Lying at the confluence of the Loire and a number of other rivers, Angers is a starting point for many different bike rides through wide-ranging landscapes that change with each river you follow. From the Basses Vallées Angevines to the Loire Anjou Touraine Nature Park, come with us to discover Anjou’s wetlands, a true paradise for ornithology and nature fans.
Learn all About the Wetlands
Before setting off, here are a few basics any would-be nature explorer should know! In wetlands, water is of course the critical element. It governs the functioning of these natural spaces and is essential for the animal and plant life that you find there.
Water, an Inseparable Element of Wetlands
Composed of marshes, rivers, wet grasslands, ponds and lakes, these areas are flooded or more of less waterlogged for part or all of the year, depending on the season and weather conditions. Their landscape can therefore change considerably over the course of the year. At certain times of year, they can even be difficult for walkers to access.
Wetland Plant and Animal Life
These fluctuations in water levels lead to the formation of special soils, as well as distinctive types of vegetation and fauna – hygrophilous plants and water birds abound. At Briollay educational marshland (in french), for example, you can spot the brightly coloured yellow iris, long reeds and the beautiful pearly damselfly, a cousin of the dragonfly.
Natural Spaces to Protect
Did you know that, as well as being rich in biodiversity, these special ecosystems are extremely beneficial for the environment? Acting like sponges, they absorb and store water which has a mitigating effect on floods and heat waves. They also delay droughts by replenishing the water table and sequester even more carbon than forests. The international Ramsar Convention (in french), established in 1971, protects wetlands. It is important for them not to become polluted, to not pick their plants and to protect the species that inhabit them.
Wetlands are of course a preferred place of refuge for many species of water bird. Within the Loire Anjou Touraine nature reserve, there are plenty of observation points. The park also offers several different itineraries (in french), including in the large floodplain of Saint-Rémy-la-Varenne on the banks of the Loire or along the banks of the Thouet beside Montreuil-Bellay. Closer to Angers, in the Basses Vallées Angevines, look-outs can be found in Cantenay-Épinard and Montreuil-Juigné, allowing you to view birds as discreetly as possible. The Anjou branch of the French league for the protection of birds (in french) (LPO), is a great source of information and its website lists all of the species that are present in the area. For those who want to learn more, the association offers various monthly outings where you can learn about birdwatching in the company of experts.
Numerous Wetlands around Angers
Now that you know a little more about wetlands, it’s time for an adventure by bike! You have a choice of several cycle itineraries along the Loire, Authion and Sarthe rivers or in the Baffou marshes.
In Angers, Cycle to a Lake on the Loire
Just next door to Angers, towards Bouchemaine, Lac de Maine is a short ride away. This artificial lake flanked by the Loire à Vélo cycle route, is a magical place to watch birds. With some 235 species observed here over the last 30 years, the lake is home to an ornithological reserve and a large heron colony. Whether you are an enlightened amateur or want to try birdwatching for the first time, we recommend an ornithological cruise with Loire Odyssée (in french). Their very knowledgeable guides will tell you all the secrets of Loire birds.
Basses Vallées Angevines and Briollay
A few kilometres from Angers, an easy ride along the Sarthe river and a few country lanes will bring you to Briollay educational marsh in the Basses Vallées Angevines. This marsh has all the characteristic features of the Basses Vallées Angevines (a Natura 2000 wetlands area) whose flood meadows offer a changing landscape throughout the seasons. A family walking circuit takes you past pond, meadow, reedbeds and the banks of the Sarthe to discover the wetland ecosystem and its plant and animal life. You’ll be able to recognize species thanks to a series of descriptive panels. Those with some knowledge of rare birds might also spot the corn crake, which lives and reproduces in the meadowland.
A Ride to Authion Valley
Another wetland area that is worth a visit and that makes an ideal outing for cyclists is Authion Valley. Setting off from Angers, the most pleasant route is via Sainte-Gemmes-sur-Loire; from there you can follow the banks of the charming little Authion river. Cycling virtually parallel to the north side of the Loire, you’ll be in Brain-sur-l’Authion in no time. Families will like the nature trail around the Prés d’Amont marshes, which starts near the campsite. If you continue a little further, you will come to Andard. Here, starting at Andard bridge, you can follow an educational trail and learn all about the Authion. On foot or by bike, you’ll find a series of information points with riddles and quizzes for an interactive educational experience for all ages. Learn about the poplar groves, meadows and reedbeds as well as their array of vegetation and water birds.
On from Saumur to the Marshes of Brézé
From Angers, and perhaps after a detour via the Authion Valley, the Loire à Vélo route follows the stunning Loire river embankment, taking you straight to Saumur. A few kilometres further on, you come to Brézé. Here, too, a beautiful natural wetland area is yours to explore. The nature trail around Baffou marsh is ideal for a tranquil walk. What was once a poplar grove owned by the municipality has been fully restored to wetland. The area is excellent for biodiversity and from the nature look-out and wooden walkway you might spot amphibians and other marshland creatures.