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Posts tagged ‘Bike Riding in France’


château_d'ussé_loire_valley-biking_France.jpgJust a quick post tonight as I am trying not to spend all these lovely evenings blogging. We had a more sensible biking day today: only 45 km. We biked from Azay-le-Rideau to Chinon, with a 2-hours stopover at Château d’Ussé. This truly fairytale château, standing tall above the landscape of the Loire Valley is said to have inspired Charles Perrault to write Sleeping Beauty. (At the vey least it must have inspired Walt Disney to build the princess a castle in California.) IMG_1715 The château is simply stunning, especially arriving by bike, just like it must have been for Prince Charmant arriving on horseback to save his beauty after a century of sleep. At the risk of using one too many superlatives, the castle is spectacular. The grounds and gardens are well kept, the chapel and its history spellbinding, and the caves and attics intriguing.

Sleeping Beauty's Tower

Sleeping Beauty’s Tower

However the way the rooms are staged is just a bit too cheesy, and oh, so French. I counted more than 40 mannequins, and I don’t mean the French kind that stroll down the haute couture runways. I’m talking old-time mannequins decked out in their finery, a few sultry glances and a few too many crazy grins. But in that French-way, it somehow manages to be just a little bit charming, and perfect for the under-10 set who are still hoping to grow up and be a princess.

chateau_ussé_mannequins_sleeping_beauty_france.jpg From Ussé we rode our final 22 km to Chinon and her fortress, which apparently was also an inspiration for some very fine writers; maybe you’ve heard of them: Monty Python? Chinon_fortress_chateau_France_loire_biking.jpg And now after a few too many wine dégustations, I’m sitting on my balcony watching the Vienne River settle as the frogs croak and riot and one discrete beaver surveys the bank. dégustation_wine_tasting_loire_valley_france_biking.jpg



With a little extra sleep and a homemade breakfast in our tummies, we headed out for an unhurried day of châteaux-ing. My plan was to spend an easy 39 km in our saddles, stopping wherever our wheels fancied. It took Superman a little time to adjust to this plan, as an American, he likes to set a goal, and go, go, go.

When I suggested we stop a mere 10 km into the ride in the charming village of Savonnières, he was less than enthusiastic. That’s when I decided that our motto of the day (the trip?) would be: “What would the French girls do?” Loire_Valley_biking_velo.jpg Savonnieres_loire_France.jpg Obviously we stopped…although not for a coffee, and looked around. And so the day unfolded with numerous stops and a slow meander through the stunning gardens of Villandry.

villandry_chateau_gardens_loire_france.jpg We meandered so slowly, that we almost missed lunch, which set Superman’s heart aflutter and resulted in a surprising stop at l’Etape Gourmande. From then, we were goners, and the day became all about lunch. l-etape_gourmande_restaurant_villandry_france_loire.jpg   l-etape_gourmande_restaurant_villandry_france_loire.jpg IMG_1613 l-etape_gourmande_restaurant_villandry_france_loire.jpg l-etape_gourmande_restaurant_villandry_france_loire.jpg l-etape_gourmande_restaurant_villandry_france_loire.jpg From lunch it was all downhill to Azay-le-Rideau, an attractive town with a handsome boutique hotel, but disappointingly, the château itself is under extensive renovation. azay-le-rideau_loire_a_velo_biking_France. jpg While it looked like this on our first visit years ago: Azay-le-rideau_château_douves It looks like this today, and will, until 2017. l-etape_gourmande_restaurant_azay-le-rideau_france_loire.jpg My advice: Château de l’Islette, A-l-R’s little sister, and just 3 km away… Chateau-de-l-Islette-8 We ended our day with a final 20 km ride and picnic on the riverbank of a picturesque hamlet called Bréhémont. loire_a_velo_biking_France_ brehemont.jpg

Orléans to Blois: une histoire d’amitié

Our first day on the Loire à vélo was incroyable in so many ways.


However, as it is late and I’m exhausted, I will let the pictures speak for themselves.





The real story of the day lies in not what we saw, but with whom we saw it. It was a day to remember the value of friendship and importance of making time in our busy lives to spend with friends and family; because in the end those relationships make the ride worthwhile.

I was so touched that the French girls and my flexible and optimistic daughter, Kitcat found the time to ride 65 km with us along the wild riverbanks to the shuttered village of Baule, to the flower-filled city of Beaugency, to the country churches and finally to our friendly hotel in the shadow of the stately château in Blois.

The great thing about traveling with the French girls is, well,  they are French. And the French understand how to do a cross-country bike trip. They are really good at finding the beauty in the small things, and have no problem making a lot of stops along the way to make sure we see, smell and taste that beauty.

Bistros and cafés are key. They like their coffee (grand and with crème) and they like it in a sympa setting, preferably with some homemade crumble.


They also will go up some pretty steep village hills (even if they have to walk their bikes) in search of the one fantastic restaurant open on a Monday afternoon. Plus, when they are on vacation, they insist on having wine with lunch, and are quick to remind you that, “No, no, it’s good for you (as) we need a little sugar.” And that they “never drink at lunch, but (they) catch up when they can.”


And after a hearty, relaxing meal, they hop back on their bikes (“Oh! Mes fesses!”) and ride for another 3 hours, all without having trained a single day for the ride.



Marie-Françoise and Hélène are nothing if not optimistic. They are total goofballs, and full of smiles and beans. Nothing like the awful French we Americans are so scared we will encounter as we travel through France.


So, I am feeling like my Tour de la Loire is off to an awfully good start. And feeling very blessed to have such wonderful friends.


No. 322: Let the Sun(flowers) Shine In


No. 315-316: Cute Little French Towns and Half-Timbered Houses

France is sprinkled with cute little French towns. Well actually it is more than sprinkled, I think “slathered” might be a bit more accurate. It seems like once you leave Paris, the cuteness-factor goes up by about 100. The French do an outstanding job of flowering their hamlets, and as I have mentioned before, compete for the designation of les Villes et Villages Fleuris (Towns and Villages in Bloom) and the title of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (Most Beautiful Villages in France). They are also quite keen to preserve and present the history of their centres-villes anciens.


In 2013 the Huffington Post published their list of France’s 10 most charming towns. So far I have only visited two of their top-10, which thankfully gives me plenty of undiscovered villages to look forward to in the coming years. Les Plus Beaux Villages Association also provides their annual list, which you can find here—this year there are 157.

While I can’t say that I have been anywhere close to 150 French villages, I have been to my own fair share of small enchanting towns, and every time I turn a corner on my bike or by foot, I find myself smack dab in the middle of another one. And, it just tickles me pink.

Lately the half-timbered houses that add to the image of these fairytale towns have especially charmed my socks off. As these split-lumber dwellings seem to be everywhere I turn, I decided to do a little bit of research and find out how they are built.

It appears that French examples of these houses-of-charm dates all the way back to the twelfth century. Although the country was blessed with an abundant supply of oak, it was still an expensive building material, so most could only afford to use it for framing. According to medieval historians the term “half-timbering” refers to the fact that the logs were halved, or a least cut down to a square inner section. The fact that they used oak so long ago is an added bonus for us; its durability explains why so many medieval half-timbered houses are still standing.

While in modern framed buildings we installed the walls on the outside and inside of the frame, in the ancient half-timbered houses the walls were filled in between the structural timbers. What were they filled with? Why, wattle-and-daub, of course. In case this term is new to you, as it was to me, it was a mixture of different lengths of branches woven together and covered by muddy clay or bricks and sometimes plaster. (The best translation I could find for wattle-and-daub was clayonnage et torchis en français—ça marche? Native French speakers aidez-moi!)


These days most of the surviving structures are extremely narrow and surprisingly tall, and packed together like sardines. This has to do with the taxing structure of the time where buildings were taxes on the amount of street front they took up. As time went on and living conditions improved, faux half-timbers were added as decorations to improve the facades of newer houses. The wobbly and slanting timbers and windows we see nowadays on the ancient buildings are not due to shoddy workmanship of the time, but simply victims of the passage of time and the expected buckling of aged wood.

So there you have it, a brief history lesson on the half-timbering that makes these little towns so darn adorable. C’est très charmant, n’est-ce pas?

No. 222-223: Sundays on the Seine (and Marne) and Créteil

One of my very favorite things about living in Paris is spending Sundays on the Seine and Marne.


Every Sunday if we are both in town and the weather is even marginally nice, Superman and I jump on the Vélibs and head down to the Seine. The former mayor of Paris made it a priority to make the Seine accessible to families sharing a Sunday stroll and fitness enthusiasts alike. Since we fall into both of those categories (plus do not own a car), we are huge fans of ex-Mayor Bertrand Delanoë and his progressive policies to improve the quality of life in Paris. We are especially grateful for all he did to make it so easy to jump on the path (and closed roads) along the Seine and explore life beyond Paris.


After almost three years, we have discovered all sorts of chemins, quaint streets and hamlets, and peaceful riverside breaks. We are now very familiar with the point where the Seine and the Marne split, or merge, depending on how you look at it.

We have discovered that the farther you get from the city centre, the more easily the folk smile and dit “Bonjour”. We have come across a few places we would love to live, and admired some striking river front property.


Our latest fascination is the suburb of Créteil (12km southeast of Paris and part of Val-de-Marne). When you arrive by métro it seems like a gray, university suburb with highrises and little character, but when you arrive by bike along the Marne, it is a whole different story. For two decades, Créteil has been one of France’s “four-flower” Villes et Villages Fleuris. The city flowerbeds, particularly at this time of the year, dazzle.

There are over 70 different species of trees in the “town”, numerous fountains, and even a lake. There is some great architecture, including the Château des Mèches, and gorgeous canal and riverside homes. The residents seem pretty focused on outdoor activities. Families dig in community vegetable gardens and race miniature boats on the canals. We checked in with a kayaking club last week learning to roll. We have come across groups rock climbing and canoeing, fisher people, and of course multitudes of cyclists, runners, and strollers.


Sundays may be a day of rest, but for us it is definitely worth the two-wheeling effort to escape from the city and enjoy the Seine and Marne and a little bit of the “country life”.


chemins: paths, trails

dit “Bonjour”: say “Hello”


No. 120: Chic Bicycle Helmets

Before I moved to Paris, I wore my bicycle helmet religiously. In fact we shipped all our helmets from the U.S. before we arrived. But Parisians are not big on wearing bicycle helmets when they commute to work or run errands, and since living here I have been totally swayed by the herd mentality, and rarely remember to wear mine, unless I’m going for a long weekend ride. There is something about the Vélib bike share program and being able to hop on and off a bike at will that makes me feel footloose and fancy free, and think, hey, I don’t need safety equipment.

I realize this is completely STUPID. And actually everyday when I hop on my vélo, I have the same passing thought, “I wonder if this is the day you will regret forever not wearing a helmet?”

Still I’ve become lazy and annoyed by the chore of lugging it around while je fais les courses, and as much as it shames me to admit it, wary of what Parisians will think about how I look.

Mais, the other day when I was out walking with Taz, I saw a family of three (mom, dad and teenage daughter) on their bikes with some very chic headgear. “Leave it to the French to make bicycle helmets pretty,” I thought, and went home to do some research.

When I opened my email, a monthly newsletter popped up, and one of the top features was this:

folding bicycle helmet closca turtle VERSIONS

Exactly the chic chapeaux the French family had been sporting. I took it as a sign. After more research, I discovered that not only did these helmets (by Closca) look good, but also they are collapsible and safety certified. Apparently I have been totally out of the loop. In most big cities around the world, collapsible bicycle helmets are the latest trend.

And guess what? This particular one is not designed by the French, but created by two Spanish entrepreneurs and design engineers.

Bien hecho! Y muchas gracias!

And I then I found these by Yakkay:

Don’t tell Superman. Who knows, maybe he will find a bicycle helmet cover obsession easier to relate to than a shoe obsession?

Which one do you like?


Bien hecho! Y muchas gracias! Well done! And thanks a lot!

Je fais les courses: I run errands; I do the shopping

vélo: bicycle