Cycling the Loire

Day Ninety-One  – Saturday, 10th September Loire Valley

We wandered down from our upstairs bedroom in the main home and into the adjacent building (former barn) for sumptuous breakfast together with Steve, Sandra, Jessica, James and Anders.

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Then they went one way and we went the other. We were very impressed with the way everything had been set up. Great facilities, nicely furnished and appointed and everything good quality and well thought out. We took advantage of the guest laundry before breakfast served by Jon and then after breakfast Jon suggested a route for us to travel before introducing us each to our bike and equipment. All very organised with pannier bags for food and cameras etc and a waterproof one to put the route guide and maps in.

The weather was clear blue skies – and hot.

First stop on our “tour de France” was Parcay les Pins, the local village where we bought baguettes from the boulangerie and goat’s cheese, ham and tomatoes from the village minimart.

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The route took us through back roads and past fields of corn, wheat and grass. Eventually our cycle trail took us winding along the northern shores of Lac du Rille, a man-made lake created back in the 70s and now a haven for birds and people alike. The combination of sunhats and cycling helmets was an unusual fashion statement and attracted curious looks as we cycled along!

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We crossed the lake on a road subject to flooding and found a pleasant spot down by the lake for our lunch. Wonderfully quiet and peaceful – no-one else around as school holidays are over and the nearby holiday camp was virtually deserted.

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We carried on along country roads, often through hushed forests with little sign of life apart from crows, wood pigeons and the occasional bird of prey hovering intently to Giseux. It was 1:45pm and our route notes told us that guided tours of the local chateau of Giseux started at 2pm – so we decided to give it a try. We cycled up to the front gate and were told yes – we could get a tour for 9 euros each.

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Our English speaking guide turned out to be a young African American woman, an intern working for a month at the chateau. Vanessa was very keen and surprisingly knowledgeable. She gave us a historical background, took us around the front of the chateau and then inside.

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Quite different to the larger, more commercially run chateaux we’d visited – and more intimate as we were the only ones being guided and we saw just one other couple inside. Clearly it’s a financial struggle to maintain these historic buildings and there were plenty of signs of the place needing restoration. But they are doing their best. As we went around, Vanessa explained how some of the interior paintings were in the process of being restored. The most remarkable story was how the main hall’s beautiful 16th century painted friezes had been saved at the time of the French revolution. The woman owner at the time, observing how revolutionaries took everything and sold or destroyed things – asked the villagers for help. They came and covered up the walls and ceiling with false surfaces, concealing the panels behind. It worked and they were saved. They remained covered for two hundred years, in the process totally forgotten until a much later owner rediscovered them after a cat disappeared through a hole. They are thus very well preserved and some of the few original painted panels still to be seen in the chateaux.

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After an hour and a half’s personalised tour, we bought ourselves an ice cream and a bottle of locally produced red (Chateau Giseux) and headed home. Got back around 4pm – having cycled 31 kms –   tired but happy. After a snooze and shower, refreshed we were ready for dinner at 7:30. Being Saturday night, we decided to treat ourselves and got a reservation in a quality French restaurant in Vernantes about 10kms away, called The Pelican. Turned out to be in a hotel of the same name – excellent food and wine. At Jon’s recommendation we both had foie gras as entrée – excellent choice! Andrew chose a local fish – “sandre” which turned out to be pike – and very nice it was too! Kerrie had another fish “Lot”, monkfish, also very good. The deserts were extremely rich! 

Day Ninety Two– Sunday,11th September Loire Valley

Drove to the SuperU supermarket to buy food for dinner tonight, fill the tank and get some money out. A more overcast and muggy day. Our route took us through more forested roads and had the focus of lunch at the half way point in the village of Hommes.

After about 18 kms cycling, we arrived at the restaurant, Le Bouff’tard just as it started to spit with rain. Kerrie plonked herself down on a seat outdoors only to find the waiter glaring at her, having broken the cardinal rule of waiting to be seated. Andrew said “we’d like to sit outside,” and the waiter responded with “it would seem your wife has already chosen.” Andrew apologised and said his “wife was very tired from cycling”, and the waiter said “well you should have pushed her!”

He was actually very funny and there was a lot more banter before the meal was over.  We had the covered outdoor eating area to ourselves as at one point the heavens opened and a huge group sitting nearby got up and went inside much to the waiter’s disgust. He turned to us and shaking his head said, “one drop has dripped on one of the them” and went in after them to find somewhere for them all to sit.

Being Sunday, it was a proper lunch, there was a “formule” menu – you could choose either entrée or dessert and plat or entrée, plat and dessert. We felt we’d deserved a decent meal and opted for the three courses – all very good.  Luckily the rain eased off in time for our return journey – via a different set of country roads – a really beautiful ride mostly through forests.

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We got back about 4pm again – having covered 35 kms today. Most impressive for us. We’d decided to eat in – time for a healthy salad which we’d bought that morning… as did Steve, Sandra, Jessica, James and Anders. We ate outside as the sun went down with lively and amusing conversation, cracked the bottle of Chateau Giseux Bourgueil red which was very pleasant and then moved into the kitchen where we chatted to Steve and Sandra until we turned in.

Day Ninety  Three– Monday, 12th September Loire Valley

Woken five times during the night by pack of dogs barking at neighbouring farm. Grrr ! Another beautiful morning, albeit overcast, with occasional spots of rain. But Kerrie put another quick load of washing through as tomorrow is our last day.  We were a bit saddle sore – but decided we should make the most of our time here and asked Jon for a recommendation for a route of about the same distance, eg 30kms. He picked one out – with another interesting lunch stop! This time a restaurant that does “Dejeuners ouvriers” – a set price lunch for workers and truck drivers. With that gastronomic incentive – we headed off around 10am. The ride had a few more hills (doubtless gentle slopes for the hard core cyclists – but any gradient was a challenge for us!) and more along country farm roads. We had noticed that along the borders of forested sections there were often raised wooden platforms – these are apparently for hunters who stand on them and blaze away at deer and wild boar as they hurtle out of the woods ahead of beaters and hounds. As these are right beside the road we were happy that the hunting season hadn’t started yet!

Our restaurant – Le Café de la Gare – was two thirds of the way along the route, about 20kms, so we felt we’d earned the hearty repast when we arrived.

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Very French and very authentic! A room full of identically checked table clothed tables, each with a bottle of water, cider and wine (included).

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You help yourself to the entrée, a large and very varied selection – charcuterie, salads, terrines and fish. All very good.

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Then a choice of chicken and chips or steak and chips. Following that there’s bread and cheese (the brie was superb – soft and strong, just runnily right).

Lastly a choice of desserts from the glass fronted chiller, including a rich chocolate mousse. Washed down with coffee. All this for the princely sum of €12.50

Full and refreshed by the cider and the wine – we wobbled off up the road towards La Perrine. We were supposed to take a short cut to avoid the hill – but completely missed it – so laboured heavily up in bottom gear, panting our way to the top but then free-wheeling our way down the other side of the village. Definitely feeling the effects of saddle soreness, we struggled the last km or two but made it back to chez Jon and Ali around 2:30 just as it started to spot with rain. Another 30 kms under our belts.

Over cups of tea, chatted with Steve and Sandra also back earlier having found out the winery/caves they’d cycled to visit was closed Mondays. Caught up on our blog, started to pack and prep for the journey home which starts tomorrow. As the sun set with a pinky glow suffusing the skies, we had dinner outside, finishing off the salad and fruit we’d bought, a lovely way to see out our Loire life holiday and our time in France.

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Day Ninety  Four – Tuesday, 13th September Loire Valley/Paris

After breakfast, we packed up the car and bade our farewells – Steve commenting that we’d been fun company and that had made their holiday – which was lovely – and vice versa.

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We said cheerio to Jon and Ali – who may come to NZ in February to do the Rail Trail – punched the destination and address into the GPS and to Julie’s dulcet tones headed north and east.  We made good time thanks to the autoroute and not a lot of traffic – at least until we hit the outskirts of Paris. The only glitch being that once again the péage machine wouldn’t accept our credit card and we had to get a guy over to take the payment in cash. Most annoying. We stopped for a coffee and baguette at a rest stop/restaurant and paid using the credit card to make sure it was ok – and it was. Hmm – strange. We got to our hotel – Quality Suites in the hotel area in Roissy en France, near Charles de Gaulle airport around 2pm, unloaded the car and asked for instructions on where to fill up with petrol and find our way to the Europcar rental return. Turns out this is unbelievably complicated – of course!! We went round in circles, cursing it all and decided to just go to a Europcar depot we’d seen. It wasn’t the place to return the vehicle (!!!) but an employee very kindly said to follow him to the service station which we’d never have found by ourselves. Filled up – found our way to Terminal 2 for the drop off – which bizarrely is in the centre of a maze of circular roads connecting the terminals. Amazingly found our way in to Europcar. No fuss or bother – handed over the keys and walked away! Caught the shuttle back to the hotel and wound down with a cuppa. The first room we were given was smoke contaminated so had requested a change – large enough rooms, somewhat the worse for wear but fine for the night. Uploaded photos to our blog, had a shower and headed out to dinner. Amazingly and charmingly, the “zone hoteliere” was right next to the old village of Roissy – still with park, village streets and church -and restaurants. Found ourselves one with an outdoor terrace – and had a very good meal. Walked around, back to the hotel and hit the hay, setting the alarm for 6am as we decided we wanted to get to the airport early.

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