By Theresa Russell
Verdant tufts of fragrant grapevine dominate the wine growing area of the Central Loire Valley known as Sancerre. The clusters of grapes that crowd together and grow in this flinty and chalky soil transform into the very popular wines that earned appellation for the white wines in 1936 and for the reds and rosés in 1959. France holds claim to superior wines, but also offers magical bicycling through what many consider the best country in the world to engage in a pedaling adventure. Bicycling in France stimulates all of the senses and at the same time offers an intimate look into this delightful countryside and all of its wondrous attributes. Like the Sauvignon grape, derived from the French word for savage, the nearby Loire River remains one of the wild rivers of Europe. Bicycling endures as the ultimate means of experiencing such a place. Those on a bicycle become approachable and open to conversation. The French reserve special respect for those exploring by this particular mode of travel. Hemingway himself said, “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.”
With over three hundred vintners in the area, it is no wonder that grapevines stretch out over these 4800 acres of cultivation for as far as the eye can see. Casually passing through the vineyards themselves and tasting some of the succulent fruits from the vine presents itself as another adventure for travels by bicycle.
Scattered throughout the area, the small wineries, many operating for centuries, invite guests to taste their creations. Since a majority of the grapes in this area are of the sauvignon blanc variety, the white wines dominate the scene, but Pinot Noirs grow as well in the region. The soils and the techniques of the winemakers vary, giving the finished products their own signature tastes, which offer the perfect excuse to stop and sample from several winemakers.
AOC’s (Appellation d’Origine Controlee) belong to other products besides wine. In the Sancerre, two goat cheeses – Pouligny-St. Pierre and Crottin de Chavignol, bear the AOC designation and pair quite nicely with the regional wines. Experienced cyclists know that eating and drinking rank high on incentives for cycling. In France, combining these three diversions is quite a simple task.
The village of Sancerre sits perched on a lofty mountain, visible from the surrounding countryside. Its typical medieval town ambience can be seen from afar. With the town in view, it isn’t easy to get lost. Climbing the hill to the old town rewards the bicyclist with a panoramic view of this section of the Loire Valley.
While the name itself conjures up images of castles, churches and ancient towns, the Loire itself is one of few wild rivers remaining in Europe. Although the quiet backroads lend themselves so easily to leisurely cycling, this ideal venue inspires dreams of cranking it up and racing in the Tour de France alongside the likes of Bernard Hinault or even Lance Armstrong.
Narrow streets, castles, grand churches and gardens abound in the capital city of Bourges. Caesar called it the most beautiful town in all of Gaul. One of its more illustrious residents, Jacques Cœur, inspired the local tourism board to create a circuit dedicated to this once wealthy merchant whose motto was “Nothing is impossible with a valiant heart.” This route explores eighteen castles, historic sites and museums that relate to the life of this small merchant who became an international trader in a short ten-year span.
The Loire area doesn’t lack for signed routes for cyclists to follow. Additional signed routes include both the Loire Valley circuit meandering along the river and through small villages, and the Chateaux by Bicycle routes. These offer hundreds of kilometers of marked routes for the touring cyclist.
Cycling is a way of life in this country and cyclists are respected by the locals. Innkeepers heartily welcome those traveling by bicycle. Of course, for those who prefer cycling with an organized group, there are plenty of companies that will do that as well.
Savor the cycling as well as the food, wine and hospitality in the Garden of France.
Enjoy a tour through the Loire via this video:
About Theresa Russell
Claiming her lust for travel began on her first journey through the birth canal, Theresa is genetically programmed to travel and to have fun doing it. She especially enjoys adventure and experiential travel and always finds something at a destination to write home about.