Loving the Loire Valley

Trip Start Jun 25, 2012
Trip End Aug 25, 2012

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Flag of France  , Centre,
Monday, August 20, 2012

Saturday 18 August

After packing all our bags and popping them in the car, we followed the Mallaurans to Vannes, as there is huge open air market there every Saturday morning. We had a great time wandering through the crowds and sampling many yummy things for brunch. There was a hilarious couple there who were getting married soon and were all dressed up in fancy clothes and accompanied by their friends, were offering kisses for 1 euro each – apparently this is a Brittany tradition – a kind of version of a hen/stag night. It was pretty cute and needless to say they got 2 euros from us!
We said a sad farewell to the gorgeous Mallaurans at about 1.00 and headed off on the motorway to drive the three and a half hours to Amboise in the Loire Valley. Luckily French motorways are lovely to drive on, but quite expensive with many tolls. Still, that was a small price to pay for the ease with which we drove across the country. It was boiling hot – 40 degrees and we were very happy to be sitting in a nice, air-conditioned car. We got slightly lost finding our hotel Novatel in Amboise, but eventually tracked it down, unpacked in our very comfortable family room and headed straight to the pool with its beautiful view down the valley to the village and castle ramparts. It was gorgeous to just swim and relax and we decided to have dinner at the hotel and explore Amboise the next day when we felt more rested.

Sunday 19 August

It was another of a stinker of a day, but after breakfast we headed off into Amboise to explore the town. We were able to park by the river and then visited the Tourist Centre where the guy was very helpful and we were able to buy tickets for the two chateaux we had decided to visit – Clos Lucé and Chenonceau so that we wouldn't have to queue there.

Next we wandered to a bike rental shop Michael had found out about and organized to rent bikes from him the next day. The weather forecast looked a bit cooler for Monday (32 as opposed to 38, but still humid) so we settled on just wandering around town.
The Tourist info chap had given us a little map for a nice walk around Amboise, so we set off on that, looking at the sites, including a beautiful church which was nice and cool inside, and an array of historical buildings. We finally ended up on a restaurant strip just after 2 pm but the restaurant we had been recommended had just stopped serving food then, so we went to another close by and had a very nice meal there.
 It was then a short walk up the hill to Chateau Clos Lucé, famous for being the castle where Leonardo Da Vinci spent the last 5 years of his life. This was a lovely little chateau, with beautiful grounds filled with interactive models of da Vinci’s inventions scattered throughout. It was a lovely place to explore with the kids, but in the hot, sultry weather we were all beginning to wilt, so eventually we walked back to the car and headed back for a swim!
It was a relief to have a nice cooling dip, and then we piled back into the car and drove to the nearby village of Montrichet. We found a restaurant La Belle Vue overlooking the river, which had good reviews for the food, but unfortunately the staff were very snobby, and put Michael’s back up as we tried to decipher the menu. Michael speaks excellent French, but they were most resistant to explain things, indeed almost contemptuous of us. We ended up having a nice enough meal, although the kids’ crème brulee was awful, being bright green as it was made with pistachios and raspberries, rather than the usual lovely custard we expected. My chocolate fondant cake was superb, so they shared that with me! We declined to leave a tip and eventually headed home to Amboise, ready for bed.

Monday 20 August

Today was the big bike ride from Amboise to Chenonceau, a distance of 13 kilometres. Luckily the weather was a bit cooler, but as we climbed the steep hill out of Amboise, a lot of which I ended up walking, I was beginning to have my doubts! Once we were up the top we had a lovely ride through the forest, well away from cars. It was quite beautiful and then continued winding its way through farmland and little villages with quiet streets before we finally rejoined the main highway at Chenonceau. It had taken us about one and a half hours.
By the time we got there it was after noon and warming up, so we wandered through the garden to a self service café and I waited at a table we managed to find in the shade while the others queued up to order. Interestingly, even in a self service café like this, the food was excellent, so we had a nice lunch which revived our waning energy and then headed off to check out the chateau.
The 16th century chateau was beautiful with richly decorated rooms overlooking the River Cher which it straddles. The tapestries were incredible and the paintings stunning, so we had a lovely time walking through the various rooms.

Finally it was time to leave, so we wandered back through the beautiful gardens to our bikes, feeling rather hot and tired and somewhat apprehensive about the 13 kilometre ride home. By this stage it was much hotter and my hip was really hurting, so it was a much slower ride back. I’m not at all good in heat and I was really doubting my ability to get back, but Tom was very solicitous to me and stayed back with me to ride at my pace and encourage me up the many hills while Rachel and Mike rode on more quickly and then stopped regularly to wait for us to catch up. After two hours (including two lots of me fixing Tom’s chain which kept coming off) we finally got back to Amboise, revelling in free wheeling down the slope we’d labored up that morning. We all felt very proud to make it back!
Finally back at the hotel we headed straight for the pool to cool down and it did the trick nicely. Once we had recovered sufficiently we drove back into Amboise to go to the restaurant that we had tried for lunch yesterday, this time having booked. The people there were absolutely charming and the food wonderful. We had an excellent meal (including a superb crème brulee) and at the end they congratulated us on our French – such a contrast from the grumpy waiters of last night! Then it was off to bed to rest my aching body…
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