Destination: Loire Valley
by Andrew Stein
Bicycling through the Loire Valley occasionally stopping at vineyards and chateaus, feasting on French cuisines, and staying in cute hotels is about as enjoyable and romantic as it sounds.
Day 1: Getting to Tours
Accommodation: Hotel le Manoir in Tours
After picking up some more bread and cheese (and a couple pommes so that we felt a bit healthier), Gabe and I head towards the train station to meet up with Katherine, another friend who will be joining us at school next year. We had met Katherine only a couple brief times before, but we figure if she is brave enough to travel with us, we will probably be a fun group. We eventually find each other in the maze that is the train station, sit in a great pod on the train to Tours, and catch up on each other’s lives. After almost exiting the train at the wrong station, we make it to Tours, meet our trip manager and receive our bicycles. We have signed up for a self-guided tour and therefore are also given maps, directions, hotel names, restaurant suggestions, etc.
Tours is a cute even if touristy city. Many consider it as the main passage way from eastern to western Loire Valley. We cover most of the city after walking around for about thirty minutes, in which time we walk into the town’s 12th century cathedral and through its old city. There is a picturesque square in the old city where we find a cafe, order a couple drinks, and reflect on the French youth sitting around us.
Day 2: Tours to Azay le Rideau
Accommodation: Hotel de Biencourt in Azay le Rideau
Meandering through bike paths, the three of us stumble upon a small town where we find some more of the usual bread, cheese, and pommes. And after a short break, we continue on to our first chateau of the trip, Villandry. The castle is nice, but not as nice as the gardens with their well manicured mazes, vegetable gardens, and water presentations. Although most of the rooms come with descriptions of how and why they were used, we decide that it will be more fun to speculate about each room’s use. As a result, we end up passing through places such as the billiards room and the wine-tasting room. The rest of the ride takes us to Azay le Rideau, a very small and photogenic town where we enjoy a great dinner and a very nice hotel called Hotel de Biencourt.
Day 3: Azay le Rideau to Chinon
Accommodation: Hotel Diderot in Chinon
Now with soarer butts from spending copious amounts of time aboard a bicycle, the tour through Loire continues on day three. Disappointed by our lack of degustation yesterday, we begin the day by tasting wine within the first hour of our ride. We stop at Pascal Pibaleau Vineyard, located at 68 route de Langeais just outside Azay le Rideau, and instead of trying several wines, we are poured a sample of what seems like 15 wines. The wines are locally grown, so we buy a bottle because the bottles are inexpensive and the tastings are free with a purchase. Afterwards, to be careful not to bike under the influence, we walk around the vineyard for a little while enjoying the sunshine before continuing on our way.
Next stop is Château d’Ussé. The approach to the castle is as magical as even Disney could’ve dreamed. We bike down a long straight road surrounded by green on every side and the castle growing as we near. And any castle that inspires one in a Disney movie is worth at least checking out. As we walk through the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle, we are bit concerned by the excessive use of manikins in each room, but eventually we realize that the displays help us piece together what we remember from the old movie.
After arriving in Chinon but before finding our hotel, we stop for one more degustation in a wine cellar that has been carved into the mountain next to Chinon’s large fortress. As we taste the big red Cab Franc wines from M Plouzeau Vineyard, which is located next to the Chateau de la Bonneliere, Katherine chats with the server in French and Gabe and I try to stay warm in the chilly cellar. One château, two degustations and a day filled with more bread, cheese, and pommes makes us very happy as we arrive at Hotel Diderot in Chinon , from which we can see pieces of the Vienne River.
Day 4: Chinon to Saumur
Accommodation: Hotel de Londres in Saumur
We get a bit lost at the beginning of today’s journey; however, we make sure to at least keep biking in the correct direction and eventually we find the path. Our first stop is at the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud and its surrounding town, where we meet an aesthetic refugee. He enthusiastically approaches us with a book in one hand and his other outstretched, and then immediately offers that he labels himself as an aesthetic refugee. The three of look at each other, think the same thing, and then ask what exactly that means. Apparently, when he has lived in other parts of the world including northern California, walking around felt like having forks stuck in his eyes. The architecture was all haphazard, ugly, and incoherent. France on the other hand, and even more specially Fontevraud, is his escape from all that is aesthetically unpleasing. After a short talk about what makes French architecture so appealing, we part ways confused as to what has transpired because he did not try to sell us anything, convince us of anything, or capture any of our contact information.
The clouds loom as we leave this small town, but just as it starts to rain, we find another conveniently located degustation, where of course we stop for a taste. With pouring rain outside, we taste a couple more Loire Valley Cabernet Franc wines. We try to buy a bottle and set up a picnic in the winery; however, this apparently is not allowed (the picnic-ing that is). We are then forced to put on our rain gear, mount our bikes, and ride maybe 100m to the nearest cafe, where we each enjoy a hot drink with our previously purchased bread, cheese, and pommes. Our French touring meals had a very distinct pattern– bread, cheese, pommes, repeat.
We finish the afternoon by bicycling through the Saumur-Champigny vineyards before arriving at the medieval town of Saumur where we enjoy one more degustation before going to the grocery store to purchase some food for dinner at our hotel.
Day 5: Leaving Saumur
Katherine, more than anyone, is a bit anxious to get back to her long lost love, Paris. Gabe and I could’ve used some more Saumur (pun intended), but we are flexible and so we all board an early train as we leave the Loire Valley behind us.