The Loire Valley – July 2013

The start of a planned trip along Eurovelo 6 from the Atlantic to the Black Sea.  We may complete the rest of this route as part of our “round the world” adventure.

Weds 24th July 24 2013

Set off from Tadworth on the 5.59 train to London Bridge. Apparently we got some funny looks from the other passengers! Then cycled up to St Pancras and handed over the bikes. Then joined the long term very slow-moving queue to check in. The problem wasn’t the check in, it was French border control. They appeared to only have 1/2 the booths operating! It took more than an hour to go through check in, security and passport control! It felt more like an airport and took away part of the pleasure of going by train! Had a very short wait once we got through before boarding and setting off. Listened to podcasts while watching the countryside flash by. Arrived in Lille on time. Searched for the bikes, and found we should have picked them up on the platform, but no problem. Then into Lille itself for a quick wander around. Knew we were in France when we sat down at a cafe, all the tables were empty, but Madame wouldn’t serve us as we only wanted drinks! Back to the station to wait for the TGV, and join the queue for the very small lift when the platform was announced. Excellent bike hanging spaces at the front of the train and we were off, fast to airport Charles de Gaulle, and then slow around the east and south of Paris. saw the top of the castle in Eurodisney! And then fast again when we got west of Paris. The TGV trip was 4 hours, and then a change of train in Nantes for the final section to La Baule. Arrived at a pretty little station with a pretty garden at the front. Quickly unloaded and then went out to find somewhere to eat. Went down to the sea front, and it was lovely. An 8 mile bay of golden sand. Had thought there would be loads of restaurants there, but mainly very smart looking blocks of flats. Did eventually find a restaurant and good meal looking out to sea and the promenade. There were wide cycle lanes and loads of cyclists, including children. Walking back to the hotel noticed larger, villa type houses, early 20th century, and reminded S and me of Finland resort we stayed in with its dachas. La Baule had a lovely atmosphere and feel.

Thursday

Start of the cycle route at La Baule.
Start of the cycle route at La Baule.

Very hot night. Relatively early breakfast and then off we set, straight down to the seafront. It was pleasantly cool, very few people around and lovely views over the whole bay. Towards the end of the bay we entered Pornichet, which was also given its Breton name, and suddenly everything was a bit shabbier. Then joined the road around the coast. The road was very quiet. It was marked with 4 up arrows, but they were very short ups. Even I managed them without too much effort. At one point we joined the coastal path. It was stunning built right along the edge of the coast with great views out over the sea and down into sandy coves, and some great houses perched up on the cliffs looking out to sea. However we did see that cyclists weren’t supposed to use the path and so reverted to the road. Went through a town celebrating the anniversary of Monsieur Hulot’s holiday, which was filmed there. Came down a little hill to a little bay and we were in St. Nazaire. Passed a large Carrefour, so lunch was sorted. Cycled past a huge old concrete building, which I think was the former submarine base. Leaving St. Nazaire was a lot less pretty than arriving as we cycled through the port, with all it’s industrial buildings for a few km. Then it as up onto the St. Nazaire bridge, which was the steepest climb of the day. The German guide book had been scathing about the cycle path, as it was narrow and just painted on the road, but to us Brits it was a fairly standard cycle path, better than a lot of Boris’s cycle super highways! It was very windy, especially when I stopped for a photo at the top.

Complete contrast down on the othe side where immediately we turned onto a cycle path right by the river for a bit. Alongside the path were huts on stilts with mini hoists for large fishing nets. Sadly the next bit of the path along the beach was closed, ‘unworkable’ said the sign! We decided to follow the main road rather than a lengthier advised deviation. That was a good move as there was little traffic on it and we just bowled along to Paimboeuf where we sat on a bench in the shade and ate our picnic. S bought a coffee with a note and the lady was unimpressed and gave him lots of 1’s and 2’s in his change. Great! I picked up 5 new € coins!

After Paimboeuf it was onto a very quiet country road. It was glorious, hardly a car. In fact lots more cycles. Since leaving St. Nazaire there were suddenly a lot of cycle tourers. Evidently most of them end their trip there rather than going onto La Baule. It felt like cycling through a little area that time had forgotten. After a while the lane followed an old canal, so flat and straight, and equally peaceful. Interestingly at one point we came to a canal crossroads. Never seen one before! Came to the ferry crossing at Le Pellerin. Hardly any wait for the ferry, obviously very busy. Got chatting to an American who had cycled from the Spanish border. Said Les Landes were very flat and boring. Heading towards Ireland. Noticed the country flags on Eleri’s bikes and asked about cycling in Scandinavia. Said his wife was Swedish and if the States elected another right-wing president they were thinking of moving to Sweden!

On the other side on the river into Couerdon, and now quite industrial. Lots of chimneys and factories. It was like that all the way into Nantes. Spent ages trying to find a hotel. Eventually got one at the tourist info outside the very impressive Castle of the Dukes of Brittany. Good meal.. Terrine, risotto and trio of sorbets, including ‘citron vert’ which I amused the others by calling green lemons!

89.57km  89.57km tot  14.3ave  36.6max  7084.0 odo  6.14.21 time

Friday

E up early to look around Nantes and picked up breakfast en route. S mended puncture, and all ready to go, quite later, which worked to our advantage as the tyre went flat again. Headed to nearest bike shop and waited for it to open. S was in for a long time before reappearing with new tube and tyre; tyre wrong size so back in again! Eventually fitted and set off nearer 11 than 10. By now pretty hot so that was going to lower today’s mileage! Negotiated our way through the traffic of Nantes, and then, suddenly on a bike path right by the river, all was tranquil with views of trees on the far bank. It was a welcome, and very abrupt change. The cycle route followed the river, was called ‘promenade de la Loire’ nicely tarmacked, traffic free, or when traffic was allowed, virtually none!

Typical river view
Typical river view

Trees along the river giving some welcome shade, but still good views of the river which was very calm. Also no wind. As we cycled along S said it was one of those days that show why we go cycle touring!. Passed under a couple of bridges until the end of the Promenade at Mauves-sur-Loire where we crossed the river, on a bridge that looked more practical than pretty. Post war? It was warmer on the other side as the trees we now south of us and gave no shade! Noticeable that the route had been improved, a new bit that wasn’t on my guide, avoiding a climb and main road.

Stopped for lunch just outside la Varenne at a picnic site. Joined by a Frenchman, who asked if we spoke French, and then just kept talking! After lunch a push uphill and then descent to recross the river at Oudon, where the river was 350m wide! From Oudon it was back onto beautiful cycle ride again on excellent cycle paths. For a short time alongside the TGV track. Then into Ancenis. Decided to carry on despite heat as only 2.45. Crossed on bridge being paired on narrow lane, and only afterwards realised we should have walked along the footpath. Oh well! Then a final lovely 15km to St-Florent-le-Vieil. Found the hotel easily and took a room for 3, at the rear as a concert at the front that evening until 12. In fact concert throughout the village. Booked a meal, only 1 set meal on offer. Then I slept for a couple of hours to revive myself. Now eating on a terrace overlooking the Loire as a trio plays. Lovely end to the day! Set meal included rabbit!

54.89km  144.46total  13.9ave  31.00 max  7138.9 odo  3.56.24  10.10.45 total time

Saturday

More traditional French breakfast this morning. Jug of chocolate or coffee, glass of juice and a croissant and a slice of white baguette with jam and butter….and still €7 each. Set off and the first part was along the top of the dyke. Quite like the Rhine! But far fewer boats. The lack of river traffic has been noticeable, hardly any. The ride along the dyke was lovely, just a few cars, with views over the river to the left and pasture land to the right, and went on for about 13 km till we reached Montjean sur Loire. Here we crossed a bridge onto the Ile do Chalonnes, and then had about 10 k of idyllic cycling on very quiet roads on the island. Noticeably more people and houses than lower down the Loire, but the island was perfect cycling. Then back onto a busy road for a while to cross the river. Didn’t take the extra couple of k on quiet roads to save about 100m on the busy road! As soon as we were over the river turned off onto a quiet road, again alongside the river. This continued for many miles all the way to Bouchmaine, where we stopped for a drink in a quiet bar. As S said, another sleepy French village. Then took the decision not to make the deviation into Angers, but to continue along the Loire. The cycle path was right alongside the river. It is amazing how little traffic there is on the river, virtually nothing. And for us just miles of pleasant cycling, then a little way away from the river on quiet country roads and through tiny hamlets. Lots of sweetcorn in the fields, and quite a lot of it seemed to have had its top sliced off when about a metre tall. Why?

Swapped to the south bank and some welcome shade, through the little town of Genes where we loaded up with cold drinks, and missed the site of a roman amphitheatre. The cycle route then followed the road, sometimes on the road, sometimes beside it, through some very pretty riverside villages and hamlets. It looked like a lot of money had been spent on the route. All of a sudden there were lots of caves with degustations of the local wine all along the roadside, and, also the mushroom museum that we passed! Growing mushrooms in old wine cellars does make sense.

Into Saumur. Headed for the office du Tourisme and was directed to a hotel very close, a Logis de France, on the 4th floor, but a garage for the bikes! Wandered around the town, which was dominated by the castle. A castle originally built for defence, not a pretty house! Walked up to it and into the courtyard. Great views for miles around. Decided not to visit in the morning. It described the exhibitions inside, and they didn’t sound thrilling!

image

Down to a square for another good meal.

Saw lots of what looked like ultra marathon runners shuffling along today.

96.15km  240.61 total km  14.4ave  32.0 max  7235.0 odo  6.39.32 time  16.50.17 total time

Sunday

Not a good day. Woke up feeling awful and could have done with a couple more hours asleep. Cycled out of Saumur along a newly constructed cycle path down by the river. It bore no relation to the route on my map, which was good as it was flatter and nearer the river! Past Montsoreau and then at Candes-St-Martin crossed the river Vienne and followed a small road on the south bank of the Loire. Not on the main cycle route, so saw few cyclists along there, but nice and quiet. From miles away yesterday could see plumes of stem rising into the air, and we got closer, finally reaching Chinon’s nuclear power station! Some see Chinon castle and some its nuclear power station! Guess which lot is us?

Cycled on a bit and I started feeling really rough, but it was several km before the others stopped so I could get a bit of food in me and take a break, sitting by the road, not in the most scenic of places! After lunch a lovely bit of shady cycling by the Loire, till we turned off for the 1k detour to the Chateau at Usse. Looked beautiful from the outside, but quite disappointing inside. Had to pay €14 each! Tableaux from Sleeping Beauty set up in one part, as the author had visited there, then saw a few rooms, lovely old costumes. Best bit was up in the attic where all the beams were exposed and could also see what had been left in the attic. Also a smallish formal garden? E and S visited the cellars. Then back to the river. I started feeling worse and at Brehemont, a tiny village, we stopped and took a room at the hotel. I went straight to bed and E and S rode to Azay le Rideau. Was gutted to miss it!

43.94km  284.55 total  14.7 Ave  24 max  7279.0 odo  2.59.09 time  19.49.26 total time

Monday

Breakfast on the terrace overlooking the Loire was beautifully peaceful, if a little windy. Then off along the quiet road by the riverside. It was a lovely easy ride all the way to Villandry, and passed loads of cycle tourists. Saw something like 200 in the day! After 13 km reached the castle at Villandry, and it didn’t disappoint! Decided to forego the castle and just visit the gardens. Firstly walked along the Belvedere so there were views from above, and it was obvious this was how they were designed to be seen. First Parterre was a four part representation of love in its different forms, with different shapes outlined in fiercely clipped box hedging. Then a wander around the reservoir lake in the shape of a mirror. Then the ‘cloud’ garden in shades of blue and white, and the sun in shades of yellow and red. Then the maze, which was designed to be easy, and lead to spiritual knowledge? Then through the herb garden, with many herbs, all beautifully labelled. Finally into the pot anger with its 9 squares, all designed to different patterns, with different plants. An amazing array of veg and flowers. Lots of pear trees, step over apple trees, standard roses, and aubergines, cabbages, celery, peppers, chard, etc. etc. for once a foreign garden that did not disappoint! We spent a long time there! The blurb said it was 90% organic. Obviously the 10% comprised the man spraying the cabbages against cabbage white fly while we watched!

Wonderful gardens at Villandry.
Wonderful gardens at Villandry.

Quick lunch and then we followed the river Cher along an off road path, which was perfect, till we got to the outskirts of Tours. Cycled past some model gardens, but couldn’t stop as I was lagging again! The entrance to the city of Tours was pretty busy, and some of the cycle lane was just on road, and some on service roads. Seemed to be a lot of works going on for a new? Tram system. Stopped in the centre for a cake to keep the energy levels up, and then off we set again.

The route in my book was north of the Loire, but a new route had been built south of the river. Actually it wasn’t the most inspiring bit of the trip. Running alongside, but below the main road, whose noise we could hear, near the river but without views of it. Still we covered the kms to Montlouis, and then followed the signposted route as it led up and away from the river. We really were in the middle of wine country with lots of vines all around. Then suddenly it started to pour with rain. There were several very loud cracks of thunder, but fortunately no lightning, as it felt very exposed up above the valley. Then suddenly we were in Amboise, and saw a Logis de France almost straightaway, so we were set for the night with a room. In the evening we wandered up the Main Street of the town, completely dominated by the castle walls rising many metres above. And yet again food and bed!

64.8km  349.36 total  15.2 ave  35.7 max  7343.8 odo  4.14.56  24.04.22 total time

Tuesday

So up for breakfast and an easy morning, as we decided to leave our baggage at the hotel for the 12.5km cycle to Chenonceau and back. Uphill to begin with, and I did push a bit, then through the forest of Amboise and down into Chenonceau.

image

Definitely my favourite Loire chateau. Beautiful setting over the river, although I did think it would have been pretty damp in spring or autumn! The rooms inside were really interesting, several bedrooms, gallery over the river for balls, and fascinating kitchens with a huge old range, butchery room, and lots of old copper cookware. 2 typical formal gardens, and then the potager aux fleurs, with a mixture of veg and cutting flowers for the beautiful flower displays in the chateau, which keep 2 florists fully occupied! We spent ages there and cycled back to Amboise for a late lunch. Bit of a struggle to find a Boulanger, all posh patissiers!

Picked up the panniers and decided to follow the route in my book rather than the signposted route which was quite a way south of the river. We headed north over the river, seeing few cyclists as we were off the main route. Unlike in both Amboise and Chenonceau where there had been loads, including a Koga tandem that could be folded. As S said a serious piece of kit. We followed a road just north of the river Cisse through very sleepy villages, with v. Little traffic. Glad we ignored a route barree sign as the road surface was being replaced, and the workmen encouraged us through, looking at us as though we were mad for getting off and walking! We sailed along with a stiff following breeze. It certainly helped keep the speed up! Then across the river into Chaumont. The wind felt very strong over the water. Into the village and a hotel almost straightaway. A four bed room…really 2 rooms sharing a bath. It was perfect! I caught up on some sleep while S and E went to see the castle, with its art installation. Excellent meal, although Eleri’s main course turned up with S’s starter.

No.’s of cyclists interesting! 100 in first 10 k out of Amboise, then 55 in next 10k, then 35, then 7 when we went off the signposted route onto our own!

48.72km  398.08 total km  14.9 ave  37.0 max  7392.5 odo  3.15.56  27.20.18 total time

Wednesday

Already queues at the castle entrance opposite the hotel by 9. We set off along the side of the river. Again it was beautiful, with the river flowly calmly past. Lots of cyclists again to star with. Have been surprised at the no. Of tandems, and also the no. Of families with young children with an assortment of trailers and trailer bikes. Then all along the dyke to Blois. Decided not to stop in Blois,but follow the route, and then our own route to Chambord. Was getting very hot as we cycled through silent French villages.

Have generally been really impressed by how well kept the villages are, and the flowers in some of them. The displays all seem lovely, more naturalistic than formal bedding arrangements at home. The approach to the castle on the bike was very impressive as we headed straight for it down the main drive. you could imagine how it would have impressed visitors. Having seen Chambord before S and I lay in the shade under a tree while Eleri went in, for free! Thus we escaped the worst of the heat. Then back to the river and a ride along the dyke. All going well till S hit a pothole and managed to get 4 punctures at once! 2 in each tyre! So marathon mending session with E’s help. Fund he used the last of his patches and also wanted a couple of inner tubes so we would need a bike shop in the morning. Finished the day along the dyke into Beaugency, where we found a hotel. Gorgeous bridge across the Loire, with a lot of arches, some rounded and some Gothic! Quite a pretty town, with an enormous ruined wall like one Side of a castle of abbey. Decided to go Italian. No problems with vegetarianism tonight!

65.49km  463.58 total  15.1 ave  30.9 max  7458.0 odo  4.18.34 time  31.38.52

Thursday

Forecast to be a scorcher today, up to 35! Left after visiting the bike shop and getting the necessary bits. Again beautiful start to the day along the quiet river. Just kept to the river and headed for Orleans where we decided to bale out because of the heat. Found the office de Tourisme, luckily beside the Cathedral as there were no signs to it! Booked in to hotel then went to look around the cathedral. Was beautifully cool inside, and lovely. Didn’t feel like a tourist attraction. Several windows depicting Jeanne d’Arc, plus statue outside. Had an ice for lunch. Then had a siesta, but woke feeling worse, terrible headache and feeling sick, so stayed in while S and E went for a meal. Looking at train times and weather decided to finish cycle here. No train at Sully 43k further on, so no point cycling there and back to have to cycle it again next time we come. Station 40 k further at Gien, but trains to Paris at 11.28 and 19.28 only! Or indirect at 3.30 taking 4 hours! Will go to Paris tomorrow and finish our chateau visiting with Versailles on Saturday.

30.53km  494.31km  15.0 ave  24.6 max  7488.7 odo  2.01.42 time  33.40.34

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.