The spin cy­cle

On two wheels through France’s Loire re­gion, with chateaus and fine food and wine at day’s end

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page - SU­SAN BREDOW

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

PIC­TURES: PHOTOLIBRARY (MAIN); SU­SAN BREDOW (BE­LOW)

Cy­clists head for Chateau d’Usse at Rigny-Usse in the Loire Val­ley, above; and the his­toric Chateau de Langeais, left

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