Perhaps by now we've convinced you to book a trip to the Loire Valley. You know you want to try the excellent wines, but as everyone knows, drinking and driving around country roads doesn't mix. Luckily, this region along the Loire River is full of alternative ways to get around. Bicycling is extremely popular, thanks to flat terrain and a well-signed network of paths for cyclists; horseback riding is a natural here in chateau country; boats just make sense on a river; and what better way to see the gorgeous scenery than from high up in a hot air balloon? Best of all, you can combine all of these activities with wine tastings and winery visits. Read on for details on exploring the Loire by…
Over 800,000 cyclists roll through the Loire every year, following routes designed by La Loire à Vélo (there's even an app!). Well-signed routes avoid busy roads in favor of lesser-trafficked back roads, greenways, and dedicated cycling paths, much of it along the Loire River itself. You'll pass close to 18 châteaux and countless charming small villages, not to mention countless wineries and excellent restaurants. La Loire à Vélo has maps for easy route-planning, and inter-regional trains accommodate bikes, in case all the pedaling tires you out.
While a number of outfitters offer barge cruises through the Loire, traditional Loire boats are flat-bottomed to deftly navigate the river's changing sandy depths. If you're going to be in Amboise or Chaumont-sur-Loire, Milliere Raboton stages voyages that start at an hour-and-a-half in length for 20 euros person (they also offer longer midday picnic and dawn sails at different prices). Learn more and book here.
One look at the gorgeous green countryside and it's clear the Loire is horse country. Quite a few stables offer riding lessons and some coordinate winery visits on horseback. Ecuries du Layon, in Soulaines-sur-Aubancem will arrange a horseback tromp through surrounding vineyards and forests.
Hot Air Balloon
The Loire Valley is impressive from the ground, and even more so from the air. Twenty-year-old company France Montgolfières (or France Balloons) runs hot air balloon tours of many of the region's châteaux, including the impressive Chenonceau, which juts out into the Cher River. Tours happen April through October; learn more and book at the company's website.