La Sauce de la Loire
2 Varaderos, a Triumph Speedmaster (almost an FF) and a BMW F650GS go boldly in France
Maybe I should have written this on 20 June, immediately after we got back from the French tour.
But I didn’t and the madness of June 23rd has left me numb and angry. I enjoy these trips, partly because we are on holiday in familiar but varied landscapes with great roads, and partly because we are welcome and feel we belong. Sadly the whole tone of June 23rd has put two- fingers up to these very people. May the perpetrators of this lunacy be held accountable.
Nevertheless this year’s Blog needs to be written:
After all the planning had been done, it seemed that fate would spoil the party. Petrol panic, riots, floods, death and disaster reported. Knowing that news is not necessarily the whole truth, I spoke to a business colleague in Paris. No worries on petrol – maybe some flooding; came the reply. So we stuck to the original plan, which was to spend a couple of nights in Brittany, move down the Atlantic coast and inland up the Loire valley until Chinon, then south to near Limoges and finally across the Massif Central to the Ardèche, where the Loire starts its journey.
NW France often gets overlooked in the dash to the sun, but it has its own character and appeal. I am sure too that Brittany has more food specialities than just Crêpes, despite the signs.
2 nights at Huelgoat in the eastern corner of the Parc Naturel d’Armorique. The Western end of the Parc is the wild peninsular opposite Brest – (like the bit of Wales opposite Milford Haven). The start of the peninsular is marked by the spectacular Pont de Tenerez, which is not quite Millau, but seems to hint at future suspensions. The Pointe des Espagnols is northernmost and the more spectacular Pointe de Penhir westernmost, with a good lunch at Camaret-sur-mer in between. Plenty of war-time memorials to the battle of the Atlantic.
Raid on St Nazaire
The Loire is the longest river in France, at 632miles from the source to the mouth at St Nazaire. Here the great concrete lumps of the WW2 submarine pens are worth a visit. They are not pretty, but certainly impressive – and in a different way, so is the Pont which takes you across the river mouth, while the wind tries to blow you off. We now rode east on the less-busy south bank. Except for Nantes, this is a relaxed, tranquil run, despite views across to the remaining floods south of Angers. At Candes St Martin, the Loire, coming down from Tours and Orleans, is joined by the Vienne, a substantial river in its own right. We overnighted on the Vienne at historical Chinon, Apparently many Brits have done the same, as it has a medieval fortress used by ‘our’ Plantagenet kings. We ate at the ‘Table de Jeanne’ which I initially thought was a reference to the lady who ran the restaurant. We know her better however as Joan, whose relationship with the Brits did not end happily. We kept our conversation quiet.
Ex-Pats are nicer
The route south from Chinon to near Limoges was made slightly longer by Tom’s desire to check-out a potential ex-pat farm-house for sale near Parthenay. We had not pre-arranged a sales-visit and some serious rain began to fall as we were looking. Suddenly the garage door opened and the owner (who only knew at that stage that we were UK bikers) invited us in out of the rain. We confessed then that Tom had an interest and were given coffee, chat and a dry hour. Tom was shown around the place too. Thanks to Nick and Helen for this wondrous hospitality. (Will they now find a buyer, after 23 June?).
Splat du jour
This was our wettest day; heavy, although not continuous rain. We skirted back to our original route and headed for the next 2 nights at Peyrat-Le-Chateau. At Bourge, 20 kms from the hotel, I was deliberating on the required road number, when Tom, who normally rides herd, came to the front and rushed off, following his GPS. Not knowing better, we all followed as Tom took us down a tiny road – not much more than a metalled track. I was sure this was not my route, but I was now at the tail, so had to go along. This would have been fine, but Tom’s enthusiasm had got the better of him and one corner on this track hid a section of mud, washed from the nearby field. By the time we got there, a very dirty Varadero, minus one pannier, was lying in the mud and facing the way we had just come. Somewhere in the mud was Tom. No serious damage, so after a check- over, we worked out that this little woodland track was in the direction of the hotel, but perhaps 100yds shorter than the main road I had planned. GPS – don’t you just love it? The hotel had a hose to wash both bike and rider, although the pannier - and ego - took slightly longer to repair.
The free day in Peyrat was not quite as wet as the previous one. This is the western edge of the Massif Central, and plenty of bike routes to follow. We took it easy today, in deference to Tom’s splat, and found pretty villages and twisty roads. If you are touring in France, don’t leave it too late to stop for lunch. The plat du jour is usually all gone by 1.00 pm and you will likely not get anything after 1.30. The restaurant in Chambaret managed to find us steak et frites after a certain amount of deliberation in the kitchen.
Live long and prosper
There is no obvious route from Peyrat across to the Ardeche. I had planned a route through the Regional des Volcans. This gave us great roads and fantastic scenery, with little traffic. Nearer our goal, we did take one wrong turn, but a small connecting road took us to near the last hotel - a rather grand affair, complete with golf course. (I had to compete with the place that Tom had found in Cortina last year). 3 nights here, so the chance of 2 good exploration days, despite the weather: Summer? Yes Jim, but not as we know it.
Graham (triumph man) is never very good with non-standard cuisine. He did manage a croque-monsieur, but most of the time it was burgers, (I think France is the only place to ask you how you want your burger done). He did not take kindly however to the accompanying greenery.
The source of the Loire is designated as a stream emerging from a lump of rock called Gerbier de Jonc: not really any more extraordinary than any other lump of rock in the Ardèche. Steve confessed to relieving himself in it; but perhaps more worrying was the cement truck driver who was washing out at exactly the point where the stream emerges. Perhaps it would make its way down to strengthen the aging Sub-pens at St Nazaire. The Gerbier itself is suffering under the weight of tourists who climb it, so that the paths up and down are strictly defined. We decided not to increase the erosion. Considering the Gerbier is only about 100 miles from the Mediterranean, it is a strange fact of geography that the water ends up where it does.
This being France, you invariably come across large groups of lycra-clad cyclists in the areas of most interest to motorcyclists. In small numbers, no problem, but if you find yourself in the middle of a time trial on open roads, it can be tricky. One of our descents now got tangled up in such a trial and much care was needed to squirt past them in a safe manner. The competitors seem more used to closed road runs too, so with that mentality, it can get very hairy. We made it down however, with no mishaps and only a mild amount of bad language. The Col du Meyrand on the way back was a spectacular end to the day and had no such competition.
The last free day, and a bit of sun as well, we revisited an area from a previous tour – down the Gorges du Tarn and back up the Gorges de la Jonte. Not as far down as the Millau viaduct, but then we had all been there and done that. It seems that natural sights can be revisited, but man-made structures, however spectacular, do not need another viewing.
Sadly another tour was coming to an end and the weather was not playing either. For the 500 mile day back to the channel, I had planned a route down parts of the Loire we had missed on the way out. However the rain was persistent and the temperature in single figures, so we just put our heads down and turned for the auto-route. Not pleasant, but it got the job done and we were in Ouistram for a leisurely evening meal.
Thanks to Steve, Tom and Graham for the company, and to France for the immaculate roads, scenery and hospitality.