Europe 2022 – Loire Valley, Part Five

June 9 – 14

At 34 miles and about 600 feet of climbing, this would be the longest day of the three of riding.  Our destination would be the small town of Villandry, chosen simply because the distance was just about right for the day and there is a chateau there that Joanna could visit. 

Amboise to Villandry

We enjoyed our supermarket breakfast in the room, packed up the bags, dropped them at the storage room, and from there I took off for another nice day on the bike, except for that damn seat.  Having learned a lesson from the day before, I made sure I rode a bit slower and drank plenty of water.  For the first half of the ride, I followed alongside the river, stopping now and then take in the beautiful scenery before pressing on. 

About halfway I stopped in the small town of Montlouis-sur-Loire for a delightful snack at Patisserie Poirier, featuring so many good looking edible options my only regret was that Joanna wasn’t there to help me decide.  I ordered a Café au Lait and a large piece of lemon poppy seed cake, taking a third of the cake with me to enjoy later.  While there, two women from England sat at the table next to mine and we discussed their itinerary, which at some points had overlapped with mine. 

Finished, I hopped back on the bike and took off in what I thought was the right direction, only to soon realize I was off track.  I retraced my steps and eventually found the turn, a small alleyway, directly behind the patisserie, which I had missed when I rode into town as I was searching for a place to stop to snack, not to turn. 

An easy ride later, fortified by that lemon cake, I hit the town of Tours, famous for its cathedral and one of the largest cities in the region, with a 2018 population in the city of 136,463 inhabitants and 516,973 in the whole metropolitan area.  I stopped to take a picture of the cathedral and then pedaled on for some distance before realizing that I was again off track and by retracing my steps found the turn, not far from where I had stopped to take the picture. 

Tours Cathedral

I passed a picturesque bend in the river, the foreground full of the small boats that ply this stretch of the river, as they are adapted to river navigation and their low draught allow them to sail when river levels are low.  The Toue is a typical vessel used for fishing today while the Fûtreau, is used for crossing from one riverbank to the other.

Soon enough I crossed the river to land in Villandry, our home for the night and checked into The Originals City, Hôtel Le Cheval Rouge.  As it was mid-afternoon, it was quiet with just a couple of staff members cleaning up after what may have been the lunch hour, the restaurant there comprising a large part of the first floor of the building.  I stored the bike in back on a patio, locking it to a stanchion, and then, back inside checked in for the night for the very reasonable charge of 75-Euros ($82). 

Our room was up just one flight of stairs, a blessing as many of the places we stayed at did not have elevators, making those large bags of ours a burden to manage.  Our room, while spacious, was a bit run down, but as clean as one would want and so, having set the bags down and done some unpacking, I ventured a couple of blocks to the L’Epicerie Gourmande, a small shop and restaurant where I purchased a bottle of local Rose after a lively exchange with the proprietress in my non-existent French.

Joanna arrived and feeling a little peckish, we walked a few blocks to the Chateau which she had visited earlier to see if we could scare up a snack.  The Chateau is famous for its extensive gardens, arranged in elaborate geometric patterns and immaculately maintained, and are considered to be the best in the Loire Valley while the building itself is just another Loire palace,

Chateau Villandry

Finished in 1536, Chateau Villandry was the last great Renaissance château built on the Loire, a pet project of a fabulously wealthy finance minister of François I—Jean le Breton.  While serving as ambassador to Italy, Jean picked up a love of Italian Renaissance gardens.  When he took over this property, he razed the 12th-century castle (keeping only the old tower), put up his own château, and installed a huge Italian-style garden.  The château was purchased in 1906 by the present owner’s great-grandfather, and the garden—a careful reconstruction of what the original might have been—is the result of three generations of passionate dedication.

Unfortunately for us, the outdoor kiosk at the Chateau was ending the days service and so we opted for something small to eat, I really can’t recall what, and enjoyed sitting in the warm sun, before returning to the room to wait for dinner, working on that bottle of Rose between the two of us.  As we assessed the condition of the room, we were amazed to find an abandoned nest of some winged pest, glad to know they wouldn’t be buzzing around us that night as the room was not air conditioned and the windows would need to be open to let in whatever coolness the night might bring. 

The Nest

Soon enough it was time to head downstairs for dinner and we took advantage of the two prix fixe options, one of three courses and the other of two.  Joanna would start with the Fois Gras Maison while I enjoyed the Assiette Tourganelle, which featured Rillons, Rillette de Tours and a Fromage Tome de Tours.  Rillons, an old French word that means a small piece of pork, are bacon cooked long and slow in lard and white wine until “confit”, while Rillettes de Tours is a spread made from pork meat that has been slowly cooked in a pot of pork fat.  That’s a lot of pork and all of it was all very good.

For entrees Joanna opted for the Filet de Bar, French Sea Bass with a scent of vanilla while I enjoyed a delicious Cuisee de Pintarde or Guinea Fowl Leg in a brown gravy with hints of rosemary.  For dessert, we split the Panna Cotta coulis layered with a red fruit puree, topped by an almond cookie. 

The meal was a highlight and a bargain, all things considered the three-course prix fixe at 27-euros and the two course at 22-euros.  Along with a bottle of white wine the tab came to 70-Euros ($77), proving again just how affordable good dining can be in Europe.  And so, we finished day two of the bike and chateau adventure and looked forward our last day on the way to Chinon.  We’d sleep better than expected that warm night, a floor fan doing what it could to cool us down, just another night on the road in France. 


Patisserie Poirier:

The Originals City, Hôtel Le Cheval Rouge:

L’Epicerie Gourmande:

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