The spin cycle
On two wheels through France’s Loire region, with chateaus and fine food and wine at day’s end
WE have been sprinkled with a bit of stardust. Our taxi driver from Tours to Amboise in the Loire Valley tells us his services are frequently used by Mick Jagger, something we could hardly have imagined when we hailed the Renault mini-van outside the railway station.
But now, keeping warm the back seat in which Sir Mick sometimes sits on his thrice-yearly visits to his nearby chateau, we learn he is tres sympathique and that he speaks excellent French.
This means a lot to the locals. My husband and I also like the idea.
As we near Amboise the immense former home of French kings that dominates the town, Chateau Amboise, looms ahead and we amuse ourselves by asking if this is Mick’s place. Not quite.
We feel especially cheerful because the idea of cycling through the French countryside has always appealed and now we are finally doing it. We have booked a Grand Loire Deluxe trip with operator Discover France because the riding is graded easy to moderate. We will stay in historic and stately places (including a night in a chateau) and there is a focus on fine food. Plus we will be self-guided — that is, on our own, with assistance from a local guide, who’ll convey our bags between hotels and is just a phone call away if we run into difficulty.
In Amboise, Hotel Le Choiseul is luxurious and fabulously French. The plumbing squeaks and the same busy fabric covers the walls, chairs and lampshades as well as the bed base, bedspread, canopy and curtains.
The service is personal to the extent that when we need a doctor during the weekend, the manager finds one who speaks English, drives us to the surgery and a pharmacy, then brushes off the favour by saying he feels we would do the same for him if he were visiting our country.
Our Discover France guide, Sebastien, arrives with our equipment: bikes, helmets, maps, GPS and panniers stocked with spare tubes, tools and water bottles. I get a new Scott hybrid bike and my husband gets a nearly new outsize model by the same maker to suit his lengthy frame.
The briefing is comprehensive. Before we left home we received regional information specific to our tour, our hotel list and final itinerary, phrasebook, packing list, emergency local contacts, and tips for tasting wine as well as for understanding European road signs, among various other useful material.
Now we work through our daily maps with Sebastien and learn how to operate the GPS. There are recommendations for our lunch restaurants that must be noted. God forbid we should miss a meal in this culinary paradise.
The distance we will cover during the next five days, riding along the Loire from Amboise to Saumur, is only about 100km by the shortest route. We will spend our time meandering about the area, taking in as much of interest (including the wines) as possible.
On one side of the Loire is the Vouvray region, which produces a delicious sparkling white. On the other side is Montlouis, best known for still whites.
For the next few days we will cycle beside the Loire River and learn about the region supported by this watery vein that, at 1000km, is the longest river in France.
Each day’s ride presents a variety of landscapes — through vineyards, past fields of wheat and corn, along narrow country lanes and across neatly coiffed French villages, each a likely candidate for a tidy town award.
The ride to Chenonceaux is about 15km. There is an extension that would take us in a circle back to Amboise, but after viewing the local chateau, one of several examples in this region of howwell
Cyclists head for Chateau d’Usse at Rigny-Usse in the Loire Valley, above; and the historic Chateau de Langeais, left