France – Jour 15 – Part 1

Duvine Loire Valley Cycling Adventure – Day 1

Ooh la la!  Today was the day we had to make our way to Blois to kick off our Loire Valley adventure with Duvine Cycling Tours.  I was very keen to check out the forecast for the week – and it doesn’t look too bad!

Blois – Forecast for the week

We got up early and finalised our packing – before heading downstairs to have a hearty breakfast with our fellow guests.   Then it was off to the train station with our mega loads of luggage.  It was a relatively easy thing to negotiate our way there – as our B&B was relatively close (350m) from the station (I don’t think I even planned that – it was just pure luck!).

Tours Train Station

Inside La Gare

After a short half an hour train ride to Blois, we alighted to find our guide Adam waiting for us!  Adam was also one of our guides for the Burgundy trip – so it was great to have a familiar face meet us at the station.  We quickly rendezvoused with the other guests, who had arrived within minutes of our train – and quickly got introduced.

This tour was more intimate than our Burgundy tour with only 8 guests in total (Burgundy had 13!).  We had 2 lovely Canadians (Art and Marg) and 2 fabulous couples from Boston, USA – who had come over together (Deb & John, Maureen & Ron).   Just one little problem – there were 8 guests, 2 guides and a support van that only fit 9 people.

Thankfully a taxi had been ordered to pick up our luggage and take it to our first hotel – so we didn’t have to worry about that.  And a second taxi had been ordered to take one of the guides and a couple from the group to Château du Chambord – our first destination for the day.  Alas – taxis in France tend to be a little laissez-faire in the way they approach appointments…. So we waited, and waited… and waited… Padraic (our second guide on the tour) was doing his level best to entertain and educate us while we waited – but finally he and Adam declared surrender.  Adam insisted that everyone else pile into the van and take off, and he would wait for the taxi.

So, we piled into the van and headed off for Château du Chambord.  Padraic told us about the Loire Valley as we travelled – the valley floor is rich with nutrients and minerals, so is best known for its amazing farmland.  We would see lots of examples of this as we travelled through…

We quickly made it to Château du Chambord – where Padraic dropped us off to go explore.  Funnily enough, Adam met us on the path – surprise!  I guess that French taxi man wasn’t as far behind as we expected (or drove like a demon to get Adam there quickly)!!

Château du Chambord is credited with being the largest château in the Loire Valley – built by King François I as a hunting lodge (and a bit of a nookie hideaway for him and Comtesse de Thoury, his mistress).  It took 1800 men and 2 masons 28 years to build, and is famous for the fact that it has 365 fireplaces – enough for every day of the year (except a leap year of course!).  It also managed to drain the French coffers!

The interesting thing about this amazing château is – King François managed to spend a sum total of only 42 nights there.  What a waste!  It is a stunning château though – the views are amazing and the architecture is truly spectacular.

Some of the external spiral stairs and the tower

The Sitting Room

The Chapel at Château du Chambord

Someone’s bedroom

Getting the right angle for some of those tricky shots

The double helix staircase – rumoured to be designed by Leonardo da Vinci

Nice front yard!

Of course – we have to do a shot from the balcony!

A brilliant day!

Our busy beaver guides – getting everything ready for the start of our ride!

From the top of the château we could see the guides preparing a petit picnic before our afternoon’s ride – sounds like a cue for lunch doesn’t it?  So, we made our way to the lawn and toasted the start of our fabulous adventure!

This is our “light” lunch!

Some gazpacho to start?  Don’t mind if I do!

We then hit the road – this afternoon we were riding 51km!!!  51km!!!!  51km!!! That’s not what’s in the itinerary – I quickly declared!  Wasn’t it only about 43km???  Anyhow…. Apparently it was 43km plus the  “optional” ride…  OK… well we’ll see how we go.

Leading the pack!!  Look how far in front of everyone I am!

We mounted our steeds – and head off straight from Château du Chambord.  The first section was through forested roads because the château was set in a national park.  Riding through the trees was absolutely stunning and gorgeous.  And for some bizarre reason – I was out the front!! I was the leader!!!!  How did this happen???  Maybe I’m not such a bad rider after all?  Woohoo!

We made our way through fields of dying sunflowers – apparently they let the sunflowers die and dry out a bit before they harvest them.   It’s a pity we couldn’t see them in full bloom – but that tends to be in summer (which can be a bit hot for delicate Helen).

We passed vines and even saw a Loire Valley balloon take off for its early evening flight.  We also had a short break – and while I don’t have a photo of it (damn!), I need to tell you about Padraic’s special treat for us:  Fresh slices of apple topped with salted caramel!!  Oh my goodness!  Salted caramel…  such a great invention!

We followed the bike track along the Loire River – which was cool but spectacular in the late afternoon light.

And then we crossed the river at Château de Chaumont – we weren’t visiting this one, but it has quite a colourful history.  Catherine de Medici had owned it at one time, and being quite superstitious and into astrology – she entertained a number of soothsayers there, including Nostradamus.  It was here that she learned from them that her husband would die, as well as each of her children.  Pretty dark stuff – especially as it all came true!

We lingered only a while to take a photo before heading off for our last few kilometres and wound our way into Domaine des Hauts de Loire – our first hotel for the tour.  Oooh la la – it looks pretty spectacular doesn’t it??

We had a room at the top of the lodge – and were able to take this spectacular photo of the sunset!

We had only a short break before our dinner in the 2 Michelin starred restaurant in the hotel… so we enjoyed our showers and made our way down to the spectacular dining room… but I’d better save something for the next post…   keep following….