Loire Valley

The Loire valley is very geared up for cycle touring, in much the same way a railway is geared up for trains. The Loire à Vélo touring route goes sea to source, or vise-versa. It’s well signposted, its largely on quiet roads, or off road. Better yet the Loire valley has really bought into the route, tourist attractions all have bike parking, much of the accommodation has bike friendly certification,  apparently even the trains have special bike carriages.  You can imagine that in summer it’s rammed. I avoided that by going in October.

The Loire is famous for châteaus and wine,  so in some ways it’s not the kind of place you’d expect to find me; I don’t like wine, and nobility bores me quickly.

What I loved about the Loire was the quality of light.  The rivers mirror surface bounces this light around making everything seem a little ethereal.   The Autumn nights were cold, and come morning mist would rise off the river like smoke.  Mid mornings were still cold, but the mist’s  gone, instead the blue sky is everywhere.

Loire Barge

Cold clear mornings on the mirror of the Loire

“The river, a constant companion” is one of the route’s strap-lines, cheesy, but an unparalleled navigational aid. (We’ll neatly sidestep the day I got lost and cycled of the edge of my map; I was looking for a more challenging route – I found it.)  The Loire is a companion with a lot of character. Languid, and indulgent. The area isn’t cheap- it feels firmly aimed at the middle class traveller, there’s no backpacker circuit in evidence.  I was mainly camping, where sites were open, and these where generally nice three and four star sites.  Meals were of excellent quality – but prices also seemed notch above average. The harsh exchange rate no doubt exacerbating perceptions. All in all very sophisticated.

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More great reflections

I did check out a couple of the many Loire châteaus. On a rest day in Azay  le Rideau I visited the Château there. The palace is small and neat and both above and below stairs life is exhibited. Oak beams in the roof are like the innards of a ship.  The same afternoon I visited the troglodyte peasant village down the road, they cut their homes  and livestock shelters into limestone banks, complete with refuges for when raiders where sweeping through.  Its good to see both sides of the coin.

Azay-le-Rideau

There's a lot of Châteaus in the Loire. This one is Azay-le-Rideau.

The other château I visited was retirement home of Leonardo de vinci, Clos Lucé. The main theme here is the man, and his inventions and discoveries – reproductions abound in various sizes – could have done with a bit more interaction I reckoned though; of course I want to play with them, who wouldn’t?