The Loire Valley Feature

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Wheel Estate: Biking in the Loire Valley

Fewer regions of France repay leisurely exploration more than the Val de Loire. And perhaps the best way to gently meander through the Loire Valley is by bike. As many discover, there's nothing like seeing Chenonceaux with your head pumped full of endorphins, surrounded by 20 new best friends, and knowing you'll be spending the night in a pointed turret bedroom fit for sleeping princesses.

VBT. So if you want to experience this region at its most blissful—but not blisterful!—take the VBT Loire Valley Tour. Many participants find it to be the most wonderful, truly oooooooooo-la-la travel experience they ever have in France.

Every morning, for six days, you sally forth for two to four hours of biking (about 34 to 56 km ), with an option of either calling it quits at lunch and returning to your hotel or continuing on with the rack pack for the afternoon. The tour guide likes to joke that "real men don't ask for directions—at least not in English," but since the instructions direct you along the route virtually pebble-to-pebble, this faux pas never arises.

The itinerary reads like the pages of a Perrault fairy tale, studded as it is with such legendary abodes as Azay-le-Rideau, Chenonceau, Villandry, and Ussé. It's a good morning's work to see two châteaux, non?

You can have an even better evening of it, thanks to VBT's choice of châteaux-hotels. At the 16th-century La Bourdaisière, retreat of King François I, you'll feel a wand has been waved over you as you repair to the candlelit Richelieu-red dining room to enjoy a supper-lative filet de carpe au Bourgueil. Audrey Hepburn's favorite, the Domaine de la Tortinière, fulfills anyone's "Queen-for-a-Stay" fantasies. Your final hotel overlooking the Loire river, the Manoir Les Minimes, was formerly a convent and private home.

It's little wonder that most of the 20 bikers in the group are in a state of dumb intoxication after six days with VBT. And we're not talking about all the wine tastings. 614 Monkton Rd., Bristol, VT, 05443. 800/245–3868. www.vbt.com.

Backroads. Backroads also offers the option of luxury or casual accommodations, English-speaking guides, and travel logistics. 801 Cedar St., Berkeley, CA, 94710. 800/462–2848. www.backroads.com.

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