Tomorrow, I board CroisiEurope’s Loire Princesse — again. I was on the new vessel this past weekend for inaugural events, which I wrote about here. Loire Princesse is the first of its kind, a paddle-wheeler plying the Loire. She’s a beauty and a technological success, not only for Strasbourg-based CroisiEurope but also for the region of Nantes and for travelers, like you and me.
I’ll be reporting from the new ship beginning on Thursday, April 9. For now, I wanted to share with you how I’ve come to know and appreciate Nantes — on the seat of a bicycle.
Nantes is as bike-friendly as Copenhagen or Amsterdam, with dedicated bike roads and bike-aware drivers. I’ve spent a few hours each day exploring the city and riding out into the countryside along the rivers. The weather gods could not have been kinder during my stay here. I’ve pedaled under sunshine and blue skies on a bike that I rented for 31 euros for three days (actually the nice folks at Detours de Loire threw in an extra afternoon on the day when I picked up the bike.)
On the first day, I pedaled with a reporter for France bleu Loire Océan (French radio). I met Edouard Marguier on Loire Princesse, and he offered to take me for a long ride along the Loire. We pedaled to Mauves-sur-Loire, a small village on the river. The countryside was gorgeous and the pedaling easy on dedicated bike roads most of the way. Edouard had been kind enough to loan me one of his extra bikes, and we returned it to his apartment where we had a coffee afterward. It was good to ride along the river and to talk with the 25-year-old about his ambitions and aspirations in the field of journalism.
On Sunday, I rented my bike in the late afternoon and made a short ride to île de Nantes, a small island in the middle of the Loire, and also where Loire Princesses docks. Among the attractions on the island, Les Machines. The attraction’s website describes it like this: “Les Machines de l’île is a totally unprecedented artistic project. Born from the François Delarozière and Pierre Orefice’s imagination, it is at crossroads of Jules Verne’s invented worlds, of the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci, and of Nantes’ industrial history, on the exceptional site of the former shipyards.”
Of the attractions at Les Machines is a giant mechanical elephant, measuring more than 12 meters high and 8 meters wide. Made from 45 tons of wood and steel, the lumbering elephant can take up to 49 passengers for a 45-minute “walk.” It was fun enough to simply stand on the sidelines and watch, as I did on Sunday afternoon.
On Monday I pedaled along the L’Erdre, a narrow tributary of the Loire that widened as I pedaled up-river. I rode through fields and forests alongside the river to reach Sucé-sue-Erdre, arriving at about the same time that a group of Harley-Davidson riders throttled into town. One rider’s bike was adorned with U.S. and Confederate flags, and I asked if I could have a photo with him and his wife, seeing that he was a fan of my home country.
Afterward, I found a small cafe by the river where I enjoyed a Galette Gourmand (sort of a buckwheat pancake with cheese and ham) along with Cidre Pression (draft cider with a kick). I could not have imagined a better way to have spent my time on this beautiful spring day.
On Tuesday, I pedaled to Vertou, along the L’Sèvre Nantaise, another tributary of the Loire. Again, I was able to pedal on roads designed primarily for bicycles past beautiful houses and green pastures with cows grazing.
Tomorrow, I begin a six-day itinerary along the Loire River on the Loire Princesse. As I always attempt to do on this type of trip, I’ll be filing daily “Live Voyage Reports” as I travel. You’ll find my reports here on River Cruise Advisor.
Before boarding, however, I have one more day to pedal. Time to get out and enjoy spring in Nantes.