Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Cycling ... or almost

The banks of the Loire and its tributaries offer great cycling possibilities. However, be prepared to tackle some steep climbs once you’re leaving the valleys to explore the surrounding countryside. In Flemish we call these steep climbs ‘kuitenbijter’. This is a contraction if the word ‘kuit’, meaning ‘calf’, like the lower hind part of you leg, and ‘bijter’, meaning ‘someone who bites’. I’m sure there must be a similar word in English other than the literal translation ‘calf-biter’.

Over the years we’ve seen many cyclist cruising the Loire Valley’s country roads. On flat terrain, they usually move in large groups at a steady pace. On hilly roads, the groups automatically split up in small ones, with the most ardent and trained cyclists leading the way. In the worst case scenario the weakest riders are stumbling along, on foot pushing their bikes uphill, some two or three kilometres behind the leaders. I always feel sorry for these poor souls, as you can tell that they are not really used to riding a bike and have been talked into this ordeal by their weathered friends.

I think it is very unwise to start out on such a journey if you’re not used to cycling or of if you’re lacking the necessary physical training. Over the years, we’ve only made one attempt to cycle along a river path. It was in 2006 after visiting the Château de Nitray, located in Saint Martin-Le-Beau halfway between Amboise and Chenonceau. I had read on the castle’s website that the owners provided free bikes to visitors who, at the end of the tour and wine tasting, felt like peddling along the banks of the nearby Cher River.

2006: 'Pigeonnier' at the Château de Nitray.
Three dummies ... or just two?

Arriving at the Château, we were greeted by a young student who had been hired to collect the entrance fee and to hand over a leaflet explaining the history and main features of the castle. We were informed that the tour didn’t include a visit of the interior, but that we were free to explore the chapel and the ‘pigeonnier’ (round building housing the dove tills). As the next wine tasting session, which was to be hosted by the lord of the castle himself, was scheduled at four o’clock, we had ample time to have a look around. We were also invited to use the bikes that were stalled in the courtyard … which we did or at least tried!

Not being an outdoor person, I hadn’t ridden a bike in 30 years or so and I immediately felt ill at ease. All the available bikes were of the mountainbike type, with the handlebars pointing downwards. The saddle was hard and uncomfortable. But you know what they say: “You never forget how to ride a bike.” I therefore mustered all courage and set out on my heroic journey. My friend rode ahead of me. With the handlebars pointing downwards, I had the funny feeling of sitting with my nose on the front wheel.

After ten minutes I had enough of it. I felt too uneasy to really enjoy the landscape. In fact, I hardly saw it as the dust road was rather bumpy and I kept looking downwards, trying to avoid the many potholes. I stopped and called my friend who was already well ahead of me, further down the road. He turned round, worried.

When I told him that I was too insecure to continue and that I was afraid I would fall, he agreed that we’d walk back to the castle. We were just in time for the wine tasting. This somewhat steadied my nerves and quickly made me forget about my wobbly cycling adventure.

Do you feel like taking a bike ride along the Cher River? Just drop in at the Château de Nitray as it has lots to offer: culture, wine and sports!



Leon and Sue Sims said...

Oh, my God Martine. You and Sue are soul mates when it comes to bikes. Its not where she prefers to be!!!
When staying in Chinon I enjoyed the ride to Lil Bouchard (is that right) and back before breakfast.

chm said...

The joke would be too easy and in very bad taste, but it is a good picture of you, Martine.

ladybird said...

Leon, Chinon - L'Ile Bouchard and back: that's a total of 32 km (I looked it up on not bad exercise before breakfast!

Chm, I wondered who was going to take the 'bait' :)

Jean said...

Martine - two wheels are ok so long as there is a nice big noisy engine between them !!

The last time I rode a bicycle was in 1994. I found it difficult to master the gears and I lasted about 20 minutes. The bicycle I had before that didn't have any.

ladybird said...

Jean, In the 80-ties I bought a bike with ... three gears. It was the first time that I rode such a bike. After 6 months I sold it to my ex-sister-in-law. And that was the end of my biking career. Except for this one time in 2006 at the Château de Nitray :)