Vichy to Roanne via Langogne and the source of the Loire – up the upper Allier, down the upper Loire. About 550km. September 2009.
From the overnight ferry to Le Havre, our original plan for cycling the first half of the Loire was to leave the car at Sancerre, travel by train to Langogne and ride back to the car via the source of the Loire. But our dates coincided with a period when a key section of the Cevenol railway was closed for maintenance, so we abbreviated the trip, cycling up the Allier from Vichy and down the young Loire as far as Roanne, our arrival there perfectly timed for lunch at Troisgros. Either itinerary would be a beautiful ride. We got a lift from Langogne to the source of the Loire, saving about 50km and 500 vertical metres of climbing. But this is hardly essential. Riding up the Allier above Brioude was hard work, but took us through magnificent hill country, and we rewarded ourselves by staying in two luxury hotels – the Chateau de Codignat near Clermont Ferrand and Les Deux Abbesses at St Arcons (since relocated to the Perigord). We made the short journey back from Roanne to Vichy by train in a bit more than an hour. If we had had more time, we might have cycled over the hills – a short day’s ride.
Another alternative, for a more complete Allier/Loire circuit: start and finish the ride at Nevers, where the two rivers meet. The car could be left there, or you could do the whole thing by train, using Eurostar and TGVs between Paris and Nevers.
That said, we were pleased with the route we took, and having the car meant we could stop on the way home for wine tasting and buying in Sancerre.
Since our ride Les Deux Abbesses has closed, although the houses are still available to rent; and Troisgros has moved out of town (depriving Roanne of most of its visitors I suspect).
View up the upper allier, down the upper loire in a larger map
Ferries: LD Lines (Portsmouth– Le Havre) www.ldlines.co.uk
Le Château de Codignat. Upscale, uphill
L’Auvergne musclée. Always a relief to reach the pass
The Allier salmon is a rare beast today
Duck boards or back rests? Les Deux Abbesses
Extreme rustication at Les 2 Abbesses
Time to divide up the chocolate. Near Vergues
Did we really ride through all this? St Didier
Watching canoeists and listening to work on the line. Above Alleyras