Loire Valley France

 

IMG_9612 The first thing to say is that it is a really beautiful place to go cycle. As described in the previous post we rented a camper van from Spaceship Rentals, loaded up at home the night before and then drove to Dover and got the ferry to Calais and drove the rest of the way down starting our holiday proper at Chateau Chambord.

 

Normally we do “proper” cycle touring holidays, so using the campervan was a departure for us. While we were out Hayley and I tried to remember why we had booked this instead of doing what we normally do: Look at where we can get the train to in Europe and then see if we can plan a nice multi-day ride in that region.

 

As far as we can work out there were a few reasons: The seat post on my bike has fused to my frame. So we thought it wouldn’t go in a bike bag and therefore we would not be able to get it on the Euro star. It turned out this was wrong.

 

Even with the seat still attached, I can get my bike in a bike bag. However if you do want to take your bike on the Eurostar you have to be able to bag it. Or you will need to book your bike a ticket and that is more expensive. At the moment my bike doesn’t have a Pannier Rack, so it takes up less space, which is why I can get it bagged with the seat in place.

 

I think the other reason we booked this holiday was that I had recently become quite interested in camper vans. One of the first people to come on Wine Rides was a chap called Sam Woolf, who owns a campervan, which he created himself. I think in the back of my mind I wanted to see what campervan holidays were like in case I one day decided to emulate him and convert my own van.

 

Spaceship rentals, who we used, are an excellent company. Their camper vans are well appointed, well-organised and their staff are very friendly and professional. We were unlucky, the first vehicle they gave as had a few problems.

 

When I picked up the vehicle, the one thing they emphasised was not to drive it with the check engine light on. Our vehicles seemed to be one of the older ones and there was quite a lot of vibration coming from the engine. The first time I attempted an overtake on the motorway, the check engine light came on. After that, if I drove over 55 mph or we went up a steep incline, the check engine light came on. As a result, from the car Hayley had to call Spaceship rentals and tell them what the problem was.

 

We had a ferry to catch and were determined to use our ferry ticket. I’m not sure whether they guessed, but our plan was to get the car to France and then call the RAC out and have roadside recovery.

 

To their absolute credit Spaceships dealt with the problem immediately. They offered as a replacement vehicle and told us that they would refund any cost from changing our ferry ticket. As it happened, we only had to pay £40 to change the ferry and push it back a few hours.

 

Jose from Spaceship’s drove a new vehicle down to us and met us in the car park at Dover. We did have to wait, but because there was an on-board DVD player we basically just chilled out in the campervan watched a couple of episodes of Black Books and looked at what we might do the following day. We got our refund and the second vehicle performed perfectly for the whole trip and they were very apologetic.

 

Because we live car free, the one thing that really surprised me is how totally shocking the traffic in France is. I know we were travelling down on a Friday, but the congestion around Rouen is amazing.

 

We had time, so we’d set our satnav to avoid toll roads in France. If we do it again, I think we might just pay the tolls and make our way south, avoiding the traffic. The 2 ½ hours of bum numbing boredom, is not something I want to repeat on a holiday.

 

Hayley doesn’t drive, and normally when we go away, I really enjoy getting lost in my Kindle while on the train. So having to do this long drive on my own, that was something I really missed.

Camping

View from our pitch

View from our pitch

 

We were there out of season, and the Loire Valley was very quiet. All the campsites we stayed in were beautiful quiet, clean and lovely. We found them using the Michelin Camping France 2013 book, which I recommend.

These are the main ones we stayed in:

- Municial le bec de cisse near Tour

- Azay la rideau Camping municipal le sabot in Azay- Le- Rideau

- Camping municipal de L’ile Auger in Chinon

High Lights:

Magnificent Chateau Chambord

Magnificent Chateau Chambord

Chateau de Villandry

Chateau de Villandry

Hayley Chateau Chambord

Hayley Chateau de Villandry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The two highlights from the things we visited were Chateau Chambord which I can only describe as a BSO (Big Shiny One) and Chateau de Villandry, which has the most amazing ornamental kitchen garden in the world.

The town of Tour is lovely and they have a great cathedral but the best place we went for dinner a was a town called Amboise. It is small and touristy, but very, very beautiful. We half chanced upon it on a day ride and I liked it so much that I insisted we drive back on our selves and have dinner there one night. I like to relax have a drink with dinner and therefore hate driving in the evening. But in this instance it was totally worth it. True to form as an Englishman, I had Steak and Chips followed by three cheeses, Amazing.

I love it when your on holiday and you find somewhere, where you cant help looking in estate agents windows and seeing if you could afford to live there, followed by a whimsical discussion of what job you could do that would let you live in a country where you only have a “reasonable” grasp of the  language: “Adequate jobbing author” was what we settled on. If anybody knows a moderately talented, though not exceptional, British author living in Amboise, then please could you ask them how they are finding it and let me know. I may be interested in adopting their lifestyle.

Cycling in the Loire Valley:

 

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It is really good. There’s this Loire Valley cycle path which runs for hundreds of miles. For the majority of its length. It’s basically a single carriageway of tarmac which is exclusively used by cyclists and pedestrians. The landscape is (I think) very flat. Hayley really enjoyed it and thought it was a brilliant place to ride.

It’s not pancake flat. It does undulate and that means that you’re always comfortable on the bike. You are never held in the same position for too long. Personally I thought it was a little bit tame, although I totally agree that the landscape is really beautiful and there are some amazing vistas that allow you to see for a long way. But to be honest, I prefer it to be a bit more up and down, because I like going fast downhill and enjoy the challenge of getting up a big incline. That being said, the Loire Valley is probably the perfect place to go cycling particularly if your fitness level is not amazing, or you’re starting out cycle touring and for whatever reason you’ve been gripped by some madness which means you’ve decided against booking a Wine Ride with us!

Conclusion:

We are probably not going to do another campervan holiday anytime soon. Although I can see the appeal of it. I think bikes work best with camper vans when you use them as an ancillary mode of transport for just getting to and from dinner. We both really like making cycling the primary activity when we are away. It’s the way I want to see the countryside and its the best place for me to get away from all my day-to-day worries.

The trip also really brought home to me how much I absolutely hate being stuck in the car. The trains in France are great and although the journeys are more expensive I think the costs basically equal out in the end anyway. As for the Loire Valley, that is definitely somewhere I would go back to. I don’t feel we saw it all, and it’s such a beautiful part of France that it shouldn’t be missed, whether you’re a cyclist or not.

Oh and the wine is good!