June 9 – 14
As Joanna needed to leave early the next morning to catch the one bus that would take her to the town where she could get on the train to our final stop in Chinon, I enjoyed the breakfast at the hotel for a reasonable 10-Euros. When I first arrived downstairs, it hadn’t been set up yet, but returning in what seemed like just a few minutes later, I encountered a spread worthy of the price charged.
I filled my tank in anticipation of a relatively short day of about 25 miles with very little elevation gain. There would be one tricky section where I had to pay attention to the signage, as I would be leaving the main Loire Valley Cycle Path for an offshoot that would take me into Chinon. As it was a short-day mileage wise, I took my time in order to enjoy the scenery as my good times on the bike would end soon. I did stop midway in a small town for a coffee, sitting beside the river savoring how good life can be sometimes.
Soon enough I found the junction where I would leave the main path and turn towards Chinon, whose outskirts I entered not long afterwards. Many, if not most, European towns have an historic center, full of those images we expect to see, such as narrow cobbled streets, ancient (by our American standards) buildings, and scenic public squares and plazas. But much like the outskirts of any growing U.S. town, here it is the same, that is big box furniture, home improvement, and supermarkets populate the landscape. And so, it was as I entered town.
Pedaling on, I found the road that would take me down into the center of the older part of town, alongside the Vienne River. There I located the hotel where I would be dropping off the bike and although it was closed for the afternoon, noticed a phone number to call. The helpful woman who answered provided me with the code for the large wooden door that led to a garden courtyard where I left the bike alongside many other such rentals.
Joanna had already arrived in town, and reunited with time to kill before we could check into the Hotel Diderot, our lodging for the night, we set out to explore that side of the town, whose many narrow streets sit below the town’s historic royal fortress. Henry II (Henry Plantagenet of England), Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionheart, and Joan of Arc all called this town home for a while. We entered the main town square and walking through it found an elevator that takes one to the top of the hill where the fortress, in this place since 1044, looks out over the city.
We ascended to the top, but decided not to tour the fortress and so retraced our steps to the town square where we found a table at Café des Arts, one of the many cafes there and enjoyed a relaxing coffee as we watched those around us who besides enjoying what appeared to be good food, were also watching us, the national pastime of most European countries.
At the bewitching hour, we walked back to the hotel to check in and be shown to our room. The building that now houses the hotel goes back to the 15th century, and its history is entwined with that of the nearby Saint-Mexme collegiate church, as it probably housed one of its prelates. The building was partly rebuilt in the 18th century and was home to a family of public servants who lived in the main building, and the right wing hosted the archives of the city of Chinon.
It was turned into a hotel in the early 1960s and after two sets of owners from 1979 on, sold to Jean-Pierre et Jamie Dagneaux, a Florida native. An accomplished baker and cook, she maintains the tradition of jam making here which goes back to the origins of the hotel itself. These are still produced to this day, using local and exotic fruit (apricots, bananas, figs, anis, rose, orange blossom and bergamot, etc.) numbering 50 or more at any given time. We would enjoy some of these jams at breakfast the next day.
Our bags having arrived, we hauled them up the narrow twisting stairwell to our room which was a little on the small side but nicely furnished and featured exposed wooden beams that date back to the construction of the building. We unpacked and set up shop, which today would include a visit to a nearby laundromat as we’d been on the road for almost two weeks.
At the laundromat we loaded up our machines and while waiting, I ducked next door to a small market to pick up a couple of beers and a bag of chili flavored tortilla chips. As we munched, we observed a woman banging and yelling at the washing machines, obviously upset about something, but what that was eluded us as we weren’t sure what language she was using. This went on for quite some time and when we tried to assist her the inability to communicate proved difficult to overcome.
Finished with the laundry, we dropped our clean clothes off at the hotel and then walked a couple of blocks back to the Stand’Wich, a burger joint we’d noticed earlier in the day. After enjoying our somewhat fancy meal the day before, a simple meal here appealed to our appetites as well as our pocketbook. I ordered a cheeseburger while Joanna opted for a chicken burger and along with an order of fries and a couple of sodas, the total price came to 14.4-Euros ($15.33). The budget sighed with relief as both sandwiches were as tasty as that type of food can get with good quality meat, fresh toppings and cooked correctly, proving that even homegrown fast food in France can’t be beat.
With some time to kill we returned to the Diderot to sit outside on the shaded patio and enjoy an after-dinner drink, for Joanna a Cremant de Loire and for me a Calvados Pays d’Auge. It was a great way to finish up our three-night stint in the Loire Valley, one we had to cut short by a day when a day or so earlier, as we reviewed the schedule we would need to meet to get to Francois’s place in Montpellier, we concluded that it would be difficult to manage successfully.
It would require three legs with tight layovers and would take most of the day, proving risky because if we missed a connection, there might not be another train later that day. After checking alternatives, we discovered we could take a two leg with a reasonable layover to Bordeaux, spend the night there and then a direct train to Montpellier.
Thus, we shorted Chinon, which did work out better. Should we return to the Loire though, we’d make the Diderot our headquarters for multiple days of riding in the area, it was that nice. At just 72-Euros a night it is a real bargain. Who wants to join us?
Hotel Diderot: https://hoteldiderot.com/en/home/