River Loire - Cities, Chateauxs and Gardens

Trip Start May 29, 2005
Trip End Dec 17, 2005

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Chapter Summary
Followed the course of the Loire through Nantes, Angers, Tour, Blois visiting the finest Chateauxs and gardens Pay De La Loire has to offer.

Follow the river

Camera 2 bites the dust
20 June, Monday
Start point: Nantes
End point: St Florent
Via: Muzillac, Camoel, Port-Navalo and Sarzeau
Odom(Km): 110.98
Moving(hrs.mim): 8.05
Ave(Km/h): 13.7
Total Ascent(m): 998
Max Altitude(m) 79
Max Speed(Km/h): 39.6

Exiting Nantes in the morning confirmed that Sunday was indeed a good day to tour the city by bike. I soon escaped the rush hour traffic and was ploughing my way East following the river Loire through a new and more welcome type of farming crop - grape vines. Muscadet seemed to figure widely in the tasting placards. Wanting to make it to next city, Angers, I resisted temptation and pressed on following the road on the south side that passed through relatively sleepy villages. Stopped at an interesting town called Champtoceaux that had a huge early medieval fort to guard the passage of unwanted boats - or those that did not pay their tolls. Destroyed completely at the end of the middle ages, the site is now a private residence with some parts turned into public park areas. Enjoyed the commanding views that I shared with a group of school children eating pack lunches in the open. Treated myself to a Pain au Resins which is a bit like a Danish pastry. The continued east. Each village climbed up and offered fine views. Came to the town of St Florent with again commanding views with an abbey as its crown. Reached for the camera - only the zip was undone on the pocket where the only the camera is kept. It dawned on me that if I had not fastened it since Champtoceaux then potentially I would have to backtrack 22Km, searching verges and stopping off at all the mayors offices on the way. 22Km of going back on the route I had just come, with no guarantee of success. So that is what I did. Scanning, asking walkers on the way, stopping in all the Mayors offices. No luck. My email address was on the SD card in the camera and I left my address with anyone who would have it. I'll check my email in Angers but I hold out little hope. Luckily I downloaded all the pictures a few days ago for you folks so I have still have nearly all the pictures I've taken with it. Yet more delay in finding a new one - again, after having sat on my last one while drunk. Yet more expense I could have avoided if careful. I am now back in St Florent campsite on a island in the middle of the Loire, sipping wine with a French couple, a judge in the courts of justice at Angers and his wife, prison officer - enjoying a balmy mosquito free evening. Things aren't that bad after all.

Peppered steak
21 June, Tuesday
Start point: St Florent
End point: Angers
Via: Following the Loire
Odom(Km): 55.2
Moving(hrs.mim): 3.33
Ave(Km/h): 13.7
Total Ascent(m): 362

Max Altitude(m) 61
Max Speed(Km/h): 47.0

The last thing I expected to keep me awake was the sound of mating toads, but they didn't half make a racket. Not a constant noise that merges into the background but sudden eruptions of noise, sounding more like duck squawks than croaks. The French couple emerged from the van and saw me peering into the river. "All night.. All night.. they have been making that noise all night!" she said shaking her head in despair. A riverside view does come with a price.
Following the river on the south side was the most pleasant stretch of cycling so far this holiday. Traffic was carried on the main road that followed inland from the north bank and the minor road on the south bank ran for many kilometers on top of the levee. Flat, fine river views, no wind, no traffic; broken only by the odd village and river crossing. I was swept along lost in thought. I soon noticed I was following the Loire cycle route which I would thoroughly recommend as a quiet, pleasant traffic free route for those who like something a bit more organized. Plenty of camping (open), shops and plenty of places to visit. Arrived in Angers about 14.00 and checked into the campsite. One of the cheapest at 5 Euros, with pool and all mod cons including a free internet connection. There was a steady stream of cycle tourers too and it was not long before two girls wheeled into a spot near mine. Two students, one in maths and the other in biology explained to me, "I was a drunken conversion in the pub that led us to do it". I suggested we meet in the evening for food and I headed off into town to purchase yet another camera - a slightly cheaper one at 199 Euros, a HP photo smart 5MP. Mission accomplished I heading back to the site for a much needed dip in the pool. Then discussed food. Steak in pepper source was agreed and I headed to the supermarket to fetch ingredients. For starters I made artichokes with a melted cambert with a garlic an herb dip. Next course was rare stake in a pepper and mushroom source with lettuce hearts and potatoes. Next course a pain aux raisins and then crème caramel - all washed down with a bottle of Madera and a box of red wine. I enjoyed cooking on the stoke using my two 2 mess tins and a pan and 3 plates the girls borrowed from their neighbour. The enjoyment of cooking it was soon surpassed by the enjoyment of tucking in, heightened by the welcome change of diet away from convenience foods such as ravioli, lentils and porridge. For the girls it was a change from bread, cheese and pate. Sat up till well after dark and well into the box of wine. The digestiff was a bottle of Madera. I tried to waylay them for a day with tempts of swimming and an Angers castle tour as I had rather taken a fancy to Ali, but my evil plans were thwarted as they were fearful they may never get any cycling done in the allotted timescale. They were to hit the road early next day going in the direction I'd just come. Waved goodbye and we all staggered off to our respective tents.

Anjou Adventure
22 June, Wednesday
Start point: Angers
End point: Angers
Odom(Km): 55.2
Moving(hrs.mim): 3.33
Ave(Km/h): 13.7
Total Ascent(m): 362
Max Altitude(m) 61
Max Speed(Km/h): 47.0

Awoke bright an early and felt the need to get up. Breakfasted and did some washing. The girls popped by to say goodbye and I gave some tips for the journey ahead. Offers of coffee and cake were declined and I waved them on their way. Did a quick email session and headed straight into the town centre and locked the bike up outside the castle. Angers is a delightful city that grew up around the junction of two rivers, the Maine and the Loire. Angers had its heyday from 1152 in time of the Plantagenet kings when Henry II, William the Conquerors great grandson married Eleanor of Aquitaine, heir of the Anjou dynasty and thus consolidated England and many parts of France under the same kingdom. Many of the buildings date or have their origins from this period. Although not as grand as seen elsewhere, it must be remembered that they predate many of the gothic masterpieces. The town is very easy to navigate as the castle dominates and all areas of interest are situated near by. First stop was the castle. With earlier origins, the majority dates from 1228 and includes a clustering of buildings within its walls. With a temperature of 32DegC in the shade, the white stones buildings provided a much welcomed haven from the heat, most significantly the large airy chapel and royal rooms. The highlight of the tour was a tapestry called 'The Tenure of the Apocalypse'. Woven in 1375-80 it measures 168m x 5m in size, now that is BIG! Housed in a special purpose build museum. I sat and studied the detail. Then after the Castle tour I walked around the cathedral (1150-1240). Although large inside it showed very similar traits seen on the Norman chapels, such as perfectly semicircular arches, thick pillars and small windows. The lack of light was made up by the whiteness of the stone. I sat there cooling off in front of the over the top or 'baroque' high alter taking in the atmosphere when the organ fired into life. I gave up waiting for a tune to emerge from the pipes as it soon occurred to me he was tuning it. Can you tune an organ??? I had to leave because the discords, beats and extremes scale notes were too uncomfortable. Then on the bike for a street tour. Whizzing down all the deserted medieval passageways, stopping to take the odd photo. It was fun but rather hot work. Only one thing for it - back to the campsite for a cool off swim followed by a re-energising meal. After the swim I raided the food pannier and soon got chatting to a friendly 25 year old Canadian called Ryan. He had left the world of computer science a few years ago to become a full time cycle tourer and had not looked back. We finished of the rest of the food and wine - or was that he watched me stuff myself with the remains of last nights meal and guzzle a litre of wine - as he seemed reluctant to accept my offers. We swapped tips, stories and he suggested if I found myself in Canada we should hook up and do some touring. Great, although the stories of 40Km winds and plagues of mosquitoes so thick that no amount of repellent will stop them flying into your eyeballs in great numbers. If we do Ryan, perhaps we could avoid those parts! We turned in past midnight.

Angers castle, 1228

Angers castle grounds, royal buildings

View from the top

Tapestry called 'The Tenure of the Apocalypse', woven 1375-80

"Whizzing down all the deserted medieval passageways"

Timber from house, Angers.

Rude carving!

High street and Cathedral

Tours or broke
23 June, Thursday
Start point: Angers
End point: Tours (Ballan-Mire)
Via: Saumur
Odom(Km): 122.6
Moving(hrs.mim): 8.00
Ave(Km/h): 15.3
Total Ascent(m): 697
Max Altitude(m) 114
Max Speed(Km/h): 37.2

Awoke at 6.10 and in a fit of madness got up and was packed by 7.00. Talking about routes the previous night I made a decision to be camped in Tours and looking around Villandry Châteaux and gardens on Friday; now tomorrow. There would need to be some ground covered if this was going to be a reality. At 7.00 I wandered over to Ryan's tent and started breakfast. Bowls of porridge, cups of coffee and 3 hours later I set off. My GPS took me on a pleasant route out of Angers and onto the south bank of the Loire. The route there was quite busy for a stretch but I soon picked up the levee that protects the flood planes. I was raised above the surroundings on a flat surface with fine views over the river. The houses lining the levee pre-date it and as a result they looked like bungalows, but the rear showed they used to be on two levels. Buried!
Soon reached Saumur, explored the back streets and stopped for lunch at a view point overlooking the castle and town below. Cooked up soup, cups of coffee and had a baguette with cheese and Pate. Very few people were there as I think the heat was putting them off making the journey up to the top. Descended into town and had a quick explore. By the end of the meal the humid heat had given away to rain - large icy blobs of cold water were falling from the sky. Donned my waterproofs and continued eastwards, only stopping to collect water and buy the evenings provisions.
In France there is one thing you can buy from a shop at any time in the morning, afternoon, evening or night, regardless of shop opening times, half day closing and Sunday closing is a bottle of wine. The French do have their priorities right then.
I very nearly did not make it to my target campsite as when the wind picked up my speed dropped to 10Km/hour. It was like a hill climb. I cursed the fact for nearly the entire holiday, including the circular tour we did there has been a head wind. Luckily it eased to allow me to regain the lost time. Rolled into Tours campsite at 21.00, pitched, showered, ate, prepared for tomorrow and in bed by midnight.

View point lunch stop, Saumur

Near by Châteaux

Châteaux, Rigny-Usse

Villandry, the best garden in France
24 June, Friday
Start point: Tours (Ballan-Mire)
End point: Tours (St Avertin)
Via: Villandry
Ave(Km/h): 15.3
Total Ascent(m): 697
Max Altitude(m) 114
Max Speed(Km/h): 37.2

Breakfasted and paid for the campsite in the morning. Was on my way to Villandry by 10.00, a short 5Km (15 minute) ride and I was there. Purchased lunch time provisions - if you wait until lunch to do this, all the shops are shut between the hours of 12.00-14.30 and your only choice is to eat out! The locals were complaining about the heat and the lack of rain but I couldn't moan as I found my 4DegC start in the morning a while back far more intolerable. Entered the Châteaux, built in 1536 on a grand scale for the time by 'one of' Francoise I's finance ministers. Obviously a perk of the job, although I can't see Gordon Brown doing anything like that these days! If you are the minister for transport, owning 2 Jaguars is enough you get you in trouble. Remodelled in 1754, the gardens were redesigned in the English parks style. Purchased in 1906 by a brilliant scientist, he devoted his efforts to restore the Châteaux and reinstate the former splendour of the gardens. Toured the Châteaux, imagining what I would do with all the rooms if I owned it. This would be the dance room, this the chill out room etc.. Couldn't decide what to do with the gardens. Let them grow wild I guess. Went a bit snap happy with the camera, should be a few good ones once paired down. I liked the shot of ceiling, moved in 3600 pieces from a Moorish palace built in Toledo in the 15th Century. I hope the numbers on the pieces weren't in Arabic.
Back to the campsite for a diary entry. I'm sitting in the shade and I measure 34 DegC. Time for a swim I think, it's a hard life.
Once fully refreshed I decamped and enquired about campsites nearer Tours. Although I don't carry one, there is a book that lists all sites with maps but is far too heavy for me to carry. I overheard the dulcet tones of a Scottish accent. "Do you have the camping and caravanning guide?", I asked. Before the sentence was finished, the friendly Scotsman had reached for a beer, opened it and thrust it in my direction in a single swooping action. They had moved camp further north because it was getting too hot for them and the dogs. Half hour later I set off towards site number 2, nearer Tours city centre. On arrival I soon hooked up with David, an African born, English educated, Japanese speaking, cycling and friendly 70 year old Australian, who had worked in London freelancing as a sports journalist amongst many other things. We got chatting about all sorts and nothing, everything and anything. I had a pleasant and stimulating evening. I didn't tap him for stories but I know he has many to tell and many he won't tell. Was saddened to hear that the night before, thieves had broken into the site and stolen money from under his roll mat. They had also slashed another tent in attempt to steal possessions. City centre sites you have to careful with. Ryan note - lock you bike wherever you are. Topic changed to the fact that he was coming over to London for 1 week from early July. I gave him tips on prices and what to do and where to do it. He balked at hotel prices in Central London, 45 pounds for a B&B he exclaimed. When I said 70 pounds a night for a hotel he was exasperated. I do subsequently remember of two campsites near London (i.e within 20Km) one in Lewisham (not recommended) and the Lee valley in North North East London - Towards Epping forest. Never camped there, so unable to give advice. Bed around midnight.

Villandry, the best garden in France, sorry Monet...

3600 pieces from a 15th Century Moorish palace ceiling, Toledo

Perfect gardens

Perfect edges

Me and my new house

Disco dancing
25 June, Saturday
Start point: Tours (St Avertin)
End point: Tours (St Avertin)
No cycling other than in and around Tours

Awoke, breakfasted with David and headed into Tours. The park opposite the campsite was busy with workers assembling a dance floor and stage. A music venue with food stalls, fairground and drinks tent was in the making. Spending the evening here rather than Tours is likely to be more fun I thought to myself. Tours is located just upstream from the joining of the river Cher and the Loire, the Cher to the south and the Loire to the north. I soon found the network of pedestrianised medieval back streets just to the south west of the town centre. The centre, which as usual for many of the French cites or large towns, is a massive multi lane traffic junction near the Loire bridge crossing. Unlike Angers and Blois, Tours was a very flat city and offered no great challenges in the midday heat. Stumbled upon an Internet cafe and converted my journals into a web page format which I hope you appreciate. Then loaded the next set of maps onto my GPS receiver. checked e-mail. Came to the conclusion that my HP camera is rubbish. No good in low light, the flash even comes on if it is overcast and all the images show a detailed picture of all the imperfections in the lens and CCD array. It reminds me of my Casio camera I purchased 7 years ago - a camera good at the time. Picture sizes are bloated and you can't even select a resolution of 1600x1200. Selection in the shop was small and none of the Casio models I specifically wanted were there so I had to make my best guess. Rant over.
The internet cafe was full of kids playing network shoot 'em up games, shouting through me to their other team mates. After 3 hours it started to grate so I was glad to be out of there. Set off on a Church tour and a back street wander watching the evening start to liven up. The focus of activities, including a hen party were around 'Place Plumereau', a charming square lined with timber framed houses where the chirruping of birds and chattering of café goers drowned out the noise of the traffic. The smell of food wafting through the passageways made me hungry so back to camp for a refuel.
The local park within a stones throw of the campsite had been turned into a full on music, drink and food venue. It was laid on by the tourist board and featured some French bands and a DJ. Things were starting to warm up when I popped in to watch the African drumming and dancing, classic car exhibition and browse the stalls. Coming across the food stall reminded me of why I came back. David had been on a bike ride and was now horizontal listening to the radio. My guess is the bottle of Rosé had something to do with that. Had a meal, chatted and at 22.00 I drifted towards the music. The atmosphere was lively and inclusive. The wooden panelled dance floor still had some room so I made my was over to show off some moves. There was a mix of ages from 7 to 70 dancing to a range of pop, Latino and rock classics. Slightly devoid of early 20 to early 30s age group, I guess as their children are still a bit young, was the excuse I needed to hook up with a lively group of teenagers who were having far too much fun. There was the pissed-dirty-old-man-in-every-sense-of-the-word on the dance floor. Hunched, capped and sweaty moving nothing but his arms and facial expressions. If a girl got too close they were saddled upto and dribbled upon, irrespective of age or beauty. Line dancing was also popular. On the first few chords of some songs the whole floor would organise into sequenced line dances that everyone seemed to know - including the children and the grannies. When the evening came to a close at 1.00 and I made my way back for some shut eye. It was great end to my time in Tours, Blois now beckons.

Tours 'Town hall', civic pride personified in baroque style

Crowds gather in the square

Festival, St Avertin, near the campsite

Fun evening, late on the dance floor

A busy Sunday in France ?!?!?
26 June, Sunday

Start point: Tours (St Avertin)
End point: Blois (Bracieux)
Via: South bank of the Loire, through Amboise, Chaumont-sur-Loire and Blois
Odom(Km): 80.37
Moving(hrs.mim): 5.47
Ave(Km/h): 14.0
Total Ascent(m): 513
Max Altitude(m) 122
Max Speed(Km/h): 40.5

A dawn a thunderstorm threatened but thankfully never materialised. Gave a quick demo of the GPS to David who was totally blown away, "You mean if I had an errant wife, all I have to do is put one of those things in the car and it records the route she takes for her next liaison". Suddenly my eyes were opened to a whole host of new applications. Finished my usual level mess tin of porridge and was waved off. Following the south bank of the Loire on a minor road I was surprised at the volume of traffic. 'But it's a Sunday, everyone should be sitting at home because there is nothing to do', I kept telling myself. Rolling into the first town, Amboise, all was clear; Market day. Ambled through the selection of hats, caps, underpants and T-shirts. There was the odd hidden stall selling cheese, meats, breads etc. The market led me into the town centre. Amboise, originally a Roman town and river crossing has a large castle towering above. It played a role in 15 century court life and from below looked as though it covered a large area within its walls. A pleasant pedestrianised street crammed with shops was bustling. For a Sunday I can't emphasise how unusual this is in France. Resisted buying anything from the patisserie as breakfast was still lasting, a very difficult task if you could only see what is on offer. I can abstain from many things for long periods of time, but when it comes to the temptation of the flesh of pastry, I'm quickly seduced.
The next village on was holding an antiques fair, does everyone live by a different working calendar in these parts? This antiques fair was not what you or I would describe as an antiques fair, I would more accurately describe it as a skip sale. Boxes of used nails, broken lampshades, box of tools that had fused together with rust; basically rubbish. The price marked on these items could only be described as very hopeful. A monitor that must have dated from 1993, 30 euros. A early 80s cassette / radio player, obviously not in good working order, 35 euros. Companies I know pay people to take this stuff away, is this where they come to sell it I wonder? With no more room for any more rubbish in my panniers, I continued.
Followed the south bank Loire cycle route into Blois. The town, situated on a hill on the north bank is connected by a typical 18th Century bridge that rises steeply up to the centre and drops sharply down to the other side. Somewhat like the old Westminster Bridge used to be. Lunched in a park and proceeded to tour round this hilly town through the backstreets and main thoroughfares, finding photo opportunities, and a fine Châteaux. Again the cafe culture was very evident with the table and chairs out in the streets. In a sticky windless heat it is more comfortable pedalling to achieve a circulation of air, so that is what I did. Next stop the town of Bracieux a few Km from Blois. Camped and settled down for the night.

Market day in Amboise

Amboise castle

View of Blois with the main crossing over the Loire

Blois Châteaux, residence of French kings

Blois Châteaux, residence of French kings

View up the high street, to the bridge

Chambord, the finest Loire Châteaux
27 June, Monday
27th June, Monday
Start point: Blois (Bracieux)
End point: Blois (Bracieux)
Via: Chambord
No cycling - about 14Km there and back

"If you see Chambord, you can pass all the other Loire Châteaux's by", that's what the friendly Scotsman told me and I took his advice. Villandry offered the finest gardens, and this would complete my Loire valley wish list.
Chambord is the biggest and best. What struck me is how old the Châteaux's is and its sheer scale. Begun in 1519, it was not really used much in its life and when the royal court moved to Versailles, it fell out of favour. Rescued by a brother of Louis XIII in around 1640, it was given a new lease of life but never figured highly in the royal court. I got the audio guide which was very good and immersed me in the history, craftsmanship, boldness and beauty of the construction. It took the whole day to look round, back for odd jobs and then bed.

Chambord, begun 1519, the most beautiful Loire Châteaux, near Blois

Sumptuous interior

The carved interiors show true craftsmanship

No, I didn't just download the pictures from the web, I actually went there

Where paths crossed
28th June, Tuesday
Start point: Blois (Bracieux)
End point: Beaulieu-sur-Loire (near Gien)
Via: Aubigny-sur-Nere
Odom(Km): 108.5
Moving(hrs.mim): 7.17
Ave(Km/h): 14.9
Total Ascent(m): 558
Max Altitude(m) 280
Max Speed(Km/h): 39.3

Distance in the direction of Dijon was the order of the day. A sticky heat accompanied by thunder and lightning followed me around all day. Considering the menacing look in the sky there was surprisingly little rain. The road carried me into the wilderness away from rivers, coasts and cities. Subsequently there was a blissful quiet on the roads. I listened to more Michelle Thomas' "learn to speak French", as I cycled through dripping damp woods. Learned the difference in French between I am eating and I am being eaten, an easy mistake to make. Stopped off in Aubigny-sur-Nere, a former walled town with an interesting exhibition about its history from the 1900's to the present day. Took a few snaps of a fortified gateway. Had baguette aux cereals, which could be eaten by itself, it tasted more like cake than bread. The French know how to do bread. Afterwards I succumbed to an ice cream. Onto the campsite, situated by the river Loire, I instantly recognised it from when I stayed here nearly 5 years ago when I journeyed from St-Malo to Nice. Going from Roscoff to Genève my path would inevitably cross and this campsite is that point.

Just too much traffic!

Yes, the sun did shine at one point, so I had to take a picture
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