Saturday, July 30, 2016

Amboise to Angers - and places in between

So my last post ended with Tours. Oh yes, I remember, that was the town with the cathedral (basilica, actually) where over a quiet Sunday lunch I talked to the American girl doing the same thing as me - sitting in the cafe reading a novel in French and consulting a dictionary every few sentences. And there was that older French man who joined in the conversation to tell us about how he was helping with the Cathedral's 700-hundredth year celebrations for Saint Martin and how so many countries were participating but not England. Mais je suis Australienne. Except when I bump into kiwis, and at the Musee des Beaux Arts in Tours that afternoon there was a Chinese couple from Auckland who were amazed that I would be travelling by bike and sleeping in a tent. I amaze myself too I have to say. But I have my very own Betty-bien-etre. The massages are a bit rough and she leaves my muscles a bit sore some days, but what a workout she gives.

And what came next? Well that would be Villandry. I missed a turn and had to ride back 5 k but it was worth every spin of the pedals. There is some thing magical about cycling right up to the front gate of some magnificent site, not having to find a car park miles away, never having to pay for parking, Just tie up the bike, and wander in. Oh, best to take off the high-vis vest though.
In case you havn't guessed, by this time I had fallen deeply in love with France. And now my time was running out and that made my visit to Villandry even more heart-wrenching. I don't know what it is about France that brings emotions to the surface. I was a bit raw all of that last week and a bit numb for the first week in England. At Villandry it was the elegance of the chateau itself, the fresh flower arrangements in every grand room that set off the decor, the superb formal gardens, and the landscape all around - wooded hills and green valleys and a little village nestled up against the chateau grounds, looking as if it had been there as long as the hills themselves. I wasn't expecting to but I loved the geometric gardens.

Villandry is one of the most-visited tourist attractions in France and I absolutely know why. A huge percentage of visitors are French and I love that too, the respect for their own heritage.

A bit of a misty grey day, matching my mood perfectly, and suiting a gorgeous silent ride on smooth trails.

Ending up with the romantic Château d'Ussé with its turrets round and square, cream stone and grey tile roofs and a matching medieval chapel in the trees nearby.

 The Château dates to around 1462, but most of what remains today is what happens when a fairy tale castle is adapted to become the country mansion for the aristocracy. It still has the fairy tale air though - in fact this is the castle that inspired Charles Perrault to write Sleeping Beauty. The approach road is stunning, a quiet little side road that runs straight towards the mansion, across a small bridge with a pond alive with the sounds of frogs. The municipal camping area was not far away, a short ride through the village of Reigny-Ussé.

There over 300 châteaux in the Loire Valley. But for the next couple of days my big excitement was reserved for.....

I knew it was around this time, but I wasn't getting much news. Keeping my phone charged was a constant challenge and I was conserving battery time for all map look-ups. So it was a 15 km gentle uphill ride the next morning before I arrived in a tiny little village with a tabac. A not-so-historic village, with a block of very modern mixed residential/commercial buildings facing the town square, all with green roofs and solar panels.  In the middle of the countryside. I'm skimming the local paper and I realised that the Tour and I would be in the same place this very day. The excitement!

I rode into Saumur that afternoon, the very place the riders had left from that morning. No, I didn't see them, just the remains of the media circus that had moved on with the riders, but I was close enough. I chatted with a man from the north of England who had stopped to eat a sandwich at a bus stop and as a result accidentally found himself inside the restricted area on the first day, sitting right there where the vans pulled up and the riders themselves got out and got on their bikes.

But before Saumur, Candes-Saint-Martin 
As well as being one of the most beautiful villages in Frances, it is the place where Saint Martin lived and died.

He was the man who cut his cape in two to share it with a beggar. The piece of cape he kept then became an object of worship and is the origin of the word chapel. You can visit the Saint-Martin collegiate church where his house once stood. This is where the legend of “Saint Martin’s summer” was born. Legend has it that the flowers bloom along the Loire in November to accompany Martin's remains which were transported by boat to the cathedral in Tours.

The village marks the confluence of two rivers, the Loire and the Vienne. I hiked up to the Panoramique, which has grand views across the Loire valley.

Quite a hilly afternoon ride through vineyards, hilltops marked by church spires and crosses, and then through a stretch of troglodyte caves. Some are studios and holiday homes now, others are just garages or store rooms. Some look just as they probably did in the 12th century when they were first inhabited.

And into Saumur itself, 'home' for two days. And finally, some sunshine.

Final stretch of the trip for me was into Angers. I camped the first night just outside the city at Les Ponts du Ce. In a bogan bar where I stopped in desperate need of water in the middle of a particularly hot afternoon, the barman filled my water bottle without being asked. He gave me directions for a short cut to the island where the camping resort, and told me that the name of the place was meant to be the Bridges of Caesar, but a painter making a sign got interrupted in his work and the short version just stuck. 

The only other cyclist I saw here was a girl from Whanagarei on the second day of a two-month ride she hoped would eventually take her up to the Rhine, north through Germany and around into Holland.

But for me this was the end of my bit of the Loire. I crossed the river for the last time and rode into Angers in the morning traffic, and spent the next two nights in a quiet youth hostel where I had my own ensuite room. From there I took the train to St Malo and a ferry to Portsmouth. Damn that Schengen Agreement that means I now have to stay out of France for 90 days.  
Stunning riding along the river down from Saumur on quiet roads

The chateau in Angers is well fortified with a moat and these walls

Inside the walls

More of the castle and a view over Angers

1 comment:

  1. A delight to read.Keep the posts coming please Judith.