Cycling in the Loire Valley

Cycling through the Loire — literally!
We stayed at the Parador Hotel in Santiago on our last night in Spain.  The next morning we caught the train to France and our next adventure – cycling in the Loire Valley.
We originally thought we might bring our bikes to Europe and make all our own arrangements for cycling in France.  The more we thought about this, the more difficult we decided it would be.  Getting our bikes to Europe was going to be expensive.  In addition, managing biking in France would be hard because neither of us speak French.  So, I started looking online for information on organizing a trip or for a tour (although generally Tom and I do not like being part of a tourist group and try to avoid tours as much as possible).  I discovered that many companies offer “self-guided” cycling tours in various parts of France.  These are individual tours where the company makes all the arrangements, and provides the bikes and the route.  Participants carry their gear and are responsible for getting themselves to the designated location each day.  This sounded ideal.  My internet searches led me to a local French company – Anjou Bike Center – that had an 11 day self-guided tour that looked like a great fit for our interests.
Let me just say that when I found Anjou Bike Center and its owners Claude and Jacqueline Blanchard, I found the gold standard.  Claude did all the communication and was great to work with.  From the start, he had a personal touch that we appreciated. 
Our tour lived up to all of our expectations.  We stayed at the most wonderful hotels and B&B’s and ate in the most fantastic restaurants.  Claude had personal relationships with all of the B&B’s, hotels and restaurants at which we stayed.  We would walk in, say our name, and the reception person would say “Oh, you are the guests of Claude!”  The red carpet would then be rolled out! 
We started our tour near Angers.  Claude picked us up at the train station and we headed for the Bike Center where Claude and Jacqueline have a B&B for their bike tour guests.  There Jacqueline cooked us a wonderful meal even though it was 9:00 p.m. by the time we got in!  For our first day we rode in the countryside near Saumur and returned to the Bike Center in the evening where we had a another wonderful home cooked meal by Jacqueline.  Did I add that both of these meals were accompanied by wonderful French wine!  This day gave us the chance to work out any kinks or issues with the bikes. 
On the second day we set off on our own.  For the next ten days we toured troglodyte caves, chateaus, gardens and spectacular countryside.  We stayed at B & B’s or small hotels and enjoyed fabulous French meals and wine each evening!  After the Camino we thought we had hit the big time – these accommodations and meals were definitely the lap of luxury.  And cycling 30k is fun but just not as rigorous as walking 25k.  So we were feeling lazy and pampered
The French countryside in the Loire is spectacular.  Spring and early summer flowers were out.  Strawberries were in season (Yum!) and the fields were green.  Our route took us through deserted back country roads or dedicated bike trails.  The Loire region has promoted bike tourism so everything is bike friendly, including the drivers.  On those occasions when we did have to ride on busier streets, we were amazed at how polite and respectful the French drivers were of the bikes.   
We visited chateaus at Breze, Chinon, Azay l’Rideau, Villandry, Chenenceaux, Cheverny, Chambord and Blois.  They were each incredible in their own unique ways!  One of the most interesting parts of the trip for me was seeing the troglodyte dwellings.  These are cave homes that developed during the 15th -18th centuries.  The rock in the Loire region is quite soft and it was often quarried in a way that created caves.  Then these cave were expanded creating massive underground networks.  Whole villages and towns thrived in the underground places. One of the chateaus – Breze – had more development underground than above ground – at one point 150 soldiers lived in the caves under the chateau!  Recently many of the caves have been re-developed and turned into modern homes!  I have to say that I can’t imagine living in a cave and found them chilly, dark and a little claustrophobic!  But they were also weirdly fascinating. 

Jacqueline & Claude Blanchard — our fabulous tour directors!
We ended cycling at Blois and took the train back to the bike center for a final night at the B & B and a last home cooked meal by Jacqueline.  The next day Claude took us to the train station and we boarded the Eurostar for London.
I have posted Tom’s pictures from France.  They are not yet captioned but … here is the link: Cycling in France — Tom’s Pictures

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