Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Loire Valley

It's been over two weeks since DH and I returned from France. I think every day about blogging the trip and I end up feeling overwhelmed by how challenging I find it to insert photos and make the pages look professional. Today I'm going to give it a try.

Day 1 Tours:

We arrived at Charles DeGaulle Airport early in the morning on Tuesday, September 16. We stopped to get some Euros and headed directly to the train station. The TGV to Tours was due in about an hour so we bought tickets and found a place to sit. We were both exhausted. As opposed to United Airlines which gives passengers nothing to eat on their red-eye flights, Continental fed us dinner and breakfast. While this is a nice touch, it cuts into sleeping time. The train was on time, our reserved seats were easy to find and it was a beautiful, sunny day. Early afternoon we arrived in Tours.

Here's a photo of the train station.

Fortunately our hotel is only a few blocks from the station and our room was ready. We had stayed at the Hotel Moderne last year at the end of our trip. We knew it was economical and comfortable, so we made a reservation for our first night on this trip. It was the only reservation we made in advance. We planned to walk as far as we wanted to each day and find lodging when we arrived in town.

After lunch, I decided to have a rest but DH, who had slept all the way down on the train decided to explore the city. In the evening we had dinner at a nearby restaurant. Fortunately we were not too troubled by jet lag and awoke around 7:00 the next morning for our first petit dejeuner.

If you look closely at the photo you will notice the small green and white fireplace sign. It indicates the hotel belongs to the Logis de France network. It's made up of 3,200 privately run and reasonably priced hotels and restaurants throughout France, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. We love these hotels. Each one is unique; most are in very old buildings. The owners are welcoming and helpful. We were able to pick up a guidebook to Logis de France hotels in the Loire and carried it with us as we walked.

Day 2 Tours to Savonnieres:

The guidebook said it was 12 kilometers to Savonnieres and an additional three to Villandry. We decided to see how it went rather than commiting to go all the way to Villandry.

It is at Tours that the GR 3 crosses from the right bank of the Loire to the left.
The trail goes along the Cher for a bit, crosses a foot bridge and continues on the velo route along the left bank of the Cher all the way to Savonnieres. We saw many bicyclists. The Loire region is now riddled with off road bike trails and we talked quite a bit about coming back some time in the future and biking the area.

This sign says, "Share the road." The dedicated bike trail occasionally joined a quiet country road for a short distance.

We arrived in Savonnieres in time for a late lunch. It was my first opportunity to have a French omelet, one of my favorite lunches. It's usually served with a salad. Even the smallest places can turn out a tasty meal. Here we ate outdoors at tables across the street from the brasserie.

After lunch we looked around for a place to stay. We had seen one hotel on the way into town. Then we noticed a sign for a bed and breakfast and decided we would inquire. The proprieter, Marie Claude Lisbona, was working in her garden. She showed us into her beautiful home, La Variniere. The guest suite was on the lower level. In addition to a large bedroom, sitting room and bath, there was an indoor swimming pool built into a cave. Marie Claude spoke excellent English and we had a pleasant discussion.

The restaurant next door to La Variniere was closed. We asked Marie Claude for a suggestion and she said there was an excellent restaurant in the next town. She said her husband would drive us and pick us up. She made a a reservation and at the appointed time we were whisked to L'Etape Gourmand outside Villandry. We had a wonderful meal based on local ingredients, many of them grown on the L'Etape Gourmand property.

Day 3 Savonnieres to Villandry

Before we left, Marie Claude took our photo in front of the house.

Dick and I decided day two had been a bit long so we wanted a shorter walk today. I was having some foot pain as well. We decided we would walk the three kilometers to Villandry and spend some time exploring there. We backtracked along the main street in Savonnieres, checked out the church and then climbed the 100 steps to rejoin the GR.

A word about the GR: France is crisscrossed by walking trails. The GR's or Grande Randonnee are long distance trails. The GR 3 which we followed goes predominantly along the Loire River. Some of the time it's right on the river bank, other times is cuts away to travel through forests, fields or vineyards. Sometimes it's a woodland path, a quiet country road or as mentioned above, a bike trail. It's a wondeful way to see the country up close. When we are walking, we use guidebooks from the FFRP, the hiking organization that maintains the trails. The left side of the page is a topo map and the right is a description of the terrain, sights and services along the way. The trail is marked with red and white blazes.