ESY-000793641 - © - Richard Semik
Chateau de Montreuil-Bellay - France
Chateau Coudray- Salbart
Pays de la Loire
Along the river valley of Thouet
The Vélo Francette is a cycle tour that links Normandy to the Atlantic (Caen to La Rochelle). This central section covers a region renowned for its gentle lifestyle, rich and well-preserved ancient architectural heritage and unspoilt nature. Cycling in Saumur will allow you to reach all the town’s treasures. For the following two days, you will follow the Thouet, a river dotted with pretty, often fortified, villages: Montreuil-Bellay, St-Généroux, Airvault … Churches, old bridges, mills, fountains and fortresses punctuate your route before you cross Parthenay to reach Niort and its keep, the 2nd largest in France.
Level: easy, 3 stages averaging 50km, low altitude
Access: Saumur and Niort have SNCF stations (TGV to Saumur). The rail connection between the two towns is approximately 2h30
Ref : 767
Saumur, for this first stage, will surprise you! Jump on your bike to explore its exceptional heritage; the château des Ducs d’Anjou has dominated the old quarter since the 14th century, whilst the dome of the Notre-Dame-des-Ardilliers church is also impressive. Meanwhile, immerse yourself in a tradition of equestrianism enshrined in the world heritage of UNESCO: the Cadre Noir, as well as the Museum of the Cavalry and Musée des Blindés (tank museum). Finally, savour the region’s wine making prowess: large wineries are open for visits and tastings.
MyTripTailor advice: visit clever, buy your citypass in advance for free entry into 20 sites in and around Saumur.
The Thouet, a small, gentle flowing river, offers a peaceful exit from Saumur. It passes close by the Grand Dolmen and Menhir La Pierre Longue: worth the detour for their impressive size that won’t fail to impress. The château in Montreuil-Bellay dominates the city which, besides its genuine medieval prestige, allows an opportunity to admire its barbican, an almost impregnable and extremely rare form of advanced fortification.
Next up, after the bridge of Taizon (XIII), is Thouars, where you can enjoy a walk through its ancient streets and spend the evening.
Continue up the Thouet through a rural landscape of quiet roads. Heritage is everywhere. In St-Généroux, the pre-Romanesque church and bridge with its five arches are remarkable. In the pretty village of Airvault, the church, the porch, the Pont de Vernay and the underground fountain are all worthy of a visit. Visit the château in St-Loup-sur-Thouet and be sure to enjoy the perfectly restored French gardens. It’s through the St-Jacques gate and bridge that you enter Parthenay.
In Parthenay, you head south, whilst the Thouet runs west. The relief begins to accentuate slightly, the bocage becomes thicker and the nature grows more wild. Admire the Val de Flore Garden in Soutiers: magnificently cultivated beauty over the scarcity or protection of endangered species.
The last stage in this Gâtine region before Niort and its iconic keep: the fortress of Coudray-Salbart, a marvel of defensive art which has never really had to prove its effectiveness.
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