It was the kind of holiday that flew by, but yet felt like we'd been away for ages too if that makes sense. I think it was one of the most fraught run-ups to a holiday we've had for a while. There was of course, much to do before we left and we spent the Sunday morning at the allotment planting out tomatoes and rigging up a chicken wire contraption for the greenhouse.
Oh and packing! Although that was a carefully planned manoeuvre as you'd expect with just four panniers to pack. Having to carry what you take really does focus your mind!
Back in February I'd deliberated about taking the car or leaving it at home and taking the bikes on the train. I was very tempted to do the latter for the adventure, but practicalities meant that we'd still need to take the car to Portsmouth the Sunday we left and prices to park in the port area were high. So we took the car, and our plan was to leave it in Orleans and return there by train at the end of our cycling trip.
Taking the car brought its own worries though as reports of France dipping into their National Reserve of petrol were prevalent in the UK media and I wondered if we'd chosen the right option. These were soon followed by reports of train strikes, so I felt having the car and getting to our starting point under our own steam was the right thing to do. I was monitoring the petrol situation and the areas around Orleans and Tours seemed to be less affected than some.
But it wasn't just the petrol that caused me worry before we left, there was also the unseasonally heavy rain, which had caused the Seine to break its banks in Paris. The Loire isn't that far from Paris and they too were experiencing similar weather, in fact the weekend we were due to leave the A10 into Orleans was flooded with cars abandoned and motorists rescued.
For some reason I'd held off booking our first hotel, I'm not sure why as usually it's something I like to have booked well in advance. However this time it was welcome as it meant we had the flexibility to change our plans, which we did. Instead of driving to Orleans, we drove to Blois and on our first cycling day cycled to Beaugency, returning to Blois the next day. It was a shame to miss out Orleans, but it seemed to be the sensible option.
Day 1: Arriving in Blois
We'd arrived at Le Havre at 8am after a good night's sleep in our pet-friendly cabin (more on that another day I'm sure) and had a steady and air-conditioned-free drive down avoiding the motorways. It was a long day, but somehow as we arrived in Blois we stumbled across our hotel - yay!
We were surprised though when we got to our room and saw the lettering above one of the beds in our triple room. It made us smile as it's one of our friend's nicknames, but we were oblivious at the time to the Tintin connection.
Our main task here was to find somewhere to park the car, and as in Lincolnshire the station car park was the best option.
Day 2: Cycling to Beaugency
With an overnight pannier packed, and our other clothes stored in the car we set off on our bikes to Beaugency, a very picturesque town towards Orleans. Some parts of the path along the river were shut, but there were relatively simple ways around these. We'd taken our lunch of baguette and cheese - something that would become our staple over the next few days - and admired this view as we ate it.
Arriving in Beaugency I made an entrance by falling off my bike - I know - well actually, I don't know how, but I did. No damage thankfully and it wasn't long before I was reminded of how when travelling by bike you often get to see parts of hotels you wouldn't usually. In Beaugency it was both a pretty and functional area that was full of shabby chic for real.
The town was probably one of the prettiest we stayed in, traditionally French and beautiful. It was here we started to realise the flower of our holiday might just be the scented rose!
Day 3: Cycling back to Blois
Our ninth wedding anniversary celebrations were put on hold as we cycled back towards Blois. Yesterday we'd passed the pretty village of St Dyé and our plan was to stop, take photos and have some refreshments there before heading to Blois via the more inland route to Chambord. It was another glorious day, and we found another great spot for lunch.
Day 4: A day in Blois
We planned an easier day exploring the Royal Palais du Blois and to celebrate our wedding anniversary with some bubbles. When I'd planned what we might see in Blois I didn't expect this chateau to be quite so captivating and it was much larger than I expected. There were five styles of architecture and my favourite part by far with this staircase, which to me had a Gaudi-esque feel to it.
And yes, we celebrated nine years of marriage well too! And I even got the chance to admire the rooftops there too, that's totally normal right?
Day 5: Cycling the Chateau loop
Today we were chateau-spotting and wine tasting. We stopped at a local market for some strawberries as a lunch addition and cycled onto Cheverny, another beautiful chateau. We spent some time inside the chateau, explored the Jardin Potager and saw how they cut the grass banks before heading through the Jardin des Apprentis to the Orangerie, before tasting some local wines before heading off along our loop and spotting more chateaus from the road!
Day 6: Visiting Chambord
The weather was wet and instead of cycling to Chambord we ducked out and took the car. On this visit we went inside and saw five fabulous brocade wallpapers and a clock, explored the gardens and ended our visit with another wine tasting. This time with the car close by we left with a few bottles of wine - well there had to be some benefits to taking the car, right?
Day 7: Cycling to Amboise
This was our longest planned cycle of the trip, and typically it was a wet and windy day. It was also the first time we'd cycled with our panniers fully loaded and I have to say it wasn't a cycle I enjoyed. The rain was ok, but I found it generally hard going. Some of that was forgotten when we saw how pretty Amboise was, but I'd booked a hotel a little out of town with three hills to climb before we got there which I didn't appreciate either!
I was looking forward to this Château and we'd seen the signs as we approached Amboise yesterday so we set off following them. It was a lovely cycle, but a longer than expected one but Chenonceau delivered everything it promised on our visit and more. You'll probably know it as the chateau that spans the river, but the river isn't the Loire it's the Cher, either way it was worth a look through the windows there. It's still very pretty though and the formal gardens were stunning and so were the flower arrangements inside the chateau. I was intrigued by the plants in Diane de Poitiers garden and impressed myself when not only did the gardener understand my question, I understood his answer too!
Day 9: Cycling to Tours
This was a shorter fully-loaded cycle and I'd managed some strategic packing so that MOH's panniers were fuller than on our cycle to Amboise. It was a shorter cycle and a better one, but the first where we really experience cycle "traffic" We'd already planned a detour off the route to head into Vouvray, which involved cycling across a road bridge. But it was definitely worth it, as we managed some shopping here too.
Day 10: Cycling to Villandry
Ever since I saw Monty on his programme of fabulous French gardens this one's been on my list. And boy, oh boy it didn't disappoint. For me this visit on paper was all about the gardens, but the chateau itself was interesting too. We had some wine for our picnic today - something we plan to continue at home - and finished our visit with a refreshing ice cream. Mine was verveine, mint and nettle and if I can get my verveine seeds to germinate it's something I could replicate at home.
As we cycled back to Tours we took a different turning than on our outward trip and we found ourselves in the middle of some allotments, which was a great treat and I managed to snap some pictures of the huge site as we cycled through it. I'm quite proud of the photos I took on the go too!
Day 11: Travelling to Caen via Blois
Our day started with the train to Blois and the car, it's quite a novelty for us to take our bikes on the train. Like the Bavarian trains the French trains were well equipped to carry bikes, something that we could (and should) learn from here.
Safely in Blois we loaded the bikes onto the car and set off. Well, it wasn't as simple as that as I needed to rearrange the boot of the car as once the bikes were on, we wouldn't be opening the hatchback so everything we needed had to be accessible from the back seat!
As we'd seen no evidence of the petrol crisis, let alone it escalating this time we headed onto the toll motorway towards Caen. An interesting experiment though; it was clearly quicker, but this time I used three quarters of a tank.
Day 12: In Caen and Deauville
After our last hotel breakfast we decided we needed a cycle to work at least one of the croissants off. So out came the bikes and after a quick tour of the city we had a coffee stop near to where the car was parked. Instead of heading back into town we decided to drive onto Deauville and I'm so glad we did, it was beautiful there. We walked around the town, looked in the shops, had some lunch and walked along the beach where I was rather enthralled by the beach huts.
Aren't they great?
And then it was time to drive onto Le Havre for the overnight ferry home. And while it's nice to be away, it's always nice to come home too isn't it?
Clearly I have a lot more photos from our trip (actually make that lots and lots!) and I will share more of our trip over the coming days and weeks. I'll add links into this post where I can too, so if you want to read more about our trip bookmark this post.