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La Loire en Tandem

Along the LOIRE on a Tandem – A discovery tour sprinkled with dream castles, spectacular gardens, unusual museums, grand cathedrals, picturesque villages, welcoming wineries, memorable extravaganzas and unforgettable tasting experiences that allowed us to gain back a few of the calories we burned on the roads and hills along this river, the longest one in France: the Loire. 

Blois (arrival day) 

At the heart of the city is the royal Renaissance castle of Blois, built on a promontory. From its terraces it offers a stunning view of the city. A very lively historical center modeled after its past as a royal city of the 16th century spreads around.

A visit to Blois, a city of art and history, can take on different forms: eccentric paths circumscribed by huge bronze nails on the ground, guided tours or simple strolls along the streets and “degrés” (Blésois stairs) allow one to come in contact with the city. Its rich patrimony from the 12th to 20th century (the city is on the UNESCO World Heritage list), the great diversity of its museums meant for all types of people (including a Museum of Magic – beware the dragons that come out of the windows every half hour!), and its magnificent gardens that provide memorable views offer visitors and Blésois an always-new discovery. Churches impress with their height, their majesty and their venerable age and detours to the Cathedral Saint-Louis and its crypt or to the Saint-Nicolas Church are certainly worthwhile.

A night at the Médicis hotel, near the train station, where a memorable dinner was served with impeccable service, awaited us. Highly recommended.

Our first day ended on a happy note with the Fête de la Musique that was celebrated in France on June 21st. Everywhere in Blois, outdoor concerts were offered on stages, in churches and even in the courtyard of the Palace no less!

Blois and the arrival of our tandem!
Towards Amboise (75 km with a few detours)

Early in the morning, a member of the tour operator Loire Velo Nature (LVN) met us and provided us with multiple maps, our road book with itineraries – for each day, a long and a short itinerary were suggested – maps indicating our hotels and tourist brochures suggesting many visits along the way.

Then our ride arrived! As per our request, it was a noble tandem! It was a hybrid tandem, with more robust tires that allow for biking on almost any type of surface. It is, however, heavier. With the gentleman at the front and the lady at the back (the weight is better distributed) and of course, excellent communication for teamwork, we were ready to go! It is highly recommended to plan to stop and go using the same foot and to ensure that the weight of each backpack is equally balanced. It is also advisable to inform your partner when you will suddenly stop pedaling since you share the same chain. At the back, you just have to pedal and let go. In the front seat, apart from pedaling, you control the direction and can change the speeds. The tandem is heavy, so it is not always at our beck and call. Plan early on when to change speed and enjoy the descents since uphill can be more challenging!

On this first day of biking, we chose the longest itinerary towards the Castle of Chambord with Amboise as our final destination. We enjoyed a superb day through forests, wineries and picturesque villages, peppered with a visit to the huge and magnificent Chambord Castle and its numerous towers. Breathtaking!

This itinerary, however, meant a big day of biking. We left the hotel at 10 AM to finally reach Amboise at 8:15 PM (the visit to Chambord lasted 2 hours and we took 20 minutes for a quick lunch). We had anticipated arriving earlier, both of us being good bikers and in excellent physical condition, but we had not counted on the irregular terrain. Needless to say we were quite happy when we saw the sign for our hotel!

Another alternative is always possible: drive directly to Chambord Castle and from there, bike to Amboise, which would cut the number of kilometers to bike in half.

Amboise towards Tours (60 km and a few detours 70 km)

We started the day with a visit to Clos de Lucé, Leonardo da Vinci’s last home in Amboise: a lovely castle near the Castle of Amboise (so close in fact that King François the First could travel between the two using a secret corridor). We had a very interesting visit to the apartments of Mr. Da Vinci, as well as saw a few of his numerous inventions. The garden is decorated with a few of them (grandeur nature).

We then started spinning towards Tours, zigzagging through the LVN circuit. We had to very carefully follow our road book. We sometimes missed a turn and ended up visiting an unplanned winery… it was not always easy to stick to instructions such as “turn left, left again and then right,” etc… Many small paths have no name and it goes without saying that winery lanes bear no identifications, either! Never hesitate to ask a passerby for directions, they were always very nice and helpful! Provided, of course, you meet one, which might not be easy in the middle of a wine yard - good luck! Close to Amboise, their help was nonetheless very useful.

Stop at the superb Chenonceau Castle, a real-life princess castle with its magnificent décor. Back on the road, we enjoyed a wine tasting break at a winery where the Sauvignon was so exceptional that we couldn’t resist buying a bottle… for less than 3 Euros! Our arrival in Tours was around 6:30 PM. We spent the evening walking the small streets of the old medieval city and its neighborhood. It was so beautiful and full of life on that superb Saturday evening.

Tours to Azay-le-Rideau (40 km)

The day started with a visit to the imposing and shining St-Gatien Cathedral. That day, we chose the shortest itinerary, with the intention of adding in a few tourist visits throughout our day.

The “eye candy” gardens of the Villandry Castle are a must-see. If you look closer, you will notice that these gardens are totally made out of vegetables. Hedges are made out of lettuce! Amazing and delicious! At the destination, plan a charming visit to troglodytes farms, where houses are carved in the friable rock of the region, called Tuffeau. This rock was also used for the construction of some of the 200 castles of the Loire: solid enough for walls and soft enough to be sculpted.

Ten minutes away from our final destination of the day, we had a small problem with one of the gears on our bike that limited our change in speed. No problem! While we were enjoying dinner in a lovely and excellent restaurant housed in a cave (called Les Grottes) the LVN team came and repaired the tandem – which afterwards rode even better – and we were ready for our next day. We arrived back at the hotel just in time to see the extra time of the EURO soccer match between Italy and Great Britain, and to see Italy win it with a penalty kick!

Azay-le-Rideau to Chinon (51 km)

We started with a small detour to see Azay-le-Rideau Castle, with a free guided visit that was quite interesting. Next stop was Rigny-Ussé Castle, the Sleeping Beauty Castle… yes, the one from which Perrault the writer found the inspiration to write his fabulous story that is still famous among children. Some rooms in the castle are dedicated to the fairy tale, with mannequins nicely dressed and posed in a few scenes. We could only smile at this kitschy side of the staged tale. The visits to the stables, granary and cellars were, however, quite interesting. It is worth noting that they are rarely open to visitors in most castles.

At the end of the visit, a surprise was waiting for us: rain. Our first truly rainy day!

Sophie dug out the raincoats in the satchels. For the cyclist at the back, the raincoat works perfectly (dress lightly under it, it is quite hot in there!). But it is not well adapted for the person in the front seat: to say the least, ergonomics were not good. With the wind, the coat flaps in the face of the cyclist in the back seat. We were certainly not going to beat any speed records that day! As a matter of fact, it was so distracting that we missed our destination and had to turn back.

Record or not, we had been “singing in the rain” for the better part of the ride. After all, rain can be inspiring!

Upon arrival in Chinon, a lovely surprise awaited us: a wine tasting at a cellar where hundreds of barrels of wine are piled up called “la cave aux plaisirs.” As usual, we couldn’t resist and bought an excellent bottle of 1989 Chinon, Clos de la Collarderie, and another one from 2005. The 1989 bottle was enjoyed at our hotel and we are keeping the 2005 for a special occasion in a few years from now as a reminder of this marvelous trip!

Chinon to Saumur (47 km)

Our day started with a visit to the Chinon Fortress, where Joan of Arc met the king. The free guided tour is a true history course. This visit is the most technological one of all our visits: a chip integrated in the brochure activates explanations at various moments during the visit, with multimedia presentations showing the evolution of the construction of the fortress through the centuries and videos showing scenes about life at the time.

Another notable monument on our road was Fontevraud Abbey. It is an abbey where monks and nuns lived on the same site without seeing one another. It was managed by a first abbess, a women whose authority was delegated directly by the founder of the religious community, giving her a real power, to the great displeasure of the men of church…

A small road zigzagging through fields and wineries and quaint and picturesque villages awaited us in the afternoon. This time, the heat was stifling. The thermometer indicated 41.5 0C. When we stopped on the top of a hill to admire some beautiful scenery, we noticed that we were literally covered with tiny black dots… upon closer inspection, those black dots moved! Aphids, midges, whatever they are, we were both covered with the tiny creepy-crawlies. Ahhhhhhh!!!! Fortunately, they don’t bite, but are so tiny… and they are everywhere in the air and glued to every inch of our skin. We had to live with them for a few hours (soldiers we met en route told us that they come with the heat and are part of the scenery!) This turbulent road leads us to a real gem: Cande St. Martin, known as one of the loveliest villages in France.

Saumur to Angers (75 km)

With a challenging biking day ahead, we began the ride by… loosing our way, only to get lost again 20 km further down the road, and ended up making a 15 km detour. We had planned to avoid the more demanding part of our itinerary and instead we ended up biking it twice!

In our defense, the last page of our road book was missing! We had to pedal 10 km, before finding a sign indicating where we were and telling us that we were headed in the wrong direction!

Close to Angers, we had a stop at the Cave aux moines for wine tasting, delicacies made out of mushrooms grown in caves, as well as escargot! Yum! Pure delights!

Final destination of Angers…with a small side trip to Savennières (35 km)

Since our last day was to be a long biking one, we decided to stay in Angers for one more day to visit it in more depth. It was worth it! Angers is a superb city to wander in. Some areas of the city reminded us of Paris, while others are more reminiscent of the small villages we saw en route. The ultra modern tram - installed in 2012 - impresses with its beauty and silence. The Angers Fortress is the biggest one we have seen during this trip and is flanked with numerous towers that are impressively tall.

The St-Maurille d'Angers Cathedral is another must see! For Sophie, this cathedral is very special, as her ancestry originates at this church. Her great-great (and how many other greats?) grandfather was baptized here in 1708 and his parents were married here as well. He left France for New France, where he started the family line, and then there she was, roaming the streets of his city of origin!

As a small extra…since the bike was still available for one more day, we headed to Savannières, a small village with a famed wineyard, Château de Vault. Of course, we couldn’t leave with empty hands – or satchels – just so we could remember those last kilometers because of the extra weight we had to carry!

In summary…

This biking trip was extraordinary. The picturesque roads we travelled, crossing forests, fields, vineyards and quaint villages was nothing less than awesome. Even though the region is known to be rather “flat”, villages are often perched on small hills. Hills on a tandem remain challenging because of the weight of the bike; however, descents are more enjoyable. The Loire region is therefore ideal to experiment with the tandem and the LVN itinerary is well planned, even if it could gain from being better marked.

We would be curious to hear travel history from other bikers… after a full day of biking, did they treat themselves, like we did, to foie gras, great cheese and delicious wines? After all, so many efforts must be rewarded equally in this country where history, nature and gastronomy get along so well!


On the tandem
Sophie Lizé and Martin Tétreault

English version: Christiane Théberge

We would like to thank Loire Vélo Nature for their help in organizing this trip. They took care of our baggage transportation between hotels. They also provided the bicycle, equipped with a small emergency tool kit as well as raincoats and a supply of maps, itinerary suggestions and tourist information. When a problem occurred with the bike, they immediately sent someone to solve the problem. Their web site gives all the information on tours and services they offer:

www.loirevelonature.com

 

Blois

Museum of Magic - Blois

Our reporters with their tandem

Chambord

Leonardo da Vinci's tank

Winery met en route

Chenonceau

Medieval houses in Tours

Château de Villandry's gardens

Troglodyte farm house

Sleeping Beauty Castle

Fontevraud Abbey

Mushrooms at the Cave aux moines

Angers

Château de Vault

 

 


  

 

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