20 April 2017- cycling Amboise, Château de Chenonceau and Monmousseau wine caves….. [France]
It was the second day of our cycling tour through the French Loire Valley, and the first riding day. We were off to explore Château de Chenonceau and its beautiful gardens (and animals), followed by winding our way though French villages and a visit to the wine caves (yes actual caves where they make wine) in the village of Montrichard.
After a night in our very swish hotel, Le Clos d’Amboise, the kids blessed us with a sleep-in until after 8am (maybe we’d finally exhausted them enough with weeks of travel?). Breakfast was in the cute restaurant attached to hotel. The hotel and it’s gardens were definitely not hard to take! Lazing around in the garden seemed like a better idea than riding all day.
It was our first French hotel breakfast and there was a selection of excellent pastries, baguette, and plenty of smelly cheeses. Oh how we had missed French baguette! We also scored freshly scrambled eggs cooked to order (a good idea before a day of riding) and the kids got massive hot chocolates (by looking cute) so we were all happy campers…..
The ride for the day was a loop ride, returning to Amboise that night (yay, no packing up!). We were doing the Castles of the Loire Valley tour with Discover France. Like our tour in Sardinia (also with Discover France) most days had route options. In Sardinia we had stuck to the ‘easy’ option all the days but the last, as the easy options were not all that easy when towing kids. On this tour, the distances and terrain were more kid-friendly and we were hoping to do the longer or ‘challenge’ options on most days and see more of the Loire Valley.
Today the longer option was taking us past Château de Chenonceau and through the small villages of Civray De Touraine, Chenonceau, Montrichard, and St Regle. The long option was listed as 53km with 415m of elevation, so doable with the kids (especially after Sardinia), but of course we managed to ride further!
We left at around 9.30am which was still later than we wanted given the long day ahead. It was cool out riding, much more like what we had experienced riding in the Netherlands. It had gotten down to zero degrees overnight so we needed our warm gear on to start the day. It was a lovely sunny day though and we expected it to warm up pretty quickly.
After we managed to escape Amboise and only got a little lost winding our way through the suburban streets, there were a few small hills and then we were out riding through forest areas and on our way to the town of Chenonceau. The château is located in the tiny town of the same name.
The bike routes mostly kept us off the main roads (aside from small sections), which was for the best as the traffic on the highways was rather fast. As usual when getting used to the route maps and GPS we took a couple of ‘detours’, but at least they were scenic ones.
Pretty soon we were riding past plenty of onion fields and past the brilliant fields of yellow mustard flowers. Both things we saw plenty of in our days riding in the Loire Valley.
We passed through the tiny villages of La Croix-en-Touraine and Civray-de-Touraine, your typical French villages with cobbled streets and stone houses. We did not manage to get photos but there were plenty more villages to come.
We were not the only ones out riding, it was nice to see other riders after seeing only a handful during our whole time in Sardinia. It was fairly easy to follow the marked bike routes, even if they occasionally disagreed with our GPS route. We arrived at the village of Chenonceau just after 11am, after having ridden almost 21km, approximately 6km more than we should have. We parked our bikes in the conveniently located bike parking area, there is no riding allowed in the grounds. Château de Chenonceau was built in the 16th Century on the foundations of an old mill, and spans the River Cher. The grounds the château sit on are quite extensive (70 hectares) and we decided we would start with an explore of some of the gardens to stretch our legs, before checking out the inside of the château.
As you approach the château you walk through a forested area before spying the château perched over the river. Being mid-spring, the buildings covered in wisteria smelt wonderful and there were tulips flowering everywhere.
The main garden in front of the château ‘Diane’s Garden‘ was created by Diane de Poiters (who was ‘donated’ the château in 1547 by King Henri II). This garden is 1.2 hectares in size. Diagonal paths border 8 large lawned triangles. There are raised terraces to protect the garden when water levels in the River Cher rise. The garden was full of flowering bulbs, daisies, petunias and dahlias and smelt wonderful.
There is a central water feature, which Astrid enjoyed dancing in front of…. you’d think her legs would be tired after all that riding!
The line for the château had gotten considerably shorter so we decided to go and check it out (you need to pay admission to enter the gardens and château entry is included in this price).
Château de Chenonceau was known as the ladies château, and was home to many extraordinary and important ladies, including Catherine de’Medici. The interior of the château is known for the richness of its collections, its furniture and its decorations. The gallery was quite impressive with its checkerboard floor and views over the river. There was also some impressive stained glass in the chapel.
The château was furnished and well laid out, although not as large as some we’ve visited it wasn’t small, and was set over several levels. The crowds made it difficult to move around at times, especially the tiny stone staircases to and from the kitchen and staff quarters.
After checking out all the rooms we decided we’d had enough of the crowds and ventured out to see the gardens on the other side of the château ‘Catherine’s Garden’. This garden is only 5500 square metres and was named for Queen Catherine de’Medici and looks over the water and the château’s west facade.
As beautiful as all the gardens were, you couldn’t walk on the grass so it was time to let the kids run off some steam in the Italian maze. The maze was requested by Catherine de’Medici during her time in residence and consists of 2000 yew trees and covers a hectare.
After we had wandered through the maze it was over the 16th-century farm which included stables, a carriage gallery and plenty of donkeys and goats who were being lazy. They each had a name and photo so we could say hello!
The farm also had resident geese, some beehives and a musical garden that the kids thought was rather entertaining. It was definitely a very kid-friendly château visit!
The last section to explore was the vegetable and flower garden, which is composed of 12 square plots, covering more than a hectare and bordered with apple trees and rosebushes and full of spring flowers and plenty of veggies.
We could have spent a lot longer walking through the grounds but we covered most of it in our couple of hours. This was one of the château we hadn’t made it to on our 2012 Loire Valley trip, but we’d been keen to visit, so I was glad we got to check it out today. It’s definitely worth going on a nice weather day to spend time exploring the gardens.
After enjoying the grounds of Château de Chenonceau until 1pm we decided we’d better get back on the bikes as there was plenty of riding still to be done. It was tempting to lunch in the village of Chenonceau but it was only 7km to the village of Montrichard, which apparently had quite a few good eating options. It turns out it was closer to 14km of riding, but that seems to happen to us all the time (and we didn’t even get lost).
Setting off from Chenonceau it was fairly flat riding through more fields and tiny towns. Not far out of Cheonceau we rode past another chateau, they are everywhere. On a mission for lunch we didn’t stop to check it out.
The ride into Montrichard took us along the banks of the River Cher ,which was a pleasant entry into the town. Montrichard is a small town of under 7,000 people and is known for its traditional French charm and bustling market days. We had a list of recommended eating establishments so were hoping to get some yummy lunch before heading to the nearby wine caves.
It was now after 2pm and it was rather quiet in Montrichard but we decided to try to find one of the restaurants recommended by the bike tour. Luckily they were still serving lunch and we grabbed a table outside in the warm sun. While lunch was being cooked, Soren and I went for a little explore of Montrichard. As he’d been sitting in the bike seat, he wanted to stretch his legs.
All a bit hungry from a morning of riding we were looking forward to lunch. We’d ordered a ‘kids meal’ for the kids that was steak hache with chips. You know you are in France when the kid’s meal contains fairly rare meat. Our kids were fans, as they pretty much eat anything! I also realised we were back in France when there was little on the menu I could eat. Vegetarianism is hard in France. I ended up ordering the tomato velouté as that was the only veggie option. The waiter looked at me confused when I asked if there was anything else. Luckily it was quite nice and the bread was good. Anto had a caramelised pork with tagliatelle, which he quite enjoyed.
All a bit hungry we figured we deserved dessert. Anto had a passionfruit and sorbet, trifle-like thing (which was not what he thought he ordered but at times our French is woeful), the kids had chocolate mousse and I had an apple tart tatin. Dessert was pretty tasty…….
Back on the bikes we rode the 1km to Caves Monmousseau, a winery recommended by the bike tour. The Loire Valley is full of caves which are actually former quarries where a couple of centuries ago the villagers extracted all the stones that were used to build their houses, or to sell for the construction of the famous Loire château. The stone type here in the region is a chalk-like limestone named tuffeau in French. The people living in the houses in front of these quarries would turn them afterward into outbuildings for vegetable storage, mushroom growing and winemaking. Tuffeau is a good quality stone it was used as a construction material during the height of the French Renaissance.
Caves Monmousseau is perched on a hill over-looking the River Cher. It was quite a ride up the steep driveway to enter the winery. We decided that despite it already being late in the day, a tour of wine caves was something a little different so we might as well give it a try. We elected to do the self-guided tour, which only cost a couple of Euros.
We were given a code to open the doors to the caves and some information in English and we were on our way.
The kids enjoyed entering a secret code to let us in to the caves, where we got to see examples of how the caves used to be used….
We then walked through the limestone tunnels which were rather dimly lit (thank goodness for a camera I can use in very low light), with explanations of the wine making process along the way. The kids loved running through the tunnels, which were a labyrinth of tuffeau stone galleries. The tunnels form various shapes created by workers when they extracted stones to build monuments and castles in the Loire Valley. There is also an art exhibition (luminous tapestries) which includes various projections depicting the origin and history of the cellars. The caves stretched on for what seemed like kilometres and we eventually reached the section where they were storing bottles of wine. As we wandered through the caves there was information about the traditional method of making the wines of the region (Monmousseau is particularly famous for its sparkling). The caves are still used to store the wine and there were literally millions of bottles within the caves, they were all stacked up and labelled many rows deep…….
A section of the self-guided tour included some smell tests of various wine scents and flavours which the kids loved. Once we emerged back into the reception area we got to taste some of the wines. Meanwhile the kids had an area to colour and they were thoroughly entertained while we tried a few wines.
Neither Anto or I are fans of sparkling wine so we tasted a few whites and rosés. Unfortunately we still had quite a distance to ride so couldn’t taste too many! We restricted ourselves to purchasing 1 bottle, since it had to be carried in our pannier bag on the bike for the rest of the afternoon.
Feeling nice and relaxed after our wine tasting it was back on the bikes for the rest of the days ride We sadly realised we still had around 30km to go for the day and it was approaching 4pm. The 4km out of Montrichard involved some riding up hills but after that it was a fairly pleasant and relatively flat ride through more pretty Loire Valley countryside. We past countless mustard fields as well as quite the number of lazy cows, horses and sheep. The bright yellow of the mustard fields against the blue of the sky was certainly picturesque.
We made fairly good time and it was a pleasant afternoon riding. The last bit of the ride as we looped back around towards Amboise, and was through some forest area and past some more small farms. We spied plenty of houses we wouldn’t have minded living in and plenty more lazy cows.
We came into Amboise a different way to we had left that morning and managed to not get too lost. Like the morning it was a little difficult to navigate through some of the tiny village streets, many of which are one way. We had the advantage of at least knowing where our hotel was located, which makes it much easier. After a rather long day of riding we didn’t arrive back at the hotel until 6pm, definitely ready for dinner!
After a well-earned shower, we had dinner at the hotel Le Clos Amboise, which was included as part of our bike tour. Dinner in the hotel restaurant is certainly convenient when you are all tired from a day of riding.
The hotel has a colouring area, which kept the kids amused while we waited for our meals. They were also fans of the lemonade with grenadine ‘sirop’ they got as part of their meal. We have convinced them they only get such treats during French dinners!
The kids menu for the night appeared to be almost identical to the lunch they had so we asked if they chef could make them a smaller version on one of the regular adults meals. They ended up with a roulade of chicken and potato that was rather pretty and came with some decorative tomato sauce (that they didn’t eat) as the chicken was apparently rather good.
Anto had the asparagus with a fish mousse that he quite enjoyed. Followed by a main of pork belly with veggies and salad, which again was good. I didn’t fare quite as well as there was a lack of vegetarian options. I had a carrot velouté with carmelised onion for starter, which was rather good, even if I was getting a little sick of eating soup. There were no vegetarian mains so the chef had to ‘create’ something for me which turned out to be a pile of different veggies with both a scrambled egg and a fried egg but no sauce or seasoning. It was a little odd but at least there were some veggies, and some good French crusty bread to accompany it!
By the time we finished dinner it was again 9:30pm, another long day for the kids with a lot of riding! It was luckily a short stumble up to our room for a good nights sleep in the comfy beds. We were looking forward to another lovely breakfast before some more exploring of Amboise and a days riding to the town of Blois via the Château de Chaumont and the gardens festival in Chaumont-sur-Loire.
Daily statistics for Thursday 20 April 2017 in the Loire Valley, France – the temperature range for the day was 0 to 13 degrees with a mean of 6 degrees. It was a lovely sunny day with light winds, so fairly nice riding conditions, if a little on the cool side in the morning. The total walking for the day was 9km.
The total riding for the day was 61.7km with an elevation of 415m. As usual we managed far more kilometres than the route notes indicated.
Up next – we explored Château du Clos Lucé in Amboise (home of Leonardo Da Vinci) before our second riding day took us through more of the Loire Valley and to the Château de Chaumont and the International Gardens Festival in Chaumont-sur-Loire before heading to the town of Blois.