Day four for Team Tandem Ecosse and the promise of a modest 34 km ride through some of the most scenic areas of Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem. The schedule was for a ride from Azay-le-Rideau along the banks of the river taking in Sleeping Beauty’s chateau, before heading inland through the area’s spectacular regional nature park, and ending up in the medieval town and wine capital of Chinon. Sounds perfect for my dynamic duo and John and Nancy (aka Team Yukon) who we have teamed up with for Le Tour.
Even the forecast of the odd heavy shower didn’t dampen spirits as we looked over the maps for today’s stage, over a wonderful continental-style breakfast. I mean there’s always a chance the weather folk will have got it wrong? Yes? Well in this case most definitely not!
We had all enjoyed a good nights sleep at the highly recommended Le Grand Monarque boutique hotel, so were in buoyant spirits as we hit the road – after stocking up on some local produce from the boulangerie and charcuterie (which the “old gal” was delighted to find doubled as a fromagerie!)
As we cycled out of Azay-le-Rideau – passed the magnificent chateau which bears the town’s name (or is it the other way around?!) the clouds started to build rather ominously with both Team Tandem Ecosse and Team Yukon deciding that perhaps it wasn’t going to be t-shirt weather after all and stopping to put on cycling jackets.
If the weather was a bit dubious, then the cycling was idyllic and it was a real joy to be tandeming along another great stretch of the Loire à Vélo.
You can check out the details of our route on the fourth stage of Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem from Azay-le-Rideau to Chinon on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full date and statistics! (Note no operator error today!!)
A quick 10km later we were in the quaint riverside small town of Brehemont where we saw a number of sail powered traditional barges known as gabares or toues – which are designed with a flat bottom for better handling on the shallow river. Many are now converted for pleasure trips.
Just as the “old git” and the “old gal” took a photo the first heavy drops of rain began to fall which made John go into a shop and buy a see-through poncho. This was of course the subject of much mockery – and was immediately dubbed the “condom” poncho for reasons you will see in the photo!
But maybe John was not so daft, because as we pedalled on the rain really started to fall. My dynamic duo were glad we only had another 6km to tandem to our target chateau for the day. The “old gal” kept saying it was somewhere on the horizon – but it was raining so heavily the “old git” was having difficulty actually seeing where we were heading.
Chateau d’Usse is not only one of the most magical chateaux of the Loire, but famously it was the inspiration for the famous Sleeping Beauty fairy tale by Charles Perrault.
However it would need to be said that the chateau didn’t have an immediate magical spell on my crew as they were – to use a real Scots word – drookit!
Team Tandem Ecosse was so wet that they could literally wring the rain water out of their cycling jackets and gloves. So the first step was to make an emergency purchase of two fetching ponchos from the chateau shop – in matching blue!
After taking refuge under a large tree from the water which was literally cascading down from the sky like a waterfall, they were able to try the garments on! Lets just say it was an interesting look!
The “old gal” chose this point to remind the “old git” of the ribbing that he had given good friend Jane Termini Taylor when she produced a red cape-type poncho when it was pouring as we travelled round Loch Leven during our recent wonderful Tour de Perthshire du Tandem with their tandem called Bluebird. It appears at that time he had said something along the lines of “I’ll never be seen dead in one of those things!”
Well today was the day that he had to eat humble pie and was actually very grateful that the chateau shop sold them! Although in his defence, the “old git” did keep pointing out that to say it was unseasonably wet would be a massive understatement!
So with no option but to make the best of things we decided to continue with a tour of the very interesting chateau – and the amazing Sleeping Beauty display which brings the fairy tale to life!
The chateau itself has a long illustrious history – being originally built as a stronghold in the Middle Ages but developed over time to become a jewel of Renaissance architecture, before later becoming a splendid residential home in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The elegance of its architecture, its rare furnishings and the perfection of its gardens make it a showpiece of national heritage. The geographical location is quite amazing – leaning against the large Chinon forest on one side and bordered by the Indre and Loire rivers.
Oh yes, and the leaflet – which by now was waterlogged – kept telling my now somewhat less than dynamic looking duo that there were wonderful views from the castle windows! There may well have been but it was difficult to see anything but the heavy rain!
I was protected from the worst of the rain by the massive tree I was parked under. We all still hoped the weather would ease during the chateau visit – but if anything it was getting heavier.
So to try and shrug off the continuing downpour Team Tandem Ecosse and Team Yukon visited to a cave under the chateau for a wine tasting! And amazingly the “old git” found a slightly sparkling rose wine named after me! So naturally a bottle of Cuvee Mathilde was purchased for later when my team got to the dry of their hotel room in Chinon!
Again there was no option but to continue, so decked out in our new Team Tandem Ecosse official kit of matching blue ponchos we headed off again – with the rain pouring straight down from the crash helmets, down the inside of my team’s glasses and bouncing off their noses!
Just after we started off again there was one of those “discussion moments” between my dynamic (and now very wet) duo! We had cycled about a km when the “old git” asked the “old gal” for the next direction only for her to exclaim: “Where’s the map reader?!”
When collecting all our kit from the chateau cafe – where we had left it in a futile attempt to dry it out a bit – we forgot to pick up the map reader. So it was time for a u-turn and cycle back the km to collect it! Oh how we laughed … not!
Believe it or not the rain was getting heavier and was now truly what can only be described as rain of biblical proportions. What a sharp contrast to the fierce sunshine of the first stage of Le Tour. It was so bad that at one stage – as we pedalled through a flooded area – that I thought this “old lady” would need water wings!
I mean I have an ageing old frame and I am most certainly not used to aquaplaneing being a factor on my rides! But it was very slippy on the roads. Add to that we had a minor mechanical when the chain slipped off my back ring due to the excess water – but the “old gal” very quickly eased it back on.
One of the highlights of today was supposed to be cycling through the Loire-Anjour-Touraine Regional Nature Park on the stretch towards Chinon – but my team literally couldn’t see further than the end of our noses! And as for how wet my spokes were, don’t get me started!
We pushed on taking care not to skid at corners and then faced a treacherous drop down cobbled narrow streets into the medieval old town of Chinon – on the Vienne River … just as the rain subsided!
The sight of our base for the night – Hotel Plantagenet – was most welcome for everyone. Although – all joking aside – the ponchos were a highly effective barrier against the deluge of rain.
The staff at the cycle friendly hotel really couldn’t have been more helpful when we arrived – offering a dry undercover area for me to be parked then saying they would dry out the “old git” and the “old gal’s” now soaked cycling gear.
The “old gal” and the “old git” revived themselves with a hot shower before enjoying a veritable feast of an indoor picnic. And it went down a treat as they were both somewhat hungry by this stage!
And it was washed down with the bottle of Cuvee Mathilde – with my team almost deliriously enjoying the light bubbles of the wine, while recovering from being almost washed away!
Revived, and with the rain off and the sun breaking through – it was time for a walk to see Chinon. And the guide books say it has quite a reputation: “Chinon … an evocative name. Foodies will recall an excellent bottle of Chinon wine, while history enthusiasts will be reminded of Joan of Arc and Richard Lionheart.”
There is another amazing imposing chateau here – known as the Fortresse de Chinon – but it was too late to pay a visit. Team Tandem Ecosse therefore decided on a bit of retail therapy to try and wipe out the memories of the rain, with the “old gal” being treated to a trendy new dress by the “old git.” Awh shucks!
After the shopping a tasty dinner was enjoyed in the hotel’s restaurant before my team retired for the night – dreaming about cycling again in the warm French sunshine that is forecast for tomorrow’s fifth stage of Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem!