Semaine Fédérale is a cycling festival we have entered, this year to be held in the city of Epinal in The Voges in early August so that gave us an opportunity to get to France two weeks early and explore some of the lanes and towns of the Loire valley.
Thursday 19th July saw us queueing for the lunchtime Brittany Ferries crossing from Portsmouth to Caen, the decks crowded as passengers got a close up view of the new Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier in her home port, another bonus was the French boat’s TV coverage of the Tour de France as we watched Gerraint Thomas win his second stage.
On landing it is just a short hop to Hermanville and our overnight aire. After a good nights sleep I thought I was dreaming as I awoke to the sound of rain on the motor home roof, the first meaningful rain in three weeks and heavy enough for me to deploy the umbrella for a visit to the Boulangerie for a baguette and pain-au-raisin .
Friday 20th A wet morning and a sedate drive to our first stop, an aire at Mammers, N48.35547° E0.37183° €7.50 per night with services and electricity. After a leisurely lunch we took a stroll around the town and most of the shops still had decorations in the windows following the Tour De France passing through a week before. A late afternoon ride exploring the back lanes between Mamers and Belleme revealed a lot of roads with broken tarmac and sticky mud where farmers had taken advantage of a wet day to start ploughing, at least as I got back to the van the sun reappeared.
Saturday 21st dawned breezy and 17°c, it seemed cooler, I had plotted a course to Mortagne au Peche so Kaye could try her e-bike. The countryside looked stunning with the harvest in full swing and fields of sunflowers and sweet-corn. The roadside verges had been cut and I was impressed by the odd patch of grass that had been left where wild orchids were flowering, clearly a very diligent and enlightened workforce.
At Mortagne we stopped at a Boulangerie for my daily pain-au-raisin infusion before a very long descent out of town and a fast run back along the D631 to Mammers. It was quite amazing that on a sunny Saturday morning we did not see another cyclist and even this fact was eclipsed by the number of motorists who tooted and waved enthusiastically, a far cry from the UK !!
A misty start on Sunday 22nd, we were heading for Chateaudun about 50 miles on just the one road, the D955, used the week before for Le Tour and the roadside decorations and road graffiti still in place.
Chateaudun was a free aire in the shadow of the Chateau N48.07154° E1.32412° and as the sun was now shining the bikes were readied for an afternoon ride. The town centre was blocked off as it was hosting a local car club timed street circuit course so we had a detour to get to the open countryside to the South. The D31 to Ozoir-le-Brevuil passes a very large military aircraft scrapyard which displays a visual history of the last 50 years of the French Air Force, row upon row of airplanes left to rot. Grass and maize seemed to be the local crops of choice as we passed through St Cloud-en-Dunois, Civry, Varize and Nottinville before some closed roads resulted in a main road return to Chateaudun. After a quick shower we decided to visit the town centre event and after climbing the 200 steps to the town centre we took refreshment and watched from a roadside bar as all manner of cars and motorbikes take turns to ride the street circuit, some very fast and iconic marques, Mini to Maserati and the odd Ferrari. Just seemed to be a normal Sunday in France.
Monday 23rd was another hot day and we decided to explore the countryside to the west and north of Chateaudun. The farmers on this side of town were busy ploughing vast fields and moving straw bales on trailers that looked decidedly overloaded. We stopped for a coffee and shade at the small village of Chapelle-Royale courtesy of the community store where 2 coffees and 2 pan-au-chocolate were exceedingly good value at €3.60. From here we routed back through Gahory, Flacey and St Christophe where another closed road meant a diversion along the very busy N10. Despite the less than perfect finish to the ride we managed 41 miles and then enjoyed an afternoon in the shade.
Tuesday 24th was time to move on to our next destination at Lailly-en-Val, we had used this aire before N49.77049° E1.68513° and Kaye was happy to take the motor home while I cycled. The route was using N924 and 925 which was mainly flat or undulating, the Garmin was showing 32°c and even the strong headwind was warm, I also saw my first red squirrel of the trip albeit a bit one-dimensional on the road. We managed to find a shady pitch as the heat continued to build and after a few chores and a walk around the lake the rest of the day was spent horizontal in the shade.
Wednesday 25th, hot again and we planned a ride to Chateau Chambord, a large estate Kaye had researched and wanted to see, one bonus was the route took us through tree lined lanes that provided shelter from the high temperatures. From Lailly-en-val we rode South to Ligny-e-Ribault before turning West and following the River Cosson. The roads were quiet but the sign for “Traversing Grand Animals” was a little worrying, time for Kaye to take a turn on the front.
At Crouy-sur-Cosson we crossed the river and followed the D33 to Thoury before entering the Chambord Estate and more signs warning of animals on the road. A long straight road led to the most imposing chateau we had seen to date and although it was open to the public we were content to just marvel at the external architecture.
The road out of the estate is the D112 which was as long and straight as the entrance and we eventually joined the D951 at Nouan-sur-Loire where we stopped to look at a 19th century renovated windmill complete with sails.
Ever keen to get off the main road we followed the banks of the River Loire and having seen the very best of French design and architecture we were treated to the very worst in the form of the concrete cooling towers of the nuclear power station at Avaray. A great day on the bike and a couple of beers to rehydrate seemed a perfect way to finish our first week in France.