One thing I love about Andy is that he always offers to carry my bags when we stay in a Chateau.
So far our choice of places to stay has been determined by what is actually open at this time of year. As we pedalled into Saumur on a misty Friday morning (Day 10) we didn’t know what to expect. Over a hearty English breakfast (a welcome change from croissants) we were surprised to find a nearby chateau at a knock down bargain price.
It turned out we were the only guests, so here is our own private chateau:
It was 19th century with an air of faded grandeur enhanced by the managers passion for antiques. Creaking floorboards, huge mirrors in dimly lit hallway, large family portraits, an aviary, a waterwheel and a conservatory with a ten metre high palm tree.
Are you allowed to use safety pins when dining in a chateau?
Wine tasting and mushrooms are a happy combination in this part of the Loire.
Saumur sparkling wines are arguably better than Champagne so tasting them was a pleasure! Food has become so much better and Champignons appear in dishes in a variety of ways. This is not surprising as the 800km of tunnels in the area don’t only store wine, they are also used to grow some strange looking mushrooms.
We really enjoyed our two day stay in our own chateau but it was now time to discover what the Loire is famous for – much bigger, proper chateaus!
When Andy was 11 he went on a French exchange. It was a disaster – with only one year of French at school, he could barely say anything to anybody. The family made a huge effort by taking him on a grand tour of France in their tiny caravan and to make him feel more at home they occasionally tuned to Radio 2 on the long car journeys. As a result ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree’ can still bring back memories of that summer.
His tour included 15 Chateaus of the Loire in 6 days, all with French guides. It scarred him for life and he has never visited since.
Until now. Over the past few days we have seen 7, each one very different and much more interesting now we are older and wiser. Cycling upstream (Angers to Amboise) the chateaux have got more impressive each day.
Here’s our five words to describe each one:
Chateau Angers – medieval castle, not a ruin
Chateau Saumer – small, quaint, forgettable, great views
Abbaye de Fontevraud – complete, simple, religious, beautifully restored
Chateau Usee – tacky, commercial, disneyesque sleeping beauty
Chateau Villandry – classy, understated, incredible vegetable gardens
Chateau Amboise – royal, surpringly small, Leonardo-de-Vinci entombed
Chateau Chenonceau – colourful female history, awe inspiring
“One’s destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things.”
It’s been a real pleasure to visit these from the ‘Loire en Velo’ – a cycle track that meanders along the river. Beautifully signposted, on dedicated tracks and small roads it is rightly one of the most popular in the country.
Things can be incredibly organised in France. Here’s one example – an amusing but very useful vending machine found outside a local pharmacy. Have you ever seen anything like this before? Everything a girl could want in an emergency!
In a restaurant nearby, we came across a dessert made by French grandmothers across the country for their grandchildren. The recipe for Pain Perdue (Lost Bread) is simple but delicious – like French Toast but much, much better:
Soak bread in milk mixed with eggs and sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Lightly fry in butter. Sautée thinly sliced apples or pears and place on top. Embellish with anything you like – in our case vanilla ice cream drizzled with salted caramel sauce.
It’s now Tuesday (Day 15) and two weeks since we left Bath. Time for a long cycle ride southwest to La Rochelle – at least it’s now roughly in the right direction and getting warmer!