We are camped at the small village of Brain-sur-Authion, east of Angers and north of the Loire. We have a map showing a number of circular bike routes taking in the Loire river and the surrounding countryside. Today we cycled west along the Loire to where the mouth of the River Maine flows into it. We then headed north up the Maine until we reached Angers. We had driven through the sprawling suburbs of the city yesterday to find a supermarket and had missed seeing any of the old town. Approaching from the river, the sight that greeted us today was the massive walls of Chateau d’Angers with its black and white stone battlements and 17 watchtowers. We parked our bikes and went to explore further. The moat of the chateau (which has never held water and was used a vegetable garden originally) has been planted with beautiful floral displays. Once across the drawbridge, the courtyard was a beautiful and tranquil green space with stunning topiary setting off the interior buildings which seemed almost delicate compared to the external ramparts. The royal quarter was decorated with pepper pot turrets but unfortunately the
interior was devoid of any furnishings (which means it doesn’t count as an official chateau visit in my book). After wandering around for a while admiring the church, the views over the city and river, the watch towers and the beautifully planted fruit and vegetable garden, we entered the more modern (20th
century) building designed to house the massive Tenture d’Apocalypse (Apocalypse tapestry) commissioned in 1375 it recounts the story of judgement day as set down in the book of Revelations. Apparently it only took seven years to complete. The rate I’m going, my tapestry might be finished in about the same timeframe. After that, we sat in deckchairs and enjoyed ice cream. Leaving the castle, we wandered around the old town admiring various medieval buildings and the cathedral before heading back.
Today we travelled to Saumur. Our campsite is on L’ile d’Offard, a small island in the middle of the Loire. From our pitch, we have views across to the left bank of the river and the impressive Chateau of Saumur. We had a walk around the town and up to the chateau in the late
afternoon before enjoying a beer in the main square admiring the old buildings and generally watching the world go by.
We have a great map showing lots of different cycle rides options around the area so guess what the plan is for the next few days?
What could be more perfect, cycling through beautiful french countryside with the sun on your back and a baguette in your bag? You would think nothing could top the views of unending vineyards, petit chateaux and old Manoir’s hinting of generations of wine making behind their massive oak gates. It is everything you expect of the Loire valley only more beautiful. What we didn’t really expect were troglodytes.
We had lunch in the small town of Doue-la-Fontaine and then cycled down one of it streets where we came across houses built into the rock. We then came across the Le Mystere des Faluns, a subterranean experience that plunged us into the underground world of the troglodytes. I don’t know how best to describe it. From the road, the site looked like a small reclaimed quarry (which is exactly what
it is) with picnic benches and grassy areas. We made our way down the steep entrance road and saw that there was a door in the quarry wall that housed the reception to Le Mystere des Faluns. The lady on the reception gave us a leaflet but then proceeded to explained step by step what we were about to see in perfect English so that we could fully immerse ourselves in the experience rather than trying to read the literature at the same time.
Basically 10,000 years ago the area was covered with a shallow sea containing sharks, rays and dugongs and the land was inhabited by elephants, antelopes and tigers. Over time the tides created an underwater dune that was added to by the animals as they died off. As the seas dried up and everything compressed and solidified, the dune formed the stone known as falun. From the 18th
century, this was quarried to build monuments and buildings. The majority of the stone was dug out underground to preserve the precious farmland on the surface and what remains has been turned into this massive underground experience that uses light and sound the recreate this story.
The underground chambers are cathedral sized in height and the way that the whole thing has been lit really does provoke a sense of the past. Not being very good with dark places (and not helped by the fact it felt like we were the only people on the place), my mind swung from being completely overawed to being just a little bit scared.
What we had seen on the road as we cycled out of Doue-la-Fontaine were the houses built by the quarry men and they are still inhabited today. Various information boards reassured us that the houses had all the modern amenities expected of any dwelling.
Back in Saumur, the vintners have built caves into the rock to make wine and store their wine.
It would be remiss not to enjoy some of the local wine whilst we are here. Tonight I am enjoying a Rose d’Anjou 2017. I’m getting soft fruits with notes of mint and white pepper…….
We cycled mainly on the right bank of the Loire today. The landscape is flatter, the villages sleepy and rather than
vineyards, there are fields of crops and market garden type produce. It was a long ride, John estimated we had done about 100 km’s. I reckon it was more like 200!
More troglodytes today but this time beautiful houses built into the rock as we cycled upstream from Saumur. We then crossed the river and headed north cycling past farmland and into forest. We passed a field resplendent with red leaf lettuce in long rows and got caught up in a local bike race but luckily they were coming the other way so we didn’t pose any competition.
We are on the move and decided to go via Chinon. We explored the old medieval town which is dominated by the walled chateau. The chateau is where Joan of Arc met with Charles VII to discuss how she and her amassed army could work with him to defeat the English and bring about the end to the hundred years war. The royal apartments lacked any furnishings and whilst interesting, yet again, it wasn’t my idea of a chateau. We tried to get some
lunch at the café but as it was five minutes past two, savoury dishes were no longer being served. In a fit of pique, we headed back to the campervan and had a late lunch of cheese and pate on the banks of the river Vienne.
Our campsite is just outside the village of Brehemont within easy reach of the Loire cycle way and a number of cycling options. Today we cycled to the Chateau de Usse, a privately owned chateau that is thought to have inspired Charles Perrault to write the famous fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty. The exterior of the chateau certainly creates a fairy tale atmosphere with its many turrets. Inside, the extensive use of waxwork dummies dressed in costumes through the ages adds an air of the ridiculous to the rooms decorated with 15th
century artefacts. One of the towers houses a series of tableaus with more wax work figures telling the story of sleeping beauty. All a bit cheesy.
Today we cycled to Tours. It is a big University city so we focused on the
old town with its cathedral. It has an impressive Hotel de Ville and we caught the tail end of the bi weekly flower market that takes place down the centre of one of the main boulevards.
Our campsite is lovely and tonight there was a small market. We bought some tasty olives and confit of chicken gizzards fried up with potatoes and mushrooms for tea – delicious.
We are camped near the town of Bloise underneath the pigeon poo tree. We just wanted some shade from the hot sun and ended up with more besides….
Today the plan was to cycle in to Bloise and catch the train to Amboise back downstream to visit the final home of Leonardo Di Vinci at the Chateau du Clos Lucé. It was the earliest we had got up for weeks so when we arrived at the station, we were very disappointed to find the next train wouldn’t be for another two hours. We decided we could cycle there in that time (well almost). It was 43 km’s along the marked cycle paths.
The Chateau was
the summer residence for the Kings of France for two hundred years but owes its celebrity to the fact that King Francois I invited Leonardo Di Vinci to come and live there in 1516. He offered the chateau and a substantial allowance to Di Vinci only asking in return that he be allowed to talk to him which it appeared he did each day. The chateau was small and quite plainly decorated. We saw the bedroom where spent much of his time before dying there on 2nd
May 1519. Whilst not as bad as the Chateau d’Usse, the chateau owners still couldn’t resist on having the odd wax work dummy. Di Vinci’s study and workshop had been recreated and there was even had a hologram of him chatting with the Cardinal of Aragon and showing him the Mona Lisa. In the renaissance great hall a cat was curdled up on one of the dining room chairs. A dutch lady was stroking it but it didn’t move a muscle. I thought it was another wax work so image my shock when I went to pet it and it moved. John moved the do not touch sign on the table and put
it next to the cat – oh how we laughed!! In the basement, some of Di Vinci’s inventions had been made up in miniature. The grounds of the chateau form a large park area where his inventions are more life size. It was full of school children on educational visits looking like they were having great fun.
Our cycle route today took us past Chateau de Cheverny. I didn’t want to push my luck by expecting another chateau visit but as I pointed out to John, it is in the top three to visit according to the Lonely Planet. John was insistent that we went in and who was I to argue.
The building is elegant and the interior sumptuous. Everything I imagined a chateau would be – finally (and not a wax work insight). Each room had the added bonus of figures cleverly crafted in Lego recreating different fables by french poet Jean de la Fountaine. Alongside the write up for each fable were details on how many Lego bricks were used and how many hours it had taken to create. That kept John entertained whilst I
took in the decor. Interesting fact of the day - it wasn’t until Louis XVI that, under English influence, the dining table replaced the habit of meals being taken in the antechambers.
The grounds had a wonderful kitchen garden as well as kennels housing around 100 French hounds that were all lolling around in the shade.
The outhouses had a Tintin exhibition. John remembers watching Tintin on TV (a bit before my time!). Twenty years into his creation, Herge, used the chateau as inspiration for the residence of an ancestor of Captain Haddock called Moulinsart and after an adventure to return the chateau to Captain Haddock’s ancestor, Tintin and his friends were based there for the rest of their future adventures.
Another chateau! This time Chambord, another of the top three to visit. The first glimpse of the chateau is jaw dropping - it is magnificent. It was commissioned by King Francois I as his summer palace and building began in 1519. Francois died in 1547, having only visited a handful of times and never seeing the chateau completed. Construction was on and off for
the next 150 years or so under different owners and finally completed by Louis XIV. Architecturally it has remained unchanged from its original plans. Apparently no-one stayed long as it was surrounded by marshland and malarial carrying mosquitoes. All the furniture was sold off during the french revolution but it has been open to visitors since the late 1800’s. Today some of the apartments on the first floor have been refurbished in 16th
century styles and a clever double helix staircase (thought to be inspired by Di Vinci) is one of the interiors main attractions. The terraces above the second floor offer panoramic views as well as closer views of the lantern tower rising at the summit of the grand staircase, the ornate chimney stacks, dormer windows and stairway turrets. It is set in Europe’s largest wall-enclosed parkland (13450 acres) enclosed by a wall 20 Kms long. All in all, very impressive but I fear this may be our last chateau visit for some time – we are chateaued out!
Our campsite is over the river from the town of Beaugency. From our pitch we can watch the rabbits
playing and admire the old town across the murky Loire.
Yesterday we cycled downstream towards Saint Dye before heading inland once again towards the Chambord Chateau. This time however, we headed east from the chateau doing a loop that took us back to the Loire and past a huge nuclear power station and the town of Saint Laurent Nouan. The sky had been getting steadily darker and about 3 pm, it started raining. It brightened up a little for the last half an hour of our ride back along the right bank of the river.
Today we headed to the city of Orleans. The cathedral has a very impressive façade and nine of its stained glass windows tell the story of Joan of Arc. She is everywhere you look from street names, the names of shops and cafes and of course lots of statues. Across from the cathedral is the Hotel Groslot, a renaissance building built as a private residence in 15th
century before becoming the town hall during the french revolution. It remains a public office today but you can have a look around the extravagantly decorated rooms for free. The first room
is called the Joan of Arc room as it has so many references to her.
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