclist. Do you know where you are? This is not fantasyland - it is the scenic Loire Valley.

This magnificent majestic region is best enjoyed if you don't approach it as a Tour de France speed. Take your time. Remember you are on holiday and you are not trying to set any records. Leisurely drink in the scenery and the culture and sample some of the acclaimed local wine whilst enjoying a picnic beside the Loire always remembering you have to get back on that bike.

The town of Blois, gateway to the Loire Valley, makes for an ideal point to start a cycling adventure through the "Garden of France."

Spend one day cycling past vineyards and fields of sunflowers around the magnificent castles of Chambord and Cheverny just east of Blois. These two famous chateaux have lured visitors for centuries. Chambord is the largest of the Loire Valley chateaux with a facade of over 18 stories high with 440 rooms and 365 chimneys it has been referred to as "the mathematisation of architecture". It was originally designed as an ostentatious hunting lodge for Francois I. In its 500 year history it was only ever used as a royal residence for 20 years. Chambord sits proudly surrounded by the largest hunting estate in the Loire Valley.

Chateau Cheverny has a richly furnished interior that attracts art aficionados and antiques roadshow fans fans from all over the world. Allegedly, the exterior was the inspiration for Marlinspike, in the Tintin comics by Herge. Cheverny has a working pack of hounds and you can visit the kennel at feeding time to see the frenzy. Cheverny is also an AOC wine appellation region worthy of some wine tasting.

After you've had your fill of ogling architecture, spend another day, cycling around beautiful Amboise on the Loire River with its medieval chateau and charming village. Leonardo's home, the Chateau du Clos-Luce where he spent the last four years of his life, is located just outside Amboise. Here you can visit his sitting rooms, chambers, and kitchen. There is a working museum with over 40 models of some of his incredible inventions. The park at this chateau is breathtakingly beautiful. Da Vinci's remains are interned at Chateau Amboise.

Villandry lies west of Chenonceau and beckons cyclists. The Chateau de Villandry is most famous for its wonderful gardens, and is considered a must see for gardeners. There are three different gardens in all: a Louis the XIV style vegetable garden, an ornamental mosaic flower garden, and a water garden with pools and waterfalls. Many people skip the interior of the sixteenth century chateau and come for the gardens alone.

You can pedal southeast across the Cher River to the castle of Chenonceau, one of the loveliest sites in the Loire Valley. Straddling the River Cher and backing off into an expanse of forest, the chateau is hemmed in by 2 beautiful gardens. It is the most visited castle of the Loire with over one million visitors a year.

The history of the four ladies of Chateau Chenonceau is absolutely fascinating and probably much more interesting than your schoolteacher ever alluded to. Henri II was 13 when he took Diane de Poitiers 20 years his senior as his mistress. Catherine de Medici was eighteen years younger than Diane de Poitiers and three years into her marriage to Henri II, Diane was announced as his official mistress. He gifted Chateau Chenonceau to Diane de Poitiers even though it was inalienable royal property

Henri spent most of his days and nights with Diane. Diane became acutely concerned that Catherine might not produce a male heir resulting in her marriage possibly being annulled thereby exposing Diane to a potential combatant possibly not so understanding as Catherine. Diane the older wiser woman set about encouraging Henri to spend more time with Catherine. Henri would visit her chamber first then go and spend a few hours in Catherine's chamber before returning to Diane's bedchamber to finally retire for the night. Apparently Diane even advised Catherine on some finer points on marriage and eventually a male heir was born.

Unfortunately Henri II not being the type of monarch to sit on the sides at festivals succumbed to a nasty jousting accident and died at an early age leaving a succession of infant heirs to the throne of France. In 1559 when he died in 1559 Catherine forced Diane into exile to slum it in the smaller far less prestigious chateau of Chaumont on the banks of the Loire River closer to Blois.

After Catherine moved in to Chateau Chenonceau she had the beautiful gallery added, which is 180 feet long, 18 feet wide, with 18 windows and set on arches over the Cher River. It was originally used as a ballroom, and in war world II it became a hospital and the wounded soldiers used to fish out the windows.

Luxury chateaux sprinkle the region, ready to soothe away any saddle sores with their great cuisine and crisp, cool acclaimed local wine. You can chose to hire a room or a whole chateau together with your friends or family members. You could not pick a more comfortable and leisurely, more picturesque, palate-friendly holiday destination anywhere in the world.

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Corina Gildersleeve runs a luxury chateau near Blois, for up to fifteen people a perfect base for a cycling holiday ideal for touring vineyards, castles and relaxing. The boutique castle can be hired edxclusively for holidays with friends or family, or for a french wedding or party or the six luxury suites can be hired individually. Rent a French castle. www.loirechateau.com Rent a castle in France.

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