LOIRE VELO 6 SEPTEMBER 2016
"If you take my advice there's nothing so nice. As messing about on the river." The words of the Tony Hatch /Les Reid song are especially true if the river in question is La Loire and the messing about involves cycling in the region of 500 miles along the Rive Gauche and the Rive Droite at a leisurely pace and wining and dining in the sultry late summer French evenings within a stones thow of this magnificent region of La Belle France.
I four hour drive to Rosslare, a 19 hour cruise on board the Oscar Wilde and a further four hour drive down the Carentan Peninsula through Rennes and Redon and across the spectatcular St Nazaire Bridge and the two intrepid travellers were soon ensconced in the Hotel Estuaire set in the picturesque centre of the out of town Centre Commercial. Cheap and cheerful which was to become a theme of the trip but interspersed with surprises, some delightful and one disasterous.
After a hearty meal in the adjacent Buffalo Grill and the first bottle of wine (also a recurring theme) we hit the sack with a sense of excitement at what lay ahead the following morning. The following dawn, well 7.40 am to be precise we set off for the official start (or finish depending on which way you decide to go) of the Loire Velo 6. Set beside the St Nazaire Bridge and directly opposite the massive shipyards currently fitting out the newest and most luxurious of the MSC Cruise liners, the start line was surrounded by crowds cheering in admiration of the task being attempted by these two sexagenarians from Northern Ireland. If only!! Sadly we alone and forced to take 'selfies' to confirm that we had actually got to the start line.
If truth be told the first day left a lot to be desired. After the off it was quite a long time before we caught site once more of the Loire Estuary as the designers of the Velo Route were intent on keeping two wheeled travellers as far removed from the four wheel version as possible which meant lots of meandering through hedgerows along the least motorised stretches of tarmac (if you were lucky) as possible. Sadly this was to mean that throughout the trip many of the small communities that straddle the river banks were bypassed and our tyres experienced probably every surface known to man.
Early on however we did realise that the signposting of the route is of a very high standard and amazingly vandal free. Throughout the entire length of the Velo 6 from St Brevin to Nevers we only encounterd two problems and one of these was down to our error and not the route planners, our error was however to prove a costly one in terms of energy expended.
The main attraction of day one which took us 75 kilometres to the village of Le Loreau Bottereau in the hills above Nantes was the ferry across the Loire (not to be confused with the better known version across the Mersey. The short 350 metres cruise across an extremely fast running river laden with detritious runs every 20 minutes carrying cars, motorbikes, cycles and pedestrians from Le Pellerin to Le Port Launay and astonishingly it is free!! Sadly the next 15 kilometres or so to Nantes takes in probably the busiest road of the trip as well as the evil smelling local sewage works and the inustrial backwaters of the city with even the quaint village of Indre for some bizarre reason being bypassed around the backs of the houses - a mistake we rectified on the way back.
The II Etait Une Fois Chez Moi in the hilltop village of Le Loreau Bottereau was a delight despite the climb and the hostess welcomed us with open arms and made us fell very much at home. The breakfast next morning was served in the most elegant of dining rooms and we made the most of the delicious freshly made crepes topped with home made jams and washed down with pure fresh orange juice and ample servings of coffee. Being Bed and Breakfast only we sought out a dining option in the evening but being Wednesday our options were limited to two and we opted for the most select meal of the trip at Les Halles where everything we ordered was the Chefs choice. The dishes were interestingly presented to say the least but were delicious (if pricey).
With the distance increasing on Day 2 we decided not to go back to wher we left the river but to cut a corner and head 'down' to Champtoceaux to cross the river and procede to Ancenis along the Northern bank of the Loire. It looked like a good idea on the map but we omitted to study and contours and after an initial downhill we found ourselves climbing steeply through the village of Varennes and along the Route Touristique du Vignoble de l'Anjou. For those who know their vines you will apreciate that they are generally found in elevated places and this was no exception. It did however afford us with stunning views across the river to the spires of Oudon whch we eventually reached after a somewhat hair raising descent (well it would have been had we had any hair) through a series of 'S' bends.
The Velo 6 on this stretch switches banks on several occasions before eventually crossing below Angers at Bouchemaine wher the River Maine joins the Loire. For most of the day we hugged the river whcih was hiving with wildlife and the occasional fisherman but human kind was rare apart from the odd 'tourist' passing on various forms of two wheeled transport going in the opposite direction with most returning our cheery greeting of 'bonjour'. When in Rome........... Coffee was taken in total solitude on the sun kissed decking of the Hostellerie de la Gabelle in St Florent Le Viel. We saw little, indeed nothing, of Angers as we holed up in yet another Centre Commercial ubiquitous travelers hotel at Les Pont de Ce. The Premiere Classe (do they do a Deuxime Classe ?) Hotel was at the very end of a Cul de Sac and we greeted on the way down by the bizarre sight of a fitness class from a local gym doing backward runs along the road! For this they were no doubt paying more than we were paying for the hotel.