Tag: france

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?

Vercors Climbing

des Allières

A small crag, with an easy walkin – not the most picturesque location (althought the valley is), but for what it’s worth in my book ideal first day crag. Its situated above the Village of Lans en vercor, and next to the fire road leading to the des Allières Auberge. Much used by groups, softer grading, and in the words of Mike “where you want a jug, there are three”, all make a good confidence boosting start to holiday. And the best thing about this crag? In the shade until about 2pm.

Presles

Wow! The cliffs here are BIG. 300m in places. If you aren’t impressed, then you probably aren’t a climber. Presles is a catch all name for a multitude of sectors on these impressive cliffs which sit below the village of Presles, which inturn lies on the plateau above. We stayed at the municiple campsite at Coronche, which lies in the valley bottom. 2 of the days we where here it was hot hot hot (doh – that’ll be July then!) So we stuck to climbing in the morning and evening, at the Tina Dalle sector. it’s a little polished in places, and the gradings quite stiff – but plesant.

Salad Days IMG_5598
Salad Days. Does this count as one of my 5 a day?

Our third day here we spent at the less accessible Sector Guarany. After bushwacking down trough the steep wood, we found lovely if slightly ‘salad’ like climbing (some of the best all holiday I thought) – shame rain stoped play after just 3 climbs.

In summary, Presles is one of those places that makes you want to be a much better climber – there clearly loads of amazing routes in far out places- and despite it being great to climb there, doing easy stuff on polished single pitch sectors seems a bit of waste.

Lans en Vercors

A deceptively large crag, with loads of different sectors, and a wide grade spread (3b to 8a). From the road you can only really see the Sector des Trous (sector of holes), but round the corner there is another 5 sectors. We climbed mainly in the Sector Humour Noir, and the Sector des Trous.

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Lans Pierre in the Sector des Trous

The crag reminded me a bit of a Guadi cathedral or a Sudano-Sahelian mosque – It’s hard to explain, but have a look at pictures of these buildings and it might be clearer. At an altitude of over 1000m we never really found it too hot to climb here, although the weather was less hot in general while we were here.

Les Trois Pucelles

You can either translate this as the three virgins or the three maidens depending on your sensibilties. Les Trois Pucelles dominates the skyline at you look up from grenoble to St. Nizer.

Les Trois Pucelles

The first ‘getting’ lost happened in the woods on the way up – which is a thin trail up through the woods, and then up the gully. You start the route round the corner in the gully then traverse left to right, to get to the base of the middle virgin. First pitch, fell to me – a sparsley bolted traverse, when you set off you have about 5m of space below you – by the end of the pitch about 50m, but all OK, because even if it’s slight pokey, the climbing is easy. The second pitch is more wandering through a wood attached to a rope (think the 2nd pitch on Little Chamonix – but longer). The third pitch we never found. We thought we found it – but it wasn’t bolted. We tried some alternatives – random bolts leading us down dead, vertical soil, ends. In the end we abbed off, and went up the gully. This turned out to be a whole big adventure in itself – of the loose rock and caving variety.

In conclusion The Vercors is a good climbing destination – but probably best not to go in July.