22 April 2017 – riding and rowing, Chambord, Blois and lots French food….. [France]
It was here, the final day of riding of both this French bike tour and our whole holiday….. luckily it was going to be a pretty nice days riding to finish off. Trundling through the green pastures of the Loire Valley, past châteaus, through tiny villages and off to the famous Château de Chambord for a picnic lunch. Anto decided to take us on an impromptu row around the lake surrounding the château. We also had some time to explore Blois and eat plenty of delicious French food…..
Soren woke us up nice and early before 7am, so we were down at breakfast when it opened at 8am. Poor Astrid was exhausted and had another whole day on the bike when she couldn’t rest, so we’d hoped for a little more sleeping, so that she didn’t randomly fall asleep while trying to ride!
The breakfast at the Mercure was fairly decent if uninspiring. There were plenty of good French breads, pastries and jams. The hot food selection was average but the kids feasted on pancakes. The hotel was on the large side and we barely saw anyone at breakfast, nor walking around. Probably something to do with it being under renovation and a building site!
Before heading out for the day on the bike we decided to visit one of the Saturday markets in Blois for some supplies for the day. There were several markets held at different spots throughout the town at different times on weekends. The Saturday morning one happened to not be more than a 10 minute walk from our hotel.
The market was quite big, stretching over several streets. There were a fair few clothes stalls but it was mostly food with stalls of fruit, veggies, cheeses, meats and hot food. There was also quite a good selection of fresh pastries. We were rather impressed by the huge white asparagus on offer.
We grabbed some local cheese (from a huge selection) for our picnic lunch. We would have liked to have bought quite a bit more if we had time to eat it all, and we could have wandered the market for quite some time. Sadly our bikes were calling…..
Back at the hotel we got our gear for the day ready (we were returning to Blois that night so we just needed day packs and lunch) then it was down to the garage to retrieve our bikes. Again there were 2 route options for the day. The short option was listed as 50km and the long option at 63km. The long option had a couple of additional châteaus it went past. Given how long it takes by the time you lock bikes and tour a ,château we suspected we would only manage the short route for the day but we didn’t have to make a firm decision until the afternoon. It was a little ambitious to try to get through 63km and 3 châteaus with a couple of kids!
We ended up departing just after 10am. The first part of the ride involved crossing to Blois South over the rather busy bridge. We managed that OK, but then the first 3km of riding involved crossing a large number of roads and negotiating quite a few multi-lane roundabouts. This meant quite a bit of getting on and off the bike and was rather slow going.
The first bit of riding through Blois South also had a lot of road crossings and some rather strange bike path routes, so took us a little time to negotiate. On the upside it meant that when we returned through this section in the afternoon it was much more familiar.
After the first 6km of riding took us almost 40 minutes, we managed to pop out into the countryside and started a much more pleasant ride through small villages, and open countryside….. and you guessed it more fields of onions! Today’s riding involved mostly segregated and off-road bike lanes, so was fairly easy once we had negotiated those first few kilometres. A very tired Soren was already napping on the back of my bike by 10:30am!
It was a loop ride today, and the notes indicated it should have been 18km from leaving the hotel to Château de Chambord. The route was well signposted with bike signs and kilometres to the château on a regular basis. After 19.5km we arrived at a château to find it was not Chambord (which we have been to before) and it was in fact Château de Villesavin. We had somehow managed to do the loop bit of the ride in reverse, missing a turn off, and our GPS had been happily following us. Out the front of Château de Villesavin we found 3 very hairy and friendly donkeys which we chatted to. The kids were rather fond of them.
Château de Villesavin is a 16th-century country house. The château is privately owned and contains several museums open to the public. We hadn’t originally intended to visit this château as we wanted to spend more time at Chambord and it didn’t get rave reviews. But, we did have a little ride down the lane into the estate of Château de Villesavin to see how much of the outside of the château and gardens we could see. It turns out not much without paying the entry fee. The grounds did house quite a few lazy (and long-haired) sheep which we said hello to, before bidding farewell to our donkey friends and heading onwards towards Chambord.
Doing the loop in reverse meant we had another 10km to go to reach Chambord. The riding was fairly pleasant, with little traffic and lots of country lanes with wildflowers on the side of the road. It was also mercifully flat!
Doing the route in reverse meant that next up was the village of Bracieux, which contained Chocolaterie Max Vauché. We had been hoping to pay the chocolaterie a visit, unfortunately we arrived right during their 2.5 hour lunch closing period. Luckily we hadn’t mentioned this chocolate adventure to the kids so we got to keep riding without too many protests.
Pretty soon we hit the forest of Chambord. Château de Chambord is surrounded by 2,500 acres of forest which is open to the public. It is the largest walled forest in France and is full of trails for riding and walking. The forest is home to a large number of animals, including deer, and has plenty of picnic areas and spots to view animals. When we had last visited Chambord in 2012, we had seen the vast forest from the top of the château but had zero time to explore any of it. We’d definitely been looking forward to coming back and this time biking through the forest.
The forest seemed to stretch on forever, and in the outer forest areas we didn’t see many other people. There were marked trails and bike lanes, some gravel and some dirt, and it was a pleasant ride. We kept our eyes open for deer but aside from the odd rabbit we didn’t see a lot of wildlife.
We spied plenty of picnic spots inside the forest, but we voted to keep riding and picnic on the lawns of Chambord instead. Once inside the Chambord park area there were new bike paths that had just been laid. They were unfortunately mostly uncompacted gravel, which was not overly fun (or fast) to ride on, but it was easy to find our way around.
We reached the château grounds after 31.5km of riding and at 12.45pm so we decided the first item on the agenda was lunch! At Château de Chambord entrance to the grounds and park is free, you only need to pay an entrance fee to the château itself. In fact picnicking on the lawns is encouraged (unlike some of the other chateaus where even walking on the grass is forbidden).
While we were sorting out the bikes and setting up our picnic lunch, the kids had a good run around on the grass. It was a pretty good way to burn off some energy after a morning on the bikes. Our lunch consisted of left over bread, baguette and salads from the previous nights before and some of the yummy cheese we’d purchased from the market that morning. It certainly wasn’t a bad view for a picnic lunch!
We had left the kids to enjoy their run on the grass but eventually everyone was in desperate need of a bathroom break, since it had been a long time since we’d left the hotel that morning. This meant riding down to the village area where we could park our bikes. There were free (and clean) toilets in the village, as well as plenty of cafes and shops. Château de Chambord is the largest and one of the most recognisable château in the world because of its very distinctive French Renaissance architecture, which blends traditional French medieval forms with classical Renaissance structures. The building, which was never completed, was constructed by King Francis I of France. It is one of the most visited château in France and is well set-up to cater to the tourist trade.
During the warmer months there are plenty of activities to keep tourists busy, including bikes and rowboats for hire. On our 2012 visit, it was late Autumn and not the weather to be out on the water. Anto had suggested that the kids might enjoy a trip around the château on a boat during this visit. I would have thought he’d had enough rowing after rowing them around the Villa Borghese lake in Rome, but apparently not!
Off to find the boats and since it was only 16 Euros for an hours boat hire, and a lovely Spring day, we figured why not? The man in charge of boat hire kept trying to give Anto one of the motorised boats, and Anto kept insisting on a row-boat instead. He must have been feeling strong, or all the cycling had destroyed a few more brain cells……
Unlike in Rome, the kids were fitted with life jackets (thank goodness). Us adults just had to fend for ourselves. Pretty soon we were off and rowing.
The ‘lake’ around Château de Chambord is actually a decorative moat. It stretches for a couple of kilometres around the front and sides of the château. A few areas were roped off. We assume to keep people out of some of the shallower areas and also away from areas that ran into small waterfalls. We were not keen on taking the boat over those……
While sitting in a rather small rowboat with 2 small kids, and all our camera gear, isn’t exactly all that comfy the views were pretty good! I had one kid wedged on either side of me, and my legs shoved under Anto’s seat in an awkward manner. There was a bit of ducking and weaving on each stroke of the oars and it wasn’t the easiest photo-taking conditions. The things I do for photos!
Luckily the views from the water were pretty spectacular, so it was worth some contortions to get the shots. As we set out there weren’t too many people out on the water, although plenty of people hiring bikes, golf carts and 4-wheel bikes to trundle around the forest and park. The grounds are so extensive that you would see very little of them on foot so bikes were a good way to explore. We were over bikes for a bit, so the rowing was much more leisurely.
We originally headed out and away from the château, into the wind and against the current. Anto figured once he was tired we could hopefully drift back. There were marked tracks and it was impossible to get lost. Plenty of people walking and riding past us were waving, which the kids quite enjoyed.
On the way back we had promised the kids a go at rowing (this had been a hit in Rome!). If your parents are going to drag you to the Loire Valley, and make you ride around on bikes all day you might as well get some cracking shots of yourself rowing in front of the granddaddy of all chateaus!
Both kids had a ball! The views from the water on a sunny afternoon were pretty amazing. It was even better for me who had to put in no effort whatsoever……
Soon our time was almost up so Anto rowed us back towards the château. A few other crazy people had obviously also thought it was a good way to spend an afternoon and we started spying a few more boats on the water.
It was definitely not a bad way to spend a Spring afternoon, and no one (or any camera gear) got wet. Anto was feeling a little more weary and was maybe wondering whether the motorised boat option was better before another 25km of riding.
Off the boat, it was time for some snacks. Anto and I set up the tripod to get some long-exposure shots of the château. While we were photo taking we noticed there were a lot of people out playing frisbees and lounging on the lawns with bikes. It was a popular Saturday afternoon spot.
It was now around 3:30pm and we had decided not to go into the château. Anto, Astrid and I had gone in during our 2012 visit. The château is enormous with 440 rooms, 282 fireplaces, and 84 staircases. As the château was never completed much of it is empty. Quite a few rooms are now furnished and on display, but by far the most interesting part of the tour were the views from the top of the château over the grounds which are fairly impressive. The famous double helix staircase is also a sight to behold, but on a cold Autumn afternoon we recall the château being rather damp and cold to wander around and probably not the nicest place to have lived without electricity!
Here are a few photos of from our 2012 visit to Château de Chambord, with an itty bitty 16 month old Astrid. It’s worth visiting if you’ve never been before but we were happy to explore more of the grounds on bike instead……
It was time to bid Chambord goodbye and head back to our bikes for the final stretch of riding for the day.
The upside of having done the bike route in reverse is that we now had the short section of riding until we were back in Blois. It did however mean that we had missed the turn off for the ‘long route’ option so there was no chance of visiting the other châteaus. At this point we were pretty chateau’ed out so were happy to get back to Blois and enjoy a swim in the hotel pool rather than drag the kids through another few châteaus and ride an extra 15km.
It was back into the Chambord forest, the route back took us through the forest on the other side of the château, which was far busier with tourists and other cyclists. It was rather pleasant riding and again we didn’t see any deer but we were riding along in the sunshine with butterflies fluttering along beside us, so it was rather scenic.
Out of the forest we were back on decent quality segregated bike lanes and made some good time, winding our way through a few small villages between plenty of farms and fields. Châteaus are everywhere, and we rode past quite a few private ones that looked like they would be quite nice places to live!
We eventually got back tot he point where we took the wrong turn this morning and saw how we missed the turn as it was rather hard to see. It turns out doing the loop in reverse was probably better for us anyway.
The last 8km were the same as the morning but in reverse. We were much faster on the way back as we knew which roads we were crossing and when turns were coming up, and we got through most of the road crossings quickly. coming through Blois it had hit afternoon peak hour and we were moving faster on our bikes than the traffic by a long way. A very tired Soren slept the last half hour on bike and was not going to wake up, even when we made it back into the hotel garage.
After 3 bike tours we were somewhat glad we had survived the final day of riding!
We made it back to the hotel by 4.45pm, very glad to have made good time on the last 20km and to not have done the extra riding and châteaus. Instead it was off for a quick swim in the indoor pool at the Mercure. Our sore legs needed the stretch out.
We’d decided to have dinner out for our final night in Blois and do a little more exploring of the city. It was fairly quiet on a Saturday night. We were keeping our eyes out for places to eat as we headed up towards the high bit of town and away from the river.
The kids had been begging us to climb up the huge staircase in the middle of town. Apparently after a whole day of riding you can still run up lots of steps! It was a scenic staircase with plenty of flowers in bloom and areas to sit and admire the view all the way up the stairs.
We made it to the cathedral in time to hear the 7pm bells chiming. We’d been hoping for a look inside but it was already closed for the night.
Next we walked up to the Royal Château de Blois. The château is in the high section of the town and is huge. It has 564 rooms (including 100 bedrooms) and 75 staircases. There is also a fireplace in each room. We’d been informed that the château takes well over 2 hours to tour, so it was definitely not on the agenda for tonight. But we did have a walk around the park that is opposite the château.
Due to how steep the area is, the garden surrounding the château is almost vertical.
After a long day of riding and lots of walking (and rowing) we were all rather hungry. As usual I was the problem eater and we’d finally located a restaurant that was open for dinner appeared to have something that was likely to be vegetarian.
We ordered a random selection of foods: some French onion soup; a baked honey camembert; a vegetarian tartine; and black pork – which was pork ribs with shredded carrot, zucchini, onion and cottage potatoes. The kids loved the soup and the baked camembert. So much so that much to our horror, Soren was drinking the soup from the bowl while nearby patrons thought he was adorable! Anto and I were fans of all the food, it hit the spot after a long day.
Dessert was a cheese plate and a chocolate mousse. The mousse was pretty amazing, and again Soren was a fan. Anto, who dislikes goats cheese with a passion, bravely ate the very smelly goats cheese that arrived on his cheese plate, and even said that one of them was ‘not too bad’……..
As it’s impossible to get early dinner anywhere in France and Italy, it was 9.15pm before we left the restaurant and the kids were well and truly tired and ready for bed. We did have a pleasant walk back along the river during sunset and checked out the coloured lights in the fountain that we walk past several times a day.
The tired kids and weary adults did not take long to fall asleep, all the riding for the holiday done and dusted. We had one final day in the Loire Valley before heading off to Paris for the final few days of our trip.
Daily statistics for Saturday 22 April 2017, in the Loire Valley, France – the temperature range for the day was minus 3 to 20 degrees Celsius, a chilly start to an otherwise pleasant day. The winds were under 15km/h, making for a nice day out riding.
The total walking for the day was 11.5km. The total riding for the day was 55.3km with 250m of elevation. It was a very pleasant and reasonably easy ride, even if we did do most of it accidentally in reverse.
During the 3 riding days of our Loire Valley bike tour we rode a total of 163.6km with 869m of elevation, definitely much flatter than Sardinia, but plenty of kilometres towing kids.
Up next – our final day in the Loire Valley involved a little more exploring of Blois, and a trip to Orléans, an awesome park, a whole heap of trains, and then PARIS!