21 April 2017- Cycling from Amboise to Blois via Chaumont, Châteaus and Garden Festivals….. [France]

21 April 2017- Cycling from Amboise to Blois via Chaumont, Châteaus and Garden Festivals….. [France]

The third day of our Loire Valley bike tour involved more châteaus, quaint French villages and an International Garden Festival.  All with a dash of Leonardo Da Vinci!  We were again blessed with beautiful weather and some more delicious French food to power our legs……..

Even after a late night eating and drinking our way through our multi-course hotel dinner, the kids did not bless us with a sleep-in.  We were down to breakfast by 8am and consoled our weary bodies by filling up on more delicious hot chocolates, smelly French cheeses, and good pastries.

We were leaving the lovely town of Amboise and our rather pretty hotel, Hôtel Le Clos d’Amboise, so needed to pack up for our bags to be transferred to our next stop, Blois.

Due to the lack of sleeping-in, our bags were out nice and early. We decided to leave our bikes and day packs and head out on foot for a final explore of Amboise and a visit to the Château du Clos Lucé , the official residence of Leonardo Da Vinci and a museum to many of his inventions. Amboise was rather quiet, early on a Friday morning……
During our 2012 flying visit to Amboise we hadn’t visited Château du Clos Lucé, and had spent our short amount of time at the Royal Chateau d’Amboise instead.

With a little time to spare this morning, as the kilometres we needed to cover in our ride were only in the moderate range, we figured we should finally get to Le Clos Lucé.  It was only a short walk from both the Royal Chateau and our hotel (Amboise is tiny). We arrived around 9am and it was rather quiet, which is excellent for exploring with kids.

The grounds of Le Clos Lucé are rather extensive, much larger than the château itself.  We were greeted by the resident peacocks that seemed rather unfussed by our presence.

Built in the mid-15th century, Le Clos Lucé in connected to Chateau d’Amboise by an underground passage. It was a Summer residence to several French kings but is most famous for being the final residence of Leonardo Da Vinci from 1516 to 1519, when he died.

The château is built in a renaissance style and is certainly on the large side for a home, but definitely much smaller and understated than the larger châteaus.  It certainly wouldn’t have been an awful place to live and work so we can see why Da Vinci was happy to spend his final years here.  Like many of the châteaus it was furnished, and we were quite amused by the resident cat who was happily sleeping on one of the beds…. in the roped off area where he knew no one could touch him!

Le Clos Lucé is set up as a museum to Da Vinci includes forty models of the various machines designed by Leonardo. The museum also includes a copy of the Mona Lisa, painted in 1654 by Ambroise Dubois.

fffThere were several areas set up with (often large) models of Da Vinci’s inventions.  It was fascinating seeing exactly how many things he invented and how many of them are the basis for machines that are still used every day.  It was a rather kid-friendly exhibition and we all enjoyed wandering through the various rooms and checking out the models.
After a good look around we went back out into the gardens.  You could spend quite some time wandering through all the gardens, there were several different garden areas, a 2-level bridge, a model of Da Vinci’s helicopter, a paddle wheel, water-mill and quite a lot of very lazy ducks and peacocks!

There was a large playground that we had to steer the kids away from. They were happy to run around and play in the garden area, but we had quite a bit of riding (and more châteaus to explore) before the day was done.

We arrived back at the hotel at around 10:30am and we collected our riding gear before checking out and getting on our bikes.  There were again 2 route options for the day.  We had decided to go with the shorter option (listed at 44km) to allow us more time to explore the town of  Chaumont, the château and the Garden Festival.  The longer option was an additional 25km and would have taken us past several other smaller châteaus but a few of these were also on a route option for the following day, so knowing the kilometres always took us ages to get through, the short ride was the plan for the day.

Somehow we managed to almost delete our GPS route maps so that caused a short delay until we recovered them as it is preferable to be riding with the GPS guiding us.  It ended up being after 11am when we got away, so much for our early start!

We were departing Amboise today, and had to head out through the old-town pedestrian zone and over the main bridge (which is also the highway). This meant a lot of walking our bikes and a very slow first couple of kilometres.  Once we were finally off and riding we had 25km of riding before we reached Chaumont-sur-Loire.

After leaving Amboise, it was non-stop small villages. Most were only 1 street wide and cut into the sides of hills, with a backyard that included a cave! It was rather chilly out riding but nice and sunny.  Unfortunately it was also rather windy and as our route for the day was generally in one direction (rather than a loop) we managed to ride into a headwind all day.The riding was fairly pleasant until a couple of kilometres before the town of Chaumont-sur-Loire where there was an annoying crossing of a railway bridge.  This involved a complicated walking of bikes through tunnels, over ramps, and through underpasses.  Soren had been napping for quite awhile on the back of my bike which made it even harder to push the bike without tipping him over.  The walk through tunnel cost us over 10 minutes for essentially crossing a road!

Shortly after that delay we got to the bridge over the Loire, which had a sign saying ‘no riding’ so we were again off the bikes and walking across (with Soren still napping on the back of my bike).  Seemingly everyone else was riding so it turns out we probably could have ridden on the road.  It was now 1pm and we were finally warming up, but were well and truly ready to get off the bikes and find some lunch.

We did a couple of laps of the town trying to find bike parking. We eventually located the bike parking at the château entrance, which is quite a distance from the actual château, as it is perched up on the hill, overlooking the river.

We’d spied a crepêrie on our laps of the town while trying to find somewhere to park, but once we arrived they informed us they had already stopped lunch service (before 1:30pm).  Our next option was a small deli and sandwich shop where they make your sandwiches from fresh baguette and the shops fromagerie. Very French!  The kids shared a brie and jamon baguette, and Anto had a tuna rillette.  There were no vegetarian options on the menu but the shopkeeper eventually reluctantly agreed to make me a tomato and cheese (both brie and hard cheese) baguette.  He was rather confused that I wanted no meat or fish.

We picnicked on our baguettes in the park opposite the sandwich shop, with views of the river and nearby church.  The baguettes were rather good and Anto approved of the artisanal château beer, seemingly each château has a beer or wine associated with it!

After lunch it was time to visit Château de Chaumont. The entrance is at the bottom of the hill at the start of the historical park surrounding the château. Due to recent events in France, there was a security and extensive bag check before we went in and started the long walk up the hill to the château.

The château is set 40m above the Loire River.  The large park with landscaped English-style gardens were only created in the late 19th Century, prior to that the château was only surrounded by a few lawns and looked down over the small villages near the river below. There is now a viewing platform that gives excellent views over Chaumont-sur-Loire and up and down the river Loire. It was a beautiful clear day and we could see for miles…..
The first castle on this site was built in the late 10th century, to keep watch over the border of nearby counties, but was razed by fire in 1455.  The château had various residents and owners over the centuries but was extensively renovated into its current form in the early 19th century, before being declared a ‘monument historique’ by the French Ministrie of Culture in 1840.

It is a rather pretty (and medieval) looking château.  Soren, was insisting on having his photo taken in front of the château and then refusing to look at the camera…….3-year olds!
After checking out the entrance and the obligatory non-cooperative kid photos, we headed inside.  The château had most rooms furnished and on display, including the King’s room, Catherine D’Medici room, the Council Chamber and the Guards room.

You could also walk up and down the large spiral grand staircase. This staircase leads up to many different unfurnished and newly reopened parts of the Château dedicated to contemporary art, including the former bedroom of Princess Henri-Amédée de Broglie, now an art gallery. The modern and contemporary art displays were a little strange at times!  We did however like the giant birds nest in the chapel which was very odd but amusing……
We then walked over to the horse stables, that were commissioned in 1877.  They are described as luxurious and that they were! The were not only enormous, the lucky horses had their own sinks and a huge kitchen for their food. Again parts of the stables were displaying some modern art pieces which the kids found rather amusing…….

The Domain de Chaumont-sur-Loire International Garden Festival is held in the grounds of the château for 6 months of the year.  Today happened to be the opening day of the 2017 Festival….. and being a lover of gardens and flowers we figured we might as well visit, so had purchased the dual entry ticket that allowed us entry to the château as well as the Festival.

It is the 26th year of the Festival, which includes up to 30 themed gardens (the theme for this year is ‘Flower Power’) created by landscape architects, designers and artists.  The purpose of the Festival is to bring the château surroundings to life with colour and fragrances and also promote nursery projects and inspire the public with new ideas for flower and garden displays.

The Garden Festival is more art-focussed than Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands that we had visited the couple of weeks earlier.  This Garden Festival focuses more on garden design than on individual flowers and mass flower plantings.  There were plenty of ponds with noisy frogs and interesting garden designs.

The kids enjoyed running around the different displays and counting how many frogs we could find.  As we wandered around you could often see the château in the distance, which made a spectacular backdrop!
It was glorious weather and a nice stretch of our riding-weary legs while wandering around.  Unfortunately we didn’t get to the Festival until after 3pm and still had quite a bit of riding to be done so we did a fairly quick trip around, but could have easily spent half a day there.  Later in the season there probably would have been more flowers out and it would have looked totally different again.  After an hour of exploring we decided it was time to go and locate our bikes. We had seen most of the Garden Festival, but discovered there was another entire section of the château park that we hadn’t even walked through.

Unfortunately the Garden Festival exit was the opposite end to entrance, so we had a very long walk back out and through the town. It was almost 4.30pm by the time we were back riding with around 20km still to go to our finishing town of Blois.

Off and riding, we were on dedicated bike paths heading along the river. There were plenty of people out riding, walking and enjoying the Spring sunshine.

Again we spied plenty of onion fields. We’d had several discussions about how many pots of French onion soup we could have made. Things you discuss when riding with kids!   As we were doing the short-route option for the day we had to leave the segregated bike paths after a few kilometres, and ended up on more dirt and gravel paths that wound in and out of the backs of tiny towns. At this point we were glad that we had opted not to do the long option as it was getting close to 5pm and the long option involved another 38km of riding!

Unfortunately the short option bike tracks were rather bumpy and full of potholes. Despite being fairly flat riding we were still only able to average around 14km/h.  We were starting to miss some of the well-maintained bike paths of the Netherlands!
The last 8km of the day was the main bike path route through to Blois which again was running parallel to the River Loire.  There was no cover from the rather strong head-wind, and that combined with the gravelly path made for a slow finish to the day. An obviously over-tired Soren managed to nap a good hour of final bit of riding for the day, he has become an expert at bike naps! He can even nap through all those teeth-chattering bumps…..

The last bit of the ride involved crossing one of the very long bridges into Blois (which borders both sides of the River Loire).  The traffic on them was a little crazy, but there were plenty of other cyclists.  After days in relatively small towns, the traffic in Blois came as a bit of a shock. We managed to keep out-of-the-way of enough cars and find our hotel fairly easily along the river front.

After the wonderful boutique hotel in Amboise, we were booked into a Mercure for our 2 nights in Blois.  It was also meant to be a 4 star hotel, but was currently under-going renovations and resembled a building site and didn’t even have a reception desk operating.  To even further lessen the appeal, despite it being after 6pm our room wasn’t made up and our bags hadn’t been deposited in our room like they had been for every other hotel on our bike tours so far.

Not to worry, the room was quite decent, if uninspiring, and it was time to head off to explore a little of Blois and find some food after we secured our bikes in the underground car park.

Blois is perched on the side of a hill and the banks of the Loire.  After a day of riding our legs were not up to a lot of steep stairs, so much to the kids annoyance, we voted not to climb up to the high part of town and kept that for the following day (because surely another day of riding would make the legs even fresher?).  Blois is home to over 45,000 people so is a sizable town and there were plenty of restaurants and cafes.

As we were all a little tired we decided to forgo dinner out and instead have a ‘hotel picnic’ and an earlier night for the kids.  We managed to make it into town just as many of the patisseries were closing for the day but managed to pick ourselves up some quiches; a Lorraine; a Provencal; and an epinard (spinach).  When in France and you’ve been riding all day, dessert is in order so we also grabbed a chocolate eclair and a caramel and nut tart. With some tabouli and remoulade salad from the supermarket,  along with a fresh baguette from a bolulangerie that we made it to just before closing, we had a pretty yummy hotel picnic dinner…..

With the kids tucked in bed asleep not long after eating, I abandoned Anto and did a quick dash out to grab some photos of the sunset. Our hotel was adjacent to the river and a quick walk across the main road and several car parks (a lot of the public car parking was right along the river) and I could stroll along the river bank the catch the last light of the day.

Blois had a totally different feel to Amboise, where we had spent our previous 2 nights, so we were looking forward to exploring more the following day.  We had another day of riding through the Loire Valley before returning to Blois for the last night of our bike tour, and then heading to Paris for the final part of our European trip.  Blois did put on a pretty Spring sunset to finish off another day of pleasant riding in the French countryside.
Statistics for Friday 21 April 2017, in the Loire Valley, France – the temperature range for the day was 1 to 17 degrees Celsius, with a mean of 9 degrees. It was a chilly start to the day but the afternoon was lovely, if a little windy to be perfect riding weather.

The total riding for the day was 46.6km with 194m of elevation (much kinder on the legs than most of our other riding days).  The total walking for the day was a sizable 13.1km.

Up next, our final riding day of the whole trip, and it was a rather wonderful way to end with a visit to Château de Chambord. Anto decided that he wasn’t getting enough exercise with all the riding and walking, so decided to row us all around the lake surrounding the château……

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