Is Cycling The Loire Valley Hard?

If you are interested in cycling in France, you may have heard of La Loire à Vélo (The Loire by Bike), the cycling trail that follows La Loire, the longest French river. Spanning over 1,000 km, La Loire is the last wild river in Europe. And it has its own cycling trail, La Loire à Vélo, which spans over 800 km. Since the trail is following a river, it is flat almost all the way, but it does not mean that the whole route is easy. So, is cycling The Loire Valley hard?

Cycling the 800 kilometers of the Loire Valley following La Loire à Vélo is definitely hard. It is difficult to complete the whole trip in less than 10 days. However, it is easier to cycle a smaller section of the Loire Valley and to put the right amount of time for it.

Is it hard to cycle the Loire Valley for beginners?

As a beginner, you may not really know how fast you will cycle every day, how tired you will feel after several hours of effort, and so on… In order to answer all those questions, I made two things. First, I cycled the Loire Valley between Orléans and Saint-Nazaire (450 kilometers). Second, I looked for data on the official website of La Loire à Vélo to give the best pieces of advice for everyone. So, is it hard to cycle the Loire Valley for beginners?

Cycling the Loire Valley as a beginner is not hard because the trail is flat all the way long. However, cycling several hours per day, and doing so day after day is tiring. As a beginner, consider that you will cycle at a pace of 10 km/hour. You should also limit your daily stages to 40-50 kilometers maximum. With those rules in your head, you can play a safe trip, even if you are a beginner who rarely cycles.

My experience as a beginner cycling La Loire à Vélo

Back in June 2020, I cycled from Orléans to Saint-Nazaire with two friends. The challenge was to cycle those 400 kilometers in five days and a half. We would start on Monday, cycle the whole week, and take a train back to Orléans on Sunday during the afternoon.

I am not a hardened cyclist at all: I almost never cycle during long periods of time. I take care of my body and my health, but I am not particularly strong.

However, we crushed the challenge, arriving on Saturday, one day earlier than planned. We spent one day in Saint-Nazaire to enjoy the West Coast before taking our train back to Orléans.

grey bike with saddlebags
One bike we used during the trip. Picture from Place De La Loc’

I don’t want to get into my personal experience too much. For now, it’s all about giving you the best pieces of advice to know what is too hard and what is too easy for you.

The point I was trying to make with my story is that you should know beforehand how you want to cycle Loire Valley. Do you want to visit the castles and the vineyards, or do you see it as a fitness challenge? We were definitely more into the second case. We did not stop to visit the vineyards, which means we were cycling around 8 hours per day.

What you should do as a beginner to plan La Loire à Vélo

There are several steps you should do as a beginner to make your cycling experience perfect.

  • Plan your trip (how many kilometers, how many days)
  • Book where to sleep
  • Prepare what to bring

Plan your trip

You, as a beginner, should plan your trip. First, you should make sure to follow La Loire à Vélo, which is the cycling trail following the Loire Valley. Indeed, there are also other trails along La Loire, but you do not want to follow them. You want to follow La Loire à Vélo. It’s really easy because it is indicated all the way long. You need to recognize the sign meaning you are on the trail. Look at the next picture to know what the sign looks like.

white and green sign indicating french cities
This is the sign you will see all the way long. Make sure to remember the two icons on the left which means that you are on the right trail. Picture from © J. Damase.

Also, as mentioned earlier, you should estimate your pace accordingly. The best is to follow the guidelines from the Official La Loire à Vélo website, which indicates that you should:

Estimate your pace at around 10 km/h for the first few days.

Guideline from the Official La Loire à Vélo website

This quote is a great start to plan your trip. Indeed, just assume that you will cycle 10 kilometers every hour with the breaks included. Then, choose how long you want to cycle every day. 4-5 hours is a great option for beginners. This means that you will tackle 40-50 kilometers per day.

Thanks to that piece of information, you can now look at the French map, and check where you want to stop every day. For example, there are around 100 kilometers between Angers and Nantes. It could be a great challenge to join Angers et Nantes in two days. However, you need to find somewhere to sleep in the middle of this 2-days trip.

It turns out that 60 kilometers away from Angers, on the road to Nantes, there is a town called Ancenis. This could be the right place to stop for the night. If you are happy about it, you can start looking for accommodation in this area.

google maps itinerary from angers to nantes
This is a 2-day trip example where you would do Angers-Ancenis the first day (around 60 kilometers), and Ancenis-Nantes the second day (around 40 kilometers)

However, if you find this too challenging, you can choose other options.

Book where to sleep

To book where to sleep, the easiest is to either go on Airbnb or to go on the Loire By Bike official website. Indeed, they have partners which will be very happy to host you. Note that this is not part of an affiliate program and that I am just giving you the best tips possible.

Prepare what to bring before cycling

If it is the first time you prepare a cycling trip, you may wonder what you should exactly bring. Indeed, you do not have unlimited space on your bike. So, what should you prepare before cycling the Loire Valley?

Before cycling Loire Valley, you should prepare:

  • Your bike (either yours or a rented one)
  • 2 Saddlebags (either yours or rented ones, usually goes with the rented bike)
  • 1 lock/bike for the stops in the cities
  • Comfortable clothes (a cap, a windbreaker, gloves)
  • Water
  • First aid kit

This is must-have stuff to accomplish your goals. However, you can easily bring other things to enhance your comfort and your security. For instance, you can also take special cycling shorts or a bycicle helmet.

How challenging is cycling the Loire Valley for hardened cyclists?

If you are a hardened cyclist, you could also ask yourself whether La Loire à Vélo (The Loire by Bike) is a challenge to consider. So, how challenging is cycling the Loire Valley for hardened cyclists?

As a hardened cyclist, cycling the Loire Valley could be a bit boring. If you are a cyclist passionate about the mountainous stages of Le Tour de France, you will not enjoy the flatness of La Loire à Vélo. However, cycling the Loire Valley is still a good cycling trail if you want to challenge yourself. Indeed, the trail is well preserved and indicated.

Also, the Loire Valley is not only known for its cycling trail, it is also known for its castles and its vineyards. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: the Loire Valley is firstly known for its castles and vineyards. Hence, the regional administration built this cycling trail along the trail.

white and grey building at daytime photo
Chambord Castle, which you can find along the trail close to Blois. Picture from Guillaume TECHER

This means that it could be a great time to cycle slower and enjoy the French countryside. If you just completed a hard challenge in the mountains, you could change a little bit and enjoy a flatter track thanks to La Loire à Vélo.

How to make the difficulty of the Loire à Vélo vary?

There are several ways to change the difficulty of the Loire à Vélo. Indeed, you can change the distance you plan to cycle, the time in which you need to do it, and the equipment you bring with you to accomplish your goals.

I hope that this article was helpful and that you now know whether cycling the Loire Valley is too hard or too easy for you. I hope that you are ready to plan your trip and that you have all the information you need to do so. If this is not the case, if I did not cover a topic, please make sure to either send me an e-mail or to tell it in the comment section down below. I will be pleased to answer you.

Also, if you are planning a trip to France more generally, keep in mind that I am French and that I can answer most of your questions. Lastly, I wrote some articles about other French destinations. Maybe you could read the one about Bouldering in Fontainebleau, or the one about Etretat.

See you somewhere in the world!

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