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Cycle Tour #1: The Loire Valley, France (or the start of my French love affair)

For the month of January, I have joined the “Zero to Hero” blogging challenge with an assignment to complete each day. Today’s task is to write what was on my mind when I first started blogging.

The thing that I first wanted to write about was all the fun I was having cycling in France. The thing that got me cycling in France in the first place was the very first cycle tour that TC and I took, so that is what my post today is about.

Cycle Tour #1: The Loire Valley, France (or the start of my French love affair)

The whole idea of a cycle tour came completely out of the blue for me. TC and I had been increasing our cycling to the point that we felt confident on road bikes and were riding longer and longer distances each week. We enjoyed the challenges, the satisfaction and the feeling of exploring new areas of our own city.

Then one day, I was enjoying morning tea with a group of women at my friend’s house. One of the women I met that day was older than me, just embarking on retirement, but had been a keen cyclist for quite a while. I listened with a feeling of “wow!” as she explained to my friend how she and her husband were thinking about doing a cycle tour in the UK but were undecided about taking their own bikes from Australia or to use hired bikes. To be honest, the rest of that conversation was a blur as my mind went into overdrive thinking about the possibilities. I couldn’t wait to get home to TC with this new idea: holidaying in Europe AND cycling combined!

That night, we researched tours in Europe and were well on our way to planning our first cycle touring holiday.

We decided to make our debut cycle tour a truly memorable one, in a style that we knew we would not repeat. In other words, we decided to go for the ultimate: a  top-of-the-range gourmand cycle tour of the Loire Valley! Yes, it would be expensive, but being novices to this whole idea (and it was to be my first trip to France), we wanted to make sure we enjoyed it to the full. And that we did.

A tour was booked which included staying in a chain of small, exclusive boutique hotels with breakfast each day and a gourmet dinner included on most nights. In short, it was magnificent. Yes, this was when I fell in love with France.

We flew into Paris and caught a midday train to Amboise where we found our first hotel on the bank of the river, in the shadow of the beautiful Château d’Amboise. Our room and the hotel were absolutely stunning, as were all of the hotels that followed. Our cycle guide met us that evening to go over all the details – daily route instructions and maps, the GPS, our free water bottles, and the number to call him on at any time if we needed help. In the morning, he met us at the hotel’s bike shed (a cave dug out of the base of the cliff) to ensure we were correctly fitted, and off we set.

Over the course of the week (6 days, 7 nights) we explored historic towns and villages along the Cher and Loire rivers, examined chateaux in awe, tasted wines, picnicked on grassy banks for lunch, slept like VIPs in beautiful rooms, and dined like a king and queen on amazing French gastronomy. Some days involved an exploratory loop ride, remaining in the same hotel that night, other days involved leaving our packed luggage in the foyer by 9am and cycling to the next hotel, where it would be waiting for us. We averaged about 55-60km per day. It was July and there was a heatwave across the UK and Europe, meaning hot days and beautiful balmy evenings. When I say hot, it was between 33 and 39C every day. For me, coming from Australia and expecting much cooler weather, I was in heaven. I actually had to go out and buy more shorts and sleeveless tops as I hadn’t prepared for those temperatures.

We also met other people doing the same thing – meeting up with them along the routes (getting lost at the same points?) and chatting with them over drinks in the hotels in the evenings, or by the pool after a hot day’s riding. You could socialise as much or as little as you felt like, as all the groups were self-guiding on the same route.

Our tour finished on the outskirts of Saumur and left us feeling that we had just had one of the most incredible holidays we’d ever be likely to have. We were hooked.

Of course, this meant further cycling holidays would surely follow (and they have), but as we already knew, we would not repeat the grandeur and glamour of this one. But boy, it was worth it.

I still have the shorts I bought on that trip and can’t help but think of that holiday when I wear them.

Here is a selection of our photographs from that amazing week in the Loire, including many of the hotels we stayed in, some of the beautiful dishes on our tables and the most memorable scenery.  Enjoy!

I would like to add that we booked our tour through Discover France Bike Tours. As I mentioned above, it was not the cheapest option, but for us it was money well spent. The tour operators were all helpful, especially the local tour guides and drivers. For those unsure about taking such a tour, I would like to say that booking with these guys should put you at ease. All the best for those who want to try it!

Who am I and why am I here?

A rest in the park

Who?

I am an Australian woman who, along with my husband, took advantage of a window of opportunity to leave our working life for a year and go to stay in France.

Why?

Why France? We had been on holiday in France before and simply fell in love with the country so we wanted to see more.  A lot more.  The solution was to apply for a long-stay visa, organise some rental accommodation, rent out our place in Perth, start learning French… and go.That was two years ago now.

What?

We rented in 3 different locations around France, but travelled to many more, both by car and by bicycle. Our year soon turned into two as we realised we weren’t going to explore even half of what we wanted to, let alone speaking the language in one year alone. So we went into the local sous-prefecture and extended our visas.

This blog started as a way for me to document our adventures in cycling, exploring France, wine and cooking (which was a great side effect of not working and living frugally!).  I guessed that the things we loved doing, the places we loved exploring and the foods we loved cooking (and eating) would also appeal to others around the world, especially the Francophiles out there, so here I am.

Next?

We are currently back in Australia and returning to work, but planning frequent visits back to France with a scheme to have another year off before too long. There are still a lot more parts of France and Europe that we want to discover.

To celebrate my return to Australia and a fresh year blogging, I have decided to update my theme with a new look. There are many things we’ve celebrated recently with our family, including 21st birthdays, a wedding, Christmas and the new year and a 50th birthday. All of this has kept me away from blogging recently, but I am back for 2014.

 I hope you enjoy both my French and my Australian posts, and I would love to have your feedback and comments!