The last time we were on our bikes was when we cycled from Ybbs to Grein in Austria on October 3rd. Jean Michel has cleaned them and we have put away all our gear but an unusually warm sunny day with 20°C maximum is predicted so we decide to make the most of it. We drive the three kilometers along the Loire to François Mitterand Bridge, cross over and park along the banks of the Loire, just next to the bike path. It’s about 3 pm.
We can’t get over how balmy it is. I keep having to get off my bike to take photos. The light is wonderful and the sky is a beautiful blue.
We continue along the new bike path towards Saint Dyé that takes us past Château Menars.
Then on past the pretty little village of Cour-sur-Loire which you may remember we reached via bike ferry during the summer.
We have our pause at the picnic table just opposite Cour-sur-Loire, then turn back- 25 kilometers and 1 hour 40 minutes of sheer pleasure.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are several unusual exhibitions, including a bishop’s bathroom, very luxurious for the times.
After climbing up to the rafters, we go down into the dungeons which explain why it once served as a prison.
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.
We cross the river to the other side and I am surprised and delighted to see a special traffic light for bikes.
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.
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.
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.
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!
My son Leonardo, who lives in Berlin en route for New York (and incidentally is the person who encouraged and helped me to set up this blog), is visiting for the weekend. We’re in the upstairs living room and Jean Michel is looking out at the garden. “There’s a hedgehog!” he says and we rush over to look. In fact, there are two little hedgehogs working their way round the garden.
I rush down with my iPhone while Jean Michel gets out his telephoto lens for Leonardo to use. I’m afraid to get up close and frighten them away, which is the advantage of a telephoto lens, of course. The results are fabulous.
One of the hedgehogs is still there when we’re having lunch in the garden so our entire time is spent jumping up to take another photo or video. It turns out that the hedgehog isn’t frightened at all which is strange as they are nocturnal creatures. Leonardo suddenly says, “I want a selfie with the hedgehog” and lies down on the grass next to it!
After lunch Jean Michel and I go cycling while Leonardo goes off to the gym to do weight lifting. It’s a pity he won’t be around more often – he would be very useful for lifting the freestone that Jean Michel will be using to make the new kitchen window.
We begin cycling at what I call the Giraffe Intersection because during the summer, they blow up a huge plastic giraffe for the kids to play on while their parents are snacking on focaccia and croissants at Pat-à-Pain. When they remove it in winter, I get completely lost.
Our route takes us through little villages full of roses and fields of barley, wheat and poppies. We’re growing our own barley, wheat and oats this year – quite by accident. The mixed bird seed on the window ledge dropped into the garden bed below and sprouted, much better than my lobelia and verbena seeds, but that’s always the way, isn’t it?
Ahead of us we suddenly see a horse and buggy. Not the tourist sort, but a real one. The man and young boy are appropriately dressed in colourful caps and there’s even a wicker basket at the back. They are obviously out for a Sunday drive. I have to take the photo without getting off my bike or getting too close as I’m not sure how these people would feel about being photographed openly.
One of the main reasons we have chosen this itinerary is so that I can see my favourite wall of roses at Château de Cheverny. They are just as stunning every year. I’m working on producing a similar effect with my Saharan roses (see apricot and pink roses in first photo), although my wall is somewhat smaller.
Our last stop before we get back to the car is the beautiful park in the pretty little village of Cellettes where we initially intended to look for a house – until we discovered it’s a thoroughfare for trucks from Monday to Saturday!
We do not regret, for one moment, having bought Closerie Falaiseau in Blois. And now we even have a hedgehog!
We’ve talked it over and decided that, based on the experience of the practice window, the kitchen windows may take a lot longer than expected and we may well have to forego our summer cycling holiday this year. I was hoping to go to Romania but we would need at least a month to cross half of Europe by car so the plan is now to go for short trips closer to home instead whenever my workload permits. Otherwise Jean Michel is going to be stressed out of his mind trying to get everything finished.
The practice window is now in place. The laundry still isn’t finished – it’s missing the sink – but I have no urgent work waiting for me and the weather forecast is looking good. After participating in the local garage sale on Sunday which was held in the grounds of the old school, we pour ourselves a gin tonic (our holiday beverage) and debate on where to go. I’ve been wanting to go back to Gien for a while to complete our porcelain breakfast service, especially since I broke one of the two egg cups.
Gien is a two and a half hour drive east from Blois along the Loire and is part of the Loire à Vélo and Eurovélo 6 cycle routes (the one that goes from Saint Nazaire on the eastern Atlantic seabord to the Black Sea). We find and book a B&B about 10 km out of Gien for the next evening – it seems to have plenty of positive comments on Trip Advisor.
By the time we get up and get ready – it’s amazing how much we always seem to need for even a short trip – it’s nearly midday. We take the motorway to Orléans then drive along the Loire until we get to Jargeau. We can’t find our Eurovelo 6 maps, which is annoying, but I’ve been checking out the route on my phone app. The 30 K return ride from Jargeau to Germigny via Châteauneuf-sur-Loire looks good according to the description.
The bike path along the river to Châteauneuf takes us past the inevitable gabarre flat-bottomed boats in Jargeau before offering wide-sweeping views of the Loire from the levee.
At Châteauneuf, we cross the 276 metre long suspension bridge (initially built in 1838) which unfortunately doesn’t have a bike lane, but there isn’t much traffic so we are able to stop and take photos.
On the other side, we turn right and evenutally come to a cluster of quaint houses with very unusual brick chimneys.
Another village follows full of somewhat ramshackle dwellings most of which are very kitch but I am thwarted in my attempt to photograph the best examples. There seem to be people all over the place!
We finally arrive at Germigny which is rather dull after the other villages along the way. It is not until we go past it in the car later on that I discover that it has a Carolingian oratory. Jean Michel remembers it perfectly from a previous occasion. I am embarrassed to say that I only remember having a cold drink in the café opposite. Jean Michel makes his usual comment about how wonderful it is to take me anywhere. Since I don’t have any recollection of a lot of the places we go to, I derive new pleasure each time we visit again! Now that I’m blogging I tell myself that at least I’ll have photos to remind me of where I’ve been.
On the way back to Jargeau, we stop at the café at the end of the bridge at Châteauneuf for a Coca Zero – it’s an intermittent fast day so we can’t indulge ourselves any further.
We reach our B&B at about 6.30 pm. The 18th century mansion, renovated and redecorated when the owners bought it twenty-five years ago, is set in a beautiful park. It even has a couple of peacocks. Unfortunately it’s a little early in the season for the male to be spreading his tail feathers. He seems to make a lot of noise though!
The room is spacious and full of light, its windows looking onto the park on one side and wisteria on the other – the perfect setting for our picnic dinner. Afterwards we walk around the park examining the different types of vegetation. Some of the trees must be centuries old. But we see how much upkeep is needed and are glad of our little wood which is so much easier to look after!
It’s the second day of our spring cycling weekend near Saumur. We wake up in time for 9 am breakfast at our B&B, Le Balcon Bleu, having slept very soundly in a comfortable bed after all our hills and dales of the day before.
We pass through the inner courtyard with its stunning Clematitis armandii and into the breakfast room. Well, you’ve already seen the photos – a cross between a brocante and an art gallery. Certainly a lovely room in which to start the day.
Breakfast is standard French fare, but of good quality: orange juice, fresh baguette, butter, several home-made jams and home-made yoghurt. Certainly not what Bread is Pain likes to see on the breakfast table though. We soon start chatting to our hostess who is a mine of information and since the other guests have not yet arrived, we invite her to sit down with us.
After breakfast, we pick up some local saumur-champigny vieilles vignes from Château de Villeneuve and drive to Fontevraud l’Abbey which is why we chose to stay in Turquant, as it is only a short distance away. The sky is deep blue but it’s still a little chilly to cycle.
We’re just in time for a guided tour suggested by our hostess, which turns out to be really excellent. They even have very light folding seats you can take around with you.
The monastery, which was actually a group of four monasteries, was founded in 1101 by a wandering preacher called Robert d’Arbrissel who had such a following that he was ordered to settle somewhere. There was a monastery for women, one for men, another for repented women and another for lepers.
Thirty-six abbesses ruled the abbey during seven centuries of monastic life, many of royal birth. The women’s lives entailed mostly hardship from what I gather as very few were there by choice. One of the nuns tried to poison another three times before being sent to solitary confinement (forever, I might add).
The French Revolution closed the abbey in 1792 until it was turned into one of France’s most severe prisons from 1804 to 1963. The thousand or so inmates provided the manpower to convert the abbey into a fortress, learning all the trades needed to do so.
Restauration began after the prison was closed and the abbey was open to the public in 1985.
We visit various rooms, starting with the church which contains the recumbent statues of Aliénor d’Aquitaine, one of the countries most illustrious figures in the twelfth century, along with the smaller statues of her husband, the future Henry II Plantagenet of England, their son Richard the Lionheart, and his sister-in-law, Isabelle d’Angoulême who was married to Richard’s brother John Lackland.
Next comes the cloister followed by the confession room in which the nuns had to own up to their misdemeanours including the aforementioned poisoning!
After visiting the enormous refectory to which a floor was added to create prison cells and most of the doors blocked up, we come out into the open.
Here it is at last – the most recognisable part of Fontevraud l’Abbaye – its strange octagonal kitchen 25 metres high with its many pointed roofs made of stone from Charente and not the local tufa which is much softer.
Its Byzantine style brought back from the crucades is very different from the other buildings. The 21 chimneys covered with fish-scales were used to evacuate the smoke from the smoked fish below, the monastery’s staple diet.
Although there are two restaurants within the Abbey, we decide to see what’s offering on the main square and are delighted to find there are plenty of outside tables free at La Croix Blanche. Nothing extraordinary but we like the setting.
Before going back to the car, we wander around and find the little parish church of Saint Michel in Fontevraud-l’Abbaye with its “chat room” built in the 12th century for the large contingent of labourers employed to build the abbey and was financed by Henri II Plantagenet and Alienor d’Aquitaine. It was extended in the 15th and 17th centuries.
Thinking of the hills that no doubt await us when we get back on our bikes in Saumur, I somewhat regret the entrecôte, French fries and wine!
We’re on our way back from Saumur to Turquant, having just cycled up hill and down dale in the opposite direction. We’re on the riverside cycle path on the Loire à Vélo route, which has just taken us through a series of troglodyte houses parallel to the river when another hilly path takes us up a winding street on the other side of the village of Souzay.
We have doubts – are we really supposed to go through that tunnel?
We stare in amazement as we get closer. A vaulted troglodyte village!
The first thing we see is a “jitte de pressoir”, a sort of stack through which grapes were poured onto the wine presses below. Jean Michel explains that his grandfather used to have one.
The next thing we see is the village well which was shared by the villagers
We then come to a mediaeval grocery shop with mullion windows on rue de Commerce which, the sign tells us, operated as a busy trading street from the 11th to the 19th century! More shops follow. A troglodyte shopping centre!
We continue through the underground labyrinth, with its many empty shops and overhead caves. It’s very eerie as it is late afternoon in spring and not another soul in site.
A more open area follows with an 18th century pigeon house. There is an oven with a long table and benches.
Signs along the way explain consolidation techniques used since renovation began in 2002, the subsidence that produced the open areas and the quarrying of local tufa stone for construction, which is how the village originated .
The blocks of tufa extracted from the rock and cut to size were taken out through a shaft to the level below using a pulley system. The next person in line placed them in a cart that took them down to the river. This very practical timer saver meant the carts didn’t have to jostle their way through the narrow, winding hillside streets.
It’s easy to understand why the villagers quickly took over the resulting cavities once the stone had been removed. Certainly a cheap way to get a house. I’d like to know how they got across the shaft in the sketch though!
This post is an entry in Lou Messugo’s All About France montly link-up. For more posts about France from other bloggers, click here.
We’ve decided to take advantage of the wonderful spring weather and do some more cycling further along the Loire. I’ve been wanting to go back to Fontevraud Abbey for some time so we book a chambre d’hôte in Turquant which is on the Loire about two hours west of Blois.
We have a picnic lunch in nearby Montsoreau which was a thriving port for the transport of tufa stone, wine, timber and grain until the railways took over in the mid 19th century. Today, it’s a sleepy little village with a château that livens up in the summer.
Then we drive up to one of our favourite panoramas just outside the neighbouring village of Candes overlooking the confluence of the Vienne and the Loire. Not as striking as it is in the summer, but still breathtaking.
After checking into our lovely chambre d’hôte, Le Balcon Bleu, we take the bikes off the back of the car and set off for Saumur where Jean Michel lived from the age of 3 to 17. We take the “high” cycle route overlooking the Loire which takes us past an amazing collection of troglodyte dwellings that have been converted into artists’ and artisans’ studios.
We cycle through the vineyards of saumur champigny and up and down an exhausting number of hills with an occasional stunning view of the river such as the vista from the narthex of the little church of Saint Pierre in Parnay built in the 10th century.
Some time later, I spy a picnic table and suggest a pause. I’ve remembered the biscuits and water this time, which is a good thing because there is no other sustenance along the cycle route. Jean Michel says we are very close to his old home and tells me who owns the surrounding vineyards. A little further on, there are a lot of new houses which he’s never seen before.
We arrive at his old home which was originally a cavier windmill like the one in Bléré and he shows me the roof he used to climb up on to read and look at the panoramic view. I can’t see any sign of a windmill but at the back of the house, he shows me part of the circular wall. Many additions have been made over the years so the house is quite a hotchpotch.
After turning right into the aptly named Rue des Moulins, we see the remains of several similar windmills, before coming out on Jean Michel’s favourite view of Saumur, the Loire and 14th century château. Unfortunately, it’s being renovated so the view is marred by scaffolding.
The bike path leads through a surprising mix of old and new buildings, including the beautifully renovated Maison des Compagnons (guild house) where the apprentice stone cutters are all chipping away in the open courtyard.
We cycle through Place Saint Pierre with its half-timbered houses and down to the Loire then turn right along the river, with the castle towering above us until we reach the imposing 17th century church of Notre Dame des Ardilliers which I remember from a previous visit.
The cycle route takes us up another hill and through a sort of tunnel, then past a series of troglodyte houses, much more sophisticated this time. Signs along the path point out architectural features such as mullion windows, watchtowers and arrow slits.
One of the troglodyte dwellings is actually a feudal castle owned by Marguérite d’Anjou, the French wife of Henri VI of England, in the 15th century!
Just when I think the cycle route is going to join the river again and spare my knees, another hilly path takes us up a tiny winding street and we begin to have doubts. But an amazing sight is awaiting us! Stay tuned.
We reach the village and discover that renovations on the pedestrian bridge are finished and that it’s decorated with enormous brightly coloured flower pots.
We’ve already been here and have only found one bar open. Another cycling couple (French) are already having a beer. Jean Michel goes inside to ask for a Coca Light (Diet Coke) and comes back to say that there only have normal Coke.
We’re in a wine-growing region and Candé is in the AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) area of Cheverny so I say, “Un verre de vin local“. The lady comes out with a CAN OF WINE. I look at it askance. Winestar, it says.
“You can look like that”, she says, “it’s excellent wine”. Yeah, in a can … It isn’t even local wine but corbières from the south of France. I have never heard of WHITE corbières, what’s more.
The beer-drinking man at the other table says, “It’s a French invention. It’s just come out. Very popular.” “Eu, they’ve had it in Australia for years”, I reply.
We taste the wine which is drinkable, but that’s about all. The lady returns, “So, what do you think?”. I don’t trust myself to reply but Jean Michel says “c’est buvable mais ce n’est pas un vin local.” “C’est un vin excellent“, she says huffily and walks off. An excellent wine indeed! “Caractérielle“, says Jean Michel when she’s out of earshot. “Elle est caractérielle cette femme” which roughly means that she has personality problems.
We finish our little glasses and cycle back to Chaumont, just in time to see a half a dozen air balloons taking off from the other side of the Loire.
I check out Winestar on the Internet when I get home. You guessed it, Winestar* is a wholly-owned subsidiary of WineStar Pty Ltd. based in Melbourne!
*I’ve since learnt that Winestar in France has nothing to do with WineStar in Melbourne, which is strange considering intellectual property law.