The bikes had large panniers that could be unclipped and used as bags when walking around
Distances travelled each day ranged from 40-60kms at an easy pace with plenty of photo stops. The guide was always at the front and a ‘sweep’ at the back of the group ensured no-one got lost. There were also cyclists placed on corners at various points to make sure the group turned when needed. These positions were changed each day and worked a treat, with no-one going missing in action.
Meeting at the Gare du Nord in Paris, we met up with the other 16 riders and were whisked off to Cours-les-Barres to settle into our cabins on the ‘Anna Maria IV’. Maybe because we booked 12 months ahead, we scored a porthole in our cabin, but not everyone had these. The barge cabins were basic but comfortable with bunks, a shower, a sink, a toilet and enough space to get changed one at a time.
Our guide returning from buying fresh baguettes from the village we were moored at
Each day in the small but cosy dining room we were served a continental-style breakfast of fresh baguettes, cold meats, cheese, fruit, yoghurt and tea and coffee, and wonderful traditional dinners. For lunch we would make our own sandwich at breakfast and were provided with drinks and fruit to take with us for the day. We were all very excited to get into our saddles on the first day. Before we set off, a few early birds went to the village markets which sold everything from fresh produce to antiques from 14th
century old castles. Afterwards, we rode 60kms through the picturesque and historical villages of Apremont and Nevers. When we returned we headed to the barge’s bar for a well-earned coldie.
To top off a satisfying first day we were treated to fireworks in the village of Cours-les-Barres, which was holding its annual summer festival. The next day the barge cruised to the village of Beffes before we set out for the day to explore the undulating countryside. This was all feeling a bit surreal at this stage – I mean, cycling through the Loire Valley had always been a dream of mine. The ancient Roman town of La Charite-sur-Loire was the first stop on day 3, where we were treated to wonderful views of the valley. A highlight was a wine tasting of Pouilly Fume dry whites in Menetreol, for which the region is famous. While some of the group pretended to be expert sommeliers, I was happy to drink in the views of the magnificent vineyards laid out before us.
Sancerre is the oldest wine area in the Loire Valley, with origins dating back to the 12th century
The vineyards of Sancerre are renowned for their light and fruity wines. In the town we were met by welcoming wine cellar owners at every corner encouraging us to sample the result of their grapes. Most of us resisted knowing that we had many kilometres to pedal before day’s end. Cycling through this region’s vineyards and villages was absolutely magical. Passing crops of corn and maize, and fields of bright sunflowers with flowers so big that you wanted to stop and run crazy amongst them brought a smile to everyone’s face.
That afternoon we found our faithful barge was waiting at Beaulieu-sur-Loire with tempting smells of dinner being cooked wafting up from the galley. Another highlight was on day 5 when, after cycling past the historic locks of Chatillon-sur-Loire and visiting two castles, we headed back to the barge and cruised across the River Loire on an aqueduct. What an odd feeling to look over the edge of the barge at the Loire River beneath us.
I felt like the Queen welcoming weary riders back on board after spending a day going through locks on the barge
Towards the end I decided to take the day off and stay on the barge. This gave me the chance to catch up on writing and experience going through 12 locks while the others headed off on bikes to explore more castles and green countryside. The Lock Houses all had an amazing assortment of brightly coloured flower boxes and gardens which were in full bloom. Another executive decision I made was to explore the town of Rogny, with its famous locks, at a slower pace instead of riding the group one day. That evening stands out in my mind because it was full of laughter, three birthday celebrations, cycling stories and one of my favourite dinners (Poulet Casserole).
After farewelling our hosts on the final day, it was back on the bus to Gare du Nord, Paris, where our trip finished. By the time we had reached Paris, plans were already in the making for cycling trips in other areas of France, Italy, Spain or Holland!
> See all departure dates for the Loire Valley Bike and Barge