The Loire valley is home to some of Europe's most impressive castles
The French are good at many things – cooking, arty movies, and shrugging to name but a few. But they’re really good at castles. Fierce and functional, grand and imposing, large or small, the countryside is peppered with châteaux – and the banks of the River Loire are littered with them. A visit to one adds an extra dimension to a riding holiday, but it doesn’t have to add hours. True, doing justice to some of the more majestic might take the better part of a day, but many can be enjoyed in a briefer visit – and a couple of hours off the bike can go along way, sometimes.
We base our Loire visit in the small town of Amboise – home to not one but three châteaux and right in the heart of castle country. From here, you can get to some of the most impressive châteaux in France – from the massive Chambord to the river-spanning Chenonceau, to Château d’Usse that inspired Sleeping Beauty. You don’t even have to visit any - you could just enjoy the riding… Hotel tip: Hotel La Breche.
OFF THE BIKE
There are so many châteaux along the banks of the Loire, it’d be easy to spend a day at each – two a day would keep you busy for a fortnight. Our must-sees are Chenonceau or Chambord but there are plenty of others to choose from.
The big cities of the Loire tend to have monumental churches – particularly the cathedrals of Orléans and Tours – and don’t miss the impressive Basilica of St Martin in Tours.
Saumur has its own imposing château but also something more intoxicating: the distillery where Triple Sec was invented and a range of spirits is still made.
Who he, you ask? A collector who amassed a fascinating array of everything from weapons to vehicles to bizarre machines. They’re on display in a mill turned museum in Azay le Rideau.
TANKS FOR THE MEMORIES
The collection of tanks at the Musee des Blindes in Saumur is vast – more than 800 exhibits.
LEONARDO DA VINCI
Amboise has not one but three châteaux and the smallest, Clos Lucé was home to Leonardo in his final years. The grounds now hold replicas of some of his machines.
The Loire is a manageable day’s ride from Caen and Le Havre, but the extra distance from Calais makes it a stretch – especially on top of the ride to Dover on the English side. A determined solo rider might make it in one day but two days makes it pleasant.
OUR MOTORCYCLE TOURING ROUTES
CHAMBORD AND CHENONCEAU
Start/finish: Amboise. Distance: 110 miles. Riding time: 4 hours
A relatively short route to allow time for one or more of the impressive châteaux along the route. Choose from Chaumontsur-Loire, Chenonceau, Chambord, Bloise, Amboise or Montrichard.
Route map, Download the GPX
USSE AND LOCHES
Start/finish: Amboise. Distance: 130 miles. Riding time: 4.5 hours
Another sightseeing route, taking in the châteaux hat-trick of Usse, Loches and Château de Chinon.
Route map, Download the GPX
Please note: This page contains the route files for The RiDE Guide To France which came free with RiDE magazine in July 2017. These website page are not regularly updated, so please check all critical information before you travel. All route files are in .gpx format. Garmin and BMW users can download the main file, which contains all the routes and our recommended hotels as separate waypoints. TomTom users can download the individual routes and use the Tyre software to convert them. For many routes we also have Google Map links. However, as Google Maps will not plot routes over seasonally closed high Alpine passes when they’re shut, these may not work for every route all year round.