It’s Monday and “Team Tandem Ecosse” – the name used by Team Matilda on foreign soil! – have arrived safely in Blois deep in the heart of the Loire Valley region of France – and are already sampling the local produce!
Between them the “old git” and the “old gal” have driven the 800 miles or so since leaving central Scotland – and heading for the French autoroutes , via the Eurotunnel – and arriving in the atmospheric town of Blois at the start point for the 7 night self-guided Le Tour de Vineyards et Chateaux de Loire Valley du Tandem!
My dynamic duo were almost deliriously happy when we first set wheels on French soil as we drove off the Eurotunnel train at Calais, as that meant we had finally arrived in France – after almost a year of planning. I guess this poster sums up how we all felt in the last few days!
It seems a long time since Saturday night when the pair served up a toast of French fizz – the final remaining bottle from last year’s trip to Bordeaux! – during a tasty Scottish-themed meal at local restaurant Mimi’s.
But the good news is that they do lots of fizz in the Loire Valley – the Crémant de Loire comes particularly recommended – so that will obviously have to undergo several strict taste tests by the “old gal” and the “old git” to see it is up to standards!
So Sunday dawned and after some much-needed sleep, the alarm was duly set for 7 am and, after much checking, double checking and even triple checking, we set off at 9 am.
We quickly ate up the miles on the M74 to stop at Gretna for breakfast before heading south to the M25 and then the tunnel at Folkestone. This time the “old gal” and the “old git” were in firm agreement to stick to the tried and tested west coast M6 route south than try the roadwork-hit A1(M).
Lunch was a picnic stop (no prosecco on this occasion however!) It was a long trip but I was very comfortable in my new fancy Matilda Transporter. I was ratchet strapped in and I even had two inflatable pillows to rest on, so that my ageing frame was protected from too much shaking en route! You know, the old dears really do look after me like the “old lady” that I am!
The “old gal” and the “old git” also really enjoyed testing out the new vehicle on such a long drive – and found it very comfortable and spacious.
As you know the dynamic duo are so committed to the cause of tandeming, that in order to fit me into the vehicle, they have to sit in tandem while driving, with one occupying the driving seat, and the other sitting in the single “back seat” that is usable. The new Matilda Transporter has lots more room and we all really felt part of the team. The “old gal” can drive, while the “old git” has a chill and a snooze – and then they swap over every two hours.
At the Eurotunnel terminal there was time for a quick pit stop of a burger, before driving on to the train for the short 35 minute crossing. Just enough time for a selfie-video on the train! (Remember if you are reading this on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)
Arriving in Calais at around midnight French time, we had decided to simply start driving towards Blois and the Loire Valley. Fortunately the new satnav helped guide us onto the toll roads and even though it took us almost right though the centre of Paris on the suburban motorway network – including a diversion for roadworks which saw us right outside the Stade de France in the Saint-Denis suburb – we made good time. And just after 4 am – some 19 hours after we left Matilda’s Rest we pulled into a service station on the outskirts of Blois for a few hours kip.
As forecast, it was fairly hot and sticky in the car, and I was “fair meltin’” in Matilda Transporter – even with the air-con on! With the mercury set to hit 30 C, I therefore predict some very sweaty riders over the next few days as we head off on the grand adventure.
That means I will need to remind the “old git” regularly to apply the sun screen however – as he is very prone to sunburn with his sensitive skin. The “old gal” has just said: “It’s the only thing that is sensitive about him!” But I feel sure she is kidding! Right?!
So demain (getting right into the lingo here!) – that’s Mardi (Tuesday) – we head off on stage 1 of the grand tour we have chosen for this year – the Fairytale Castles and Vineyards along the Loire Valley which will see us tandeming around 200 miles through the world-famous vineyards and stunning chateaux of the region.
The self-guided tour is organised by a French-based company Cyclomundo as they seem to know the area inside out. The seven day tour starts in Blois and finishes in Angers.
You can see the route map above, and you can check out the the full daily itinerary of the tour by clicking here.
The good thing is that the luggage gets moved by vehicle from hotel to hotel by the travel company, so I wont have to carry all that excess weight!
So after some much needed kip – and negotiating the complicated one way system around the town of Blois no less than three times – we we all arrived outside the La Maison de Thomas – the first of our luxury Chambres d’hôtes, or bed and breakfasts, of the tour. I was unloaded, tested, and parked up in a very safe inner courtyard. Clearly other people are doing similar cycling trips – but on single bikes. I am chuffed to say there are no other tandems around! Quelle surprise!
The “old git” even got me a nice new saltire flag to hang from the “lollipop” which not only warns drivers that we are a wide load but that we are from Scotland, as well as a trendy flashing red light for when dusk sets in. And the “old gal” dutifully remembered to switch it to the other side of the bike as we are going to be cycling on the wrong side of the road for the next week! Combined with the hi-vis yellow team t-shirts, we are not going to go unnoticed! But whisper it, I think that is part of the plan!
I was safely deposited in a very nice inner courtyard before my dynamic duo set off on a quick exploration of the town, and find out where the parking was for Matilda Transporter.
Then it was finally time for Team Tandem Ecosse to meet Team Yukon – solo cyclist friends Nancy and John who we met in Burgundy during our week long tour there in 2014. They live in Whitehorse, which is the capital of the remote Yukon territory in northern Canada.
The Yukon is a mere 3,930 miles (or 6,319 kilometres) away from Matildas Rest in Perthshire – so logistically it all seemed a trifle mad. But Nancy and John flew from Canada to France – they are hiring bikes in the Loire Valley – and amazingly we all managed to meet up!
My dynamic duo even surprised them by picking them up from the station and driving them to the hotel for a quick toast to the impending Tour with a rather tasty Cremant de Loire – I mean it would have been rude not to sample the local brew!
It was great to meet up with Nancy and John again – with everyone greeting each other like long lost friends! And I know Team Tandem Ecosse and Team Yukon can’t wait to get pedalling. Given that everyone has a great love for good French food and wine … and a similar dislike for hills, it is going to be a great trip!
We had decided we would kick the chateaux part of the tour off with a visit by car to nearby Chambord – described as the jewel in the crown of the many chateaux of the region. There was an option of visiting it on the first day of cycling tomorrow, but it entailed a lengthy 30 mile additional detour from the original planned route of 28 miles – so car seemed the sensible option!
The royal Château de Chambord is one of the most recognizable châteaux in the world because of its very distinctive French Renaissance architecture which blends traditional French medieval forms with classical Renaissance structures. The huge château features no less than 440 rooms, 282 fireplaces, and 84 staircases. Or as the “old gal” said: “I wouldn’t like to be in charge of the hoovering!”
So after a self-guided tour – to get us in the mood for the self-guided tandeming – we headed back to hotel before a pre tour dinner at a recommended restaurant in Blois – which involved a walk across a beautiful bridge over the Loire.
After a very convivial meal – and drinks! – my dynamic duo managed to squeeze in an amazing late night son et lumiere performance at Blois chateux. Then it was time for some very necessary zzz’s before an early rise as we set off on the start of our 200 mile adventure tomorrow.
Fingers crossed! A bientot !
P.S. Eagle eyed readers will be aware that the blog is being written after Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem was completed, due to lack of time.