Marbella is like the Saint Tropez of Spain – not that I’ve ever been to Saint Tropez. Not quite my style. But we want to stay a couple of days on the Costa del Sol which we have never seen before going to Cadix and Marbella has an old town which sounds better than endless high rise apartments with balconies overlooking the sea. The historic centre turns out to be rather kitch but we like the little park with its ceramic benches and fountain.
We’ve just arrived in Malta for a week of sun and exploring. It is 1°C when we leave Blois at 5.20 am and 15°C when we arrive in Valetta at 1 pm. After checking out our rental apartment, Marina View, with its stunning view of Vittoriosa across the other side of the Marina, we have an excellent meal at the Enchanté Restaurant on the waterside.
He very nicely manoeuvres under the rope with his passengers on board until he is close enough to swoop down and retrieve the hat. When he hands it up to me I tell him it’s an Australian hat. “From Sydney?”, he asks. “I’ve been to Sydney!”
The hat stands up surprisingly well to its dunking but I get sick of carrying a soppy hat after a while and strap it to the back of Jean Michel’s back pack. I won’t be wearing it near the marina again!
We’re in Malibor in the north of Slovenia, a country known for its hills. We ask for a bike map from the tourist office and study it. In Malibor, there are cycle paths everywhere so we assume that outside the town, the bike circuits will be well indicated. We choose n°3 north of the city, which goes through vineyards and forests and is 31 k with a total gradient of 390 m.
We get as far as Kanmica without any problem but there, the bike paths disappear. Next to the church, we find a board with a bike map but our circuit is not on it. Oh well, we’ll just head for Saint Urban, the first stop. We start on a busy road but soon take a left turn up a quite a steep road. So far, so good. Our new electrically-assisted bikes* are doing well.
However the road keeps going up. Surely this can’t be the circuit indicated? You would have to be a really experienced and extremely fit cyclist to get up here! We’re a bit puffed and our leg muscles a little strained when we reach a bench off to the left of the road. We drink a half a litre of water each, take photos and study google maps on my iPhone to check we’re on the right route. However, there doesn’t seem to be any other road. As we leave, we look over to the right and see our church in the distanace, still much higher up.
Eventually, just before we mount the last steep hill to the church, we see a sign indicating circuits 1 and 3. This must be the right route after all. The last stretch is extremely steep, probably about 40%. Jean Michel makes it up, but I have to get off halfway because I haven’t change into lowest gear (I’m still in 3 out of 9), even though I am in power mode. I use the “assisted walking” feature to push the bike up the rest of the way as it is pretty heavy.
The view from the top is absolutely stunning. Jean Michel is jubilant that our bikes have got us up such a steep slope (well, his anyway). I eventually get my breath back and drink another ½ litre of water. I take a photo from the window frame especially provided for visitors!
As we go back down the slope, I have my heart in my mouth, it’s so steep. I’ve never done this before. However, when we turn off to the left towards our next destination, Gaj Nad Mariborom, the slope is less frightening. We coast down for a while through forestland then up another hill, that is not nearly as bad, to the church in Gaj Nad Mariborom.
From then until we are back in Kanmica, it’s plain sailing, all downhill. Our bikes have excellent disc brakes so we don’t have to worry about overheating. I have also learnt very recently, to my great embarrassment, particularly considering how many years we have been cycling, that I don’t have to press both brakes on the handlebars at once. Just pressing the right brake (back wheel) makes turning and going down hills much easier. My only excuse is that the only bike I rode as a teenager had back-pedal brakes and when I first rode a bike with handlebar brakes, no one thought to explain about the two different brakes.
After Kanmica, we cycle for a couple of kilometers on the bike path along the main road and then join the bike path along the Drava River which we didn’t manage to access yesterday. We go past two timber rafts and learn about the annual timber rafting event in Moribor, one of its most well-known festivals.
We then ride past what is claimed to be the world’s oldest vine, planted 400 years ago.
We end up at the wine bar at the Water Tower, one of the city’s best-known monuments originally called the Gunpower Tower and built in 1555 as part of the city’s fortifications. However, it’s a fast day, so we just have tea as we watch the swans glide down the river.
After crossing the Drava via the footbridge and taking the same photos as the ones on all the tourist brochures, we go up a very steep path to join the roadthat takes us back to our hotel four kilometres away, on the edge of town.
*Kalkhof power bikes, with a torque of 70 kN/m. There are 9 gears and 3 settings: “eco”, “sport” and “power”. The battery has an autonomy of 70 to 120 km depending on how often you use the “sport” and “power” settings. The battery is removable and takes about 8 hours to charge when empty. Price: 2500 euro.
We’ve come to Paris for a long week-end to celebrate a friend’s 60th birthday, organised by her daughter as a surprise. As usual, we’ve fitted in a few medical appointments, as there is a severe lack of specialists in Blois, and some pleasure time with friends. I have found a home exchange with an Australian/French couple like us who live in a house in the west of Paris and exchange a two-room flat near Canal Saint Martin on the 5th floor. It’s not an area we know very well but our friends Susan and Simon from Days on the Claise always stay in this part of Paris when they come.
From what we can see, the area is very trendy. When we arrived last night, there were bars and restaurants open everywhere with people milling around the streets and pavements.
We’re in Rue des Vinaigriers just a short distance by foot from the canal so we set off to walk along it to the Bastille market where we’re going to buy oysters to take back to the flat for our traditional Sunday lunch.
We arrive just as a barge is passing through the lock at the end of our street. There is also a swing-bridge for vehicles that opens to let the barge through. We’re not the only people watching. Several locals are enjoying the scene and there is a group of seniors on a walking tour.
There are several humpback pedestrian bridges that give us a bird’s eye view of the canal.
We pass the statue of “Frédérick Lemaître, Comédien, 1800 – 1876”. The French actor and playwright was one of the most famous actors on the celebrated Boulevard du Crime, the nickname given to nearby Boulevard du Temple because of the many crime melodramas staged every night. It is notorious in Paris for having lost so many theatres during the rebuilding of Paris by Baron Haussmann in 1862.
We have already noticed the many beautiful Haussmann buildings with their finely sculpted doors and windows that line the street along the canal.
The next statue is La Grisette de 1830, sculpted in 1909 by Jean-Bernard Desomps. In the vocabulary of the 19th century, a grisette was a young seamstress who worked in soft furnishings and fashion, a flirt and coquette who occasionally sold her charms due to poverty rather than vice, so it would seem.
After a while, the canal goes underground and becomes a planted walkway called Promenade Richard-Lenoir. One of the four squares, Jules Ferry, is named after a French politician who drafted the 3rd Republic bills that made lay education compulsory in France. Many schools in France are called Jules Ferry.
P. Bouly, Carreaux de Faïence (ceramic tiles), on the left hand side is a reminder of the many factories that once flourished in the area.
On the right is a colourfully trimmed building surrounded by a fence – Le Bataclan, sadly famous for the terrorist attacks that led to the killing of 90 people in the concert hall on Friday 13th November 2015.
As we get closer to Bastille, we see a church in the distance on the left that we’ve never noticed before. Just in front is a sort of fenced-in area with small wooden huts. A sign on the gate says “La Friche Richard-Lenoir”. (Friche means “wasteland”). When I check it out later I learn it is a pop-up bar and open-air entertainment area with refreshment stalls, games and music that appeared in Septeember this year.
A sobering sign on the promenade fence has a bouquet on top: “In memory of police officer Ahmed Merabet killee here on 7 January 2015 in the line of duty, a victim of terrorism. He was shot after firing at the gunmen’s car during the Charlie Hebdo shootings during which 11 people were killed.
After more Haussmann buildings on the left and more modern constructions on the right, we come to the bustling market which is very colourful and pleasant under the trees along the promenade.
We find our oysters (from the same supplier as those we used to buy when we lived in the Palais Royal in the centre of Paris) and pick up some butter and baguette from two other stalls (we brought our Sancerre wine with us from Blois).
Now for the Vélib’ city bikes. We’ve only ridden them once before but after cycling in New York City, we figure we are experts. Although Jean Michel assures me they are exactly the same bikes, I don’t find them as comfortable. They are infinitely cheaper though. As an occasional user, you pay 1.70 euro for a one-day ticket (8 euro for 7 days). The first 30 minutes are always free (you can swap your bike at a Vélib’ station every 30 minutes or pay 1 euro for every additional half hour). (More information here). Three-quarters of an hour’s cycling in NYC (with Black Cat’s City Bike subscription) cost us near 20 dollars each!
We follow the canal back up as far as Hôpital Saint Louis. As we walk back to our flat, I try the baguette and decide it’s not very tasty so we go looking for a traditional bakery called Du pain et des idées recommended by our home exchange hosts on Rue Yves Toudic. Unfortunately it’s closed on Saturday, like many of the other shops around us, most of which were open late last night.
On the way we pass a building with Douches (showers) written on the front. I don’t know whether these particular ones are still in operation but there are still a half a dozen free public shower establishments scattered throughout Paris. You can find the list here. Take your own towel and soap :).
We go back to our flat, past Café Craft, a co-working space. I later learn that it caters to people without offices who need a space to work. It has fast internet, a comfortable working atmosphere and healthy food and drink and you can spend the entire day there if you want. What a great idea! Next time I’ll check it out.
But for now, we are going to climb our five flights of stairs, open our oysters and our bottle of sancerre and enjoy our favourite Sunday brunch!
We are in New York. The last time I was here was in 1979. For Jean Michel, it’s the first time. We are visiting my two grown-up children, Leonardo and Black Cat, who live and work in NYC. We have no agenda. “We’re in your hands”, I say. “I want you to show me your New York”.
The first day of our stay is a Friday so both the kids are at work. We want to see the Statue of Liberty which is French of course. There is another one in Paris. So after going downstairs to News, the local café, and having a coffee and bagel (which we don’t think is anything special), we walk from where we are staying in Union Square, which is ideally located in the lower part of Manhattan to the free Staten Island ferry on the southern tip of the island.
The sun is shining, it’s very warm, it’s 9 o’clock in the morning and New York feels much better than it did the first time I was here. The first thing that strikes me are all the fire escapes on the front of buildings that we all know from West Side Story. Black Cat later explains their origin.
Initially there were only inside staircases but in 1860, two separate fires destroyed two crowded tenement houses. In both cases, fire and smoke blocked the sole stairway, trapping those on the upper floors and claiming a total of 30 lives. Following the twin tragedies, public outcry forced the legislature to pass a law requiring fire escapes on all newly constructed tenement houses, followed by retroactive installation on all existing tenements In 1871, the requirement for fire escapes was expanded to include hotels, boarding houses, office buildings and factories.
We go past NYU, New York University, which occupies several buildings in the area. We come across several typiically American delivery trucks.
We walk through Washington Square which I later learn is Black Cat’s favourite park, very near to where she has a flat share with two Americans. It even has a triumphal arch built in 1892 in Washington Square Park to celebrate the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration as President of the United States in 1789. Through it we can see the One World Trade Centre.
We walk down Broadway until we reach Ground Zero. I have never watched any footage although I listened to the live reports on the car radio in Black Cat’s company in Paris on 11 September 2001. I was taking her home from school at the time. I was afraid that if I saw the videos I might never take a plane again. Today is 9 September 2016 and a man in a tourist booth tells me there is a parade at midday.
I have no idea what to expect at Ground Zero. We approach the first memorial, a black marble hole in the ground with water running down all four sides. Around the edge are the names of the 3000 people who died immediately or in the aftermath of the attacks. Roses and other small bouquets of flowers are scattered around the names.
I am overcome with emotion. It reminds me of when I saw one of the remaining pieces of the Berlin Wall near Checkpoinit Charly. There is a sort of hush around me and I see I am not the only person to be moved. There are people taking selfies which I find it difficult to imagine. We move to the second, identical memorial. Each corresponds to the surface area taken up by the fallen towers.
Nearby we hear bagpipes playing. We are relieved to have a little light entertainment. It turns out to be various police bands from throughout the country practicing for the midday parade organised by the New York Police Department to honor its 23 officers who died at the World Trade Center.
After listening to various bands we think we’ll skip the parade but by the time we visited Wall Street nearby, it’s midday and we watch the beginning.
We continue our walk to the Staten Island Ferry. It’s excessively hot (we even buy hats) and the crowd is enormous but so is the ferry and, as it turns out, there’s plenty of room to get a good view of the Statue of Liberty as we go past. By now, the sky is somewhat overcast, to my disappointment. It’s just after 1 pm.
After a 25-minute ride, we leave the ferry (we have no choice) and have a coffee in the terminal before boarding the next ferry back. We have been told there isn’t much to see on Staten Island and by now our feet are beginning to feel the miles we’ve walked today. The ferry back is much more crowded as it’s now 2.30 pm.
We take the underground back to Union Square after buying a 7-day pass each. The underground station is horrendously hot and the air-conditioned train is cold by contrast. We are glad to be above ground again!
We have an appointment with Black Cat at her office in Times Square at 5 pm so are pleased to be able to relax a little at home before going out again. The construction site opposite, which started at 7 am, stops at 4 pm, which is a relief.
Black Cat works in the most amazing building, with a help-yourself bar, lounge chairs and an eating area on each floor but the rooftop is the best! While we are there, we see a young lady stretched out on a sofa with her laptop propped up in front of her. It’s a whole other world! Black Cat takes us down to her office and introduces us to her workmates and boss. They are very relaxed and friendly. I’m even given a red publicity hoodie.
After walking through Times Square with its agressive neon signs, we cross Bryant Park and sit in garden chairs and listen to a guitar player. Black Cat tells us that she came to Shakespeare in the Park here during the summer. What a wonderful setting!
She then takes us up to the top of the 230 Fifth rooftop bar on 5th Avenue to see New York at night. There are crowds of people but we are still able to appreciate the amazing view. We don’t stop for a drink – we could be here forever!
We finish the evening at Leonardo’s flat-share on Lexington Avenue in Kips Bays where he has cooked us some excellent steaks. We start with a cocktail which seems appropriate in Manhattan. He takes onto his balcony which is away from the street and we are surrounded with the constant hum of air-conditioners.
By the time we walk back to Union Square, we are ready for bed! The weekend promises to be full on.
At the end of Secret Blois #1, I left you in Place Louis XII, the most animated part of Blois and home to a twice-weekly fresh produce market. You may have noticed a certain uniformity in the buildings around you. During World War II, Blois was occupied by the German army which invaded the city on 18th June 1940. It was liberated by American soldiers during the last two weeks of August 1944. On both occasions, the town was bombed for several days particularly after the Normandy landings, destroying more than 1500 buildings, especially in the area around Place Louis XII, the railway bridge over the Loire and Gabriel Bridge.
The château was saved by a pragmatic decision taken by the local authorities. The German bombs started fires in the city and the chateau was in danger so some of the mediaeval houses around the chateau were deliberately blown up by the locals to form a firebreak to protect the château. The Germans were aiming for the bridge in order to stop people fleeing south. In those days there was a steady stream of refugees crossing at Blois and other places.
However, if you continue along the narrow street of Rue Saint Lubin keeping the Loire on your left and the castle on your right, you will find yourself in a much older area dominated by the 13th century Romanesque church of Saint Nicolas with its tall spires. Follow Rue des Trois Marchands noting all the little speciality shops along the way, many of which are on the ground floor of half-timbered houses that fortunately survived the war.
Continue along Rue des Trois Marchands to n°11. Initially called Auberge du Cigne, this inn, which was built in 1573, became Auberge des Trois Marchands in 1669 and gave its name to the street which was full of hostels and inns: l’Ecrevisse (opposite the pharmacy at n° 17), La Fontaine (the site of the Tuile d’Or, today n° 19), La Croix Blanche (n° 21) and many more which have now disappeared.
On the right of the church of Saint Nicolas when you are facing the entrance, you can see a fountain built into the wall of the cloisters of the old Saint Laumer Abbey. Foix or Saint-Laumer Fountain was the only one not supplied by the Gouffre, a reservoir gouged out of rock to which a 529-metre long aqueduct brought rainwater and seepage water collected on the limestone plateau. The Gouffre is at the bottom of the staircase called Degrés du Gouffre which we will visit on another occasion. This is the third fountain we have seen so far out of the seven that still remain in a city once renowned for its “glorious fountains” to quote the historian Noël Mars, writing in 1646.
On the next corner on the right is the Musée de la Résistance, another reminder of Blois’ war history. Turn right in front of the Auberge Ligérienne Hotel and onto Place de la Grève to find the best-known and most elegant place to stay in the 17th and 18th centuries: Hôtellerie de la Galère. At that time, it was right on the quay, near the old river port of Grève. at 3 place de la Grève. It was first mentioned in 1611 and finally disappeared in 1825. Its illustrious guests include Nicolas Fouquet (Louis XIV’s finance minister who got too big for his boots and built Vaux-le-Vicomte), Madame de Sévigné, James II of England, Philippe V, the Prince of Wales in 1711, Mehemet Effendi and the Spanish Infanta. Sadly, all that is left today is a window with a balcony and a carriage entrance at 6 rue de la Grève.
Back on Place de la Grève, turn left to walk along the river towards Pont Gabriel bridge and past Saint-Laumer Abbey which now houses the region’s administrative offices.
A little further on, on Place Jacques Lob, you’ll see a building with two comic characters on the front – La Maison de la BD. A BD is a bande dessinée ou comic strip, an art form that is extremely popular in France among both children and adults. Blois holds a comic festival every year called BD Boum. This year (2016), it will take place on 17 and 18 November. The characters, Bill & Boule, first appeared in a Belgian comic book called Spirou in 1959.
If you take a short deviation left into Rue des Jacobins on the left, you will see the front entrance with a drawing by François Bourgeon. Millions of copies of Bourgeon’s albums have been sold. He’s particularly well-known for his heroines. The BD centre runs temporary exhibitions and comic strip classes for teenagers and adults.
Back on Quai de la Saussaye, you will come to Square Valin de la Vaissière on top of an underground parking lot. A black marble monument to Colonel Henri Valin de la Vaissière on the edge of the square closest to Place Louis XII is yet another reminder of World War II. Born in 1901, Vallin initially trained as an air force officer. After his unit was disbanded in 1942, he joined the ORA (Organisation de résistance dans l’armée) where he was known as “Valin”. Unfortunately, he was assassinated by a deranged subaltern in December 1944, after a regiment of Resistance fighters under his orders expelled the Germans from their barracks and liberated Blois on 16th August 1944.
Before the Germans left, they decided to blow up Jacques Gabriel Bridge which you can see on your right. Two piers and three arches collapsed but the rest of the 18th century bridge resisted. The only way that the daily traffic of 1000 vehicles and 4000 pedestrians could cross the river was by ferry. As a result, a temporary wooden bridge was built in less than 3 weeks. It was used for a year while a second wooden bridge capable of carrying greater loads was being built next to the stone bridge.
Despite enormous problems– flooding, lack of materials, very cold weather, etc., construction of the second wooden bridge began during the winter of 1944 and was completed on 2nd September 1945 on the 1st anniversary of the total liberation of the city. The new bridge was pronounced safe by the engineers but vehicles were asked to limit their speed to 15 kph and only trucks under 10 tonnes were allowed to cross. After three years of good and faithful service, the wooden bridge was finally replaced by the newly reconstructed stone bridge. If you cross over to other side of the road just to the right of the bridge, you can see the remains of the wooden bridge during low water periods next to the central arch.
Cross back again and turn left just after the Société Générale bank into Rue Emile Laurens. Take the first street on the right, Rue du Commerce, the main shopping street of Blois. On the first corner, you’ll see a couple of half-timbered houses that miraculously survived the Second World War.
At the top of Rue du Commerce, turn right into Rue Denis Papin and you’ll see a sunken fountain on your right on Place du Marché au Beurre, once the butter market. The original street level has now been raised, and the fountain is partially hidden by the terrace of the Saint Jacques Restaurant. It was given to the town by Louis XII under the somewhat uninventive name of “Neighbourhood Well Fountain” and renamed Saint-Jacques Fountain after a collegiate church that has now been destroyed. Since its construction, it has been fed by the Gouffre mentioned above. That is our fourth fountain.
The fifth is located further along Rue Denis Papin just before you get to the corner, on the opposite side of the street almost at the foot of the stairs. It has an interesting history. Called the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) Fountain, it used to be located on the wall of the old 15th century town hall, on Rue Foulerie. which was destroyed in June 1940. The fountain was found among the ruins and kept in the Lapidary Museum across the river in Vienne until a local historical association, Association des amis du Vieux Blois, financed its re-installation at the foot of Denis Papin stairs in 2005.
Now walk down Rue Denis Papin towards the river, staying on the right-hand side. You’ll come to three enormous metal keys on the corner of Rue des Trois Clefs (Three Keys Street), so named because of the many locksmiths who had their shop fronts on this once narrow street, widened after the 1940 bombings. It was in 1979, when the pedestrian precinct was created, that the municipal workshops produced the monumental metal sculpture consisting of three keys, 3 metres high and each weighing 420 kilos, in less than three months.
We’ve come to the end of our second tour of Secret Blois. Next time, we’ll cross Denis Papin and explore another old quarter of Blois with its many mediaeval façades, winding streets and staircases.
If you’re looking for something to eat or drink close by, you can go to Appart’Thé for tea/coffee or lunch at 12-14 rue Basse (Rue Basse forms a triangle with Rue Denis Papin when it turns the corner), dinner or lunch at Au Coin d’Table, 9, rue Henri Drussy or for lunch, dinner or a drink at Le Douze which is a cellar, restaurant and wine bar, Place Ave Maria, 12 rue du Poids du Roi, or F&B opposite, all of which are on the other side of Rue Denis Papin.
Before I begin, just a little note to say that I really am talking about the Loir and not its cousin, the Loire River. We’ve been to Lavardin before – on a cold winter’s day in December last year during the Christmas markets – and promised we’d come back and cycle around the area in the summer.
We’ve found an itinerary on the web that we’ve printed out and are starting at Villiers which is the closest point to Blois (50 mins away by car). We park in front of a school called Louis Gatien which must surely have been something else in its heyday. Nothing else could explain the entrance!
It has a large round building at one end that I later discover is a water tower with an artesian bore built by a Mr Fortier in 1868 for his personal use. It also supplied water to a wash-house; any surplus water was taken via a ditch to the Loir. Maybe the school was his house.
The centre of little town of Villiers, which has a population of just over 1,000, seems to be thriving. Around the central square is a church, a town hall with a 2-metre diameter monumental clock, a baker, a butcher, a Proxi supermarket, a bar, a restaurant and a hair-dressing salon. It’s Sunday morning and bustling with people.
We see the little green and white bike route sign indicating Loire à Vélo and start following it. We are also on the Camino path. We go past an amazing number of troglodyte dwellings, some of which are quite sophisticated. One even has crenellations and bull’s eyes!
The first village is Thoré la Rochette built over the river. It has a hotel/bar/restaurant that is actually open (but it’s too soon for a capuccino stop).
We keep following the little bike signs until we come to another very busy place: a train station that doubles as a wine-tasting venue. The red and white wine produced in the area is vendomois, made with chenin and pinot d’aunis grapes, a cousin of chenin blanc. The room is full of people so we don’t taste any wine.
The station has been rehabilitated for the Loir Valley tourist train, a rural railcar from the 1950s. The 2 ¾ hour trip stops at the troglodyte village of Tröo and the “tunnel of history” in Montoire where Pétain and Hitler met up during the Second World War. I try out the “dry toilets” and wonder why there aren’t more along the bike paths in France.
We continue towards Rimay past more troglodyte houses. What a pity we can’t have our picnic at this one!
At one point we can see the ruined castle of Lavardin in the distance. With some difficulty regarding signage (our itinerary no longer coincides with the Loire à Vélo bike route), we arrive in Montoire. We should have gone to the left of the roundabout with the waterwheel and not to the right.
I don’t know the reason behind the flags on the town hall in Montoire but I find them very attractive.
We finally reach Lavardin where we’re hoping to find some shady picnic tables. We find the tables – 8 of them, but only two are in the shade and both are occupied. Everyone else is picnicking on rugs on the ground.
As we continue on to Lavardin, we see the perfect place to picnic – shady tables on the banks of the Loir. Sigh.
Lavardin itself is much prettier without the Christmas market. We have a café gourmand in an open-air restaurant with a view of the castle. There is a stand with tourist leaflets on it and I pick up one mentioning the murals and frescos in the church of Saint Genest which we were not able to visit last time.
We walk around it as directed to find the sculpted stones that were included in the façade when it was built.
It proves to have a perfect view of the castle as well.
Inside we discover a magnificent series of wall paintings, two frescos and painted capitals that are well worth a visit.
Afterwards, we walk up the hill towards the castle so I can take some more photos. We can now see the church of Saint Genest in full.
The castle is certainly photogenic. Founded by the Counts of Vendôme in the 9th century, it was rebuilt in the 14th and 15th century by John 1st of Bourbon-Vendôme. After being occupied by members of the Catholic league, it was captured and dismantled on the orders of Henri IV in 1590. All that is left of the feuldal castle is a 26-metre high rectangular keep with flat buttresses topped with crenallations. The only remaining part of the two walls built in the 14th and 15th centuries is the entrance flanked by two circular towers and a drawbridge over a moat.
We head out of town and past a magnificent Pierre Ronsard rose bush and a church for sale, then have to backtrack. We’re in the wrong direction again.
We arrive at the waterwheel roundabout just in time to see the tourist train go by.
Our itinerary takes along the Loir and past more troglodyte houses.
We come to the little town of Les Roches d’Evêque whose church has an unusual buttress and see another shady picnic table that we now no longer need.
After more troglodyte houses, one of which is three stories high, we find ourselves on a busy road with cars speeding past at 90 kph. I see a sign off to the right saying Château Mézière so suggest we follow it.
It’s worth the detour! There is a beautiful Renaissance porch, a moat, a stately main building, a chapel, a boat landing and an orangery, all very romantic and used today as a wedding venue.
Unfortunately the upkeep must be enormous and much of the main building is very dilapidated.
There is a sign under the porch saying that visitors are welcome to walk around the outside without charge.
By the time we arrive back at Villiers, we are ready for an ice-cream. I know there is no hope of finding anything that might resemble a German Eiscafé but I’m hoping they might have a Miko.
The main square in Villiers is TOTALLY deserted. Nothing is open. So we visit the inside of the church of Saint Hilaire which has 16th century wall paintings along one side known as the “three living and the three dead”: three young rakes are called into a cemetery by three dead who remind them of the brevity of life and the importance of saving their souls.
The stalls in the chancel have some interesting sculptures as well.
Jean Michel takes a photo of a curious motif on a wall which turns out to be a clock jack made by Alain Henry, a copper manufacturer in Villiers, with the help of a fellow craftsman from Bourges. It recalls the legend of the Serpent’s Hole. Unfortunately, it is no longer in operation.
According the legend, in the time of the Merovingian king, Childebert I, who lived in the area, a dragon was terrorizing the population. Its den was a cave honed out of rock in Saint-André. The king ordered one of his prisoners, Brayanus, to kill the monster, in exchange for his freedom. Brayanus, mounting a chariot with long sharp steel blades attached to the wheels, charged at the monster while it was slaking its thirst in the river and cut it into three pieces.
We ride back to the car having clocked up 38 km and 2 hours 40 minutes and Jean Michel suggests we go to Vendôme for an ice-cream as it’s only 10 minutes by car. We find a vendor on Place Saint Martin that only has about six uninteresting flavours so we go looking for somewhere else.
Although we enjoy walking through the streets of Vendôme, which we have visited several times in the past, we do not find any other ice-cream vendors so go back to Place Saint Martin.
The result if very disappointing. Even Carte d’Or ice-cream is better! But we eat them in the cathedral cloisters and enjoy the view of the sun setting over the buttresses.
I later discover, to my great dismay, that we missed two major monuments along the bike path – Saint Rimay tunnel where Pétain and Hitler meet up during the Second World War and St Gilles Chapel in Montoire which was the priory of the poet Ronsard from 1566 until his death in 1585. It is said to have murals of exceptional symbolism painted in the 11th to 13th century. We’ll have to go back! But next time, we shall start in Vendôme and follow the little green and white bikes the whole time. That way, we won’t keep getting lost. Or maybe we should just take the tourist train.
We are on our way back to Blois from our cycling holiday in Germany and are looking for a stopover in France. There is nothing interesting midway but Troyes is about 3/5 of the way which is fine. We book a hotel that is a bit higher than German prices but seems to be well located.
We have been to Troyes already several times and I particularly want to go back to see the rood screen in one of the churches, after seeing one recently in Tübingen in Germany. Much of the city’s architecture also corresponds to more or less the same period of history that dominates the towns in Germany that we have just visited.
I’m a little nonplussed when I see the hotel, which is a Kyriad, a chain we have never used before. It’s three stars so I figured it would be like a Mercure. It looks very modern and ugly. Still, we only want a bed. It’s next to Conforama, a furniture chain. There is a bike path just in front of the hotel so we can’t even pull up there. Jean Michel waits in the Conforama parking lot while I go in. The girl at reception is friendly enough but does not seem to have learned to rules of polite conversation. “Do you want a bill or what?” she asks the person before me in French.
There is an extra charge for underground parking which I didn’t see on booking.com. The receptionist tells me we can park for free at Conforama which has cameras operating all night so I choose that. When we get up to the room, I decide I am striking Kyriad off my list forever. It is just too ugly and shoddy.
After resting from the 5-hour drive, we walk into the old town, which really is only 10 minutes away. The first thing we see is a set of beautifully renovated half-timbered houses that we don’t remember seeing before. Troyes, with its rich history, has a large number of 16th and 17th century Renaissance-style half-timbered houses that have gradually been restored since the 1990s, especially in rue Passerat.
Next, the cathedral, which I certainly don’t remember.
I do remember the main square, Place Maréchal Foch, but it was not this animated on our previous visits. We don’t think we’ve ever been here during the summer. Everybody looks are though they are enjoying themselves.
We head down the main street which is full of restaurants until we find Ruelle aux Chats on the right, which leads to Saint Madeleine’s church which has the rood-screen. The nave of this gothic church, which claims to be the oldest in Troyes, was built in the 13th century, while the chancel and apse were built in the 16th century and the tower in the 17th century. It is one of the rare churches to have preserved its Renaissance stone rood-screen finely sculpted by Jehan Gailde.
It is as magnificent as I remember. There is only one person in the church so we are able to take plenty of photos.
I particularly like the gold-painted calvary on one side of the rood-screen.
The ambulatory has a magnificent set of beautifully-coloured stained glass windows from the same period (around 1500) that show considerable technical skill.
After visiting the church we join the throng on the main square for an aperitif. We then have dinner in a street parallel to the main restaurant street. What I didn’t see is that our restaurant has a terrace on the other side which means that there are a lot of customers and obviously not enough kitchen staff! Our meal takes a very long time to come. But it doesn’t matter – we’re not in a hurry.
Next morning, after a good night’s sleep (at least the beds are comfortable), we leave our ugly hotel (the man on reception has more personal skills than the girl yesterday) and walk into the centre for breakfast as neither of us wants to have it at the hotel.
Visiting Troyes on a Sunday morning is a different experience. There is practically no one around and I am able to take more photographs. It’s even quite difficult to find somewhere for breakfast.
We go past the church of Saint Jean in front of which there is plaque dedicated to Marguerite Boureoys, the founder of public schooling in Montreal and “apostle of French culture in Canada” born on 17 April 1620 in one of the nearby houses and baptized the same day in the church. She died in Quebec in 1700, was beatified in 1950 and canonized in 1982 as the first female saint of Canada. If you would like to know more about her very interesting life, click here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marguerite_Bourgeoys
We finally have breakfast looking out onto the main square, with the Town Hall on the left and some of Troyes’ colourful old half-timbered houses on the left.
Our return to the car takes us past the Haute-Seine canal next to the 27-km long 3-meter wide asphalt bike path joining up nine of the surrounding villages. It’s part of a route that will eventually take cyclists to Paris. We regret that we didn’t try it out the previous day.
We discover the very attractive fountain in front of the Préfecture (Troyes is the “capital” of the Aube département, one of France’s 96 administrative divisions).
Oh, and I nearly forgot to say that the old town of Troyes, which is part of the Champagne region, is in the shape of a champagne cork!
Troyes, once a thriving drapery centre, is also known for its outlet stores – McArthur Glen, Marques Avenue and Marques City http://www.troyesmagusine.com/ – which we visited many times in the past until they were developed in the Paris region. However, now that we no longer live in Paris and Jean Michel is retired, our vestimentary requirements have changed and we do our clothes shopping during the sales in nearby Tours.
This post is my August contribution to Lou Messugo’s All About France link-up. For other posts about France, click here.
After a refreshing sleep in our sccond hotel room in Tauberbishofsheim and Spiegel ei for breakfast, we are ready to go. We’re on our bikes by 9.45 am and it’s already 17°C and expected to get to 22°C in the afternoon. This is the best weather we’ve had for several days. As we ride through Tauberbishofsheim, we take a few more photos and are soon out in the country. This is what we’ve been waiting for!
It’s Sunday morning and we see people milling around the church and cemetery but in this area, no one is dressed in traditional costume. Just out of town, there is a little chapel with a cemetery which is also popular this morning.
We go past a field of hops which seems to have an educational purpose and remember all the hop fields when we cycled along the Danube.
In Lauda-Königshofen, our first stop, we have a cappuccino at an eis café and the owner talks to us in Italian. Nearly all the eis cafés we’ve been to here are run by Italians. When he brings out the coffee, he shows us the sugar sticks – men for me, women for Jean Michel.
There are several attractive 17th and 18th centuries houses but Lauda-Königshofen’s main claims to fame are its vineyards, the little baroque bridge over the Grünbach with its larger-than-life statues of Holy Kilian, Burkhard, Michael and Nepomuk at nearby Gerlasheim which also has an abbey church.
The bridge is as romantic as the guide book says and just as I’m crossing it, I see a flock of geese walk timidly across the road in front of a calvary.
We arrive at the 18th century baroque church of Heilig Kreuz, built as an abbey church in 1723 – 1730, just as mass is over which means we can also visit inside. The apse is blue, which is unusual. Pastel pinks are more common.
The ride, which is mostly flat, continues to be very pleasant, following the Tauber and passing in between fields of hay, maize and wheat, with vines on the hillslopes.
Our furthest destination today is Bad Mergentheim which is a spa town. The marktplatz is very similar to many others, with a fountain in the middle and the rathaus at one end flanked by several half-timbered houses.
We cycle around a bit looking for a restaurant for lunch but there are mostly only cafés and after going to the tourist information office we end up in a Greek restaurant that looks anything but!
We have been told at the tourist office that there is an event at the spa with a 1920s theme. It seems very amateurish and somewhat of a disappointment so we don’t stay long.
I have seen on the map that there is a walking path called Pfr Sebastian-Kneipp who is one of my ancestors so we set off to find it.
On our way back to Tauberbishofsheim, we stop off to visit the little baroque church of Lauda-Königshofen where we had our cappuccino. We were not able to visit it earlier because there was a mass. It’s no different from any of the others except for maybe it’s blue draperies above the altar.
After 46 km and 3 hours of cycling and more sun than we expected, we’re glad to relax on our balcony at the hotel. We are still having internet problems though.
Next morning, it’s an intermittent fast day and we need to pay a visit to the supermarket. One of the things on my list is hard-boiled eggs, which you cannot buy in France, but which are readily available in Germany. You can recognize them by their bright colours.
We then drive to the little village of Elpersheim which is just a few kilometers from Weikersheim, the next village mentioned on our Romantic Road map and renowned for its castle, once the residence of the princes of Hohenlohe. We are on our bikes by 11 am and arrive at Weikersheim fifteen minutes later. It is already 23°C and, as you can see in the photo, we are not alone!
The marktplatz has a church at one end with gabled houses around it. It also has a number of contemporary statues of young girls which are the second attraction after the castle and very life-like.
The castle itself is extremely interesting. Unfortunately, there are only guided tours and they are all in German but we are given brochures in French so we won’t get bored. No photos unfortunately. It is one of the rare Renaissance castles that still has its original furniture. The plan is always symmetrical with the male quarters on one side and the female quarters on the other, organized so that you can see right through from one end to the other.
I take a sneak photo of the most prestigious bedroom with its golden cradle.
We then go into the Knights’ Hall which is quite overwhelming and most unusual. Completed in around 1600, it is 40 metres long with a painted caisson ceiling to match the three-dimensional stucco figures of hunting trophies.
One of the people in the group starts taking photos and the guide explains in English that he has special permission and that, as a result, we, too, can use our cameras. We don’t hesitate of course!
After the visit, we take photos of the gardens then find a bench in the nearby park to eat our lunch under the linden trees which are very common in Germany.
It has turned very hot and at 2 pm, we are only just beginning our 45 kilometer round trip.
At Tauberrettersheim, the next village, there is an old stone bridge with figures of saints and an unusual sundial.
But the sundials really begin with the next village of Röttingen which they have become a speciality.
The village also has several towers, one of which has been rehabilitated and turned into holiday flats!
By the time we get to our destination of Creglingen after a steady though not very steep climb of 4 kilometers, we need a cold drink, but have to content ourselves with a Coca Cola Light. No ice-creams allowed on a fast day!
Creglingen itself doesn’t have much to offer but a couple of kilometers further on, up a steep hill this time, is the church of Herrgott which has a famous 11-metre high early 16th century wooden altar. We decide it’s worth the climb!
As we leave Creglingen, I’m looking forward to 4 kilometers of freewheeling but Jean Michel suggests we take an alternative route. I stupidly agree. So much for coasting down the hill. On the other side of the Tauber it’s up and down all the time.
We have a rest next to the bridge in Tauberrettersheim and are amused by the second hand dealer opposite.
In Weikersheim, we discover a tower we didn’t see on our way through and take some more photos of the main square.
We are very happy with our two days of cycling and have now completed the main sights along the Romantic Road. We would have liked to visit more on our bikes, but the weather did not permit – it’s no fun cycling when it’s cold and rainy.
Tomorrow, we’re moving to the Neckar Valley, starting with Rottenburg am Necker which is about 170 km southwest of Tauberbishofsheim. So stay with us on our last week of cycling in Germany.
OTHER POSTS ABOUT CYCLING IN GERMANYCycling in Germany – Tips & Tricks Cycling in Germany #1 – Kobern-Kondorf on the Moselle Cycling in Germany #2 – Rhine from Saint Goar to Lorch Cycling in Germany #3 – Cochem to Zell on the Moselle Cycling in Germany #4 – Koblenz where the Moselle meets the Rhine Cycling in Germany #5 – Bad Schaugen to Pirna along the Elbe Cycling in Germany #6 – Bastei Rocks, Honigen and over the border to Czech Republic Cycling in Germany #7 – Dresden: accommodation & car trouble and Baroque Treasure Cycling in Germany #8 – Dresden Neustadt: Kunsthof Passage, Pfund’s Molkerei, a broom shop & trompe l’oeil Cycling in Germany #9 – Country roads around Niderlommatzsch on the Elbe Cycling in Germany #10 – Meissen on the Elbe Cycling in Germany #11 – Martin Luther Country: Torgau on the Elbe Cycling in Germany #12 – Martin Luther Country: Wittenberg on the Elbe Cycling in Germany #13 – Wörlitz Gardens and the beginning of neo-classicism in Germany Cycling in Germany #14 – Shades of Gaudi on the Elbe: Hundertwasser Cycling in Germany #15 – Turgermünde, the prettiest village on the Elbe Cycling in Germany #16 – Celle & Bremen Cycling in Germany #17 – Windmills & Dykes Cycling in Germany #18 – Painted façades from Hann. Münden to Höxter Cycling in Germany #19 – Bernkastel on the Moselle: a hidden treasure Cycling in Germany #20 – Trier & the Binoculars Scare Cycling along the Danube – A Renaissance festival in Neuburg, Bavaria Cycling along the Danube – Watch out for trains! Cycling along the Danube – Regensburg & Altmuhle Cycling along the Danube – The Weltenburg Narrows Cycling along the Danube – from its source to Ehingen Cycling along the Danube – Ehingen to Ulm Cycling along the Danube – Singmarigen to Beuron Cycling along the Danube – Binzwangen to Mengen including Zwiefalten Eurovelo 6 – Cycling around Lake Constance Eurovelo 6 – Moos to Stein am Rhein and Steckborn on Lake Constance Heading home to France after a month’s cycling holiday Cycling along the Neckar in Germany #1 – Ludwigsburg Cycling alnog the Neckar in Germany #2 – Horb – Rottenburg – Türbingen – Bebenhausen Cycling along the Neckar in Germany #3 – Rottweil to Oberndorf Cycling along the Romantic Road in Bavaria #1 – Peiting to Wies Cycling along the Romantic Road in Bavaria #2 – Lechbruck to Fussen via Neuschwanstein Castle Cycling along the Romantic Road in Bavaria #3 – Peiting to Diessen Cycling along the Romantic Road in Bavaria #4 – Augsburg Cycling along the Romantic Road in Bavaria #5 – Nordlingen, Wallerstein, Dinkelsbühl and Feuchtwangen Cycling along the Romantic Road in Bavaria #6 – Rothenburg am der Tauber and Tauberbishofsheim Cycling along the Romantic Road in Bavaria #7 – Würzburg Cycling along the Romantic Road in Bavaria #8 – Tauberbishofsheim to Creglingen
We’re on our way to Würzburg, at the northern tip of the Romantic Road, known for its wine and the former residence of the Würzburg prince-bishops, Unesco world cultural heritage site and one of the most important baroque palaces in Europe. The weather doesn’t look too bad but it’s only 15°C so we don’t know whether we will cycle or not. I am still feeling a little disgruntled after my poor night’s sleep.
We ask the GPS to take us to the Residenz parkplatz and we’ll take it from there. We find it’s always best to visit popular monuments in the morning before they get too crowded. I suggest we take our photos of the façade after our visit because the sun is on the wrong side. We join the queue to visit the inside. It goes quickly and we are soon in the cloak room putting our phones and cameras in a locker as they are not allowed. We later see many people blatantly taking photos which we find surprising.
Admittedly, it is very frustrating not to be able to use our cameras. The Würzburg Residence is quite sumptuous, with the world’s largest fresco by Tiepolo, an amazing mirror cabinet and various other Baroque and rococo rooms. I’m including two photos from our guide book and hope the authors won’t mind.
When we get to the end of the visit, Jean Michel says there are still some rooms we haven’t seen but we don’t know where there are. Then we see some people being let through a door which is closed after them. We ask the man who opened the door if we can go too. He explains that the rooms are only open during the week-ends to groups. However, if we wait for the next “house group”, we can go in with them. He goes off to find where they are up to and tells us they will be along in about 15 minutes.
We join the group which has a German guide with a very loud, clear, grating voice and spends more than 5 minutes in each of the six rooms. We don’t understand a word, of course, but at least we have time to examine the rooms in detail. The cabinet of mirrors is especially intricate. We find it’s all terribly over the top but are glad to have seen it all.
We collect our belongings and I take a quick photo of the Gartensaal on the ground floor with its beautiful frescoes by Bossi. An official immediately calls out to me not to take photos. I can’t believe it. Not a word was said to the photographers upstairs!
After a quick look around the gardens (there is a wedding in the baroque chapel so we can’t go in), we set off to visit the town.
It’s quite disconcerting as there doesn’t seem to be a proper centre which can be explained by the fact that Würzburg was very severely bombed during the war.
There are a few historical buildings that has been restored, such as the Dom Saint Killian, Falkenhaus and Marienkapelle, but otherwise, most of the buildings are modern.
We arrive at Marktplatz which has lots of bratwurst (sausage) and chip stalls but we’d like a real meal. At Juliusspital a little further on, there is a restaurant in a large tree-shaded courtyard but it’s a little more sophisticated than what we are looking for. Just outside is a small shady Weingarten attached to a Weingut (cellar door), called Bürgerspital, which has homemade wild boar bratwurst so we have that with an excellent dry gewurztraminer. We are in the middle of a wine region, after all.
The gewurztraminer comes in a pretty bottle so we buy two to take home to Blois. We later learn that it is the typical bottle of the Würzburg area. As we go back through the marktplatz we see there is a wine tasting stall. We find out how it works – you pay 5 euro to rent a glass and can taste as many wines as you want. Among the whites, we try sylvaner, riesling, weissburgunder (pinot blanc), grauerbungunder (pinot griggio), muscatel and muller-thurgau, all German. Among the reds, we try saint-laurent and maréchal foch (Swiss) and lagrein (Italian from the south Tyrol). In case you are worrying, we do spit most of it out, but the fumes still go to your head.
Enough wine-growers speak English or French for us to converse with them. No wine can be bought on-site. You can either order it on-line or visit the vineyard which makes the wine-tasting a very different event from those we have been to in France. When we give the glasses back, we are refunded 10 euro!
We visit a couple more baroque churches on the way back to the Residenz to visit the chapel now that the wedding is over. This time, there is no restriction on photos!
By now, the clouds have come over well and truly and the temperature is not high enough for comfortable cycling – or for taken a decent photo of the Residenz – so we drive back to Tauberbishofsheim where we now have a more comfortable room but I have to sit on the steps leading up to the second floor halfway down the corridor to use the Internet.
After a picnic dinner on our terrace we go back to our favourite eis café and the helpful waiter greets us from afar with a hearty “Bonsoir”! Tomorrow, we are getting back on our bikes, come what may.