France en Velo Diary Week 2

Thursday 26th July, 22°c at 7am and after a slow start we drove to our next destination at Chatilion-sur-Loire, a motorhome aire in the marina on the banks of the canal N47.59177° E2.75959° , €8 for 24hrs with EHU, water and services, payment with credit card at a machine that was too hot to touch in the mid-day sun as the temperature had reached 38°c.

All was quiet in the marina and I decided to venture out on a short ride to the local airfield a few miles away, it really was too hot but at least on the bike you create airflow, the tarmac was feeling sticky under the tyres and my Garmin was showing 41°c so I cut short the ride and returned to the van. As evening approached with feet up and a beer we enjoyed watching the evening scramble as cruising boats entered the marina and tied up to their mooring, truly a spectator sport as we remembered from our sailing days.

Friday 27th 24°c at 7am Another hot day and an early start for a tour of the local countryside to get back before it got too hot, the forecast also had the possibility of thunderstorms later which actually sounded appealing.


Fully stocked corn drier

From Chatillion we headed East, the first distant landmark, two columns of rising steam from yet  another Nuclear Power Station on the Loire. Just short of Sancerre at Bannay  we turned back towards SW on the D5J , crossed the canal and immediately came across the most amazing country house, it looked to have seen better days but with moat and surrounding buildings and courtyard would make an amazing project to restore. Over the crest of the next hill and grass had given way to the vines of the Sancerre wine region that covered the slopes as far as the eye could see. As we progressed the area had an air of increased wealth and even the road side verges looked like they had been manicured as opposed to cut.

Subligny was the next sleepy village where we stumbled across a bar but it was too hot for coffee and iced coke seemed to fit the bill, the local builders obviously felt the same but beer was the choice for their mid-morning tea break. Sury-en-Bois was  our next waypoint and the biggest working corn drying structure I had seen. I first saw these last year near Chateaudun but thought they were a now defunct bygone structure, how wrong could I be !!

Our final leg back to the van was along the undulating D49 and through Chatillon-sur-Loire “Centre Ville” and yet again this town stood out for the number of empty shops and for sale signs,  sadly not an uncommon sight in rural France. Back at the van the temperature was 36°c and after lunch and copious amounts of liquid the very distant sound of thunder, the storms duly arrived and then rumbled on until evening between bouts of blisteringly hot sun.

Saturday 28th  A very welcome cooler start to the day and the forecast overnight storms did not materialise. The first job of the day was an early morning run to the boulangerie on our new Brompton. I really do not understand France at times, 7-30am and they have run out of pan-au-raisin, why don’t they bake more, plenty of baguettes, croissants and pan-au-chocolate. After a leisurely breakfast we decided to ride Gien in a very chilly 26°c . We headed out towards St-Firmin-sur-Loire and a short detour to St-Brisson-sur-Loire for a look at the Chateau, several touring cyclists were waiting at the gates for it to open and one on a fully loaded bike was clad in no more than speedos and sandals and looking at his suntanned body this was his normal riding attire. Entering Gien and negotiating road works and a one way system was a bit fraught but we managed to find a cafe in the centre and enjoyed coffee and observe Saturday morning shopping in full swing.

On the return we took a slightly longer route bach through Ouzouer-sur-Trezee and again a Boulangerie with all manner of bread and pastry but not a pan-au-raisin to be had. ( I must find out why they do not bake more ) Entering Briare we stopped briefly at the bridge over the Loire, while watching the water flow a procession of hooting cars signalled a wedding party that turned into the local hotel. Thereafter for the rest of the day car horns and a low flying gyrocopter signalled a memorable day for a newly married couple and we spent the afternoon watching new holidaymakers change over on the canal boats and tentatively take their boats out of the marina.

Sunday 29th 16°c and part cloudy start, we decided to move on a bit further East but the first two locations were less than ideal so we ended up at a campsite at Chatillon-sur-Seine, after setting up and lunch the temperature was 33°c so I decided to wait to cycle until later in the day, plotting a short 30 mile circuit using the “where to” feature on the Garmin which to my surprise gave 3000ft of climbing. After an initial climb the road flattened and after 10 miles I was beginning to think the last 20 miles must be steep. As I rounded every corner I was expecting to see a wall in front of me but the road stayed remarkably flat, two punctures followed in quick succession, my first in probably 4,000 miles in France. The rest of the ride mirrored the first section and on completion the elevation gain was 1250ft so the question remains how does Garmin work out elevation ?

A nice ride followed by watching the final five laps around Paris of the Tour De France, a couple of beers and the small matter of patching two tubes.

Railway crossing gate cottage getting a makeover as a chip shop

Monday 30th 20°c to start the day and part cloudy, I had plotted a 45 mile route with Kaye to visit the local villages to the East and South of Chatillo-sur-Seine. Heading East the first village we came to was Brien-sur-Oucre which was just a bit disappointing, lots of closed shops and buildings with for sale signs which seems a recurring theme for rural France. As we climbed out of the village the focal point was the large grain silos that towered above the surrounding countryside, as we passed the grain was being loaded onto railway trucks (let the train take the grain) , this really was to coin a phrase the end of the line. Not so long ago the railway crossed the main road but it had now become overgrown and the old crossing gate keepers cottage was in the process of being converted into…… a chip shop, good luck with that. The countryside was now in wall to wall clear skies  as we came across the smiling faces of a forty acre field of sunflowers all facing the sun. Approaching the village of Courba I suggested I push on to recce the village for a coffee stop but the village was “closed” and this was the same at Voulaines-les-Templiers, Louesme and Vanuey.  At Villiers-le-Duc we stopped at the font to sit for a few minutes and admire a very large run down country house behind massive iron gates, it had the most amazingly intricate multi coloured tiled roof that must have cost a fortune to create.

A very intricate coloured tiled roof, money no object.

We had now accepted that we would not be enjoying coffee and cake on this ride so decided to press on along the D971 back to the van. At Nord-sur-Seine we stopped at the war memorial to look at a Willys Jeep and French tracked troop carrier and to my surprise a few yards further on a baguette vending machine, I had to take a photo, is this why Boulangeries are closing…

Getting back to Chatillon a brief diversion into town in search of the elusive pan-au-raisin, sadly no joy, i’m beginning to think they’re as rare as truffles. Lunch and an afternoon of bike maintenance and route planning as we decided to move on the following day.

Tuesday 31st, A cross country drive to Luxeuil-les-Bains to a free aire close to the town, the temperature was rising as we parked up to try and keep the van in shade. The town was a short walk so after lunch we decided to explore. The stone buildings looked very interesting and we were drawn  to the site in the centre of an archeological dig. A lot of sarcophagi and walls from an ancient burial ground suggested this was a town worthy of further investigation. A  visit to the Tourist Information Office produced a map for a town tour with a commentary thanks to an i-phone app and a bar code at each listed site on the map, a great use of technology which we would take advantage of tomorrow. Kaye had already identified a camp site for our Thursday night stop and as it was not too far in the village of Le Val D’Ajol I decided to cycle out and pay it a visit while Kaye was preparing supper.

Approaching the village the terrain changed as the valley had steep sided tree covered slopes on each side and the houses looked very Swiss. I had the co-ordinates of the camp site but unbeknown the Garmin only routed to the nearest road point and I did not discover this until I had climbed the big hill out of the town and stood looking down at the campsite field below. A very easy paced return with temperature still showing 34°c and a very welcome cold beer waiting for me.

Wednesday 1st August and a rather warm 26°c at 8am, I had plotted a fairly short 30 mile ride around the town so we could get back for the tour of the town. The initial climb out of the town was on a road lined with cycling artefacts and at the top of the climb painted on the road, a cyclist in red polka dot jersey, it made me smile. Yet again closed shops and “Se Vendre” signs a plenty. The houses have certainly taken on an Alpine style with vast covered log piles for winter fuel. Another familiar tale in the village of Conflans-sur-Lanterne with two closed Boulangeries and at the end of the village probably the reason why, a large petrol station with shop, Boulangerie and cheap fuel. From open farmland we entered an area of thick woods that extended for a few miles before opening out again to grass land and a French Air Force base where the very noisy Mirage fighters were shattering the peace. Back to the van for a shower and lunch before our tour of the historical sites of the town complete with audio cast. The history is intriguing and the building superb but the star for me was the Basilica of St Peter, the carved oak gallery housing the church organ and a pulpit, a superb piece of craftsmanship that would be hard to replicate today. Having missed my coffee and pan-au-raisin in the morning I made amends with  afternoon tea and a French Tart. Back at the van we decided to move on that evening to Val D’Ajol and give ourselves a full day in another interesting location.

Thursday 2nd A cooler start at just 19°c and the last day before we go to the Semaine Federale at Epinal, Kaye decided not to cycle and get all the washing done and everything charged up while we had electric hook up. I plotted a circular route around the village which is located in a valley so it was a climb out to the north, nothing too steep just long and once at the top I had routed down some of the side roads that took on an “English” look, bad tarmac, potholes and gravel on the corners. Eventually I rolled down the hill into Plombieres-les-Baines. I could see from the topography it would be a climb out at the other end of the village and  a French cyclist caught up with me and we completed the climb chatting in a mix of French and English, he was a local and when he found out I was English he welcomed me to the town and hoped I would enjoy my stay and cycling in the area. After parting company I pressed on to Les Boulettes and was met with an off road rocky track so progress was halted, unable to find another road to rejoin my route I dropped back down to Val D’Ajol to do part of the route in reverse. From the town I followed the Route D’Hamanaxand to the south and climbed the 1200ft to La Montagne for some magnificent views  before I rolled back down the hill. Back to the van and a change of bike to the Brompton and a shopping list for Intermarche.  After an afternoon of watching the washing dry we walked into town for a couple of beers, a bit of people watching and a taste of what seems to be Frances’ national dish, Pizza …..

A great first two weeks in France, my new business plan is to bake and flood the market with pan-au-raisin and import  into France the cyclists go to energy boost, sadly missing in French shops, jelly babies……

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