Europe, Ski, sports and adventure

Loire Valley or where even a Martian should first try cycling

‘Not all those who wander are lost’

J.R.R Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Here, on Earth, cycling isn’t always about getting faster from point A to point B, as it isn’t only about being eco-friendly. The only thing it takes is being close to nature. But, dear alien, you must know that Europe, this old lady in funny clothes, is getting more and more accustomed with bikers, which is why all the capital states (or, at least, most of them) have been investing in infrastructure to support the ecologists. But that’s not what I’m telling you to visit, I’m not sending you to experience skyscrapers and civilization, but a little bite of how we value nature and cultivate adrenaline.

The stairway to heaven goes from Saint-Nazaire to Orleans

Yes, dear alien. It’s for the greatest wine in the world that we treasure France so much; the classy, unmistakable scent of the refined drink from the vines in Burgundy is why you heard of it. But let me tell you how to remember this place, not how to recognize it.

This is most perfect place to combine cycling, along with a wine-tour pretext. You must know you’ll have the most amazing time in Nantes and Angers, where along the water you’ll see the friendliest French people. They’ll invite you to join their barbeque, and some will even share their blankets with you whenever you want to take a break for reading. Amazing picturesque villages, places that would look so modest to you when you arrive, and whose folklore you’ll discover as the journey goes: lots of cultural customs, these people will amaze you with their kindness and food. It’s here where you’ll find the true French spirit, so far away from the Parisian crowds of distant, refractory people. Tip: Say ‘Hi’ to everybody before they do (if possible, in French), people in small communities have the habit of saying hello to anyone around. Make sure you’ll be the first one to do this, it’s a gesture of politeness.

There’s this one village that totally stands out from the community called ‘The most beautiful villages of France’. Lavardin is just a little piece of heaven, a bundle of cultural symbols mixed with compressed ethnological traits. The less than 300 people you’ll find living here wake up every morning seeing the ruins of a beautiful, gothic medieval castle (Château de Lavardin). Supposing you’ve only seen this punctual heavenly place, now you must know that the entire road along the Loire Valley is metonymically accurate – dotted about with castles of essential cultural significance. A great such example, proportional but more outstanding is Château de Villandry. The great edifice is but a pretext for the exceedingly beautiful gardens, whose popularity dates back from the Renaissance. Over 15 acres of differently shaped and cultivated breathtaking gardens make the most ideal stop for any biker who’s a little tired. Tip. Don’t leave the village without eating at a local’s place. The most common small-talk will suffice for them to invite you for lunch. Don’t miss it, they’re exceptional cooks!

Don’t miss the castles!

The route is one of the easiest in terms of biking difficulty, but I would recommend it first for the stunning sights. It’s often referred to as the Garden of Kings because of the constantly changing river-scape with every step and even though most of the visitors come for the beautiful castles, nature is the reason they come back again and again.

Chambord. One of the most distinctive castles in the world, thanks to its personal French Renaissance architectural style and by far the largest you’ll see in Loire Valley. Sprawling grounds, immense interiors, marvelously adorned, speaking of a sharp sense of opulence perfectly match the hunting lodge, which was the main reason for having built a castle there in the first place. The great finesse of the place is not given by the spectacular grandeur, but by the overall simplicity in which elegance is shown. Tip: Getting off your bike isn’t only worth it for the castle visit here, but for the gig walks as well, to completely transpose you into the fairy world around you.

Another thing that you definitely have to try here are the double helix staircases. Very bold construction accessories for that time, they’re spectacular because the helixes don’t meet during the three floor path. People can follow the same direction at the same time (up or down) without properly meeting. Because the staircase is open, you won’t be able to play hide and seek, as I would have recommended you otherwise. But the experience is still very enjoyable even now, centuries after this, it’s a great way to spend your time out of your biking experience.

Château de Chenonceau. A great architectural mark of women’s importance and style in the history of France, the place per se suggests that feminism isn’t necessary in this country, thanks to women like Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de’ Medici. It is thought to be one of the most romantic construction in France because of the galerie de bal crossing the river like a bridge. The construction of this achingly charming castle’s been supervised by a women during different stages of its making, being also called the ‘Castle of the Lady’. Tip: It would be unfair if you left the surrounding without having seen the spectacular official gardens, opulent and refined, speaking of taste and savoir faire.

There are many things to stop for in Loire Valley, and this is just a brief agenda of the point’s you can’t afford missing during your outdoor relaxing time. There is one last monument that you can’t miss. This time, not only because of its beauty, but because it looks like being out place.

La Cathedrale de Chartre is a UNESCO World Heritage site and, without doubt, one of the world’s most eloquent and representative examples of gothic architecture. Apart from the detailed stained glass windows of exquisite dedication towards art, the place is worth remembering about because of the legend of its construction. Its raising happened as a celebration after relic sacred Santa Camisia surpassed a fire unharmed. Tip: On your way to the cathedral, stop and marvel at the 12th century sculptures on the Royal Portal. With their robes stylized and their appearance cosmeticized, the statues show impressively lifelike features of the faces portrayed for the moment, a lot ahead of the fashion of time.

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