Published by Lyn on 5 February 2014
This one comes via a dispatch that landed in my email box from Merle Drury, who lives in Doué la Fontaine, about 15km west of Saumur and the Loire river. Merle originally wrote in to ask about taking trailers on French trains but ended up volunteering much more information than she received in return. (For the record, all reports indicate that taking trailers on TER trains in the Loire isn't a problem, but let us know if you've ever run into difficulties.)
Anyway, Merle says the annual Fête du vélo en Anjou (Anjou Festival of Cycling) is well worth checking out.
"On the third Sunday of June every year, the Conseil Générale of Maine-et-Loire closes the roads bordering the Loire to traffic (except for residents' access, so there are still some vehicles) between the towns of Montsoreau (east of Saumur) and Notre Dame du Marellais (just west of St Florent le Vieil, which is well west of Angers)," writes Merle.
"This is a distance of something over 140km, with the Angers-Saumur part being cyclable both sides of the Loire. This circuit is about 100km in total if you do the full round trip from, say, Saumur (good parking) to Angers, and back. We've done that several times and always had a blast (including the time I fell off 35km out and broke my wrist but still continued as there was no way I was going to spoil the day. It was damn sore the next day. Finally made it to the hospital on the Tuesday and got plastered – literally.)
Now *that's* dedication.
This festival usually starts around at 8am and runs through until early evening (officially 6pm) – during which time more than 30,000 cyclists take to the roads and towpaths of the Loire.
"Just rock up and enjoy," says Merle. "The day attracts thousands of cyclists from tiny ones on Pink Pony peddlers with stabilisers to old ladies on pre-war bikes – one of whom I remember seeing being towed along in a trailer, her leg in plaster. It's such fun – people bring their picnics (and tables), wear fancy dress, decorate their bikes – whatever takes your fancy. The towns along the way open up and have music, barbecues, food stalls, exhibitions, strawberries in wine – you're never far from something to eat or drink."
Vintage bikes get in on the act
The Fête du vélo runs in conjunction with a retro bike festival, the Anjou Vélo Vintage, at Saumur. The vintage event usually opens on the Saturday with a 'vintage village', followed by a rando – or ride – for vintage bikes on the Sunday. Expect to see anything without gears from the early 20th century through until 1987. There are routes of varying lengths leaving Saumur and looping past the castles and vineyards of Anjou. The offiical website is in French only, but there are self-explanatory maps of each route.
And to help you enjoy the weekend ...
See our bike hire listings for bike rental options in Pays de la Loire.
For accommodation ideas, see our Where to stay section.
For more on the river itself, see John Higginson's overview of cycling the river Loire. John's followed the river from its source to the sea and covered it for us in three installments: from Gerbier de Jonc to Le Puy en Velay; Le Puy en Velay to Sancerre; and from Sancerre to St Nazaire. See also our guide to the top 10 Loire chateaux to see by bike.
On the guidebook front, see John Higginson's Cycling the River Loire: The Way of St Martin, published by Cicerone. For more general tourist information on the Loire, see the DK travel guide to the Loire, the Loire Valley Footprint guide, or the Cadogan equivalent. See also Michelin's Tourist Guide Chateaux of the Loire (there's also a map).
Michelin's Indre-et-Loire, Maine-et-Loire local map covers the festival area, as does the IGN equivalent; both Michelin and IGN have a Pays de la Loire regional map.
See Merle's Fat Pumpkins blog for more on on what she gets up to in the Loire (though she says she hasn't written much lately – she's been "too busy enjoying life").