Loire Valley part 2

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July 22nd 2013
Published: July 22nd 2013
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June 17: Kelly had been updating us at every opportunity with the projected weather ( we called him Mr doom and gloom cos the forecasts were pretty awful) - he had found an Internet site which was very detailed. And the forecast for today mentioned thunder showers. Today includes the wee small hours of the morning and at 4am all hell broke loose with a most impressive thunder and lightning show. Luckily for us, the weather cleared by the time we left the Chateau and the rest of the day was great. We hadn't really been aware of the amount of rain until we saw all the gravel washed down onto the road way and one of the bike paths we were meant to use was under water. Must have been pretty windy too with lots of branches down and leaves all over the place. But it wasn't until we stopped in Vouvray for some wine tasting that we learnt about the massive hail storm (hail stones the size of golf ball) that decimated much of the local vine yards.

There is nothing like wine tasting and cycling. We stopped in at the chateau of Moncontour in Vouvray for some free sampling. At home, the preference is for dry whites but we have found in France that slightly sweeter is the better wine. After buying a couple of bottles we continued on our way.

Lunch was another fancy affair - sandwiches and a bottle of our recently purchased wine on a park bench in Vouvray. Turns out that not much is open on Mondays and we found the only open patisserie in town where we just beat the crowds. By 130pm the town was shut up tight.

Arriving in Amboise after riding 46 km,we stopped for an "end of ride" beer near the tourist center. Unfortunately it started to rain shortly after so it was a quick jump back on the bikes and a rapid ride over the two bridges to Hotel la Breche. Just what you need to do on a full beer belly.

This was the third and final hotel where dinner was included. It's great not having to make any food decisions. Very efficient staff and once again a yummy dinner with the usual three courses of entree, main and dessert

June 18 was 2 Bobs " under the weather" day and the timing couldn't have been better ( for him). We were staying here in Amboise for two nights and the scheduled ride was a loop, bringing us back to town that night. Plus, it was raining, so it didn't look like any cycling would be done. It is one thing to ride in the rain when you have to get to a destination, quite another thing to voluntarily ride in the rain.

Fortunately there was some excellent exploring to be done. Leonardo da Vinci spent the last three years of his life living at Clos Luce in Amboise and today it is a fascinating place to visit. As well as seeing the rooms that he lived in, there are 40 miniature versions of his inventions inside the house. Outside in the gardens there were giant working versions of 16 of his inventions as well as 32 panels ( 3 to 4 m high) hanging amount the trees that depicted bits of some of most famous paintings.

We arrived the Clos Luce at the same time as most of the school kids in France ( or so it seemed). A friendly ticket collector whisked us in ahead of a huge line up and we managed to avoid the crowds for much of the visit. At least it is possible to see over kids heads so it wasn't too much hassle.

We walked back to the hotel before lunch and after I changed footwear, Kelly suddenly noticed that both my feet were " really bleeding". Well, turned out that after five years, my red leather sandals decided that they were so wet, all the dye would run out. Luckily the carpet in the room was a dark brown or it would have been more messy than it was.

Looking for a place for lunch we settled on a small cafe on the edge of the main tourist strip. Choosing Salade Paysane I wasn't really sure what to expect - greens with walnuts and a mustard dressing, slices of tomato, hot chèvre (goat cheese) on toasts and best of all - rillettes (pork pate) and rillons (slow roasted pork belly - my new favourite meat). The other great discovery at this cafe was a beer called Panache - a shandy like beer.

By now the weather had cleared so Vera, Kelly and I headed out at 3pm to the Chateau at Chenonceau (30 km return). This chateau was built over the River Cher in the 1500s and was to be known as the “Château des Dames” because of the ownership byKatherine Briçonnet, Diane de Poitiers and then Catherine de Medici. This was another chateau that was impossible to see from the road so we paid our 11 euros and headed up the long tree lined driveway. Among the furnishings inside were massive 16th tapestries from Flanders that covered whole walls. The staircase was the first straight staircase in France ( everywhere we have been they have been spirals of varying tightness) and the fireplaces everywhere were huge! I could easily stand up in the one in the kitchens. Each easily fitted a small tree for firewood.

Back in town we ate dinner at the lunch spot - another Salade Paysane - but had to sit inside cos the darn rain was starting up again. The restaurant was run by a husband and wife who remembered us from lunchtime. Probably cos we were the only non locals there.

It was supposed to be good weather the morning of day 6 so we started out early- unfortunately it started drizzling not soon after we left so it was time to pull out the rain covers for our panniers and jackets for ourselves. It was a fairly pleasant ride though, on quiet roads and along tree shaded bike paths. We had one espresso stop in Ondain during a brief spell of dry weather and were given fresh baked cookies with our coffee. Today's route was a choice of 44 km or 68 km - we choose the shorter route because of the weather.

Coming into Blois, we stopped for lunch at Le Pavillon - feeling the need for some comfort food three of us had the plat du jour of pork and potatoes. The proprietor was a very friendly (although slightly grubby) fellow(Kristof) who told us about a bar on the other side of the river that was run by a Canadian.

After crossing the river into town, we walked our bikes uphill to our hotel for the next two nights - Hotel France De Guise - a beautiful old building with bright rooms that overlooked the street. At first we were relieved to finally be in the centre of the action, but quickly realized that centre of town on an uphill intersection meant lots of nighttime traffic noise and drunken people.

Blois had a great historical section with narrow winding streets that were great for exploring. There were some wonderful views over the rooftops and river. All the houses had white (tufa) walls, grey slate roofs and red brick chimneys. There were four walking tours around town, each one marked by brass plaques in the pavement. It took a while but we eventually found all of the emblems - fleur de lys route ( renaissance houses), porcupine ( old streets around the Chateau Royale de Blois), sailing ship ( left bank and over the river) and a castle ( western part of the city)

Dinner proved to be one of the most entertaining???? of the trip - we shared 2 pizzas at a restaurant in the square. 2 bob thought the bill was more than it should be and when he asked what the extra 6 euros was for, was informed that it was for the two extra plates they gave us for sharing the pizza. Well - Kelly got rather loud and a second waiter came over and showed us where it stated on the menu that any sharing would cost 3 euro. Only problem was that on the 6 page menu it was mentioned only once - and not on the pizza page. We paid what we thought we owed and left before the manager came over - and avoided that particular square for the rest of our stay. Made for a good story though. We finished the evening with a promenade along the river and a brief stop into the bar recommended by Kristof - owned by a French fellow and his wife who was from Toronto - turned out to be the local Harley Davidson hang out.

Following what we thought was a sub standard breakfast ( compared to those we had been having) it was time for our last bike ride - a 62km loop from Blois and for some reason, sorting out directions proved to be quite a challenge today - which may have had something to do with the fact that we took a wrong turn almost immediately. Once on the right track, the other three merrily cycled past a sign ( Chambord 12) that we were meant to follow - well the rule is that if you loose someone, aways return to the last point where you saw them - so I waited and eventually my riding companions returned, after saving cycled up a hill!. Overall this was one of the nicest days riding with quiet roads and tree shaded trails - and Chateau Chambord. Most chateaus made you pay an entrance fee before you could get remotely close but with this one, we cycled right up to it, had a great photo taken and parked our bikes before paying to go inside.

I think this was everyone's favorite chateau - from the double helix staircase to the ornately carved tufa walls ( both inside and out) it was truly amazing. Construction started in 1519 by Francis 1 and no one is really sure who the architect was - theories abound that it was Leonardo da Vinci because of the staircase and the symmetrical design which resembled his "helicopter" invention. The 77 staircases, 282 fireplaces and 426 rooms weren't used all that much as there was no town nearby and ALL supplies ( and staff) had to accompany anyone staying there. The chateau was used primarily as a hunting lodge and is surrounded an estate of 5440 hectares which in turn is surrounded by a 32 km wall!!!!

Leaving Chambord we still had 44 kms to ride so wisely did not have wine with lunch - instead we had Coke with our bread, cheese, sausage and mustard at a park bench in Bracieux. The return trip had us pass two more chateaux - Cheverny and Troussay- but they just got a passing glance from the road.

Dinner was at a kebab place followed by a drink at a wine bar where Kelly continues the search for that elusive wine from St Estephe.

June 21 saw us heading back to Tours by train after breakfast. We left the bikes locked up at the hotel in Blois, handed the panniers and GPSs over to the receptionist and the most excellent cycling adventure was over - and we were back to shlepping our own luggage. Our tour book had said that the train station was a 20 minute taxi ride from the hotel but we had done a reconnoitring a couple of days before and discovered it was about a 10 minute walk although mostly uphill.

Arriving back in Tours we dropped our bags at Hotel Manoir ( 3 rd floor attic rooms this time) and went exploring in the old part of the city with its well preserved medieval half timbered buildings. That evening the streets in Le Vieux Tours were closed for the annual Fete de la Musique, an event that is held June 21 since 1982 across France. There was a main stage set up in Place Plumerau and eventually there were all types of groups and music being played on every corner. Unfortunately the rain started around 9pm and put a damper on everything - only those playing instruments that weren't plugged into electricity were able to keep playing.

We had another memorable meal after we weren't able to get a seat in any restaurant. In one of the narrow back streets we stumbled on the L'lle aux Pizzas - a small takeaway pizza joint. There were a couple of small tables outside, the chef was drinking beer and after the rain started up again, they insisted we eat our pizzas inside the store - watching the pizzas being made ( and yes they really do use fresh cream on the base) and cooked in a real wood fire oven.

The rain didn't seem to have much effect on some of the rowdies who passed under the hotel windows at 5am. We were on the 9am train to Austerlitz station in Paris. And from there it was a 30 minute metro ride to our hotel on the far west side of the city in Boulogne. After getting rid of our bags it was off to explore the city on yet another gloomy paris day. First stop was to see the stain glass ceiling in the Galleries Lafayette ( apparently the second most visited spot in the city) then up to Montmartre for lunch. Contrary to popular belief, the French have all been very friendly - until we met the lady in the chocolate shop. The shop was filled with tourists buying chocolates but somehow Kelly and his 8 chocolates and a 50 euro bill weren't worth the cashiers time and she refused to serve him. Well!!! So after lunch the four of us went back into the store and each selected two chocolates - talk about a lot of eye rolling from the same cashier, but at least she accepted our 1 euro pieces while giving change in the smallest coins she had on hand. Heading back downtown we walked along Rue de La Paix ( very high end jewellery stores here) to the Avenue des Champs élysées and the Arc de Triomphe. A very full day of walking.

Next day it was time to head back to the airport for the flight home. We each had a metro ticket left so figured the easiest way was to catch the metro to La Sorbonne then walk to Notre Dame metro to catch the RER B train to the airport ( an additional 10 euros supposedly). Well maybe it was because it was Sunday but we got all the way to the airport on our original ticket - bonus.

Final note: when Kelly and I were in Burgundy, we discovered what we thought was the best mustard on the planet and so Kelly packed jars of mustard around with him and when we found some in Amboise we bought more as well as convincing the Asquiths that they needed to buy some too. Imagine my surprise when I was grocery shopping in Abbotsford and found the same mustard ( but with English labels) in Save On Foods - and it was cheaper !!!!!!!


22nd July 2013

Loire Valley
Sounds fantastic ....I would love to do a bike trip in France. Just Great....take care!
22nd July 2013

Great blog
Hi Gretchen I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your trip. It sounded like an amazing time and has left me with that travel itch, again. Welcome home.

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