After what seemed a meaningless rest day (Bourbon Lancy is not the most exciting town in France), we departed towards the hills of the massif central. Today we cycled the veloroute Cronat-Paray Monial which follows the Canal Lateral Central. It is the first dedicated cycle path that really makes sense. It’s tarmac all the way, it’s signposted regularly, it has pique-nique areas and it’s loooooong, over 100km in length. We cycled 52km to Paray le Monial without sharing a meter of a way with cars (apart from a small deviation into Digoin for lunch on the way).
The route was almost completely flat, apart from a series of hills between Paray and Charolles, the most picturesque part of the route (Ann hated the hills but loved the scenery). As we go south, the towns get more lively and interesting (although the working hours remain the same). Digoin and Paray le Monial are both worth a visit, as is Charolles. Paray is home to a very interesting basilica and a medieval old town. Charolles is just a very pretty place with a 10th century priory, a Clunesqe cathedral and a well-preserved old town.
There is an abundance of wildlife in this part of Burgundy. We’ve seen a lot on the way along the canal. As we were taking a stroll around a park in Charolles and found a hedgehog! Dianna showed no interest, but the local kids were amazed. Tomorrow we will cycle to Cluny, a town home to one of the biggest and most famous cathedrals in France.
I can’t believe it. We cycled 500km through England and France, with our little baby! After tough two days along the Loire, Ann has negotiated a day off in Bourbon Lancy, a spa town in south Burgundy. After Bourbon, we will be heading across the Massif Central to Cluny and Macon. It will be our first encounter with real hills. Frankly, the two days along the Loire were quite hard on both of us (not Dianna though, she is happier than ever). I gave in.
The 74km to Bourbon Lancy were almost completely on flat D13 along the West bank of the Canal Lateral Loire, a recreational canal that runs along the impassable Loire river. Apart from 2 hills near Nevers, the route was completely flat and with a Westerly wind pushing us East, we made the first 34km to Decize in around 2 and a half hours. D13 is a beautiful road, there is very little traffic on it (I cycled on the middle lane divider for some of the way) and the scenery is fantastic.
Overall it took us 7 hours to get to Bourbon, which is quite good by our standards. Ran out of water (again), couldn’t find any around (again). Bourbon is a very nice little town with a well preserved medieval part. There is a spa centre (which is conveniently open from 2pm on Tuesdays, I really don’t know what the French are doing the rest of the time) that we plan to visit. There is also a bike shop with all kinds of gels and sports drinks.
Another hard day of cycling with light rain and headwind helping us along the hilly 57km to Nevers. Completely overcast in the morning, a day totally different weatherwise from yesterday. We left Cosne at around 10am. A quiet side road running along the Loire took us to Poully, where Dianna had her lunch (with rain and wind making lunch very romantic). We continued to La Charite where we planned to have lunch ourselves. The weather started to clear up a little as we cycled South towards Nevers.
A three course meal again, taking 2!!!! hours to consume. Never again will I let Ann drag us into a good restaurant in the middle of the day with 30km cycling left. The hills conveniently appeared after we were done with our lunch. Some very long (but never too steep). Ann was very tired after a long one just before the descent to Nevers. It was a 4km slog up to around 300 meters. It cleared up completely and warmed to 25C (very convenient). We ran out of water and as I’ve mentioned before, in France, everything is closed when we cycle by. It seems that everything is closed all the time. A large village 5km short of Nevers, not one shop is open. Nowhere to buy water or anything else.
In Nevers we stayed in hotel De Diane 😉 We were so tired when we got there that we didn’t even get a glimpse of the town. Dianna went to bed at 8pm and we went across to La Creperie to have our dinner. Those walkie-talkies with room monitoring function really help.
No photos today.
Everything that could go wrong today – went wrong. As a result, it took us 8 hours to cycle 67 flat km to Cosne. We slept until 7am, but managed to leave Sully at 11! Dianna didn’t get her morning bit of sleep and had a panic attack inside her trailer 😉 Not wanting to sleep, eat, ride or do anything else. We had to cycle with her screaming until she finally got rocked to sleep 20 minutes later. Not for long though. 15km down the road we had to stop for a pique-nique lunch for her. It was quite a challenge to feed her there. She was hungry, but out of her normal routine/schedule and clearly unhappy about this.
We continued towards Gien on a nice dedicated cycle path (soon disappeared). Today we’ve decided to buy salads for lunch at the supermarket in order not to waste time with a three course lunch as we usually do. We had pique-nique with the salads at the Briare bridge, where the Canal Lateral crosses!!! the Loire river. Yes, the canal is a waterway and it crossed the Loire river as a bridge. Many small boats with holidaymakers ride up and down this canal. Ann wondered if we can rent one for the rest of our trip 😉 Not a chance. At the bridge we met a Spanish family cycling with a 2 year old in a trailer.
After Biare bridge we still had more than 25km to Cosne and it was getting quite late. The wind picked up and as we were now heading due S, it was a proper headwind. To make things worse, a few hills appeared. The terrain around this part of Loire valley started to get hillier today, but none of the hills we’ve seen crossed our path until now.
Arrived to Cosne at around 8pm totally exhausted! The town is so nice, but we have absolutely no energy to go sightseeing. Dianna went to sleep, so did we, after a gourmet meal at hotel’s restaurant. In the restaurant I realized that we have entered Burgundy!
We departed Orleans at around 9am, after a nice rest day in town. Actually, it wasn’t so nice as it was raining most of the time 😉 However, we were happy to take that day off instead of cycling in the rain. Dianna woke us up at 7am and we decided to leave earlier than usual due to showers in forecast. However, it took us 2 hours to pack and have breakfast 😉
There supposed to be a cycle way (veloroute) running all the way along the Loire river. After a few kilometers from Orleans we found the route. It was a nice, paved, dedicated path running parallel to the bank of the Loire river. The weather was quite pleasant, with the wind blowing from the SW at 20km/hr. We cycled non-stop to Chateuneuf-Sur-Loire, some 31km from Orleans where we stopped at Le Port cafe for lunch. Light lunch turned into a three-course gourmand meal 😉 A thundery shower poured quite a bit of rain while we were inside the cafe. It passed over us in the direction of Sully.
Leaving Chateuneuf the cycle way turns into an unpaved gravel track. It was quite hard to cycle on it, we turned left and joined D60 to Sully-Sur-Loire. In about an hour we caught up with the shower cloud that was slowly drifting SW. It started to rain pretty hard and we had to stop and hide under a tree at Saint-Benoit-Sur-Loire. Saint Benoit is home to a very beautiful basilica – Abbeye de Fleury, the flower abbey.
20 minutes later we cycled into Sully Sur Loire. Today was the flattest day of them all. We managed to only do 50 meters of climbing. Sully is quite a large village, the largest village we have seen so far. There is a beautiful chateau in the village – the Chateau Sully.
The long ride from Chartres to Orleans did not turn out as bad as some had expected. Dianna slept until 8am and as a result we departed at around 9:20, an hour later than planned. The way out of Chartres is quick and easy, in no time we were on D935 cycling the plains of the French centre towards Orleans. It was very warm, the forecast was +24C with 95% humidity. I think it was more than that. We made our first rest stop after 23km in a small village where we had a pique-nique in the shade of the local church. It took as only 1 hour and 30 minutes to cycle 23km which was an all time record for us on this trip. Dianna had her cereal and we continued towards Patay, a large village 26km down the road. The idea was to have lunch in Patay, which is 10km over the halfway point and continue to Orleans.
D935 is almost completely flat with only slight undulations. Scenery is not what one can describe as amazing 😉 It looks a bit like the Mid-West in the states. For those embarking on the same route, the only meaningful village en route is Patay and that has limited options for supplies/food. All shops and cafes, even supermarkets in rural France have weird opening hours which never fit into our schedule. Upon arrival to Patay, everything was closed, including a huge supermarket. We had really hoped to get lunch in this town 😉 Luckily we found one small cafe that served us a traditional French farmer’s lunch (cow’s tongue with a boiled potato), which was the only item on their menu. After lunch I attended to the slow puncture that I picked up along the way. Cafe’s owner tried to advise me on how to go about fixing it, in French, me not understanding a word. I think he was trying to explain that I can call the cycling club assistance hotline.
We continued on to Orleans taking a small side road through the French airforce base and thereafter jointed the busy D955 for 12km (seemed endless). Arrived to the doorstep of our hotel at exactly 5pm. It took us 7 hours and 40 minutes to get here. Orleans marks the end of the first stage of our trip.
This was the best day we had so far. The weather was perfect, much warmer than yesterday. Our route took us through some spectacular countryside scenery: small picturesque villages, densely wooded forests, wide open pastures. Gradient en route was only slightly undulating with no major climbs to tackle.
We took a break at the Chateau Ferme Vidamme (or it’s ruins), built some time in the 10th century. After a short pique-nique we continued towards Senonches, an medieval town set among a vast dense forest. Our hotel today is Auberge La Pomme de Pin. Ooops, 5pm we are here and the doors are closed, no sign of life 😉 A half an hour later someone shows up. Rural France is very laid back, sometimes too much so.
Today was a totally different day. Quite cool in the morning, but became warmer in the afternoon. Weather was fair, with a Westerly wind (which did help as we were going due East to L’Aigle). The day began with a 200 meter climb from Vimoutiers. We began cycling a bit late today (11am) and Dianna already had her morning nap. She was therefore awake and signing while we were at it.
Thereafter it was undulating towards L’Aigle. We had lunch at the end of the climbs. Typical small French village with a brassarie where one man was the chef, the waiter and everything else. It took him about an hour to cook Chef’s salad 😉 Dianna had her dinner and fell a sleep as we left the village. As we approached L’Aigle, undulations became longer and a bit steeper. We were doing close to 50km/hr on long descents.
L’Aigle is a nice little town. It’s Sunday however, and everything but a Chicken fast food takeaway is closed. We got some (terrible) chicken wings there and retired to the hotel for Euro 2012 Final.
Very hard day with terrible weather and tough hills. We started quite like, despite knowing that afternoon is going to bring scattered rain showers into the area. This was to be our longest day so far, around 62km. We were to stay at the Fermes du Florence, a small B&B 9km short of Vimoutiers, a large town in the Orne department of Normandy. The first 35-45km of cycling was uneventful. Road leaving Caen is a very busy D road, turning into a highway at times. Around 5km after Caen we turned onto a much quieter country road and followed the same for the next 35km (D40).
After a brief stop 3km short of St. Pierre sur Dives where Dianna had her lunch, we continued to St. Pierre to have lunch ourselves. This part of Normandy seemed a bit dull. The people around are rough and don’t smile. Towns and villages don’t look very rich. Many were destroyed during WWII and rebuilt to a much lower standard. The town centre of St. Pierre sur Dives turned into Saturday market for bikers. There were two brasseries in town and both around the biker market. It seemed that everyone around smoked. It started raining very hard when we sat down for lunch. The rain passed and we continued towards Vimoutiers. The next 20km should have been quite hilly. Instead of continuing towards Trun and then NE to Vimoutiers we took small side roads to cut some distance.
The rain finally caught up with us on one of the small roads where we also got the news that we will not be able to stay at the Fermes Florance (no baby bed and 48 hour prior notice to server us dinner). We had to cycle 9km past this B&B to Vimoutiers, where luckily I’ve found a vacancy at the Hotel La Coronne.
Thereafter it rained on and off, sometimes quite hard until we got to Vimoutiers. It also became quite hilly, with the next 10km giving us almost 500 meters of climbing.
Last 9km to Vimoutiers were downhill. Hotel La Coronne is a story worthy of a separate post 😉 With most of its staff drunk and rude, smoking bans not really having an effect on neither the staff nor the guests and rooms looking as this was a roadside trucker lodge somewhere in Laos. It took some time for Dianna to finally go to bed.
High-speed ferry for Ouistreham departs Portsmouth at 7am. As a result, we had to wake up at 5:15am to pack, cycle 5km to the ferry and be there ready for boarding 45 minutes before departure. Dianna was very surprised to see her parents wake up before she did for once.
Once packed, we cycled over to the ferry terminal. It was quite windy, SW at 30-35km/hr. Once boarded, we were told that the seas will be rough for the crossing. Normandy Express takes 3.5 hours to do 170km Channel crossing. According to my GPS it averages just over 60km/hr, quite fast for a big boat like her. First 2 hours was quite a bumpy ride. Once we got closer to the French coast the seas became more calm. Dianna slept for about an hour on the ferry. There were a lot of kids on the boat and everyone had trouble putting them to sleep 😉
We disembarked and took the voie verte (dedicated cycle path) along the Ouistreham – Caen canal. It is just over 17km and leads directly to the centre of Caen. There was a strong headwind all the way to Caen and it took us more than an hour to get to our hotel. The cycleway is a dedicated path going from the port direct to Caen. It’s smooth tarmac all the way.