We are still following the Loire as it slowly flows towards the Atlantic. It is a wide shallow river flowing over many gravel banks of yellow and white chalk or sandstone. We joined it at Orleans 3 days and 270 miles away. Sunshine all the way, in our faces, as has been the wind. It has been a steady headwind of about 20 miles an hour. French weather forecasts put it at 50 kph. Try pointing a hairdryer at your face for three days, while also getting the ambient air temperature up to between 30 and 43 degrees. We have forgotten what a tail wind feels like. The good news is that in this wind a cyclist’s fart reaches Paris way to the east long before the sound of it reaches the cyclist’s ears.
From Saumur there are small roads that hug the riverbank which we follow for about 10 miles. The river flows almost exactly from East to West and is flanked on its southern bank by rocky escarpments all the way. Vantage points allow a view across the the flat north bank while the rock on the south provide for many caves for storing wine. This is of course wine country, the many vineyards sitting on the southern hill and slopes. At one point we pass a cave called La Herpiniere selling sauvignon blanc. I know this because Ann and I visited here a few years ago. We still have the wine glasses. The wine itself is long gone. Whites predominate but we also pass through Anjou where a half decent rose can be found.
We make steady progress towards lunchtime exchanging the occasional bonjour with passing cyclists. The day is getting hotter, we are drinking plenty of fluids but need to stop for food. The small towns seem uninterested in playing any role as a victualing station as time after time we find whole streets closed. With blood sugars getting low we reach a road that starts winding up a hill more than usual. The D751 from Saumur uses the southern bank and thus hits the escarpment from east to west. The result is a series of undulations and mini hills through the villages and towns. Very scenic, quite tiring. At a panoramic viewpoint we decide the stop and eat what remains of this morning’s baguette. It is hot, we sit in the open air under a baking sun. The view across the northern bank extends for miles as we are high above the river. Time came to move on to try and find some food. The road continues to climb and bend. We’d got no further than a few meters when we saw a restaurant with an ‘open’ sign. So, all the while when we’d been eating a bit of bread and cheese in the heat, just above us on the road was a terrace restaurant complete with sunshade. On seeing the sign we both burst out laughing, if only we had kept going just a few more meters.The sting however was that chef had just stopped cooking and so no more food orders were being taken. Instead of a decent meal, we sipped ice cold coke in the shade while the staff had their freshly cooked lunch.
We cycle for another 16 kms until we reach a town that is open, sort of. Bar Tabacs might not serve food but they will allow you to eat what you bring. We find a boulangerie, buy the necessaries and sit in the shade at the Bar Tabac on the main street in Challones sur Loire. There are a few french loiterers, but otherwise any noises people might make are drowned by the tumble weed blowing down the street. Rural France is never open it seems, it is peace, heaven, unless you want something to eat apart from a baguette from a boulangerie.
We’ve been on the road for 10 days and covered at least 1000 kms. It is a challenge, make no mistake and personally the biggest problem is chalfonts. It is a constant battle to prevent a full blown crisis down there. Yesterday’s taxi was result of losing the battle temporarily. If you ever think of long distance cycling and even think about chalfonts being a problem then just get them sorted. Creams, a blow torch, pliers, it does not matter what you apply, just make it affective.
The last 30 miles was through the heat of the day, sapping energy and judgement. The views continue to be stunning. We finally reach our destination but at mile 70 the road decides to go into a series of uphill hairpins. We discover why later at the hotel. The town is an ancient fortress and thus is built at the top of a big hill overlooking the river and surrounding environs. There is a viewpoint just a few meters from the hotel. The Loire is silver in the evening sun which is setting while casting pinks, reds and oranges up to the clouds above. the viewpoint is atop a rocky escarpment probably 400 feet up. Way down in the valley on the northern bank runs the TGV to Nantes. words fail. we’ve just had dinner and a half bottle of Muscadet sur Lie and a nightcap of proper malt whisky. It could only get better if Ann were here.
Tomorrow is another 70 miles north to Rennes.
You just have to love France.