Arcachon and the Loire valley part 1

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June 30th 2013
Published: June 30th 2013
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Arcachon was a totally different world compared to gracious Bordeaux. The train ride took an hour and we stepped into sunshine and a small Atlantic beach town with wide beach promenades and REAL sandy beaches with detached houses ( no stone anywhere). Our hotel Le Novel was just down the street from the Gare and after settling in, it was off to the tourist office for information. Apart from being the oyster capital of France, Arcachon is also known for the Dune de Pilat - a 3 km long and 114m high sand dune that is the largest n Europe and slowly encroaching inland at up to 4 5 m a year.

Bus C took us out to the dune where we joined the many others climbing to the top - what a slog!!!! The Eastern slope was very steep and pretty hot on the feet. Stunning view from the top of the Bassin d'Arcachon and the breakers beyond the protected waters.

Back in town we did some meandering. The main shopping street ( dominated by beach products as is expected) was pedestrianised. Then we moved on go the residential area - Arcachon has four seperate quarters named for the 4 seasons -we went to summer and winter - if they were meant to be different styles, the differences were too subtle for me. However the original houses were very fantasmogorical.

For dinner we splurged on a seafood diner at a waterside restaurant at the beach. A dozen raw oysters to start then scampi for me and bass for Kelly. It was a surprisingly warm evening for being right on the ocean. Free entertainment came from a musician who was playing on the promenade in front of the restaurant.

The next day was expensive clothing market day in front of the covered market. The stalls were just setting up as we arrived in search of coffee. There was a fresh oyster bar inside the covered area and that was our destination for lunch- wine before noon. It rained lightly on and off all day and there were not very many people out and about. Laundry took up a bit of time but other than that it was a lay low day. We had planned to go n a boat ride to Cap Ferrat but it didn't even look like they were operating due to the weather. One of the grocery chains here is called Casino and that was always good for a wander, especially as Kelly was always on a search for a bottle of wine from St Estephe in Bordeaux. I loved looking at the cheeses - so many varieties and so cheap. 2 euros for a large packet of Laughing Cow - this costs us around $12 at home. Coeur de Lion became a favourite here - 1.5 euro for a round of Camembert pieces

I am not a huge fan of beer although it does taste great on a hot day - however even a demi glass ( 25 cl) was a little too much. At a brasserie in Arcachon I noticed a fellow next to me having a smaller glass of beer - turns out some places sell beer in a 12.5 cl size (a galodipan)

June 14 saw us heading to the town of Tours for the start of our bike ride in the Loire Valley. We were fortunate we had no travel hassles as the 13th had seen major transportation strikes all over France. Our train from Bordeaux was scheduled to arrive in St Pierre de Corps at 1:58pm and we got a little concerned when we were still rocking through the countryside just after 2pm. Turned out our train was running late so after transferring trains in St Pierre, we arrived in Tours at 2:45, just -15 minutes before Vera and 2 Bob arrived from Paris.

Hotel Manoir was a short walk from the station and after getting our rooms, went in search of a beer. It is nice when towns have pedestrian areas cos then you don't have to worry about getting run over when you aren't paying attention.

Back at the hotel for our briefing at 4:30pm with Sebastien from Discover France To prepare us for our week of cycling in the Loire Valley. Our trip books contained our daily routes ( very detailed as there are a lot of little roads), daily maps, highlights of each day, boulangeries and markets in each town. There were two GPSs ( which we found out later were not exactly the same route as the maps). Then we got our bikes which came complete with a rear pannier ( saddle bag) and a handle bar bag which is where we kept our maps in plain view. Kelly and I had brought our own seats with us so those got transferred onto our bikes and we were raring to go.

Bike ride day 1 took us from Tours to Azay Le Rideau via Viillandry a distance of 37 kms. We had to have our bags at reception by 930 each day where they were picked up and delivered to our next hotel. The official start point (for zeroing out the bike computers) was at Tours city hall. Vera ( who speaks French) informed us that city hall is, in fact, Hotel de Ville - to think that for the past three weeks i had been thinking that Hotel de Ville must be a really high end hotel chain as there were always signs pointing them out in every city we went to. Once we left the town, it was lots of small quiet roads along the Loire River with expansive areas of poppies - lots of photo stops. Kelly was feeling under the weather so we were taking it fairly easy. When we got to Villandry, we left him sleeping in the park while we had lunch (with wine) and then visited the gardens of the chateau - most impressive.

Villandry was built in 1536, the last great chateaux of the Renaissance period in the Loire Valley. The fellow who bought it in 1906 restored the gardens to their original design and was also instrumental in getting other chateaus opened to the public (a great source of income for them). There was an ornamental garden (beautifully pruned hedges in the shapes of hearts, flames, crosses), a water garden, a maze ( pretty simple to navigate), herb garden (traditional garden of the Middle Ages with aromatic, cooking and medicinal herbs) and finally the vegetable garden ( 9 squares of equal size but planted in a variety of geometric patterns - the prettiest vegetables I have ever seen.

Back on the road, we arrived in Azay Le Rideau around 4:30pm. Our home for the night (Hotel des Chateaux) was a kilometre out of town UP a hill which was a bit of a slog after the days riding. A really nice hotel and really nice staff who allowed us to chill a bottle of wine in their fridge. A pleasant sit under the trees sipping wine and eating cheese and crackers - 2 Bob had paid a visit to the Carrefour market across the street). This was the first of three hotels where dinner was included. Antipasti followed by a leg of duck was very delicious.

Breakfast was included at all hotels and the one at Hotel des Chateaux was a great way to start the day - fresh fruit ( including cherries), cheese, meats, bread, jam, cereals and my personal favourite -pain chocolate.

Day 2 was from Azay Le Rideau to Luynes - 48kms. A typical day included lots of stops for photos, helmets off ( if we were on a bike path or quiet road), Helmets on, jackets off, jackets on, sunscreen on etc etc. And then frequent discussions about the route especially when the GPS didn't exactly match the written instructions - there was lots of concentration needed on this day to watch for street signs.

The gorgeous Chateau of Usse was apparently the inspiration for the setting of the story of Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault. Although spectacular from the road, we weren't going to visit it (darn expensive) til we chatted with a couple from North Vancouver who said it was totally worth the money. So in we went. One of the towers had rooms made up to tell the Sleeping Beauty story - complete with Disney music and real life birdies flying around and tweeting outside the tower. We were able to go right to the top via the spiral staircase to see part of the roof construction including insulation. Down into the cellars as well as into some of the main floor rooms where they had mannequins in period costume and a lot of furnishings - tableaux of daily life. Also included in areas that we could access were the stables with 8 different carriages ( from the big fancy one for special occasions to the children's donkey cart.

Lunch was a very fancy affair - left over cheese and crackers washed down with a bottle of wine - eaten on the riverside - the first of many occasions when Vera's little cutting board, knife and wine opener came in handy. This was followed later on by an ice cream in the pretty village (all the towns and villages are pretty but this one had a very picturesque bridge with huge flower pots) of Langelais. The major attraction here was a medieval castle / chateau which was rebuilt in the 15th century after having been destroyed in the Hundred Years War.

Continuing east with the Loire River on our right, we passed through the village of St Ettiene de Chigny where we first start noticing all the cliff side homes. It was a real life Hobbiton with chimneys coming out the top of the cliffs. Many of the homes appeared to be disused but there were also many that obviously were still residences

Approaching Luynes, our directions had us branch off to the left and then along what seemed a long road to nowhere until we finally turned into the driveway of Domaine de Beauvois. We must have done something right to be given a night in a 4 star hotel ( previously a chateau from the 16th century) that was set in a 40 hectare park. Very fancy with fabric wall paper and matching curtains.

What can I say about dinner! A wonderful introduction to what was my first 4 star meal. It all started with canap├ęs as we were drinking aperitifs. I then had white asparagus as an entree, pork as a main and a decadent dessert. Each plate came with what seemed very little food on it, but beautifully arranged and as it turned out, very rich - so we all went to bed on very full stomachs.

And then there was breakfast - an array of fine cheeses, fresh fruits, meats, breads and tortes. Certainly not the normal fare.

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