Day three dawned for Team Tandem Ecosse and the schedule promised a blissful day with a ride of over 40 km along the banks of the Loire, from Tours to Azay-le-Rideau, taking in charming villages, beautiful French chateau gardens, orchards, forests and even troglodyte caves! As the “old gal” said “Oh well, if you insist – I mean, what’s not to like?”
And after yesterday’s holy trinity of punctures – and the divine intervention of our very own ‘St Michael’ to rescue us – my dynamic duo were hopeful of a more relaxing, stress-free day in the saddle. I must admit that’s what I was hoping for as well, as yesterday was a trifle undignified for this “old lady” being turned upside down at the hands of a strange Frenchman!
However he did restore the “old git” and the “old gal’s” faith in human nature and allowed Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem to continue.
So before setting off today we searched for supplies in the old town part of Tours, to be directed to the most amazing fresh food market – with separate fromagerie, charcuterie, boulangerie and fruit stalls – where a fabulous selection of Loire valley cheeses, cold meats, grapes and a fresh baguette were purchased for today’s smorgasbord picnic. Oh and there may be have been a bottle of Cremant de Loire sneaked into our shopping baskets too!
You can check out the details of our route on the third stage of Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem from Tours to Azay-le-Rideau on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full date and statistics! (The actual trip was 43 kms however – with some bits missing due to “operator error”!)
So off we pedalled with Team Yukon heading out of Tours on the fabulous Loire a Velo cycle path network, along the edge of a huge golf complex, before picking up the path which hugged the side of the Cher river. The tandeming was great as everywhere was so flat – although it was a bit cloudy.
After about 17km we entered the village of Savonnieres and had a coffee break with John and Nancy. Interestingly there was a bicycle pump at the bike halt just to add to the feeling that the area really did try to do everything possible for cyclists. After yesterday’s tyre problems my spokes were firmly crossed that I wouldn’t need to make use of the free facility!
In just another 4km we came to the highly recommeded Chateau de Villandry and its beautiful gardens. The chateau dates back to 1536, and is recognised as being the last of the great chateaux built along the banks of the Loire during the Renaissance.
So before entering the hallowed walls of the chateau there was the important job of devouring the tasty picnic to be done – and fortunately the sun had decided to join the party at this point.
Fed and watered I was parked in a very nice bike rack as my dynamic duo headed in for a tour of the chateau and its gardens. Given that we were decked out in our full Team Tandem Ecosse Saltire cycling jerseys, it was quite amusing at the pay desk when the charming French member of staff asked what country we came from!
The chateau rooms were very decadent and interesting and then we emerged into the wonderfully manicured gardens.
One of the highlights was the intricate and symmetrical love garden – with four squares featuring tender love, passionate love, flighty love, and tragic love.
The vegetable garden was equally fascinating with nine squares of equal size but with different geometric patterns in each. And the squares are planted with vegetables of alternating colours to create the illusion of a multi-coloured chess board.
There are definite Italian influences all round the garden – none more so than at the Water Garden which leads to a Venice-style canal which runs the length of the gardens.
So having enjoyed a relaxing wander through the gardens – and purchasing a few gifts – it was time to hit the road again. Almost immediately after we started out we encountered one of the biggest hills of Le Tour. It was a struggle after our lunch stop – but we climbed high above the village of Villandry – cycling past more beautiful vineyards – to Valleres.
Here we came across acres of amazing orchards groaning with cider apples. The apples were huge and crying out to be tasted! So naturally the “old git” obliged – and his verdict was that they were delicious! Almost French Golden Delicious in fact!
We then tandemed on through some fantastic forest area before crossing the main railway line and a brief stop at (the private gates of) Chateau du Gerfaut – which is run as prestigious hotel.
Just a couple of more kms and we had a welcome downhill stretch into the quaint town of Azay-le-Rideau which hosts the magnificent chateau of the same name.
It was only mid afternoon when we arrived so my dynamic duo had some celebration cocktails – which were very welcome in the warm sunshine.
Because we were all enjoying ourselves so much we then decided that instead of heading direct to the hotel, we would do an additional 10 km detour to an ancient troglodyte village – called La Vallee des Goupilleres – where they have painstakingly re-created the life of peasants.
Since the Middle Ages, and up until the last century, peasants from the Tours region lived on these troglodyte farms as cave dwellers. In winter they worked as quarrymen extracting the beautiful limestone used in the construction of 200 chateaux and 700 churches across the Loire Valley.
We even met the owner of the site, Louis-Marie Chardon who uncovered the troglodyte habitations when clearing brambles and fruit trees and had the vision to imagine the place inhabited and lively.
It was fascinating visit and Louis-Marie was more than happy to pose for a photo with me – although given my age I was a bit worried he was eyeing me up as an exhibit for his working museum!
A quick canter took us to our hotel for the night – Le Grand Monarque – a fabulous ancient post house from the 18th century which has become a charming boutique hotel.
The “old git” and the “old gal” tell me their room was gorgeous, and I have to say my digs in a safe bike garage were probably the best of Le Tour so far!
Just time for a quick shower and out for a lovely authentic meal in the town square with John and Nancy as we sat and recounted a great day in the Loire Valley and contemplated how different it was to either Scotland or the Yukon.
Here’s hoping for another wonderful day tomorrow as Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem heads towards the wine capital of Chinon.