We flew to Paris with our bicycles. But in order to avoid fighting traffic in the city we took our bikes onto the Réseau Express Régional, (the commuter rail service that links Paris to the suburbs) out of town as far as we could. We started cycling at Saint-Martin d’Étampes past brown fields of mown hay, waving barley, tall oats, and yellow sunflowers.
In addition to the secondary roads, France has a wonderful system of even smaller roads only the local villagers use. These are the roads we chose for our trip in France. They are the thinnest lines on a detailed map and are called “departmental roads.” We bicycled past a village every three to ten miles.
Our first destination was the cathedral in Chartres. We spent an afternoon in and around the glorious medieval cathedral, marveling at the 167 stained-glass windows in its Gothic interior. The Chartres Cathedral, home to a Black Madonna (Notre Dame de Pilar), is one of several pilgrimage sites throughout Europe with Black Madonna figures. We walked around the labyrinth on the floor of the cathedral, following the footsteps of pilgrims who had walked it for hundreds of years. This was a good start on our journey through France.
We continued on toward the Loire. Bicycling the Loire Valley was a dream. The land was fairly flat with dense forests on either side of the road. Every so often, a stately château broke up the ride and begged us to visit. We easily bicycled over one hundred miles a day, still managed to tour a château or two, and ate well. With the long summer days, we packed two days of cycling into one. Our legs and stamina were strong after Scotland. In France the days were warmer, and the sun shone during our entire month there. Campgrounds were plentiful with amenities, such as hot showers, clean toilets, swimming pools, and even little stores. We met other campers from all over Europe and enjoyed talking with them about travel and life.
The châteaux of Blois, Amboise, and Chinon impressed us, but my favorite château was Chambord, which Leonardo da Vinci had helped design. I had visited Chambord many years ago, but bicycling up to the château was an entirely different sensation.
I hadn’t realized that the grounds were so enormous and surrounded by woods full of deer, wild boar, and other animals. Before our visit inside, we took out our cameras and fanny packs with our money and passports, and locked the fully loaded bikes together. We did this at every stop without a problem.
Leonardo da Vinci’s final resting place in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert, Amboise.
The Loire Valley in France is a wonderful bicycling area. I highly recommend it both for the ease of cycling and the abundance of campsites. Unlike many other places we bicycled in 1991-1992, I believe the area hasn’t changed too drastically. Since then, many reclaimed rail lines have been converted into bicycling, hiking, and equestrian trails. They are called “voie vertes” in France. The possibilities of bicycling for hours without traffic are very enticing. I want to explore more of them soon. Do you have favorite rides or hikes to recommend? Or ones you are dreaming of doing soon?
You can read about my life-changing around-the-world bicycle odyssey in my book.
Bicycle Odyssey An Around-the-World Journey of Inner and Outer Discovery