13 July – Cote de Granit Rose

It was still overcast when we awoke, but at least not raining. The unseasonal weather seems set to continue (according the the internet July is the driest month in Brittany!!)For a change we had the hotel breakfast, which was very good. It included the use of a machine that you can feed oranges into to make real fresh squeezed juice. We enjoyed watching the rabbit running around the courtyard while we ate – feeling frisky in the morning I think.

We first set out to see the pink granite boulders that we had ridden so far in the rain for. We did a scenic trip around the peninsular (adding around 20km to our day). Perros-Guirec has a harbour with yachts and the town is up a hill with coastal views. The sea is flat here with sharp rocks sticking out of it here and there. We rode along a bit further to the town of Tregastel to see the pink boulders. We had to park the bikes and walk along the beach a bit to see the most famous site, by a lighthouse. The site is protected and you cannot ride a bike along here. The boulders have interesting shapes and look a little like modern sculptures. There are boulders along large stretches of this beach and you could easily spend a day walking around here.

On our way back – we had the second broken spoke on Kris’s new bike (which has now done almost 2000km so is no longer new). So together with the sight seeing it was a late start to our journey to Saint-Brieuc.

Our route took us through Louannec, Coatreven, Tréguier, Lézardrieux, Paimpol, Plouézec, Plouha, Etables-sur-Mer, Binic, Pordic, Plérin, St-Brieuc. For most of the ride we were very near the coast but couldn’t actually see the sea. The roads were also busy – as there are not many alternate routes going through the big towns around the coast.

Early on we saw some huge glass-houses – stretching over a few acres of land. We are not sure what they were growing inside.

We stopped to look inside the church in Lézardrieux – which has a medieval town center with cobble stones and many cafes around the church. After crossing a bridge at the inlet of the Trieux river we arrived in Paimpol, another lovely tourist town with a harbour full of yachts  and a waterfront developed for the tourists (a large number of creperies). We had a snack on a bench overlooking a lock between the harbour and the sea. There were two yachts going through. This was interesting as we haven’t seen locks on a harbour before.

There was a lot of activity on the beach at Etables-sur-Mer – a children’s sand ball contest and also people playing petanque beside the beach. After this the road was very congested.

We stopped to have a look at an old windmill – the first we have seen in France. It had sails on the wooden vanes which can be rolled back or extended as needed.

Kris managed to find a short side road at Binic, but then we were forced back onto the busy road. Kris tried finding a bike route again at Perdic, taking us on a beautiful route through tiny settlements on the hills above the coast. Unfortunately it petered out and walkers advised that the route didn’t go through to St-Brieuc. So we had to back track onto the main road again. At this point it started to drizzle and then rain.

The route into St-Brieuc took us down a long steep narrow gorge to a river, and then a hill climb on the other side into the town. We arrived later than planned after 111km (further than we wanted to due to detours). The rain was pretty steady by the time we got to our hotel but luckily we were not soaked through yet. The great thing about this hotel is that we were allowed to use their drying room next to a furnace. All our clothes and shoes were totally dry the next morning.

12 June – A wet day in Brittany

After overcast conditions the last few days, we set off reluctantly this morning in a light drizzle – with the forecast for more rain in the afternoon. The worst part of riding in the rain is starting and stopping. Once you have warmed up, it is not so bad if the rain is not too hard. And so it was today. Most of the morning it was on and off, light drizzle, allowing us to dry off in between. The bad thing about stopping is the clean up required – the bikes and everything else get really dirty.

Our original plan was to follow the velo verte (green off-road bicycle route) north. We tried it out for around 5km to start with, but it soon became so muddy that we gave up on the idea (it is unsealed). Kris had mapped out an alternative route on small roads, however we found the main road was quiet enough to use. And so we progressed through the countryside.

Our first stop was at the town of Guerlesquin, which has a cobble stones, a pretty church and most noticeably a small 16 century prison at the center – it is a square stone building that you can go into. They really knew how to do prisons in those days – the bottom floor where the prisoners were kept is pretty miserable, cold and dark – then there are two upper floors where the guards lived. There is also a small chapel between two houses that is all that is left of a convent after the French revolution. We had a warming coffee at the pub.

The main road after Guerlesquin became more busy so Kris took us on some side routes. We reached Plestin-les-Gréves around lunchtime and still both felt really good – the rain was very light and we were not too wet. So we decided to proceed a further 28km or so to Perros Guirec, where we wanted to see the pink granite boulders. We booked a night in a hotel there through the tourist office. When we came out of the tourist office we both felt cold again (we had stopped for too long), we found the supermarket to buy some high carb snacks (read pastries) before proceeding to Lannion.

We first hit the coast at St-Michel-en-Gréve – we have never seen a beach with greenery growing on it before. There is also a little stone church which is very pretty, being right on the beach.

Lannion is a large town around 8km from our final destination. The traffic was busy driving through and we didn’t stop. There was an exhibition of ‘menhirs’ on the river front painted by individual artists and also a market. On the way out of town we found a large supermarket and bought our supper. Once we came out the rain was heavier. We waited 5 min but it didn’t look like clearing, so we gritted our teeth and rode on. Around 8km to Perros-Guirec. This was not a pleasant ride as we got soaked and there was quite a bit of traffic. In places there were welcome cycle paths on the side of the roads, but not consistently.

We arrived at our seaside hotel wet and in the rain (after 87km). They were very accommodating, giving us a bucket of water to wash down the bikes and panniers in the courtyard. The unique thing about the courtyard is that a tame black rabbit lives in it – it was curious but not alarmed by the activity.

The room was nice and large and warm. There was enough space to take everything out of the panniers to dry. We have all our stuff in plastic bags in the panniers, so it stays dry. However when they get this wet you need to take everything out so that the panniers can dry properly.  I think this is the wettest they have been.

Kris and I both fell asleep for a couple of hours after our supper, exhausted, and then woke up again at about 9pm to do our emails etc. Then we had difficulty falling asleep again later!

11 July – Rest day in Carhaix

Today we had the rest day we wanted on Kris’s birthday.

After a late start we had a lovely breakfast, including an unusual pudding made with maize meal, served cold and with tinned apricots on top – nicer than it sounds!

We also had jams made by the hostess, croissants, baguette and as much coffee as we could drink.

We spent some time exploring the town and environs and also doing some shopping (in all 27km). There is a lovely park at the “Vallée de l’Hyéres where we rode through the forest along the river. Looking up we saw we were in an adventure park here with all kinds of ladders and ropes between the trees. You can traverse the tree tops in different ways, with a safety harness.

We had a big lunch at a community restaurant – 3 courses plus wine and coffee before heading back to rest. The place was full of people and it was interesting chatting with the couple at the next table.

After lunch we had a good nap and headed back into town in the evening to sample the fare at the local Crepery. Buckwheat Crepes with ham, cheese and an egg are the regional specialty.

10 July – Happy Birthday Kris, here is a flat tire (or two) for you to fix

We did some sight seeing around Pontivy before starting out on our canal ride again. Pontivy used to be called Napoleonville, as it was chosen by Napoleon as a military intelligence center. There is a square in the middle of the town large enough for 10,000 soldiers to parade on. Today it is a car park, which spoils the romance slightly. It is surrounded by old civic buildings of the time including the old military barracks.  We also rode around the Pontivy chateau. Built at the end of the 15th century by Jean II of Rohan (known as the Grand Viscount), it has military reinforcements such as a thick wall and a moat (now dry).

We had not gone far on the canal when my bike developed a puncture from a shard of glass. Kris fixed it with one of our old tubes, which only lasted a few kilometers before the tire was flat again. This time we fixed it with a fancy self-repairing tube, which lasted.

Later in the morning we reached the Guerlédan, a dam built on the canal. This dam flooded part of the canal, including several locks, causing some anger among canal lovers, as it is no longer navigable past this point.

We veered inland at this point and had some hill climbs for the first time in days. We found our way through some very pretty small villages with stone cottages and garden gnomes. At times there was a proper off road bike route (green way) surrounded by trees, at other times Kris navigated through the countryside. We had some good views over the dam from above. We met a friendly British lady walking a dog who lives here for the life style (she rides horses). She mentioned that you can’t get rich here because of low employment opportunities.

We were running later than expected at this point and getting tired. When we re-joined the canal the bike track was not quite as good as before, being unsealed and muddy in places. The canal climbed slowly through many locks, until we finally reached the top point. We passed a group of children out on their bikes in the holidays.

It was nice and relaxing when the canal began to descend quickly through a few dozen locks and we could free-wheel at times. We passed an elderly couple done up in cycling gear and ala Tour de France style bikes just before we turned off for Carhaix. We commented on their gear being non- ideal for the canal track. They passed us again at the turn off. Little did we know that we would later be staying in their home (bed and breakfast).

This bed and breakfast is in self contained rooms on the side of the house, with its own entrance through the garage, where we can store the bikes. The house is immaculately clean and neat and the hosts friendly, though they don’t speak any English.

In all we did 95km.

9 July – Perfect canal ride

Today we had a perfect canal ride – cool overcast conditions and a great bike route, tarred and off road for most of the way. We ended up doing a record distance of 133km.

We started out with an indulgent coffee and pastry breakfast feast at the Redon bakery. We were on the road early enough to appreciate the morning mist rising from the canal. We also spotted our second otter in the water near our hotel.

We veered off the canal into some towns early in the day but the canal route was so good we stayed on it for the rest of the day. We both think that this is the most beautiful canal ride we have had so far. The canal is lined with trees and reflects them like a mirror for much of the time.

The first town of note was Josselin which we came to just before midday. The first sight of Josselin as you come around a bend in the canal is the castle, sitting on the bank with four high turrets. There are canal boats parked in the harbor with a multitude of flowers on the banks. We were absolutely charmed by the medieval town behind the castle, which was full of flags in preparation for a upcoming medieval festival. The smells coming from a Josselyn bakery were so good they prompted our second bakery stop of the day.

We passed by locks every few kilometers, most of them with beautifully maintained bright flower gardens. It seems there is a lot of pride in the gardens, and maybe even a little rivalry between the different locks. Each lock has a little cottage next to it with pots of flowers outside. They also put pots of flowers on the lock itself. The locks before Rohan were especially lovely, we think for the number of tourist boats on the canal. Often there is also a bridge and a small town nearby.

Rohan had a chateau (1104) of note, near the lock. We had a quick ride through town to look at all the stone buildings before continuing on the canal.

After Rohan the canal climbs quickly, with a few dozen locks in a few kilometers. These locks are less elaborately maintained. However, they are functional as we saw a large boat coming through one.

When we got to the top of the canal, we saw the channel that feeds into it. These canals are an engineering feat for their age. They were initiated by Napoleon I as a strategic highway between ports in case the British navy cut off the sea ports.

It was muddy at the top (as there was no parallel river system) and our bikes got dirty again.

The canal then dropped rapidly again through a few dozen locks into Pontivy.

We found the Office de Tourisme in Pontivy housed in a large canal boat.

Unfortunately the bed and breakfast that we found in Pontivy was not very nice as it was not private, being a boys bedroom (complete with boy decor) in the house. We would have stayed two days but decided to press on and find a better place to rest.

8 July – Redon – where the canals intersect

We stayed dry today, despite overcast conditions the whole morning (in fact it was perfect cool riding weather). We only did a half day ride, stopping at Redon at 12.30 after 45km. We took country roads for most of the ride, which were very quiet being a Sunday.

The countryside is mostly flat, with corn and cows. Just after Blain we rode through the Forét du Gàvr, which was mostly pine trees and ferns (there are supposedly chestnuts and mushrooms and an old tower there, none of which we could see). Our route then took us through the small towns of Plessé, Fégréac and Bellion. Each town has a church – the steeples seem to be higher here then in the rest of France. We are also seeing more stone buildings.

We returned to the canal for the last 10km of the ride. The path along it had dried out enough to ride along.

Redon was founded in 832 by a monk who founded an abbey here. We visited the abbey church (11-13th century) which was very beautiful, especially the bright colours of the contemporary stained glass. The Gothic bell tower is separate to the rest of the church because the nave was damaged by fire in 1780 and then rebuilt shorter than the original.

Redon is remarkable as it is at the junction of the Oust and Vilaine rivers, as well as the Canal de Nantes à Brest. The canal crosses the river in the town. There are lots of yachts and canal boats moored here. The narrow old buildings overlooking the canal and cobble stone streets coming off it make this a very attractive town to explore.

The tourist office had just closed (until 3pm) when we arrived at 12.30pm, so we found our own hotel – just on the outskirts of town near the canal. In the evening we rode around town again looking at the canals and river junction before getting some treats from the bakery, which we ate on a bench by the canal.

Finally we had a beer and coffee at a local pub. We sat outside and were amazed at the number of people coming in and out (to get cigarettes we think as everything else is closed on a Sunday). We were amused by people stopping their cars in the narrow one way street to dash in for cigarettes, eventually holding up 4 or 5 other cars behind them, before they come back to move their car. This happened again and again while we were sitting there!

7 July – Drenched

When we woke up it was raining. By the time we had eaten breakfast it had cleared, so we set off on our last day on the La Loire à Vélo.

We stumbled across some sculptures in a park in Montjean, one of which depicted a man struggling to escape from the rock.

The ride to Ancenis was pleasant and reasonably dry.  At Ancenis we left the la Loire à Vélo route to cross over into Brittany, as we are wanting to avoid going through the city at Nantes.

Ancenis has a Chateau which is partly in ruins. It dates from the 10th century and has two striking towers (large and stubby) from the 15th century. We stopped to buy strawberries at the Saturday morning market and then went on to a supermarket to get the rest of our evening meal (as everything closes on Saturday afternoon).

Just before we found the supermarket it began to rain again. While we were inside it stopped and the sun was shining as we walked out. As soon as we started riding it began again. We had this on and off rain until we reached Nort-sur-Erdre, where we planned to stay. Unfortunately the Office de Tourisme couldn’t find us accommodation in town, so we decided to ride on a further 16km to a Gite (holiday house) out in the countryside, near the canal.

As soon as we left it began raining again in earnest without letting up and we became soaked (including our shoes). Kris elected to ride along the road most of the way, which was a good decision. After some tricky navigation we found our way onto the canal and it was very muddy. Soon my legs were full of mud, as well as the gear chain and pannier bags. We had difficulty finding the Gite as the instructions were less than precise. We asked for directions to the village (Lappé, which is near Le Chevallerais) several times. It is so small it doesn’t appear on the map. It was a wonder we found it. When we got to the Gite we phoned the owner who soon appeared. The accommodation is not in the Gite, but in a building next door that appears to be used as a pre-school out of holiday times. We are sleeping in a makeshift area upstairs. However it is very private and warm and there is a good kitchen and bathroom. Best of all there is a washing machine – so no hand washing for Kris tonight!

In all we did 84km but it felt longer because of the rain.

6 July – Flowers and houses

We set off reluctantly in the rain, which luckily soon cleared up. The first part of the trip went past Chenehutte, Tréves and Cunault, which all had mostly white stone houses with blue shutters and are right on the banks of the Loire. They take a lot of care with their gardens and there are many flowers, especially roses and geraniums decorating the front of the houses. At one point there are private gardens with vegetables and flowers right up to the edge of the Loire, with the houses that they belong to on the other side of the road.

We stopped at Ste-Gemmes-Sur-Loir to see the Jardin du Presbytère. This is a small garden in front of the church with brightly coloured flowers – all orange and red and yellow – planted in geometric patterns – and immaculately kept.

In the afternoon there were a few very short showers of about 5 min each. We could literally see the individual dark clouds passing over us. Once it was finished the sun shone again and we were soon dry again.

We passed by Chalonnes-sur-Loire just after one of these showers and considered stopping there, but decided to go a bit further. The town looked lovely on the other side of the Loire – all white houses and a church.

At this point we were on an island in the middle of two parts of the Loire. We were amused to pass a Lenin pub just after Chalonnes – people were sitting outside, one with a full beard and another playing an accordion. We were again tempted to stop for a drink (and maybe interesting conversation with some socialists), however it would have been too hard to start cycling again.

We reached the end of our journey at Montjean-sur-Loire (after 94km). Our bikes were a bit muddy from the rain and needed a wash. We found a wonderful bed and breakfast that specialises in cyclists. It is run by a friendly German lady who provides a shared kitchen, dining room and lounge for her guests, as well as the bedroom. We enjoyed making a cooked meal again.

Our hostess tells us that the weather is unseasonably cool – that this time last year the temperature was in the 30s with no rain. She has also had fewer cycle tourists coming through than usual – 2010 was her best year so far.

The next morning we had one of our best breakfasts in France – in fact it was more like a German breakfast. We had a boiled egg, cheese and yogurt, as well as good French bread, croissant and jam and coffee.

4 July – Gardens and Caves

Our first stop today was at Villandry, only about 15km out of Tours, to see the gardens at the Chateau Villandry (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C3%A2teau_de_Villandry). The gardens are beautiful and require a huge amount of labour to maintain – there are lots of trimmed box hedges and manicured lawns. The vegetable gardens are immaculately laid out in geometric patterns – it is not clear whether the vegetables are ever eaten or if they are purely decorative. There are also fun elements such as a maze and children’s playground.

There were lots of other bicycle tourists on the route today, many also stopping at Villandry. Most of the route was on the river bank and easy going. We passed fields of sunflowers, about to flower (they will look amazing when they do).

Crossing the bridge at Candes-St-Martin, we had a view of the lovely stone church and town on the river. The road into town took us past the church. There were people having lunch at a restaurant right in front of it. We stopped to have a look – the church is from the 12-13th centuries, honors St Martin and has carvings of figures on the porch and high in the nave.

The ride was extremely picturesque from here on. We passed by several white cliffs where people had built houses around caves in the cliffs. We stopped at Turquant to have a closer look at some of them. They had art galleries in them, so we could look inside. One was a cafe where we had some fruit juice. The town around these caves had narrow streets with houses made of white stone and several artist studios.

Coming into Samur we stopped to see the Notre-Dame des Ardillers – a church with a huge dome built in the 17th century. This has been a place of pilgrimage since the 15th century when a farmer found a Pieta statuette buried in a field. He took it home but the next day found that she had returned to the same place. This happened two or three times over until the farmer constructed a stone arch on this place to shelter her, from which water sprung. This statue is still venerated today.

In all we did 97km today – around 85km to Saumur and the rest to the supermarket and back.

We are staying in a self catering cabin in a campground, mostly so that we can do some of our own cooking. This is the first time we are staying in a French campground. The cabin is not really cheaper to stay in than a hotel or bed and breakfast. I can see why families come here though as there are playgrounds and a children’s entertainment program. It is also pretty empty considering that it is high season (only about 30% full).

The campground is on an island in the middle of the Loire. You can look across the river and see the Chateau from parts of it.