This long-distance road touring route will one day link the Mediterranean at Montpellier with the Loire valley. For now, it follows the valley of the Allier downstream from Clermont Ferrand to its confluence with the Loire near Nevers.
The route is entirely on-road, mostly quiet D roads or even smaller lanes. Where there’s more traffic, generally cycle lanes have been provided. As such, it’s a route best suited to the dedicated cycle tourist who enjoys exploring la France profonde.
The early stages will test your climbing legs, particularly on the climb up to the Col de la Croix des Gardes (unsportingly, the A75 autoroute monopolises the valley floor here). There’s much to see in this hilly country, with châteaux and little villages nestling in the clefts of the landscape. Heavily wooded groves break out into wide vistas on this ever-twisting route.
After Pont du Château, the terrain becomes much easier. The gentle valley riding passes the historic spa town of Vichy on its way to the local wine capital of Saint Pourçain sur Sioule, which has a real small-town charm.
Moulins is a must-stop, its cathedral at the centre of a maze of medieval streets. But the little villages along the way also offer much to the explorer, such as the old river port of Le Veurdre.
The last few kilometres in the Cher département aren’t signposted, but you can simply follow the D45 down the valley to meet the Loire route near Nevers.