Cycling along the Loire: Beaugency – Meung sur Loire – Clery Saint André

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There is a saying in France that 15th August which is a public holiday heralds the end of summer and with 15°C at 11 am on Sunday 16th, it seems as though it might be true. At least it’s sunny.

The town hall in Tavers with its garden

The town hall in Tavers with its garden

We arrive in Tavers, 40 minutes by car from Blois, around midday. We’ve chosen Tavers as our starting point rather than Beaugency in order to add on a few kilometers to reach our usual 40 K return. We’re not disappointed. It’s a pretty little town with a well-decorated town hall and the short cycle path to Beaugency is very pleasant, especially the view of the oldest bridge over the Loire as we approach the town.

Beaugency bridge from the bike path coming from Tavers

Beaugency bridge from the bike path coming from Tavers

We’ve already cycled to Beaugency before but from Mer. We’ll visit the town again on the way back particularly as I recently came here with an Australian friend and discovered a few things I hadn’t seen before and would like to show them to Jean Michel. We’re intending to have lunch in Meung-sur-Loire and don’t want to get there too late.

 Vineyards along the cycle path between Beaugency and Meung-sur-Loire

Vineyards along the cycle path between Beaugency and Meung-sur-Loire

It’s a good cycle path mainly running along the river past vineyards and other crops. On the way, we suddenly come across a local fête in what seems like the middle of nowhere. There aren’t many people so we hope things will liven up during the afternoon.

A local fête on the bike path in the middle of nowhere

A local fête on the bike path in the middle of nowhere

As we enter Meung, we see the main road is closed off. It’s the end of the Sunday morning market which mainly revolves around the old Halles or covered market. I later learn it was built in 1940 and renovated in 1985.

Arriving in Meung at the end of the market

Arriving in Meung at the end of the market

We cycle up the little hill to Place du Martroi in front of Saint Liphard collegiate church and castle that we intend to visit after lunch. The last stragglers are still buying produce at the market stalls. We find a table at Le Café du Commerce, a traditional brasserie, and order fish and chips, a dish which has become very popular in France in recent times and varies considerably in quality. It’s not wonderful but still OK.

Lunch at the Café du Commerce

Lunch at the Café du Commerce

Next stop, the château, where we learn there are jousting matches today. There are a few people in mediaeval dress and a circle of spectators around the jousters. It all looks very amateurish and good fun. The kids and jousters are certainly getting a kick out of it. We hope there will be more people as the afternoon wears on.

Meung-sur-Loire is a privately owned castle which claims to be one of the largest and oldest châteaux in the Loire. It is badly in need of major renovation, especially some of the roofs. It isn’t a princely castle but the owners have gone out of their way to attract visitors.  Many kings, including François I and Louis XI stayed here, it seems.

The bishop's bathroom in Meung castle

The bishop’s bathroom in Meung castle – very modern at the time

There are several unusual exhibitions, including a bishop’s bathroom, very luxurious for the times.

The church tower in Meung seen from the grounds of the castle

The church tower in Meung seen from the grounds of the castle

After climbing up to the rafters, we go down into the dungeons which explain why it once served as a prison.

Under the roof at Meung castle

Under the roof at Meung castle

More people are arriving as we leave in the hope of seeing jousting on horseback but it’s already 3.30 pm and it was supposed to start at 3. There are no sign of the horses.

Mediaeval tents in front of the castle in Meung

Mediaeval tents in front of the castle in Meung next to the jousting ring

We cross the river to the other side and I am surprised and delighted to see a special traffic light for bikes.

The special traffic light for bikes just outside Meung

The special traffic light for bikes just outside Meung

After a few kilometers along the river, we branch off to Cléry-Saint-André to visit the Notre Dame Basilica which is also a collegiate church and royal chapel. After many trials and tribulations it was reconstructed in the 17th century. We’ve been here before but it was cold and wet and the church was closed. The town is rather deserted but more attractive than last time.

 

The church of Cléry Saint André

The church of Cléry Saint André

 

Rather than go back the way we came, we decide to follow the loop indicated by the tourist office, which turns out to be a mistake. There is nothing very attractive about the return trip and we are pleased to get back to Beaugency, especially as the last 3 kilometers are on a busy road.

The square in Beaugency that we missed last time

The square in Beaugency that we missed last time

At Beaugency, I take Jean Michel past the castle and on to the square we missed last time. There is a brasserie there and I’m hoping for an ice-cream. Unfortunately it’s closed and we don’t find anywhere else open that’s selling decent ice-creams so we have a cold drink instead.

The abbey church seen from the café

The abbey church seen from the café where we didn’t have an ice-cream

It doesn’t take long to get back to Tavers. We’re very happy to have visited the castle in Meung and seen Beaugency again – but we won’t do the loop again!

Posted in Cycling, Loire Valley | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Beaugency on the Loire

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Beaugency is a small town of 7,500 inhabitants on the banks of the Loire, about 30 km north of Blois and 40 km south of Orléans. The 400-metre long bridge, which dates back to the 12th century, has 23 arches and is said to be the oldest over the Loire. Beaugency is a pretty little town with cobblestones, a Renaissance town hall built in the 16th century, a castle, an abbey church and an 11th century church. It’s certainly worth a detour!

Beaugency bridge

Beaugency bridge

Caesar's Tower seen from the bridge

Caesar’s Tower seen from the bridge

The Loire seen from the Bridge

The Loire seen from the Bridge

The abbey church seen from the back

The abbey church seen from the back

The abbey church from the front

The abbey church from the front

Caesar's Tower

Caesar’s Tower

The courtyard of the castle

The courtyard of the castle

The central market (no longer used)

The central market (no longer used)

The Renaissance town hall built in the 16th century

The Renaissance town hall built in the 16th century

The main square

The main square

A well on one side of the square

A well on one side of the square

Looking through the archway of the local college

Looking through the archway of the local college

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc who helped to win the Battle of Beaugency in 1429.

 

 

Posted in Loire Valley | Tagged , | 13 Comments

Cycling along the Cher from Montrichard to Saint Aignan

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Sunday is cool and rainy so we have reserved our weekly cycling excursion for Monday which dawns bright and sunny. We are off by 10.30 am to Montrichard on the Cher River, about a half an hour’s drive from Blois, via Chaumont. We are going to get cycle maps at the tourist office.

Montrichard castle from the main street leading to the tourist office

Montrichard castle from the main street leading to the tourist office

They don’t have any. That’s a disappointment but we have seen on the Internet that there is a cycle path to Thésée about halfway along the 20 K route. We find a parking lot near the river and set out.

The Cher along the bike path leaving Montrichard

The Cher along the bike path leaving Montrichard

Initially the path is promising and we’re happy to be on our bikes again. The lack of maintenance, however, soon becomes obvious (read : the path is often rutted and you have to keep your eyes on the ground all the time). When you glance at the scenery, it’s quite bucolic, marred only by the smell of pollution caused by ever-increasing green algae.

One of the many locks along the bike path

One of the many locks along the bike path

We go past several locks, all of which seem to be functioning and automatic. Most of the lock houses seem to be converted into holiday rentals. From time to time, I get off my bike and walk over a rough patch, rather than find myself face down on the gravel in front of me. “Don’t worry”, Jean Michel consoles me, “after we get to Thésée, there’s a real bike path.”

Troglodyte houses in the limestone cliffs

Troglodyte houses in the limestone cliffs

Well, yes, there is a sort of a bike path between the river and the railway line but the maintenance isn’t any better. On the other side, we can see many troglodyte houses built into the limestone cliffs, but it’s not really scenic.

An enormous grain silo with a vineyard in front

An enormous grain silo with a vineyard in front

Nor is the modern version of a cathedral, aka a grain silo. It even has a pseudo bell tower.

The approach to Saint Aignan with its château and collegiate church

The approach to Saint Aignan with its château and collegiate church

The approach to Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher, however, which we’ve never visited, more than makes up for the mediocre ride. The château stands on the hill just opposite the bridge with the collegiate church to the left.

The sign on the bridge at Saint-Aignan showing the demarkation line

The sign on the bridge at Saint-Aignan showing the demarkation line

Jean Michel points out a sign on the bridge that says “1940-1944 Here was the line of demarcation. We will remember them.”

One of the many luxuriant flower pots in Saint Aignan

One of the many luxuriant flower pots in Saint Aignan

Now comes the important bit. Lunch. It’s 1.15 pm and it’s Monday (read : most restaurants in France, particularly in the provinces, are closed). Now my idea of a restaurant when we’re cycling is a pleasant, inexpensive, non-touristy-looking place, with shady trees over the outside tables and a direct view of the river. The sort they have in Germany all along the Danube.

Gasthof Berzl in Kelheim - the sort of place where I like to have lunch when cycling

Gasthof Berzl in Kelheim – the sort of place where I like to have lunch when cycling

The only problem is that it seems to be a rare commodity in France. We cycle through the village and only discover a kebab place near the church and an indoor crêperie. We ride along the river in both directions and finally have to resign ourselves to coming back to L’Embarcadère which fronts onto the main road and doesn’t have a terrace.  However, with a four-course menu for 13 euro, it’s definitely inexpensive.

L'Embarcadère where we finally eat

L’Embarcadère where we finally eat

I have stuffed tomatoes, steak (small piece) and chips, cheese and ice-cream. It’s all palatable though nothing special. Jean Michel has the same thing except he has beef flank (hampe) instead of steak. Just in case you’ve never discovered this, the piece of meat that’s called steak (often written steack) in France is not what Australians call steak. It’s a specific cheap cut of grilling beef. It is NOT fillet or entrecôte.

The château up on the hill seen from a house near the tourist office

The château up on the hill seen from a house near the tourist office

We’ve finished our coffee so we set off to visit the town, starting with the tourist office because we’d like to find a better route to cycle back to Montrichard. Disappointment once again. They don’t have any cycle maps either. They give us a map of the town indicating 20 places to visit, but with explanations for only two of them : the castle and the collegiate church.

The entrance to the château

The entrance to the château

We’re just next to the road leading up to the château and we debate whether it’s worth it. We decide to make the effort. Halfway up, we talk to a man with a truck sweeping up dead leaves. I can’t believe there are already autumn leaves in August but the man tells us the trees have a disease. That’s a relief (not for the trees of course). Needless to say, the chestnut trees are already shedding their leaves everywhere. Sigh.

The Renaissance wing of the château

The Renaissance wing of the château

The château is privately owned, but visitors have free access to the courtyard. What a discovery! We’re so glad we made the decision to go to the top of the hill.

The 9th century tower

The 9th century tower

The château with its 9th century tower, Renaissance château with its scallop shells and François I salamanders, was once the home of several generations of Duc de Beauvilliers.

The blue flowers inside the courtyard

The blue flowers inside the courtyard

It has a wonderful view and lovely proportions. I particularly like the large stone urns with their blue flowers and immediately decide to plant them at home next year. I just have to find out what they are …

The collegiate church with its Republican inscription

The collegiate church with its Republican inscription

We ride back down into the town and visit the 11th century Collegiate Church which has two interesting features. On the front there is an inscription that says « République française Liberté Egalité Fraternité ». Now, you must admit it’s original! The church was auctioned off during the French Revolution and given back to the Catholic Church in 1800.

The recumbent statue of Jeanne can be seen on the right

The recumbent statue of Jeanne de Perellos can be seen on the right

The other attraction is the tomb of Jeanne de Perellos, with its recumbent statue. She was banished from the church for seducing Louis II of Chalon, Count of Saint-Aignan from his legitimate spouse in 1420. What a claim to fame!

The monumental staircase opposite the collegiate church leading up to the château

The monumental staircase opposite the collegiate church leading up to the château

Opposite is a monumental staircase leading up to the château.

We cycle back through the little town with cobbled streets and several very old houses and down to the river. I have checked the map and found a little white road that runs roughly parallel to the main road and will take us back to Montrichard. Jean Michel has approved it.

The church with its unusual archway in Pouillé

The church with its unusual archway in Pouillé

Well, it might run parallel to a main road, but it’s still a 90 kph road and we have to ride one behind the other which isn’t much fun. At Pouillé, which is roughly opposite Thésée, we see an interesting church with an archway on the right. Initially built in the 11th and 12th centuries, it was bombarded in 1940 but has since been restored. There are no cafés.

A shady terrace in Angé, very welcome after riding for 15 K under a 30°C sun

A shady terrace in Angé, very welcome after riding for 15 K under a 30°C sun

We continue on our way until Angé which has a few historical houses but more importantly, a café with a shady terrace out the back. By now it’s 30°C and we’ve been riding in the full sun since leaving Saint-Aignan. A cold drink is most welcome.

Montrichard taken from the beach side

Montrichard taken from the beach side

Jean Michel studies the map again and tells me we’ll be able to leave the main road soon and take a smaller road. It does not happen. The smaller road is now part of an industrial estate. However, we are nearly at Montrichard which has a beach on the Cher and, best of all, ice-cream.

La Plage restaurant & bar at the beach in Montrichard

La Plage restaurant & bar at the beach in Montrichard

It’s like being at the seaside ! We go to a restaurant bar appropriately called La Plage which even has a live band playing old time songs – not particularly melodious but it all adds to the ambiance. We have an excellent ice-cream from a smiling waitress before mounting our bikes and riding back to the car: a round trip of 46 K  and 3 ½ hours in the saddle.

Posted in Architecture, Cycling, Flowers & gardens, Food, France, Germany, Loire Valley, Restaurants | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Blogger Round-Up: Choosing accommodation with airbnb – Luggage transfer when cycling – History of potatoes in France

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In recent times, I have sadly neglected my once-weekly blogger round-up due to my very busy life since moving to Blois last October but three posts caught my eye recently that I would like to share. The first is Simply Sara Travel‘s method for selecting the perfect airbnb accommodation which I’m sure you’ll find helpful not only for Airbnb but also for home exchanges. The next is Experience France by Bike‘s excellent report on luggage transfer when cycling, particularly in the Loire Valley. The third is a very interesting history of New World vegetables in France – potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines, chillies and peppers – by Days on the Claise that I’m sure you’ll find fascinating. Enjoy!

My Method on How to Select the Perfect Airbnb Accommodations

by Simply Sara Travel, a girl from New Jersey who traded in her bagels for baguettes and moved to Paris. The aim of her blog is to inspire readers to travel, embrace a new culture, and open their minds to new perspectives.

simplysaratravel_LondonHow people travel is shifting. With sites like Airbnb, more and more people are moving away from staying in traditional hotels and towards a more local experience of renting apartments/houses or shared spaces with residents. There are lots of pros to using Airbnb for lodging – it’s often less expensive than a hotel (especially when split among a larger party, and if there is a kitchen that allows self-servicing some meals) and allows for a more local-feeling experience. There’s a lot of great material already written on this – like Adventurous Kate’s How to Use Airbnb and Have a Great Experience for a detailed explanation of the site, or Expat Edna’s post on 6 Airbnb’s I Loved Around the World to give some inspiration on the cool places you could stay worldwide. Read more

Luggage Transfer – A Great Bicycling Indulgence

by Maggie LaCoste from Experience France by Bike, an American who loves biking anywhere in Europe, but especially France, which has the perfect combination of safe bike routes, great food, great weather and history

experience_france_bike_panniers1No matter how much you love bicycling in Europe, you’re probably not a big fan of carrying all your clothes in panniers.  But for cyclotourists, panniers are a necessary evil, a small price to pay for complete independence on the road.  Despite how carefully I choose every piece of clothing and technology that I pack, my panniers still end up weighing between 32-35 pounds, something I curse every time I go up a hill!

This summer, for the first time in 20+ years of bicycle touring, I used a luggage transfer service for 4 nights along the Mosel River.  It was a fantastic indulgence, enabling us to easily bicycle the 200 km in 4 days with lots of stops during the day. Read more

Monsieur Parmentier versus Deadly Nightshade

by Susan from Days on the Claise, an Australian living in the south of the Loire Valley, writing about restoring an old house and the area and its history and running Loire Valley Time Travel.

DCF 1.0When potatoes and other New World members of the Solanaceae family (tomatoes, aubergines, chillies, peppers) were introduced to Europe they were treated with great suspicion. The intrepid explorers who brought them reported that the South American natives they encountered ate freely of these exotic plants.

But French peasants weren’t convinced. These plants were clearly related to Henbane, Deadly Nightshade and worst of all, Mandrake. No one in their right mind would eat these dangerous plants, associated with witchcraft and capable of killing or sending you mad. Due to a curious twist of evolution, many Old World Solanums are amongst the most poisonous of all plants, but many New World Solanums are safe, nutritious and delicious. It’s true the New World species also contain some dubious compounds, but they are easily dealt with by simple everyday culinary techniques and pose no serious risk to consumers. Read more

Posted in Accommodation, Cycling, Food, History, Life in France | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Taking the Bike Ferry across the Loire between Blois and Chambord – Loire à Vélo

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It’s Sunday again and unlike last week, we wake up to a bright blue sky. We have breakfast and are out of the house at the unusually early hour of 11 am – but we have a boat to catch.

The bike path just before the ferry

The bike path just before the ferry

We drive to the other side of Blois and park next to the bike path that takes us to Cour-sur-Loire and is part of the Loire à Vélo route which in turn is part of the Eurovelo 6 itinerary from the Atlantic Coast to the Black Sea. It is also on itinerary n° 12 on the Châteaux à Vélo map available from the local tourist office. This is a route we often take but today, there’s a difference. When we get to Cour, we’ll catch the new bike ferry across the river to join the bike path at Montlivault leading to Saint-Dyé-sur-Loire  and from there to Château de Chambord. It is also part of  itinerary n° 12 but you usually have to go as far as Muides to cross the Loire.

The Châteaux à vélo map, showing itinerary n°12, starting in Blois, just after the dotted line heading north-east. The ferry leaves about a centimetre north of the long arrow after Menars and arrives on the other side near Montlivault.

The Châteaux à vélo map, showing itinerary n°12 (lime green), starting in Blois on the bottom left, just after the dotted line heading north-east. The ferry leaves about a centimetre north of the long arrow after Menars and arrives on the other side not far from Montlivault.

The last ferry before lunch leaves at 12 noon. It takes us ¾ hour to cycle the 8 km to the ferry stop. As we approach Cour we can see the ferry halfway across the river. By the time we get to the ferry stop at n° 122 quai de la Loire, the passengers are disembarking.

Passengers disembarking from the ferry at Cour-sur-Loire

Passengers disembarking from the ferry at Cour-sur-Loire

 

The flat-bottomed gabarre boat typical of the Loire region was designed in partnership with the Kaïros Association as part of a return-to-work project for long-term unemployed. It took six months to build. The service started on 21st July and will continue until September. Next year, it begin much earlier in the season.

The gabarre with its little boat used by the boatman to go ashore after anchoring the ferry for the night.

The gabarre with its little boat used by the boatman to go ashore after anchoring the ferry in the middle of the river for the night.

The ferries leave Cour-sur-Loire at 11 am, 12 noon, 2.30 pm, 3.30 pm, 4.30 pm and 5.30 pm and depart Montlivault at 11.30 am, 12.30 pm, 3 pm, 4 pm, 5 pm and 6 pm, every day except Monday which is reserved for groups.

The S-bend in the Wachau in Austria where we crossed the Danube several times by ferry along our bike route

The S-bend in the Wachau in Austria where we crossed the Danube several times by ferry along our bike route

We have many wonderful memories of crossing the Danube, Moselle and Rhine Rivers in Germany and Austria during our cycling trips in 2013 and 2014, particularly the S-bend, so it feels as though we are on holidays.

The very friendly ferryman

The very friendly ferryman

As the boat only holds 12 passengers and 10 bikes, I’m a little anxious about there being no room left, but we needn’t have worried. Apart from ourselves, there is a cycling couple from Mer, a family of four from Florence, also with bikes, two women with a small child and another couple on foot. Twelve adults and one child who is most put out when he discovers he has to wear a life jacket!

Our boatman welcomes us on-board and we pay our 2 euros each. The Italian father is already in voluble conversation with the other passengers and the atmosphere is very jovial. It’s better than Germany and Austria in that respect because we can actually talk to the other people!

Going through the very shallow area to deeper water

Going through the very shallow area to deeper water

Jean Michel sits just next to the boatman so he can ask lots of technical questions. The boat has a draught of 25 cm, which is very fortunate as we can clearly see the bottom of the river at one point. The boat was made using traditional methods.

The village of Cour-sur-Loire from the ferry

The village of Cour-sur-Loire from the ferry

The views as we take the short 15-minute trip across the river are stunning particularly as it’s such as beautiful day.

After disembarking on the Montlivault side

After disembarking on the Montlivault side

On the other side, we continue to Saint-Dye-sur-Loire and on to Chambord, 12 km away, noticing how different the vegetation is from the last time we were here a couple of months ago. The lack of rain has turned the green countryside an Australian brown.

Chambord the magnificent on a hot summer day

Chambord the magnificent on a hot summer day

Chambord is its usual majestic self. We have a copious salad and cold drink of wine for lunch at Les Caves du Roy under the shade of the linden trees in full view of the château before cycling back to the ferry stop at Montlivault to catch the 3 pm ferry.

Watching the ferry cross the Loire at Montlivault

Watching the ferry cross the Loire at Montlivault (you can see it on the right)

This time, there is only one other cycling couple and a man from Belgium doing the Camino walk. His destination today is Blois. We’re in the boat waiting to leave when we see two young cyclists stop to read the information about the ferry. We call out to them to join us but they continue on their way. They don’t know what they’re missing!

Cour-sur-Loire church reflected in the Loire

Cour-sur-Loire church reflected in the Loire

When we reach the other side, we stop to admire Saint Radegonde’s fountain. Her visit here in the 6th century is said to have given the fountain curative properties.

Radegonde's fountain with its curative properties

Radegonde’s fountain with its curative properties

The only thing missing is an ice-cream stand. Now what can we do about that?

Posted in Cycling, Loire Valley châteaux | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

The Bird Bath

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bird_bath

We’re dining al fresco on a very hot evening. A blue tit swoops down from the rose of Sharon onto the bird bath and starts squawking loudly. It flies off.

“It wants some water”, says Jean Michel. “That’s funny”, I say, “I’m sure I put some in when I watered the garden earlier.”

I take a water jug and empty the contents into the bird bath which is about half full.

A couple of minutes later, the blue tit swoops down again, immerses itself completely in the bird bath with a great flutter of wings and flies off again. A robin red-breast who’s been waiting on the sidelines hestates then takes the plunge.

The blue tit really was protesting about the lack of water!

And a very funny thing – the term “bird bath” doesn’t exist in French. You can call it a vasque (pour les oiseaux) but that just means a basin for birds. When we bought the bird bath three years ago, Jean Michel was a bit dubious about its real use. He thought I just wanted it for decorative purposes.

By the way, we like to think the blue tits are the ones we watched one day peeking their beaks out of the birds’ nest up under the eaves to the right of the wisteria.

Posted in Closerie Falaiseau, Country living | Tagged | 5 Comments

A Walk Along the Loire

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It’s Sunday and we’ve been looking forward to having a break after a week of kitchen renovation (Jean Michel) and seismic concrete translation (me).  During breakfast we look at the weather report. The temperature is below 20°C and rain is predicted so cycling is out. We decide to go for a walk along the Loire. By the time we dig up some potatoes for dinner and get ready, it’s our usual 12 noon.

Purple flowers along the banks of the Loire

Purple wild flowers (lythrum salicaria) along the banks of the Loire

We turn right after leaving the house, then left at the end of the street so that we can cross the main highway along the Loire and join the path on the other side. Jean Michel immediately wants to push through the vegetation to the edge of the Loire but I insist that we walk along the path to the right until we see a suitable opening. We soon do. It takes us to a sandbank that is usually underwater but with the recent lack of rain, the level of the Loire has diminished considerably.

The sandy bank with its vegetation

The sandy bank with its vegetation

We walk onto the uncovered sandbank. It’s almost like being at the seaside, a very strange impression. The sand is soft and vegetation has already sprung up.

The banks of the Loire with Blois in the distance

The banks of the Loire with Blois in the distance

Far down to the left we can see Mitterand Bridge and the spires of Blois.

Yellow wild flowers

Yellow wild flowers

I’m intrigued by the wild flowers. I don’t know these yellow ones. We later discover they are Ludwigia peploides or floating primrose-willow, which is an aquatic plant and, sadly, Susan from Days on the Claise, expert in such things, tells us it’s an invasive alien.

The second bluish-purple flowers

The second bluish-purple flowers

Nor these purple ones on the path beneath our feet. They look vaguely like cornflowers. Susan tells us they are long-leaved lungwort, which normally flower in late spring.

Some spiky flowers

Spiky Field Eryngo which Jean Michel thinks is thistle but in fact, it’s not. It’s in full bloom and is related to carrots and parsely

As predicted there is rain, but every time we think it’s more than just a few spits and put our jackets on, it stops ! And we get hot if we keep them on when it isn’t raining …

Jean Michel resting at Fosse aux Poissons

Jean Michel resting at Fosse aux Poissons

We continue along the path which provides glimpses of the Loire from time to time until we get to Fosse aux Poissons (the fish pool) where there is even a log to sit on – which we do because my feet are starting to burn.

The fisherman in the kayak

The fisherman in the kayak

While we are resting, a kayak comes past. Jean Michel scrutinises it. “That looks like a great idea for a fisherman”, he says, “not that I have any time for fishing this year.” I can hear regret in his voice.

The highway - you can see how dry the grass is at the moment

The highway – you can see how dry the grass is at the moment

We start thinking about going back as we’ve already been walking an hour and a  half. There is a parking lot at Fosse aux Poissons so we walk up the embankment to the highway and cross over. On the other side, there is a steep grassy bank that leads down to another path. We scramble down (well, I scramble – Jean Michel is a very practised walker and takes it in his stride).

Flowers that Jean Michel calls combs

Flowers that Jean Michel calls combs – you can see the embankment I scrambled down

I notice a strange flower waving in the wind. “We call them combs”, says Jean Michel, but they look more like brushes to me. It appears to be a Dipsacus fullonum or teasel.

The berries used to make

Blackthorn berries – the young shoots are used to make a local liqueur

We’re hoping the path goes as far as the Chouzy-sur-Cisse turnoff which we seem to have overshot. Jean Michel tastes some unripe mirabelle plums and then points out the black thorn bush to me. It’s tender shoots are used to make the liqueur that we tasted when we bought our three tonnes of free stone. “The berries are very bitter”, he tells me. He doesn’t taste them.

Little mirabelle plums not yet ripe

Little mirabelle plums not yet ripe

Our path ends with a very closed looking gate so I have to scramble up the bank again. Fortunately we only have to walk about 200 metres alongside the 90 kph highway before going left towards Chouzy to take the walking path to the right that will take us home.

The very closed gate at the end of the path

The very closed gate at the end of the path

By now my feet are killing me so we find a useful little stone bridge to sit on while we eat some biscuits. It starts raining in earnest so we finish our excursion with our jackets and hoods on.

A very wet end to our walk

A very wet end to our walk with the last of the Tour de France going under the rail bridge

I’m glad to get back after walking 9 K in 2 ½ hours which is not very fast, I know, but quite an exploit for me !

Posted in Blois, Country living, Flowers & gardens, Loire Valley | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

A Postcard from the Island

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Every so often, I receive a “postcard” from my friend Alan Stretton whom I have known for more than 40 years. This one took me back to Townsville, where we both grew up, and to my holidays on the Island, which is still my very favourite place today. I would like to share his postcard with you.

When Alan is not living in Canberra he is perfecting the art of slow travel; do less but experience more.

“The island referred to in the postcard is Magnetic Island off the coast from Townsville, Alan tells us. “Ever since I was a child we referred to it as ‘the Island’, to differentiate it from all the other islands in the sea.”

Magnetic Island by Alan Stretton

Magnetic Island by Alan Stretton

“Hello, Alan. How is the pizza?”

“The pizzas are delicious as always, Lucia. I was wondering if I could order the pasta with prawns, anchovies and chilli to take away?”

Silence and a look of puzzlement was not quite the response I was expecting.

“The rest of my family are leaving tomorrow but I am staying an extra day. I don’t want to cook on my last night.”

I can see Lucia’s look of puzzlement changing to one of incredulity.

“You want to take the pasta home and place it in the fridge overnight and then reheat it in the microwave tomorrow night?”

Her look makes me wish that I could just fade into the background of coconut palms and granite boulders. But I stumble on.

“I don’t want to cook on my last night on the Island. You are closed so I will have to go to Picnic Bay and the food there is not very good.”

“We do not normally do take away except for pizzas. But I will do it for you. But it will not taste very good. Are you sure you want it?”

I feel as if I am 14 again, at school, being grilled by the Deputy Head Mistress and all my seemingly innocent answers are clearly not cutting the mustard. And this from the normally charming Lucia who makes customers feel that she and Alberto opened their Caffè dell’Isola just so that they could serve you.

After another uncomfortable silence, a hint of possibility lightens Lucia’s face.

“Can you come here tomorrow just before we close at 3 o’clock?”

“Sure.”

“Good. If you come then I will cook dinner for you. It will be closer to the time you eat the pasta and I will use meat rather than seafood so it will reheat better.”

Lucia’s generosity means that honour is restored and we smile broadly again. Relieved, I return to my pasta and a large glass of wine.

The next afternoon I return to Caffè dell’Isola and Lucia cooks macaroni with Italian sausage, zucchini and feta for me to take away. She refuses to accept any payment. Luckily I had thought to take a decent bottle of wine to give Lucia and Alfredo as a farewell gift. They are trying to sell the cafe so may not be here when we next return to the Island. “Follow us on Facebook. We will be somewhere.”

With my dinner in the bag I walk across the road and the 50 or so metres of wet sand left by the low tide until I am standing in calf deep water watching many rays gliding at surprising speed and five or six small black tipped reef shark looking for small fish. When I stand still, they come within two metres.

I am glad to report that life in paradise is as good as they say.

Posted in Australia, Guest post, Lifestyle, Restaurants | Tagged | 2 Comments

Cycling in the Poitevin Marsh #2 – The Wet Marsh

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We wake up rested in our B&B and have a delicious breakfast in the courtyard in front of the main house, consisting of freshly-squeezed orange juice, two types of bread, two types of brioche (a sort of bun loaf), a mini-raisin roll, a slice of raisin bread, 5 types of jam, a soft-boiled egg and a yoghurt.  We won’t be having an early lunch …

Breakfast in the couryard

Breakfast in the couryard

Our starting point for the day is a few kilometres west of Maillé at Vix Bridge, on the edge of the “wet” marsh as opposed to yesterday’s “dry” march. The main waterway is the Sèvre Niortaise River but the whole area is riddled with little canals and bridges. It’s midday by the time we get on our bikes.

Jean Michel on a bridge over one of the canals

Jean Michel on a bridge over one of the canals

The ride is pleasant, along a canal, with trees on either side. No wind although there isn’t a lot of sun. My weather app says it won’t rain so we haven’t brought our capes. We come to the little town of Maillé with its port and posters made from old postcards showing life in the town in days gone by.

Old postcards made into posters in Maillé

Old postcards made into posters in Maillé

We go past an unusual pump room obviously an addition to the house, with the pump wheel outside.

A pump room built on to a house with the wheel outside

A pump room built on to a house with the wheel outside

As we approach Maillezais after cycling past more canals we are impressed by the enormous cathedral ruins looming towards us. It’s the sort of view you only get on a bike.

The looming ruins of Maillezais cathedral

The looming ruins of Maillezais cathedral

By this time, Jean Michel has started to get hungry so we find a table on the shady terrace of the Auberge de l’Abbaye. Not that we really need shade – the sky is looking increasingly ominous and I’m beginning to regret the capes.

Auberge de l'Abbaye in Maillezais with its interesting floral and vegetable arrangement

Auberge de l’Abbaye in Maillezais with its interesting floral and vegetable arrangement

We order a salad including a local speciality called a farci which is a sort of flan made of eggs, sorrel, spinach and other vegetarian ingredients. I rather like it but Jean Michel is not that keen.

Typical stone house with painted shutters

Typical stone house with painted shutters

The next village is Liez with its typical Romanesque church and stone houses with painted shutters.

The church spire at Neuil Abbey seen from the mediaeval garden

The church spire at Neuil Abbey seen from the mediaeval garden

We arrive at our destination of Neuil-sur-l’Autise where we visit the local abbey built in 1068, in much better condition than Maillezais but not as impressive.

Mediaeval bagpipes which start playing as you approach. The only problem is that the previous instrument is still playing another tune ...

Mediaeval bagpipes which start playing as you approach. The only problem is that the previous instrument is still playing another tune …

This time, we visit the inside, but it is so full of interactive technology that it doesn’t even feel like an abbey. I don’t mind the Renaissance musical instrument display though.

The cloisters at Neuil

The cloisters at Neuil

 

Even the cloisters are being overtaken with sound equipment for a concert, I presume. I manage to take one photo though and I love the capitals!

The very amusing capitals in the cloisters

The very amusing capitals in the cloisters

There is mediaeval herb garden and we take the opportunity to ask one of the ticket sellers if he knows what the plants are. He is extremely knowledgeable. We discover what an acanthus is. The leaves are often used for sculpted scrolls in churches. I put it on my list of plants to buy …

Acanthus flowers. You can just make out the leaves which seem to have suffered from some sort of disaster

Acanthus flowers. You can just make out the leaves which seem to have suffered from some sort of disaster

We return along the path we came on but this time we go to St Sigismond, where we stop for a lukewarm coke, then Mazeau. It’s started spitting but not enough to really bother us and there is enough wind to dry us out as we go. We just hope it won’t get any worse.

This must be the strangest sheep country I've ever seen!

This must be the strangest sheep country I’ve ever seen!

The view is more or less the same, with the addition of a flock of sheep in a most unlikely forest of trees.

A bridge over a canal - but which canal?

A bridge over a canal – but which canal?

We come out along a large canal with absolutely no idea where we are. Jean Michel rarely gets lost but the paths are so winding and there are so many canals that it’s not easy to find our way.

Crossing the canal in Oulmes

Crossing the canal in Oulmes

We’re not lost however and we eventually arrive in Damvix. By then, we have cycled 50 K and all I want is a cold drink. Since it’s 7 pm, we settle for a glass of local white accompanied by the music of a live pianist on the keyboards which I initially find aggressive but eventually enjoy.

A much appreciated drink in Damvix after 52 K

A much appreciated drink in Damvix after 52 K

Only another 10 K or so to go, according to Jean Michel. At least the rain has stopped. The path along the canal with its patches of waterlilies suddenly becomes very bumpy and we realise we’re on the wrong side.  We eventually find a bridge and cross over.

On the wrong side of the canal with its waterlillies

On the wrong side of the canal with its waterlilies

I notice a restaurant along the way called the Le Vieux Batelier (the old boatman). The name rings a bell but it’s not until we finally get back to the car, having clocked up 62 K, that I discover it’s the one I had seen in the tourist brochure.

Le Vieux Batelier

Le Vieux Batelier

Not to worry. We drive back so we won’t have to worry about cycling after sunset. We have the deck overlooking the canal to ourselves. Business, once again, is very slow, we learn from the couple who run the restaurant. Maybe it will pick up after Bastille Day. We certainly hope so.

View of the canal from the deck of the restaurant

View of the canal from the deck of the restaurant

Jean Michel has one of the local specialities – eels (the other is frog’s legs) and I settle for an excellent entrecote. We drink the local Fiefs vendéens red with its unusual bottle.

Old windmill at sunset

Old windmill at sunset

After dinner, we drive off into the sunset …

Posted in Architecture, Cycling, Food, France, Restaurants | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Cycling in Poitevin Marsh #1 – Aiguillon

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The outside of the new kitchen window is finally finished and we are taking a well-deserved 3-day cycling holiday. We’ve chosen Poitevin Marsh after talking to friends. It’s been on the agenda for a while and isn’t too far by car (about 2 ½ hours). I’ve reserved a B&B that looks as though it has decent beds and pillows, is air-conditioned (we’re having unseasonably warm weather at the moment) and won’t be noisy.

Leaving home under a bright blue sky

Leaving home under a bright blue sky

It’s midday by the time we leave and I’ve packed a picnic so we won’t waste too much time. We stop at the tourist office in Luçon, the closest town to our destination, to get some brochures and buy bike maps. It has an amusing floral arrangement in front with a 40-year-old vine and a vine-covered man.

tourist_office

It’s about 4.30 pm when we arrive at our B&B, Château de l’Abbaye de Moreilles. Just so you know where we are, Poitevin Marsh is on the Atlantic Coast, just north of La Rochelle and Ile-de-Ré.

Our bedroom building at the B&B

Our bedroom building at the B&B

We are greeted by the owner who turns out to be somewhat of a character. Our room turns out to be in a typical low stone building with blue shutters away from the main house, bordered by a hedge of lavander and with its own private garden. The beds and pillows are very comfortable and we have everything we need except a hot water jug but that is so rare in France that I wasn’t expecting it. The swimming pool is right over the other side so it is very peaceful.

Our bedroom at the B&B

Our bedroom at the B&B

We check the bike maps and set out for Saint-Michel-en-l’Herm, 20 K away so that we can cycle to L’Aiguillon-sur-Mer to have oysters for dinner (a round trip of 30 K). We park at the church as usual and have a moment of panic when Jean Michel discovers that he can’t unscrew the attachment that holds my bike in place on the bike holder. Fortunately he has his tool kit and together we manage to get it off. Phew …

The luxurious bike path that only lasts 2 or 3 K

The luxurious bike path that only lasts 2 or 3 K

It proves to be a little difficult to find the bike route but I eventually spy a somewhat luxurious path and we follow it for the next couple of kilometres. After that, we’re on a secondary road.

The inland cliff arising out of nowhere

The inland cliff arising out of nowhere

The countryside is somewhat desolate and very windy. We are surprised to see what looks like an inland cliff face rising out of nowhere. We later learn that nearly the whole marsh was once the sea which has gradually withdrawn over the centuries, with a little help from the local population especially the monks.

To the left, you can just see the bridge between La Rochelle and Ile-de-Ré.

To the left, you can just see the bridge between La Rochelle and Ile-de-Ré.

We eventually reach a dyke along the sea. As we get closer to L’Aiguillon, we have a view a far as the bridge between La Rochelle and Ile-de-Ré.

The beach at L'Aiguillon sur Mer

The beach at L’Aiguillon sur Mer

L’Aiguillon-sur-Mer itself is a bit of a disappointment. We are expecting something a little more lively especially as the summer holidays have already started. We push on a few kilometers to La Faute-sur-Mer hoping to find more activity. We do, but it’s very much a working-class holiday spot full of garish takeaways and fast-food venues.

The path to the beach at La-Faute-sur-Mer

The path to the beach at La-Faute-sur-Mer

We don’t check out the beach at La Faute because it’s a long way from the bike route over a sandy path. On the footbridge, there are several people fishing with carrelets, square fishing nets. They don’t seem to be getting much but probably enough for dinner!

Fishing with square nets on the bridge

Fishing with square nets on the bridge

We go back to L’Aiguillon and check out the three restaurants. We decide on Julie dans la Cuisine overlooking the oyster beds. It’s 8.30 by then and apart from three young waitresses, there is not a soul in sight. I ask where all the people are. “It’s Monday”, they say, and sigh. “Well, we know we’ll get great service”, I replly. We choose a table out of the sun and open the windows to let in some fresh air. It’s about 30°C outside but there’s a cool breeze from the sea.

Overlooking the oyster beds at L'Aiguillon sur Mer

Overlooking the oyster beds at L’Aiguillon sur Mer

We order oysters (unfortunately they only have N° 3 which are quite small) and mussels and French fries, along with a glass of the local wine. We taste it and it appears to be a sauvignon. I ask the waitress but she says she doesn’t know what it is and brings the bottle back ! Sure enough, it’s a sauvignon. She’ll know for next time.

N°3 oysters with typical vinegar and shallots sauce (which I don't like!)

N°3 oysters on a bed of salt with typical vinegar and shallots sauce (which I don’t like!)

 

A group of three adults, 2 children and a baby arrive and they are the only other patrons in a restaurant that can probably seat over a hundred people. The season does not seem to be off to a good start. Despite their size, the oysters are tasty but a couple of them have a brownish liquid. I ask why and the waitress goes off to see the chef. It’s because they haven’t been through the oyster beds. Hmm. I hope this isn’t going to be a problem.

Sunset over the dry marshland

Sunset over the dry marshland

By then it’s nearly 9.20 and we still have to cycle 12 km back to the car. We just make it before the sun starts to set. The long twilight, of course, is why we usually take our holidays in June and July. Tomorrow we’ll head further east to the wet marshlands. See you then!

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Posted in Cycling, Food, France, Restaurants | Tagged , , | 11 Comments