Looking For The Loire (Back in Black)

Well, my beloved “Harls” and I are back on the Continental roads again!
Today we’ve just reeled off 360 miles, (600 kilometres sounds more impressive though!) since rolling off our overnight ferry at Roscoff in Brittany.

For those who like checking our progress on the map, we travelled via Rennes, Angers and Bourgueil to our overnight stop with my old friends Jacques and Claudine, just East of Vierzon.

I’ve got to admit, I’m pretty knackered tonight, that’s “tired out” for those of you not used to my colloquial English! I absolutely adore every second that I ride Harls, but I’d forgotten just how much effort she demands, compared to cruising on the big blue Ultra Limited. Harls is safely tucked away in Jacques’ barn for the night and here I am sitting on the terrace, sipping a glass of rather splendid local red wine, watching the sun drop in the western sky as a warm breeze rustles the Autumn tinted leaves; tinnitus is screaming in my ears, my wrist aches from holding the throttle open (oh yes, I do mean open!) my backside is. . . tender, but I’m happy, very very happy. The old team is back doing what we do best, having fun on the open road.

Now a little observation; I’ve come to the conclusion that there are three types of French Dual carriageway/autoroute:

Dull.

Dangerous.

Delightful.

Today we sampled all three, I’m not going to dwell on the bad bits, but those wonderful French road builders have been stealthily rebuilding the D775 between Rennes and Angers and it’s a beaut! Lovely sweeping curves, enough gradient to make it interesting and smooth as can be!

Somewhere along the road we slipped from Brittany into the Loire valley. It’s strange, but for however many years it is that I’ve been travelling in this part of France I’ve never been able to spot exactly when the transition takes place. It’s like…”Yes, this is nice familiar Brittany.” Then a bit later, “Oh, this must be the Loire Valley!” I really have tried to spot the dividing point, but no, not managed it yet.

I always find the River Loire a bit difficult to define. Yes, it’s France’s longest river and it’s also one of the great rivers of Europe, but it’s a lazy old thing meandering around like a big question mark from the Massif Central to the Atlantic.

The whole concept of the “Loire Valley” is a bit baffling, as for most of the time the landscape to me resembles a prairie with a river running through it and it’s not just the Loire that’s included, its tributaries such as the Cher, Indre and Vienne get lumped in as well!

I’m not complaining though. The Loire valley is a veritable treasure trove of some of the best things France has to offer. It’s largely temperate climate and fertile soils have brought great wealth for centuries, it’s a big wine growing region and as a result there are over a thousand stately châteaux of all shapes and sizes.

Today I wanted to look in on one of the most famous, Château de Chenonceau. This place has been intriguing me from a distance for years, so I had to go check it out.
Oh dear, what a disappointment.

Now I’m sure that if I could swallow my pride and elevated view that I am a traveller and not a tourist, when actually I’m really a leather clad motorcycle riding tourist, then I might get along fine with the thousands of folk swarming between the car parks and the Château…but just one glance at the sandal wearing, short-clad hoards and I did a graceful U-turn and carried on East! Jacques roared with laughter when I told him.

Thanks to Ra-Smit for the use of the photo and yes, the Château really does partly sit out on a bridge over the river!

So back to the “terroir” of the Loire valley…the soils are largely sandy and calcareous and that generally means one thing….wine! Famous appellations such as Touraine, Saumur and Bourgueil, are known the world over; indeed some say that Saumur sparkling wines are better than Champagne.

It’s not just grapes that they grow here, the area produces thousands of tonnes of arable crops. All over the place you can see grain elevators, known as “Prairie Skyscrapers” in Canada and the USA. The grain harvest is long over now, but the farmers are still busy; currently it’s maize that is being cut. Next will be the sunflowers, with the start of Autumn their bright yellow petals have withered and fallen. Where once their happy little faces looked up and followed the sun, now they hang their heads sorrowfully looking for their lost petals and contemplating the turning of the season. In French the sunflower is called “tournesol” – “turns to the sun,” I like that!

“Yes, I’m back in black.”

Catch you soon

Dookes

Back to Brittany

I’ve just been playing with the Via Michelin App to see what it made of the trip from Como to Brittany, where we are this evening. Interestingly, it nearly came up with the same route that I had, but mine was a bit more interesting and therefore longer!

Today we passed the 2000 mile mark on this little jaunt. Not bad when you consider that three days were spent in Como and on the day we rode Stelvio and Gavia it really wasn’t any mileage at all.

The journey today has been nice and relaxing, if you can ever say that about nearly three hundred miles on a motorbike! We kicked off with a nice little trundle of around twenty miles to warm up before we hit the Autoroute and then followed a spirited 130 miles dash to Angers. That blew the morning cobwebs away!

Baby was certainly on song cruising the Autoroute westwards and to add to my pleasure there was hardly any traffic at all. We stopped briefly for fuel in Bougueil; the town is rightly famous for delightful wines that are flavoursome yet light. Well, we had to grab a bottle whilst we were passing through, it was only polite!

I always look on Angers as a defining point on any journey through this part of France, heading West you enter the wide, wide, valley of the River Loire and coming East it’s the gateway to Brittany. I can almost spot exactly where the wide open wheat fields and vineyards end and the smaller Breton pastures bounded by hedges and old oak trees begin, it’s quite magical!

In France, Brittany is often referred to as “Little Britain,” such is the similarity to the Western parts of the U.K. No wonder I always feel so at home here. You can tell it’s a region influenced by the weather of the North Atlantic, slate roofs steeply sloped to throw off the sometimes copious rain!

I have Mrs Dookes to thank for introducing me to Brittany, as before we met I’d never been to this lovely part of “L’Hexagone.” Merci beaucoup mon amour, je t’aime!

Tonight I’m staying with my friends Denis and Anne, at their delightful Château which nestles on the edge of an ancient wood, deep in the centre of the region. Baby is safely ensconced in the garage, Anne’s Mercedes was evicted to make room! Denis is his usual loud energetic self, laughing at the Euro 2016 football tournament and especially the English losing to Iceland – we both agree on that! He’s threatening to cook me “Carre de porcelet,” which I suppose translates as piglet chops….! Knowing him this is going to be good! Anne meanwhile rolls her eyes at the two of us, she’s seen the floor show before.

I’ll report on the food later.

Now back to the ride….

From Angers we went cross-country, first to the delightful town of Chateaubriant then I just headed West.

Le château, Châteaubriant.

Le château, Châteaubriant.

I know it sounds corny, but I do have an innate sense of direction and so I turned the SatNav off and just followed my internal compass. I find it quite relaxing as well, heading where the mood takes. It must’ve worked, we got here!

So here comes that familiar “end of trip” hollow feeling. It’s sort of a mix of elation that the plan came together and also the realisation that it’s nearly all over, until next time.

I usually fight it off by starting to think about “The Next One.” Therein lies a problem, as Mrs Dookes and I have a shedload of work to do over the coming months. . .
“The Next One” may lay some way off in the future.

Actually, to tell the truth, I have an idea.

Why don’t we go to……….

“Freedom is a dusty road heading to a highway.”

Catch you later.

Dookes

The Dear Cher

Visitors to France will be familiar with the colourful signs that proudly inform travellers that they are entering a new Département. For those not accustomed to French regional government, it’s sort of similar to the County principle found in the UK and USA; though in the wonderful French way it’s not quite as simple as that – there are also other regional layers of administration, but let’s leave that aside for now!

Many of the Départements take their name from geographical features, most common of which are the names of rivers. For example, from Angers today we passed through Maine-et-Loire, Indre-et-Loire, Loire et Cher and finally ended up in Cher.

As rivers go I have a real soft spot for the Loire, it’s such an incredible thing and to me oozes character. The Loire is over 1000 kilometres long, drains more than a fifth of France’s land area and is the 171st longest river in the world.

It rises in the highlands of the southeastern quarter of the Massif Central in the Cévennes Mountains; flows north through Nevers to Orléans, then turns west through Tours and Nantes until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean at St Nazaire.

Which sort of brings me to the River Cher. I’m sorry my Dear Cher, but I really can’t get very excited about you as a river! True the Cher is about 400 kilometres long, but for a lot of this it’s a mere trickle and for the rest becomes weed laden, muddy and lazy.

The old Berry Canal deep in Cher country.

The old Berry Canal deep in Cher country.

What the Cher does have going for it however is wide floral water-meadows, fertile plains and simply gorgeous countryside. It’s very hard to put your finger on exactly what it is that the Cher has going for it. There’s certainly nothing spectacular, so maybe that’s it in a nutshell it’s just all roundly nice, easy on the eye and totally bucolic! Soft and gentle, just like the wines that are produced in this central region of France.

Cher country, big skies and soft greens.

Cher country, big skies and soft greens.

I’ll raise a glass to the Cher, the Dear Cher!

“I will walk alone by the black muddy river,
And listen to the ripples as they moan.”

Catch you all soon.

Dookes

PS 385 miles today. Fancy some more tomorrow?