This was my favorite day in France.
We rented bicycles from the friendly man at the bike rental / wine store. He spoke fragmented English, but he drew some scribbles on a comically bad map and sent us on our way.
(As an aside, someone could make a killing selling bike maps in France. There are routes marked everywhere, but no maps to speak of. Needless to say, this frustrated me.)
Dorinna pulled Nate in a tag-a-long, and we both had baskets and panniers for carrying things. We started out of town, heading down the Loire river on a bike path. We had a little confusion before we found our turn. Up, up, up the river valley. We eventually left the town and the route turned into a bike path through Forêt d’Amboise (Amboise Forest).
We crested a hill and the trail became mostly downhill, finally coming out through vineyards and farms.
We continued up the Cher river valley, mostly on bike paths, but with a few roads thrown in as well. We generally tracked upstream, crossing to the south bank at one point. We passed through another forest, now on a dirt path, arriving at Château de Chenonceau.
Château de Chenonceau has an unusual design. The main castle lay on the north bank of the Cher river. But a great hall extends over the river to the south bank. We couldn’t enter from our side so we continued upstream to the next bridge crossing and looped back. We grabbed sandwiches and then headed into the castle.
The château had a rich history, involving kings, queens, mistresses, and various other intrigues. The castle felt eminently livable, more so than any other we’ve seen. The rooms were nicely furnished, and the audioguide that described it all was the best yet. We walked a bit through the gardens and played in the hedge labyrinth before heading back to the bikes.
Our route back was a bit confused as we tried to avoid backtracking upstream and crossing to the south bank. We found ourselves climbing steeply out of the valley, which clued us in to the fact that we were on a different marked route back to Amboise. We decided to give it a shot and we were glad we did. We climbed steeply through a series of tiny villages, each one cuter than the one before. “This is disgustedly cute” I exclaimed. Farms and small copses were interspersed between the villages. When we made it out of the valley we stopped for a snack of bread and nutella to recharge. The bike route signs had disappeared, and we kind of felt our way home from there.
As we traveled back through the Forêt Amboise, Dorinna was getting tired of pulling Nate, so we switched bikes. Dorinna hadn’t realized that my bike was a noisy, rusty, clunky, wholly-inadequate, barely-ridable piece of trash, and we quickly switched back. It was easier to pull Nate than to ride my bike, so my disparagement was no exaggeration. We found our way back into town and down the main strip.
A wonderful, magical day exploring the french countryside. Doing it on bicycles made it that much better!