Description: The Loire region offers many opportunities for walking and cycling, aided to a certain degree by the creation of the area as a regional park – Le Parc Naturel Regional Loire-Anjou-Touraine. This park was created in 1996 in an area between Tours and Angers on both sides of the river Loire. Its aims are not only to preserve the traditions and national identity of the area but also to protect the areas heritage and to help people appreciate the wide diversity that the region has to offer. Two of the ways in which people are encouraged to use the Parc are through the creation of cycle and walking routes.
The regional park has developed a series of circular walks known as ‘Sentiers d’Interprétation’. Selected for their quality as laid down by exacting criteria these routes enable the walker to fully understand the link between man and nature.
The routes are all easy to follow and none are too strenuous. In addition they are all in exceptional surroundings. Each route has a different theme including ‘The Life of a Vineyard’ (see below), ‘The willow tree and basket making’, ‘The influence of river flooding’, ‘Tufa Rocks’, ‘Coppicing’, and ‘an understanding of trees from their roots to the tree tops’.
Along the route are strategically placed boards with information relating to the theme of the walk and what you can actually see. An additional bonus for those with limited French is that the information boards are written in English as well as in French making them more user friendly for our children (and perhaps the adults!!).
The tourist information office has free maps of all the routes; on one side is the route, along with the distance and how long it is likely to take (see example). On the other side there are a series of word games (French only) relating to the route for children to complete, so bringing a pencil may help.
It would be possible to go round these routes on a mountain bike (VTT in French) or there are plenty of other opportunities for cycling on designated cycle paths or simply along quiet backroads.
Life of a Vineyard’ walk: Our family spent a wonderful cold but crisp autumnal morning walking the vineyard route at Le Puy-Notre-Dame (west of Montreuil-Bellay in the area producing Côte de Layon wine. We learnt about the process of producing wine starting from cépage and terroir, moving on through the work of a vineyard owner throughout the year (with some wonderful views of a vineyard estate) and finishing with that all important process of dégustation! All we needed at the end of the walk was for someone to hand us a fortifying glass of wine – but unfortunately that didn’t happen!
Cycling: Cycling in the Parc Naturel Regional is a pleasure. Along the rivers the terrain is relatively flat, as for most of the time the cycle tracks/routes follow the rivers themselves, while away from the main routes the countryside is gently undulating. The main river in the region is the mighty Loire (not to be confused with its smaller tributary Le Loir) which rises deep in the Massif Central and eventually reaches the sea at Nantes. Part of the river between Orleans and just west of Angers has been designated as a cycle route with further information available on www.loire-a-velo.fr. The website has an excellent series of downloadable maps of the different sections of the itinerary covering the whole route, with the exception of a small section between Blois and Tours, which at the time of writing remains un-mapped. It is possible to ride on over 300km of signposted tracks including over 250km of ‘safe’ tracks. The website also has an excellent list of dedicated bike hire outlets.
Our favourite attractions in the Loire Valley: