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Normandy - Loire Valley Tandem (plus 4 half bikes) Tour September 8 - 22, 2013 Prologue
In 2012 as we were riding the Bodensee with Hal and Lucy Moorman, we began to discuss a plan to organize a small tour in the Fall of 2013 with Discover France in Normandy and the Loire Valley. Hal made the initial contacts and put together a preliminary itinerary. We started to recruit other tandem couples and soon had the minimum 7 required for the trip to happen. The anticipated departure arrived and here are the accounts of the trip.
Sunday 08-09 September 2013: Fredericksburg-Paris-Giverny-Bayeux, France
We departed for the San Antonio airport with John Batterton in his indestructible suburban; the advantage is plenty of storage space for the tandem bicycle cases and our luggage. John dropped us at the front door of the airport and we were quickly checked in and resting in the United lounge. Our on time departure to Washington Dulles made for an easy connection and continuation in Paris. At the Charles de Gaulle airport we had to wait a few minutes before we could get our rent car, but soon we were on the way out of Paris on the way to Normandy…or so we thought. We had trouble finding the route and after circling the airport three times we were finally heading in the correct direction. The problem was due to a setting on the Garmin which was programmed for bicycle routes and not highway. Soon after leaving Paris the skies darkened and rain started to fall and continued the entire distance to Giverny. We found a pleasant hotel/restaurant as we approached the gardens of Monet and stopped for lunch. We had our first experience with a galette…similar to a crepe but made with buckwheat. We ordered the galette complete which meant it was stuffed with emmental cheese and ham and an egg. It was a nice light lunch. We then found a parking place at the home and gardens of the famous impressionist artist, Claude Monet. Because of the weather conditions, we discussed whether or not to pay the entrance and proceed, but since this had always been on our list of places we decided that visiting in the rain was better than skipping the site. The gardens are beautiful with thousands of colorful flowers in full bloom. The main attraction of course is the lily pond gardens which Monet immortalized in his paintings. Even with the grey skies and misty air, the setting was lovely. I’m sure we would have lingered longer in nicer conditions, but we still had over 100 miles to drive to Bayeux. We took a quick tour through the house which had many reproductions of Monet’s impressionist paintings. It was soon time to return to the car and continue the final leg to our chateau in Bayeux. Now with the Garmin correctly programmed, we found the fast “A” routes; this was a toll road but the wide lanes and fast speed was well worth the charge. We arrived at the Chateau de Sully about 4:00 in the afternoon and found Hal and Lucy and Bob and Judy assembling their tandem bicycles. We checked in and carried the luggage into our room; then changed into work clothes and started to assemble our bike. An hour later we were ready to test ride and then clean up for happy hour and dinner. We met our colleagues in the bar for pre dinner drinks before we were called for our dinner reservations at 7:00. The dining room was an elegant three hour gastronomic experience. The menu changes daily with the maitre d’ explaining in detail the choices and how each is prepared. Most of us chose one of the fresh fish selections although Hal wanted to try the pigeon. There were multiple courses and surprises between each; each designed to titillate and prepare the palate for the next taste. The final surprise following dessert was heavy cream with chocolate sauce and a chocolate wafer. We were completely satisfied with a wonderful meal, good wines and fascinating conversations. The jet lag and wine consumption had taken its toll and we were anxious to retire for the day.
Tuesday September 10, 2013 Bayeux – Arromanches:
Our first priority of the morning was to return the rent car the airport in Caen about 24 kilometers away. A crash on the highway just a mile before the airport exit turned the 20 minute trip into 40 minutes. We dropped the car and returned to the chateau by taxi. After a quick breakfast, we changed into bike clothes and met our colleagues (Hal & Lucy; Bob & Judy) for the ride to Arromanches. We chose a longer route to get a few miles of riding. The terrain was gentle through rural farmland lying along the coast. We parked our bikes in the center of town and walked to the Invasion Museum which featured the building of the port in Arromanches one day after D-Day. There was a short film to explain the preparation and engineering for the temporary port which was necessary to keep the invasion forces supplied. After the film we were ready for lunch and found a place specializing in mussels…only problem they had run out of mussels, so we found other appealing menu items. Next we walked to the 360 degree theatre where nine screens in a circle showed the highlights of June 6, 1944. We were ready to retrace our route back to Chateau de Sully; Hal suggested that we stop to visit a cider / calvados distillery to taste the local beverage specialty. The cider was ok with a nice fresh apple flavor; the calvados is distilled cider to 42% alcohol. It reminded me of an Austrian Obstler. But we did buy a small bottle for medicinal (sleep aid) purposes. We arrived back at the Chateau with only 24 miles on the daily odometer; plenty of time to shower, change and relax before happy hour and dinner. The Chateau de Sully is two miles out of the center of Bayeux and we would have to take a taxi if we wanted to dine away; we had decided that the convenience and the quality of the dinner and service beckoned us to stay for another fabulous dinner. We were not disappointed. The dining experience was memorable and we could have easily lingered for a night cap but the jet lag called us away from the table and back to our room.
Wednesday September 12, 2013 Bayeux:
The morning routine began at 8:00 in the breakfast salon; the discussion centered on the route for the day. We discussed several options, but decided there was enough to see and do in Bayeux that we would just tour there. The chateau is located only two miles out of town so riding was not the priority for the day. Our first stop of the day was to visit the famous Bayeux Tapestry. Becky and I had seen it 33 years ago, but now it is housed in a specialized facility that offered a movie about the tapestry and the Battle of Hastings. The visit comes with an audio guide which kept everyone moving along the 70 meter long tapestry at a constant pace. The audio was excellent, explaining in detail each of the panels which told the history of how a Norman, William the Bastard, became King of England. The tapestry is almost years old and was designed to provide the history to an illiterate audience. Our visit to the tapestry museum lasted a couple of hours leaving us ready for lunch before we continued to see the other sites in Bayeux. The cathedral of Notre Dame was only two blocks away from the tapestry, the logical next stop on the day’s tour. I have seen enough cathedrals in Europe but each continues to be an architectural marvel. We found a small café near the Cathedral where we paused for pizzas for lunch. Following lunch, we returned to our bikes and rode to the War Memorial Museum where we saw a film of the invasion and an exhibition of the equipment and munitions of the WWII. Adjacent to the museum is the British cemetery with over 4000 graves of the soldiers who perished during the Normandy campaign. From the cemetery we rode back to the chateau where we met all of the other members of our tour who arrived while we were in town. The orientation for the tour began at 6:00 in the conference room. We met our guide Juliene who explained the routine for the week and what we should expect. We introduced ourselves so that he would have an idea of who we were and our preferences for the tour. He usually doesn’t have the privilege of guiding such an experienced group of riders. We did get our GPS routes for the next day and then walked to the dining room for dinner. The menu choice was either pork tenderloin or fish of the day. I chose the pork; Becky took the fish. This dining room has a Michelin 1 star rating and easily met the required standards. Everyone was soon ready to retire for the evening as we had an early call for our first day of group touring in the morning.
Thursday September 13, 2013 Bayeux- St. Marie du Mont
The breakfast call was for 7:45 with all suitcases delivered to the reception by 8:30. Rollout was scheduled for 9:00. After the group pictures in front of the Chateau, we started the ride through Normandy under a dark and dreary sky. We barely rode two miles before the mist turned into a heavy drizzle causing us to stop to pull on rain jackets. That was the last time we saw some of our group as it spilt up very quickly. The rain was neither heavy nor persistent and gave way to broken clouds and sun within an hour. Our first stop was at the American Cemetery on Omaha Beach. There are over 9000 graves resting is this solemn site. It’s a beautiful monument to the bravery and sacrifice required to liberate France. We continued the route along the beaches stopping at the Omaha Beach Memorial in St. Laurent sur Mer and at Pont du Hoc. After walking among the shell craters and German Pill Boxes, we rode on to lunch in Osmanville. Most of the roads were small country lanes with little traffic although along the beaches the traffic was heavier. We found a restaurant that was very popular with the local truckers. The meal was hearty and good value although not a place I would want to visit every day. After lunch we had only 18 miles to our hotel outside of St. Marie du Mont. The Grand Hard hotel appears to be an old restored farm manor house tucked into a secluded location 1 kilometer off the highway. After checking in we elected to ride 2 miles back into town in search of a local pub. We did find a bar but it appeared to be closed so we went into the convenience store next door and purchase drinks from the cold case. We selected a couple of French Blonde beers which turned out to be some of the worst beer I have ever consumed. (Note to my beer drinking fans…skip the French blonde). Back at the hotel, we showered, dressed and went to the courtyard to enjoy happy hour with the rest of the riders in our group…the Moorman Group! Dinner was at 7:30 with a choice of baked cod or beef. Only one in our group tried the beef while everyone else took the cod. Fortunately the wine list was much more affordable and offered some decent Bordeaux’s for 19.00€. Conversation continued until when we all said we had had enough for the day and left for our separate rooms.
Friday September 14, 2013 St. Marie du Mont – St. Vasst du Hougue
The breakfast call was for 8:15; a nice buffet selection of meats, cheese, yoghurts, cereals, breads and fruits. Eggs were available on request. The weather forecast for the day was not pretty…a 60% chance for rain. The route for the day was a 40 mile loop through all of the Utah Beach battle sites and returning to our hotel. Our first stop was the Utah Beach and museum. This was one of the best D-Day exhibitions we visited; there was an excellent film as well as exhibits and equipment including the B-26 flown by David Dewhurst of San Antonio, Texas. After visiting the museum, we walked out to the Utah Beach before continuing North. There were plenty of memorials along the beach; we visited several including the French Freedom Forces and Quineville, site of German Regional Headquarters. We found a lunch spot across from the Found Freedom Museum; we ordered sandwiches and French fries. We learned to split a sandwich because each was a full baguette with ham and cheese. We continued riding to St. Vasst du Hougue which is a port town with a fortress dating back to 1686. St. Vasst was the turnaround point…we had 20 miles back to the hotel and only two more D-Day sites to visit. We stopped at the Batterie of Crisbecq and the Batterie of Azeville. Both were impressive German bunkers and pill boxes. We marveled and the massive concrete structures which lasted less than three days in battle. The final eight miles to the hotel were quick of rolling back road lined with the famous hedgerows. We arrived back at the hotel about 4:00 and beat the 60% odds for rain…never feeling one drop of rain. We had a little time to rest and clean up before meeting the group in the bar for happy hour. We exchanged our experiences from the day as we enjoyed adult beverages. The dinner call was for 7:30; the choices were a beef brochette or a lamb chop. I chose the beef, but probably won’t make that selection again…when one is from Texas the chances of finding beef which stands up to our standards is pretty slim. The comments from those who selected the lamb were that it was undercooked, but no one seemed to really mind. As the plates were emptied and the stomachs filled, everyone bid farewell for the evening.
Saturday September 14, 1013: St. Marie du Mont – St. Lo
We had to have our packed suitcases to the van by 8:00 this morning since we were moving to another hotel. Breakfast was at 8:00 and we began our ride about 9:00. We chose the long option of 57 miles with one stop in St. Mere Iglise. This is the village immortalized in the film “The Longest Day” where the 82 and 101 Airborne Divisions jumped behind the enemy lines. One soldier snagged his parachute on the steeple of the church and hung there for several hours before being captured by the Germans. There is a wonderful museum there which memorialized the airborne units. There is a C-47 and a Waco Glider in the museum. From St. Mere Iglise, we continued to Port Hebert for lunch. The skies were heavily overcast and the temperature had dropped due to a strong north wind, but fortunately there was no rain. We rolled along fairly flat farm land arriving in Pont Hebert about 12:30; we found a boulangerie, a fruit market and a bar for lunch. We bought sandwiches and pastries at the bakery, fruit at the market and then sat in the bar and ordered drinks to enjoy with the lunch. The terrain changed considerably from Pont Heber to St. Lo. We only had 20 miles to go but we entered a hilly section; so we were constantly climbing and descending the hills. Some of the climbs were more challenging than others, but the riding certainly wasn’t flat like we had ridden the previous 4 days. By the time we completed the 57 mile route, we had climbed 3500 feet. The Chateaux Agneaux where we were staying in St. Lo dates back to the 13th century. Old chateaus may look interesting on the outside, but the rooms can be a little challenging to make 800 year old architecture work with today’s conveniences. Our room was a large one but it was in a dungeon which had 10 steps down from the entrance door…a little precarious. Being underground, the room was dark but very quiet. We met in the restaurant about 6:00 for happy hour (the chateau did not have a bar) and then moved to the table for dinner at 7:30. The menu choices offered an entrée of foie gras or fish tartare, a plate choice of sea bass or beef, a cheese course and a dessert selection of chocolate cake or fresh fruit. Only one selected the beef while everyone else took the sea bass. Everything on the menu was very good! Following dinner, everyone was ready to return to their rooms to recover from the day’s rigorous riding.
Sunday September 15, 1013: St. Lo – Le Mont St. Michel
Today’s ride was the longest of the tour…76 miles with 3800 feet of climbing with a 22 mph head wind. The temperature was 46 when we woke up at 6:30. The breakfast was in the chateau, not in the restaurant where we had had dinner the night before. We had a nice selection of meats, cheeses, breads, pastries, quark, jams and fruits. Following breakfast we loaded the van with our luggage and prepared the bikes for a 9:00 roll out. The temperature had risen to 55 by the time we started and the sky was a beautiful blue…the brightest day thus far on the trip. The route today was strictly for riding with no stops for museums or historical points of interest. Juliene had warned us that on Sunday we could have a challenge finding a place to eat after noon. We were in Coutances around noon and stumbled onto a boulangerie where we bought some delightful ham quiche and a piece of foie gras. We pressed on over the rolling hills and into the wind stopping about 1:00 to enjoy our quiche for lunch. We stopped again just past Granville where Juliene was waiting for us with the van, offering a variety of snacks and drinks for the weary riders. The second half of the course was along the coast line with the breeze (wind!) coming off the English Channel. We had passed the ferry landing for the Channel Islands and rode on; we could see Le Mont St. Michel in the distance, but we had to ride around the bay to get there. What appeared to be only a few kilometers away was in reality of 20 miles of riding. Weary and windblown, we arrived at five in the afternoon; after parking the bike our first mission was to relax with a cold beer in the shadow of the famous island abbey. Later we meet everyone for happy hour and dinner. We had to preselect our menu choices before the trip. Becky had the salmon tartare, scallops and crème brulee…I chose the rabbit pate for the appetizer ad enjoyed the same entrée and dessert. We stayed at the Relais Saint Michel which is the closest hotel to the Mont. We have a spectacular view of Le Mont St. Michel out our patio window. The room is a two story suite and by far the nicest accommodation of the trip.
Sunday September 15, 1013: St. Lo – Le Mont St. Michel
We could hear the wind howling outside all night long and no amount of worrying helped to reduce the wind velocity. We met our colleagues in the breakfast room about 8:00 and enjoyed the complete buffet. There were pastries, meats, cheeses, eggs, sausages, cereals and yoghurts…something to please everyone. After breakfast we walked to the shuttle bus stop for the 5 minute ride to the base of the abbey. Le Mont St. Michel is the second most popular tourist attraction in France (the Eiffel Tower is number 1). We had hoped that on a Monday morning in September we would have a better chance with the crowds, but everyone had the same idea. The shuttle busses were packed to capacity and the crowds moved at a snail’s pace along the narrow temporary wooden walkway. Of course there was construction to impede our progress…so maybe if we come back in a few years the traffic will move more quickly. Now to add to this congestion was a mistrial force wind and a horizontal rain. We did take cover when available and ultimately reached the ticket lobby entrance to the Abbey. The route of the tour is designed to keep the crowds moving in one direction although the large tour groups did at times bring the circulation to a halt. It is a fascinating tour although the one common comment was that the walls were austere…no paintings or tapestries or any decoration of any kind to enhance the structure. The architecture is amazing considering the age and remoteness of the abbey. We completed our tour by 11:00 and returned to the hotel to check out, load the van and begin our ride to St. Malo. The weather had been changing with brief periods of violent storm followed by sunshine. The wind remained constant above 30 mph with gusts above 40. We started in one of the brief sunshine moments but within a few miles we had to take cover in a barn while a storm blew across. The storms only lasted 10 minutes so we could continue but the terrific head wind held our progress to an average speed under 12 mph. Juliene found us in a small village for a lunch stop; we decided then to take the shortest route possible to get out of the wind. There were a couple more intermittent showers but we finally reached our hotel at 4:00 in the afternoon. My comment after arriving in St. Malo was that this was the most difficult ride in my experience. I had climbed Ventoux but it had a summit and a downhill, but the wind never stopped. We stowed our bikes in the hotel garage and then refreshed and changed for happy hour and dinner. The Mercure Hotel is located about a half kilometer from the old walled city; we walked to a bar just inside the city walls which was reputed to have a good beer selection. We found the place and tried a variety of the beers; one called a “picon biere” was an amber ale that was flavored with an orange liquor…it was the favorite of all who tried it. We then walked to the restaurant to meet the remainder of the group for dinner at 7:30. The name of the restaurant was the Chateaubriand which seemed to cater to tour groups. It was a nice venue but quickly designated as upscale fast food. We had to preselect our menu choices before we left for the trip. All of the food was ready as we arrived so they could quickly serve and turn the tables. The food was OK, but not remarkable…certainly the blandest of the trip. Becky and I both selected the cod; we both thought a spicy cilantro salsa would have been a nice enhancement. But the conversation was lively as we recalled the rigors of the mega-windy ride we had completed that afternoon. Satiated but exhausted, we returned to our hotel for the evening. The 10 minute walk to the hotel must have been a little invigorating, because everyone wanted to visit the hotel bar for a night cap…the fitting end to a great day.
Tuesday September 17, 2013: St. Malo – Loire Valley
Today was our transfer day from Brittany to the Loire Valley; a much needed break from riding and the weather. We had the morning free to explore the old walled city of St. Malo and to walk the ramparts. The wind had abated a little but the skies were completely overcast with some light rain falling…certainly not ideal conditions for bike riding. We spent most of the morning walking inside the old city and along the ramparts with a stop in a coffee shop. Our mission had been to find a restaurant which had mussels; Ralph and Judy found a small pizza joint about 2 blocks from the Mercure hotel which had a chalk board featuring mussels for the daily lunch special. Four couples met there to enjoy this Normandy specialty. We each got a pot full of fresh mussels and a pint of cold beer. This lunch was a fitting farewell tribute to Normandy. Juliene had asked us to meet at the hotel at 1:30 to begin the 4 hour ride to the Loire valley. Back at the hotel, two vans were waiting to transfer us to the Loire Valley…each van had a load of bicycles on the roof…one had 5 tandems and the other had 5 half bikes is located has been inhabited since 2000 BC. It has a colorful and long history and was even a monastery at one point, but was finally converted into a hotel in 1958. We barely had time to change before dinner which was in the garden room overlooking the Loire River. This was a memorable meal with impeccable service. There were some pieces of silverware that I had never seen. Everyone had a piece of salmon to start before the salad course. Becky and I had selected the Pork tenderloin in a gravy with celery and vegetables. The dessert was some sort of a chocolate torte…truly a remarkable dining experience. . We were all thankful to be in a vehicle because the weather outside was rainy, windy and cool; certainly not ideal for a bicycle ride. We stopped once in a small town for a short coffee break and then on the Chateau Preiré at Chenehutte, arriving a little past 6:00. The plateau where the chateau Juliene finished modifying the routes on his computer and then uploaded the files to everyone’s Garmin for the ride on Wednesday.
Wednesday September 18, 2013 Chenehutte – Le Chateau Beauvois
We knew the weather forecast for today was not the best and as we expected there was a slight rain falling as we got up for breakfast. Breakfast was not in the Garden Terrace where we had dinner the night before, but in a separate dining facility. Everything one could wish for was available even crepes. The choices were almost too much to decide, but we all managed to enjoy this sumptuous breakfast feast. All too soon we had to the leave the comforts of a warm dry dining room and venture out into the falling rain to begin our 63 mile ride through the famous Loire Valley. Fortunately, the rain was light and intermittent and the wind was favorable so conditions could have been a lot worse. Our first stop was at a 5000 year old bridge over a small stream, from there we continued on to the Abby at Fonevraud and then to Chinon stopping there for lunch and a quick look at the fortress. Next Juliene was waiting at the Chateau de Usse which some say is the model for the Walt Disney Sleeping Beauty Castle. One interesting fact about the Loire Valley architecture is that all the buildings are constructed from limestone block. There are troglodytic sites all along the way where ancient civilizations once lived in caves tunneled into the soft limestone cliffs. By the afternoon, the intermittent drizzle had stopped and the roads began to dry. For the first time we had a favorable tail wind; riding on the Loire River levee with a tail wind and no traffic is about as good as it gets. We stopped once for coffee then again in Langeais for photos of the chateau and a chocolate sample from the local chocolateur. With only 7 miles to go the group of bicycles made a beeline for the chateau, arriving right at 4:00 with 63 miles on the trip odometer and 2700 feet of climbing. Most everyone agreed that today was our best day of riding. Our accommodation for the evening was the Chateau Domaine de Beauvois. The chateau had its origin in the 15th century and has undergone many renovations and additions over the centuries. It was converted into a hotel in 1967; it is quite comfortable and spacious and offers solitude and tranquility because it is located on a remote 350 acre tract quite a distance from the nearest town. After checking in and refreshing, we met for a wine tasting in the chateau cellar. The sommelier offered us 3 wines from the Loire…a white and two reds. Our preference was for the white, the reds were too light and overpower by the terroir…lacking fruit and character. The setting for the tasting was perfect in a cool, dark cellar with plenty of snacks; this chateau does not produce the wines but collects mostly from the Loire and Burgundy. We were offered only the three from the Loire for our tasting. We still had a few minutes before the dinner setting at 8:00; we chose to pass the time with a Heineken in the bar. We were called into a private dining room and seated at two large round tables…there were an odd number of place settings at the tables so Becky and I were separated at the two tables. This was too challenging for the wait staff who could not understand that our bottle of wine was shared between two people at different tables so one of us had wine service while the other was ignored. So when in France…ah c’est le vivre en France. We had no choice on the menu…dinner started with a raw salmon appetizer in the bar, followed by a skate fish pâté with a small dish of a citrus and tomato mixture to enhance the fish. After the entrée course, they served a roasted chicken breast which was stuffed with a spinach center accompanied with a vegetable tempura skewer. The dessert was an apricot tart with a small “milk shake” as stated on the menu…it was a double shot glass with spiced cream with tiny apple pieces in the bottom. There have always been some new taste experiences at each of our meals. Some quite good…others only interesting. This “gastronomic” experience was a good one, but because of the many other outstanding meals we had enjoyed until now, it will probably not rank near the top. No one wanted to visit the bar after dinner so everyone returned to their rooms.
Thursday September 19, 2013 Luynes – Montbazon
We woke up to the coldest morning of the trip. I had some time to fetch the bike from the storage area and clean some of the dirt from the previous day’s ride. We met for breakfast at 7:45…it seems every chateau tries to outdo the previous as new items appear every day. New items today were an apple tart, baked, spiced apple slices and the opportunity to squeeze oranges or grapefruit for the juice. I’m not sure why one would want to squeeze his own oranges because the juice in the carafe was also freshly squeezed. After breakfast we assembled for a 9:00 rollout heading in the direction of the Chateau du Villandry. Juliene reviews the next day’s route each evening and makes modifications to provide more interesting points of interest as well as more challenging routes. He has started to make these modifications as he has become more familiar with our group, its abilities and its preferences. Our route today took us back through Langeais, over the Loire River to the Chateau Villandry and gardens. We now trust Juliene to make venue selections and he hasn’t missed yet. The Chateau Villandry was nicely furnished with period antiques from the time of the French revolution. As nice as the chateau and its furnishing were, the gardens were for me the main attraction. These rank with the best I have ever seen. Juliene had advised us on which chateaus to visit and which to pass by based on his experience…there are too many chateaus along the Loire to see them all, but we have not been disappointed with any of his selections. We had about 15 kilometers to continue to arrive at Azay le Rideau where we stopped for lunch. We only passed by the chateau because it is on the itinerary for Friday to visit. The home stretch to our chateau for the evening was barely 12 miles; we arrived at the Chateau d’Artigny about 3:00 in the afternoon. Becky’s first comment was, “It reminds me of Downton Abbey”. Well, this is the finest hotel accommodation I have ever had the privilege of visiting and to add to the enjoyment, we stayed here two nights. The rooms are spacious, elaborately furnished with elegant bathrooms. There is a complete spa; unfortunately the prices to use the spa are not included in the room charge so instead of paying to sweat, I chose to buy beer in the lounge. This is a relatively new chateau…just a little over 100 years old, built by a perfume magnate. The architecture is quite different with very high ceilings, long hallways, huge rooms and showcase stairways. I have to digress back to St. Malo where our original hotel reservation was mishandled and we all ended up in a different and more modest hotel. As a goodwill gesture the Oceania Hotel offered us a free cocktail and appetizer. So tonight we collected…champagne and hors d’oevres for everyone served in an elegant hallway with a domed ceiling. Dinner followed in a private dining room…the menu was preselected. The starter was shellfish bisque with tarragon vegetables and chestnuts; the main course was pan fried pike perch with stew sauce and vegetables and the dessert was light chocolate cream served with bitter oranges. Crank up the wow factor another notch…this was a great culinary evening.
Friday September 20, 2013 Loop ride to Azay de Rideau and back to the Chateau d’Artigny
There had been some rain and drizzle in the night, but all had stopped by the time we walked to breakfast. Today was a scheduled rest day so everyone chose to sleep a little later, moving the breakfast and ride start back and hour. Another morning, another huge breakfast buffet…it’s becoming routine but remains outstanding. Our rollout time was 10:00 with a long and short ride options. Juliene would lead the ride because he didn’t have to drive the van, but at the split between the long and short routes, he would go with the long riders. Fortunately the rain had stopped and we had prospects for a good weather ride. Juliene lead us to Savonnieres for a coffee stop, a small town on the Indre River with an interesting old church and mill. We had no warning as we turned away from the river that we would face our most difficult climb of the trip. We didn’t have enough time to shift into the granny gear so we just pulled in the middle chain ring to the top. At mile 24 the two groups split, we had only 6 miles to Azay de Rideau. We rode into town on a different route from yesterday but soon found the restaurant we wanted for lunch and stopped for the midday break. We enjoyed a pizza and beer before we walked to a local bakery to buy an apricot tart for dessert. Randy has discovered that he likes chocolate éclairs and now called them a French Twinkie. Following the visit to the bakery we walked to the Chateau Azay de Rideau and toured this wonderful architectural masterpiece. I was particularly interested in the structural trusses which were exposed for a portion of the tour. The wooden beams in the ceilings are massive and have been in place over 500 years and show no signs of sagging or deterioration. There were some furnishings and wall hangings which added to the experience. We thought this had been one of the more interesting Chateaus that we had visited. From the chateau we had only 12 miles to the hotel. We made one stop at the Super U to buy some super glue, wine and peanuts. The glue was to repair my shoes and the wine and peanuts were for happy hour. Ralph and Judy also stopped at the Super U to buy and nuts; we pooled our supplies together and met on the plaza at 6:00 to start our party…word (sound) traveled very fast because in just a few minutes our entire group gathered around our table to enjoy the wine and snacks. Two bottles of wine didn’t last long among 14 people so I asked Juliene to drive me back to the Super U for more supplies. We returned to find that Maggie and Sebastian from Discover France had joined the party. Now we had plenty of wine to continue which we did until it was time to move to the Royal Dining Room for dinner. Hal and Lucy had worked up some clever lyrics to some familiar tunes for the evening’s entertainment. Lorrie, Becky, Hal and Lucy formed a quartet and sang the numbers before dinner. Of course to the delight of everyone standing around as each number brought back the memories of the trip. We then move into the Royal Dining room were all 15 of us sat around one huge table. Our first course was zucchini vichyssoise a smoked duck bruschetta…this was presented as if a boat full of duck was floating on a pool of soup. Next we had the best piece of beef of the trip: a veal filet mignon in a sauce with a mélange of vegetables. The dessert was a spiced fresh pineapple with a mango sorbet in exotic island fruits. One couldn’t expect anything less from this 5 star chateau. A few lingered to get the gpx files for Saturday’s ride, but soon everyone returned to prepare for the next day.
Saturday September 21, 2013 Montbazon – Amboise
Today was the last day of riding on the tour; fortunately the weather was the best we had seen of the trip. The morning was clear and crisp and refreshing. We met for breakfast in the chateau and then carried our luggage to the van for a 9:00 departure. Juliene had modified the trip to be a 47 mile ride with possibilities to visit an abbey, a no-name castle and Chenonceau. The routes were wonderful although we had a minor problem finding the route out of Montbazon due to road construction. We rode right past the Abbey and never saw it and eventually met everyone for coffee about 10:30. We did a quick ride by of the no-name castle and continued to Chenonceau. We bought tickets for the chateau and gardens and proceeded to tour this magnificent chateau. It was the best example of noble lifestyles we had seen. We toured there in 1980, but could not remember much from our previous visit. If you could only visit one chateau in the Loire Valley, this should be your choice. You can probably find plenty of descriptions and videos using Google. We paused at a nearby boulangerie for lunch and then rode the final 15 miles into Amboise. The roads were low traffic with smooth surfaces, but not without a few climbs to keep the ride interesting and challenging. We arrived in Amboise about 3:30, checked into our hotel and cleaned up for our 5:30 wine tasting. The wine tasting was in a small winery about a 10 minute walk from our hotel. The owner/winemaker gave us a tour of his caves and his opinions of wine. He was passionate about wine and how it must be enjoyed with friends and food! He had wines in his cave from the fifties to the current production. He does not own vineyards but purchases select grapes from the Vouvray vineyards along the Loire. He explained that in contrast to American wines which feature the grape variety on the label, in France the Village of the grape is the feature on the label. He offered 3 wines for the tasting, but they were all the same wine just different vintages; this was my first opportunity to experience such a tasting. The first was a 2011 Vouvray…very light in color, very fruity, dry and a bit acidic. The next was a 1996 Vouvray…this color was a little yellow; the fruit and acid were not present, leaving a very sweet, heavy wine. This was by far my least favorite wine of the tasting. The final wine was a 1988 Vouvray…still darker in color a way past its prime. It was musty…tasted of old cork with not a hint of the fruit. It was smooth and mellow, but it just came across as a tired and lame wine. He did serve one final bonus wine…again too old for a white Vouvray to be appealing. After we had tasted each of the wines, he then gave us a variety of cheese to try with each wine; it was fascinating to taste how each cheese ( a goat cheese, a blue cheese and a compti) affected the taste of the wine. Next he served a variety of fruits to try with each of the wines…again each of the fruits affected the taste of the wine. After the tasting we had an opportunity to purchase wine to take with us. The wines in the cave are not labeled until purchased, so we had to wait while they put the label on each bottle. From the cave we returned to the hotel for our final dinner together of the trip. There were lots of toasts and tributes for making such a wonderful bicycle experience. Here’s the menu…I’m not sure what it all means, but it was all good: Fine jelly ravioli flavoured anis, whelk, salmon and leeks; Stuffed quail with duck liver, first mushrooms and autumn vegetables; and for dessert Jaconde of blond chocolate with cocoa sherbet. Truly a chocolate lover’s coup de gras. By now everyone had had enough wine and food so that the only thought was to return to bed.
Sunday September 22, 2013 Amboise – Paris
The morning began with breakfast at 7:30…while the breakfast was OK, it was not as complete as some of the others we had experienced. The first agenda item for the day was to pack our bicycle into the cases for the trip home…this activity took about an hour and by 10:00 we had a few minutes to tour the Amboise Chateau/Fortress and centre ville before Hal led a devotional in the lounge of our hotel. Next we had time to visit the Clos de Lucé which is the home where Leonardo de Vinci lived the last 3 years of his life. The house had some interesting features, but it was certainly not a chateau. The most interesting feature of the tour was an exhibit of all of his inventions in the basement of the house. Many of his early concepts are still used to this day…what a true genius. The plan was for everyone to meet back at the hotel at 12:45 for a 1:00 departure for Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. We left Amboise under the brightest and bluest skies of the trip, but arrived in Paris under a heavy cloud cover. The trip was a little over 2 hours and entirely on toll ways…fast but not particularly interesting. We arrived at the Millennium Hotel a little after 4:00. We had stayed at the Millennium once before…it’s not special but it is convenient. Five of the seven couples were booked there for the final night in France. We met in the Irish Pub for drinks and dinner before the final farewells promises to meet again. Lorrie suggested we try to organize another tour in 2015. We all thought that would be a good idea so maybe there will be another chapter of this tour. For now we have returned home full of wonderful memories.