A Winelover’s Tour de France (2 )

Today’s post is taken from part of Chapter 2 of my eBook , namely:

Travellers never think that they are the foreigners. (Mason
The train journey to Blois took two hours. Bede had the company of
two delightful elderly ladies who were going on to Tours, and a young
male art student, Jean, who was studying at the Sorbonne university in
Paris and visiting his parents for the day. The two ladies, who could
have been sisters given their physical characteristics and manner of
speaking, were of an easy and friendly disposition. They both had
bright eyes and open, intelligent-looking faces. Their conversation
was animated and spontaneous, and they clearly enjoyed meeting new
people. Jean, too, was a very warm and friendly young man. He was
tall, slim and smooth faced. Neatly attired in a modest sort of way,
Jean had a rather pleasing shyness about him and a gentle manner. He
would have been in his twenties.
On his arrival in Blois, Bede immediately sought out the Office de
Tourisme to obtain information about the town and its attractions. He
then headed for the Château Chambord, the largest of the Loire
châteaux, located in a magnificent forest setting. As he rode through
the countryside, the horizon opened out before him without
interruption, with here and there a long, low stretch of woodlands.
Then he was suddenly confronted by the château, an enormous white
stone building crowned by an extraordinary mass of tall chimneys,
dormer windows and turrets. It was truly imposing, built on a grand
scale and dating from the early 16th century.
After viewing the château and environs, he headed back to Blois and a
visit to the Château de Blois. This château is said to be one of the
most beautiful and elaborate of all the old royal residences of France.
The Francois I Renaissance wing is richly sculpted and decorated, and
famed for its monumental openwork staircase enclosed in an
octagonal tower with an Italian façade. The whole building is
considered an excellent cross-section of French architecture from the
13th to the 17th centuries.
The town of Blois is generally rich in historic buildings, including the
former abbey church of St Nicholas and the cathedral of St Louis. The
old town area clusters around the Place de l’Ave Maria, and its streets
are lined with 15th- and 16th-century houses. The town is built on
both sides of the Loire and is connected by the Pont Jacques Gabriel.
Its buildings are constructed of white-painted stone, with greystone or
slate roofs and red-brick chimneys. Bede stayed overnight at the Hôtel
de la Loire in a room overlooking the river.
The next day Bede was on the road early and took the D.765 to the
small town of Cheverny to visit the château there. This château dates
from the 17th century and is built in the classical style of that period.
The main building is rectangular and is linked by two wings to two
enormous square pavilions. The apartments within are sumptuously
decorated and furnished. Part of the château is still lived in by the
family that owns the estate.
From Cheverny he then proceeded along the D.956 through to the
village of Selles-sur-Cher, built around a steep curve in the river Cher.
This village is the guardian of the Château de Selles, set in a small
park by the river. Bede enjoyed a light lunch at the river’s edge,
comprising a baguette, some cheese, and a fruit tarte, washed down
with Evian mineral water. Nearby there were stone houses with old
red roofs and geraniums at the windows – wild gardens running down
to the river.
From Selles-sur-Cher he followed the D.17 through the small villages
of Meusnes and Couffi towards St Aignan. Along the way there was
almost nothing to interrupt the landscape except now and again a
small cluster of farm buildings far off the main road, whose verges
sometimes grew a struggling line of trees.
At the village of Couffi he stopped to admire the municipal building
at the side of the road. The mairie (town hall) is the indispensable seat
of civic life in France, even in the smallest village. This one was an
impressive two-storeyed stone building with an adjoining hall or foyer
rural. It was bedecked in tricolour flags marking France’s bicentenary
celebrations of that year. Such town halls are formal and pompous,
but in a parochial way that somehow lends a charm to their obvious
Bede stayed overnight at Montrichard, on the north bank of the Cher.
He had covered 100 kilometres in his second day on the road. He felt
great virtue from riding through a fine day and much pleasure in
getting to the end of it. There was also developing a pleasant rhythm
of gentle weariness that comes at the end of the day with cycling.
His routine, which he slipped into after a couple of days, was to arrive
at his intended night-stop by mid-afternoon, find a café bar for une
bière , and then proceed to the local Syndicat d’ Initiative or Office de
Tourisme for a plan of the town and a list of hotels. Having found a
room for the night, never a problem at that time of the year – he
showered then washed any clothing needed for the next day.
His aim was to get most of his daily distance covered by lunchtime so
he could ride at a more leisurely pace in the afternoon. He readily
adapted to the two-hour break at midday, which was still the custom
in rural France in particular. Those working on the land are more
likely to eat well in the middle of the day and sparingly in the
evening, a habit he found healthy and sensible. As a lone traveller
Bede was at an advantage in this respect, for he had no one to please
but himself.
Before leaving Montrichard next day, Bede made an early morning
journey out into the countryside south of St Julien-de-Chédon to see
the ruined Abbaye d’ Aiguevive set amongst open fields and woods.
The road meandered through rolling countryside, although in places
wooded hillsides tumbled down to meet it. On this journey he took the
photograph that backgrounds the cover scene for this book.
Returning to Montrichard, Bede headed out to the Château
Chaumont-sur-Loire, some 20 kilometres inland on the right bank of
the Loire. Chaumont is an imposing fortress, its drawbridge flanked
by four round towers and surrounded by a smallish park with 100-
year cedars. Furniture and tapestries of high quality from the 15th and
16th centuries decorate the interior rooms.
He took the same road back to Montrichard and then on to the small
village of Chisseaux, leading to Amboise. There he sampled the local
strawberry liqueur Fraise d’Or, in a cellar built into the hillside. Other
liqueurs tasted were Rose Rouge (30% alc/vol), Noisetty (35% alc/
vol ) and White Cherry (35% alc/vol ) in very small tasting glasses
and for which he paid nine francs for the privilege. Degustation was
definitely not gratuite ( gratuitous ) here.
Bede visited Chenonceau-sur- Loire which he found to be one of the
most impressive chateaux. in the whole of the Loire region. It is a
magnificent Renaissance building of epic proportions and elegance,
with an extraordinary three-storeyed, classical arched bridge spanning
the Cher. Bede’s approach was along a straight avenue flanked by tall
plane trees leading to the grounds of the château, which are
attractively set out in the formal Italian style. The pale yellow front of
the château rises beyond a considerable open court at the entrance,
over which a massive and detached round tower with a turret on its
brow appears to keep guard. The delicate façade consists of three
storeys including an attic, which is the most detailed part of the
building. The high-pitched roof contains three beautiful windows,
covered with embroidered caps and flowering into crocheted spires.
The echoes of the place, faint and far as they are, are of a romantic
and pleasurable era.


BARRY JOHNS    ( aka Le Vigneron )

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