[More photos on Flickr]
The journey started well with a calm crossing, enlivened by meeting Mag and Peter Morris on board.
We set off from Dieppe after a swift exit from the ship.The problems of staying in convoy were soon eased in Rouen when she who must be obeyed, the Satnav not Anne, told me to turn right at a roundabout while John and Jo in front sailed on tout droit.
We made good progress and made a stop 40 kms short of Le Mans. I thought I would just check the bike carrier. To my horror I realised that the frame of the bike carrier had irretrievably collapsed and the bikes were held on by the straps alone. Failure of one of them could have led to our bikes being scattered over the motorway, which would have been very inconvenient for us not to mention the cars behind.
The following hour we wrestled with an updated equivalent of getting a dozen students in a phonebox, namely getting 3 bikes, 2 bike baskets, 3 people and 9 bags into our car. During this time in a vain attempt to remove Joyce’s rear wheel I managed to get her chain into a position which would have foiled Rubik himself, though fortunately not John. With a degree of violence to the bikes and the car, the boot was finally slammed shut and we drove on to Amboise where John and Jo were not waiting for us, having suffered their own wrestling problems with their satnav.
Finally all present, we were hungry and with Anne running towards us to tell us the restaurant would be taking final orders at 9 we hurried on to a delightful open air meal outside the old Hotel de Ville accompanied by the high-pitched calls of the swifts.
The next day we were up early and watched with admiration as John put all the bikes back together. Then we had a quick trip to Leonardo da Vinci’s last home in Amboise and time for some photos of the lovely bridge and imposing chateau before setting off on the Loire a velo trail. This took us up a hill and away from the river and we battled our way westward through vineyards against a stiff headwind. At this point it dawned on us that travelling west to east with the prevailing wind might have been a smart move.
The Loire a velo trail is generally well signposted but just occasionally a little more thought could have been put into the location of signs. Nevertheless despite a few missed signs we reached Tours for lunch and a trip to the Cathedral before negotiating a lot of traffic and more missed signs to leave Tours. Finally we reached a lovely spot on the banks of the Cher for a drink and to admire the terns as they fluttered kestrel-like before diving dramatically from height to catch a fish. Soon after we came across a lovely old mill dating from 1515 on the bank of the river. Finally we arrived at the charming old village of Savonieres. That first day my odometer recorded 35 miles
That night Joyce, Anne and I were at a small cafe/ hotel with just 4 bedrooms while John and Jo were 3 kms further on in Villandry. The food was very good but unfortunately our room was right on the road which for such a small village had a remarkable amount of traffic throughout the night all of which roared up to the nearby roundabout and accelerated off again; leaving us in poor shape to face the 44 miles of the next day.
The weather looked a bit dodgy but the wind was not quite as strong as we cycled along the bank of the river to Villandry to rejoin the others and pay a visit to the castle and its wonderful gardens. We had hoped to cycle to the famous chateau at Azay-le-Rideau but decided that 44 miles into the headwind was going to be quite enough for one day
We carried on along the bank of the river, only stopping briefly to shelter during a shower. After that the weather improved as we turned inland to view the, literally, fairy-tale,castle, which inspired the story of Sleeping Beauty, at Usse.
After lunch at a more prosaic sandwicherie in Avoine we carried on to the magnificent confluence of the Cher and the Loire at Candes-St-Martin and then to the nearby castle at Montsoreau. From there we went further along the river until Turquant where we turned inland to see the extraordinary troglodyte dwellings. Some used as dwellings but others as cafes and art galleries . There were more hills to negotiate before we reached Saumur. John and Jo had gone on there to meet their friends. By luck just as were wondering where the hotel was we bumped into them in the middle of Saumur and they were able to tell us the way.
That night we and John and Jo’s 4 friends Paul, Marie , Marika and Giis had a meal of artisan foods at an amazing troglodyte restaurant which also acted as venue for audiences of 400, while Anne got a good night’s sleep.
The next day we had time for a look at the castle at Saumur and the market before we started out on the bank of the river which drew us to the extent of abandoning the road and cycling along a narrow almost impassable footpath before regaining the Loire a velo signs and a decent track. It was a lovely day for cycling along the river and admiring the traditional boats, the old abbey and another chateau.
It was an easier day, 23 miles on my clock and Jo was able to ride the whole day. A picnic lunch fortified us and we had another stop for a drink at St Remy la Varenne before we crossed the bridge over the Loire and back down the other side of the river to La Menitre. The hotel was closed! except for pre-bookings which included us and we were the only guests. The rooms were quiet with balconies overlooking the river. Joyce, Anne and I took a trip on the river and we learnt (in Joyce’s case) or gleaned (in Anne and my case) something of the history of the Loire from the guide on the boat. In many ways, though, the Loire here is so big that there is not quite the bird-life of further back.
The restaurant next door to the hotel seemed to have plenty of awards for its cooking, but none for the quality of the welcome. The waitress seemed perplexed at Joyce’s request for vegetarian food and initially could only suggest she ate … vegetables. Not quite Terre a Terre. The waitress also stood by impatiently while Jo wrestled with her menu decision. The meal was, despite an over-reliance on cream very good and we were beginning to get a taste for the local Bourgeil red wine despite the Loire being best known in the UK for its white wines.
The next day we made our way back to the bridge and at the village there we shopped for our picnic. My rilletttes which were reduced to a greasy slime in the hot sun by lunchtime were probably not the wisest choice and would not have inspired the traditional Clarion photo.
We cycled inland through flat agricultural fields and small villages before we came to another small river. 70 or 80 yards ahead of the others I found another cyclist struggling to free the chain of the chain ferry in order to cross the river. We freed it and loaded our 2 bikes and I held the chain while yelling unavailingly for the others to join us and clamber aboard. Eventually they arrived and we hauled ourselves across in two crossings. On the second crossing we met a “benevole”, a volunteer , a driving test examiner during the week, who at weekends guided and assisted other cyclists and walkers and told them about the area. We cycled along with him on a wooded path as he told us about the slate trade and the quarries of the area of which only one now survived.
At his suggestion we had our picnic on top of a slate slag heap from where we had a blessed and much needed breeze and an excellent view of the countryside and not far away Angers. After a false start we escaped from the slate quarry and decided to take a short cut into Angers.
Our hotel was right next to the Office de Tourisme and opposite the castle. After a mere 21 miles cycling we had time to visit the castle and its extraordinary “Apocalypse” tapestry (definitely a must see if you are ever near Angers) huge in size, imagination, and execution. We also saw the excellent modern tapestry museum. That evening we dined outside in the fine square opposite the theatre, pleased with having met the physical challenge of the trip, and with having learned from what was for some of us our first experience of multi-stage cycle trips.
The next morning we parted , but not before John had shown us how to loosen the handlebars of the bikes so they would fit into the car more easily. Three days later after visiting friends in the Morvan and our son in Paris we collected Joyce from Aubervilliers just north of Paris and made our way back to Dieppe. On the way we stopped at Rouen and visited its magnificent Cathedral and the market square
Joyce adds: Mick has done a sterling job of recounting the trip, not much to add except to say my admiration for the effort the French put into producing an experience for cyclists, much thought and care has been given. Though the route marking was not always entirely clear, we had excellent maps produced by the Touraine tourist office (although Anjou did not do as well). It was never less than a great experience. The Valley of the Loire is just that – a wide and ever changing valley and our route took us through vineyards, woods, hugging the river with the wonderful views of the chateaux always round the next bend. I particularly loved the great and wonderful Loire itself and the views of the white buildings with their slate roofs. Every hotel had secure cycle storage and one really feels cyclists are welcome.