What if the greatest journey in the world was all about the detours? In France, you sometimes have to shelve your plans while you sample the delights of the unexpected. We set off from Nantes planning to ride our bikes along the Loire to Chambord. We almost made it...
Chambord is a French history monument. It encapsulate François the 1st megalomania at its peak. Leonardo da Vinci’s Machiavellian double helix spiral staircase is a must-see. When our friends from Nantes invited us along on a bike ride along the Loire, our answer was, “Count us in!”.
Nantes – Trélazé, 100km
Cycling gear might not be sexy, but it’s not about looking good: ahead of us are 237km of cycle path to reach Chambord. Stage 1: Nantes – Trélazé. We set off towards the capital of slate country, Angers. The slate is characteristic of Angers rooftops, at the old mine, nature has reclaimed its rights. We set the bikes down by the lake and start a diving competition.
Trélazé – Souzay-Champigny, 49km
We follow the troglodyte trail, which links Montsoreau to Saumur. Miles of tuffeau stone have been hollowed out to create dwellings, halls, and caverns. It starts to make us feel hungry. We stop at the restaurant-in-a cave, Le Saut aux Loups, for lunch. We opt for galipettes, a unique local delicacy: mushrooms stuffed with tripe sausage, snails, or cheese, then cooked in a bread oven. Delicious! A few miles further and we get to Souzay-Champigny, a stone’s throw from Marguerite d’Anjou’s castle. We cross the Rue du Commerce, a medieval lane that is entirely underground. Now enthusiastic cave-dwellers, the kids don’t want to leave... But that's ok: there’s still room at the Escale Troglo, a guest house in the hillside itself.
Souzay-Champigny – Bréhémont, 32km
This morning we’re kind of over the bikes. Everyone is starting to feel tired, so we decide to split the difference: we'll knock off a few miles by catching the Interloire. This fantastic service runs from June-August, and lets you get on the train with your bike and rejoin the cycle path later for free. Perfect! In Bréhémont, we are intrigued by a funny-looking boat. Is it a pedalo? Is it a catamaran? No! It’s an aquacycle! And it looks like the islands of the Loire are paradise for beavers and herons. So, who’s riding with who?
Bréhémont – Chambord (or almost)
Blois-Chambord, everybody off! With only 15km still separating us from Saint-Dyé-sur-Loire, where François the 1st wanted to establish Chambord port, and through which travelled the materials needed to build the chateau, we’re on the right track! We finally arrive one puncture and two falls later, and we’re starving. Fortunately, our friends had the foresight to book a table in a good restaurant to celebrate the end of our Odyssey: Le Manoir de Bel Air. Our attire stands out in this gourmet establishment, but our hosts don’t seem to mind. The 17th century building is magnificent, and out on the terrace after lunch, we can bask in the delicious sun. Our aching muscles are forgotten. As is all concept of time... We’re cutting it a bit fine for getting to Chambord! Oh well. We head back to Nantes on the Interloire, with no more pedalling required. The castle isn’t going to fly away, we’ll be back with the kids next year.