La Loire à Vélo

(Due to wifi scarcity issues, I'm posting this from London at Nick Jessee's apartment! The adventure continues!)

I’m writing on the train from Cosne to Paris-Bercy, where I’ll make my way to Paris du Nord and then finally get on the train to London to visit my good friend Nick. (Update: this all worked out with only minor tribulations—I didn't have cell service and then took a wrong turn in Southwark, London very close to Nick's apartment, and ended up in a vortex of curving mews and terraces, but I found it ok.)

It was miserable—cold and rainy—when I left Sancerre. But! No use wallowing with hubris, there are still many things about this wonderful area of France that I didn’t get to yet, so I'll still be posting about France even though I'm not there anymore. Something that’s been on my list to cover for three weeks now is the La Loire a Velo, the bike path that runs along the Loire valley. One week after arriving in Sancerre, on the Sunday, I rented a bike from the Office of Tourism with Kathleen, and we were off.

 

Those first few moments on the bike, I was ecstatic. Last year was the first time I got bitten with the biking bug, really falling in love with it, wanting to bike all the time. But I hadn’t biked since December because for most of the first part of 2015 until I left, my neighborhood looked a little something like this (potential trigger warning ahead for those who lived through this):

To Cosne

Additionally, during my first week in Sancerre I only had been exploring on foot, and though I’d done a fair bit of walking, getting down the hill to Saint-Satur, my range was limited. Getting back on a bike opened up a much wider area of exploration, and I felt like I could go anywhere. It reminded me a bit of when I went to Amsterdam last year and rented a bike; looking at a map of the city, and realizing that all of it was available to me. It’s absolutely thrilling.

Here’s a photo of me before heading off.

So off we went, zig-zagging down the hill, and riding the breaks nearly the whole the way to the canal.

The Loire a Velo is 500 miles (800 km) of bike path that runs through the Loire valley. There are some sections that run along the road, but most of it has its own path, and at least near Sancerre, it either runs along the canal, or through fields.

In Sancerre, it’s quite easy to find the bike path, at least for the direction that heads north—simply aim yourself between the two big grain elevators, which will stand out because they are these ugly monstrous things right on the outskirts of a medieval village—really, you can’t miss them. Here are some photos I took of them at dusk:

Here's the one on the right

Here's the one on the right

and the other

and the other

And here's a photo of one of them from way up on the hill, shrouded in fog.

The canal runs along the Loire, and these grain elevators are built such that boats can just pull up right underneath them and fill up with a delivery, and then continue along the canal. Anyway, cross over the canal from the Sancerre side and hang a left onto the bike path. (there are signs) From there, it runs flat for many miles, hugging the canal, with meadows on the right side. It was absolutely dazzlingly beautiful.

If you're thinking "that doesn't look dazzlingly beautiful," trust me when I say the pictures don't do it justice.

If you're thinking "that doesn't look dazzlingly beautiful," trust me when I say the pictures don't do it justice.

There were other people on the path, both walking and biking, and everyone said “Bonjour!” when we passed, and so we’d say it back. I loved that every new encounter was another opportunity to practice this one simple word—the accent, the intonation—did they think I was French? Or could they tell that I’m? No matter, I could try again with the next person.

After a bit the path diverges from the canal, and we were on the road, and we went through a few towns, though most everything was closed, because it was a Sunday. We made a bit of a loop at the end, which took us through Cosne, a bigger city nearby, where the train station was. It was fun to enter the town over a large bridge, and be dropped right into downtown; it felt like quite an arrival—real dramatic-like. We peddled through the narrow and winding streets, found a café, and stopped for a coffee. It was perfection.

To Pouilly-sur-Loire

One of the early goals I set for myself in Sancerre was biking to return to Pouilly-sur-Loire. This was the sleepy town with the sheep grazing on the Loire from my post about the wineries. I wanted to return to that very spot and spend hours, reading and relaxing. So, last week, I rented a bike for a few days so I could get an early start to bike there before my afternoon classes. It was a cold morning, and all the downhill in the very first part made me even colder, but I warmed up as soon as I had to start peddling. 

The path going south (instead of north) is harder to find—it jumps and I didn’t see any clear signs pointing to it (luckily, I had down some earlier recon and so was able to find it easily this time). For anyone that’s interested, you have to head straight to the bridge from Saint-Thibault over the Loire, and then take a right before the bridge, and bike to the back of that parking area, and there you will find the path.

The path south is not along the canal or the water, at least until Pouilly-sur-Loire, but instead through fields of cows, goats, horses, and the bright yellow colzas flowers. You can get a good luck of Sancerre up on the hill as well.

This photo I took with my iPhone from another day on the same path—I had forgotten my camera battery (but not my camera—argh!) that day, so I only have iPhone photos from that gorgeous day.

This photo I took with my iPhone from another day on the same path—I had forgotten my camera battery (but not my camera—argh!) that day, so I only have iPhone photos from that gorgeous day.

It was lovely out there so early, through the mist of the fields I saw the ghostly white Charolais cows, which are special meat cows here in France. I stopped to eat my breakfast, and they looked at me as I looked at them.

I made it to Pouilly-sur-Loire, a 9-mile (15 km) ride, and had the narrow bridge to myself as I crossed the Loire into town. The bridge itself is actually the halfway point of the Loire!

Then, there’s a road on the outside of town that runs along the water, and then the town is set back just one block. As I peddled along, trying to decide which side street take up into town, I started to get a really good feeling about one of the streets in particular, so, trusting my intuition, I banged a right. When I arrived at the top, I found that it led me directly to the town Patisserie, open for business. My sixth (pastry) sense prevails!

I bought a little handpie full of apple sauce, and ate it by the water (shown above). I spent some time writing before heading back for market day in Saint-Satur—my favorite day of all! I bought cheeses and a lot of bread for a picnic I put together for the students for lunch. Then, I half-peddled and half-walked my bike back up the hill, baguettes bursting out of my bike basket.

 

I would love to come back and do a more extended bike tour on the Loire, I am sure there are many companies that organize such things, but at least I had a couple of really wonderful hours on the Loire a Velo close to Sancerre.