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JULY RIDE: THE LOIRE RIVER VALLEY or 300km for 300 castles

Story and Photos by ITN European Reporter Herve’ Rebollo

Salut à toi American rider,

Of the major cultural landscapes featuring river valleys in Europe perhaps the Loire Valley is the most famous. If it is the glorious chateaux that bring the tourists here, it has to be remembered it is the river Loire that is responsible for their very existence. Like most rivers it had became a place of settlement and trade since prehistory when Neanderthal man fashioned boats from tree trunks with their flint tools to navigate the river.

 

It was the Romans however who first established major settlements on its shores that would eventually become its now famous historical towns and cities. Places such as Amboise, Angers, Blois, Orleans and Tours are steeped in history that can still be appreciated today.

The temperate climate along the Loire river valley is due to Atlantic influences and this provides the remarkably diverse range of wildlife and fauna which exist today. It also provides the ideal environment that has established France’s third largest wine region.

It was its popularity with the French Royal Families that left the wonderful legacy in the form of its glorious chateaux, gardens and parks. This influence and the areas natural beauty made UNESCO designate the stretch of the river (as shown above) and its monuments a world heritage site in November 2000

The river la Loire, the longest in France, has its source in the springs on the side of Mont Gerbier de Jonc in the southern Cevennes hills within the department of the Ardeche. It then flows north to Orleans and then west through Tours and on to the Atlantic coast at Nantes (a distance of over 1000km / 621 miles) .

The river actually gives its name to a number of departments of France as it flows towards the Atlantic Ocean : Loire, Haute-Loire, Loire-Atlantique, Indre-et-Loire, Maine-et-Loire, and Saône-et-Loire. Unlike most rivers in western Europe, there are few obstacles to  the Loire’s natural flow, few locks and dams to slow its progress. One of the few obstacle, the Villerest dam, built in 1985 just south of Roanne has played a key-role in preventing recent flooding, making the Loire a popular river for boating trips flowing through attractive countryside, tofu cliffs and beautiful chateaux.

Are you among those bikers who have always dreamed of visiting the Châteaux of the Loire Valley, but don’t quite know how to go about it, or where to start? And you are wondering whether there is a ‘Châteaux of the Loire Valley Route’?

Well… there is and there isn’t: no predefined route in any case. It’s up to you to create your own itinerary and to choose which castles you want to visit. One thing’s for sure – you won’t see them all in one fell swoop (beware of the ‘château overdose’!). So, what’s the ideal approach? I suggest you visit one or two each time you come, and that you also take the time to enjoy the nearby towns, parks and gardens, and revel in a taste of the art of living, Loire Valley style. ‘Living like God in France’ as we Frenchies would say!

But a châteaux route does exist – it runs along the Loire, from the Giennois area to Anjou, via Orléans, Blois, Amboise, Tours and Saumur, covering a total of around 300km (±185 miles) over a perimeter that is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Yet, it stretches well beyond. For, contrary to popular belief, not all these châteaux are located along the banks of the Loire. Some of them are hidden amidst the forest, like the spectacular Château de Chambord, or the slightly less assuming Château de Chamerolles. Others overlook the Loire’s tributaries, such as the fortresses of Loche and Chinon. And the Château de Chenonceau which crosses the River Cher, and not the Loire – despite the fact that is one of the most frequently visited ‘Châteaux de la Loire’!

Why such a profusion? The great lords of these lands, such as the Counts of Blois and the Dukes of Anjou, built the very first fortresses to mark their respective territories across the Loire Valley. The Kings of France then took possession of them. They offered places of refuge during the Hundred Year’s War, before being transformed into Renaissance residences. The Capetians were early to settle in Orléans (their royal castle has since disappeared but its name remains thanks to the Châtelet quarter). The royal powers then moved to Amboise, then to Blois under the Valois.

Naturally any ministers, courtiers or king’s favourites worthy of their name were obliged to take up residence nearby, hence the great profusion of châteaux, manor houses and other stately residences!

The most popular châteaux among visitors are grouped together in the central part of the valley, between Orléans and Tours. But if you are coming from Paris or eastern France, you will reach the Loire Valley via Loiret. I recommend you start your châteaux route in the Giennois area (with the Châteaux de Saint-Brisson, Gien and La Bussière), or around the Orléans Forest with the Château de Chamerolles. Its Perfume Walk offers an excellent introduction to your tour of the Châteaux of the Loire Valley for it approaches History from a rather narrow, yet peculiar, angle: here, you will become an expert on the art of washing, or not, over the centuries!

Not to be missed: the Château de Sully-sur-Loire. The minister to Henry IV indulged himself in this fine medieval fortress, to enjoy a well-deserved retirement and to write his memoirs.

To the west of Orléans, on the road to Blois, the Bishops of Orléans enjoyed luxurious dwellings in Meung-sur-Loire (the incredible bishop’s baths). You can also rub shoulders with Dunois, the ‘Bastard of Orléans’, one of Joan of Arc’s companions in arms, in his Château de Beaugency.

In a nutshell, you have enough to keep you busy for a week (for here, we don’t only have castles to visit!) and to make you want to come back, to discover more!

It will be a blast, don’t worry … even if your bike wants to stay in the Loire river valley … Mine decided it!!  Right at the end of this marvelous ride of 800km/500miles my baby broke her rear bearing (in the middle of nowhere on a Sunday afternoon …cool), just for the pleasure to stay in this beautiful region … Lol!!! Not a problem, we have very efficient repair services, in less than two days the local Harley Davidson dealer gave me back my bike in a perfect and clean state (finally it was a bad thing for a good one: my bike was really dirty before this incident).

Waiting for you my American rider friend, it will be a pleasure for me to make you discover this amazing valley

See ya soon on the road, who knows???

Hervé, your French friend.

 

SUMMER IS COMING: IT’S TIME TO PREPARE YOUR VACATIONS IN FRANCE

Story and Photos by ITN European Reporter Herve’ Rebollo

Salut à toi American rider!

Have you ever been to … France / Paris my friend?  Do you know my country?  Maybe not … I even can suppose that you don’t always have a good opinion of my country and French people … I’ll only answer you: stop trusting TV /medias and come to see by yourself (It will be a pleasure for my family and I to help you to see which nice country France is). Continue reading SUMMER IS COMING: IT’S TIME TO PREPARE YOUR VACATIONS IN FRANCE

LE MANS: BUGATTI CIRCUIT

Story and Photos by ITN European Reporter Herve’ Rebollo

Let me take you to the Le Mans MotoGP 2019 where I was invited last week as VIP for some professional reasons I’ve forgotten …

I was doubly lucky with that invitation: I would attend one of the most fantastic motorcycle race, the French Moto Grand Prix 2019 (– 27 laps, 112. 995 km / 72,2 miles ) and I would be “obliged” to come using my bike to avoid being stuck in the traffic right after the race. A great and cool ride of 500km aller-retour on the week-end of mid may. YES!!!

As a result everyone was waiting for, Marc Marquez took his Repsol Honda to victory at this French GP (his third win of the season, and a landmark 300th premier-class win for Honda).

But, do you know where this Moto GP took place? Do you know the name of this legendary world-wide circuit? Do you know where it is located?

May be not. So, let me the pleasure to introduce some information to your biker culture.

The Circuit des 24 Heures du Mans, also known as Circuit de la Sarthe (after the 1906 French Grand Prix triangle circuit) located in the city of Le Mans, county of Sarthe, is a semi-permanent motorsport race course chiefly known as the venue for the 24 Hours of Le Mans auto race. Comprising private, race-specific sections of track in addition to public roads which remain accessible most of the year, its present configuration is 13.626 kilometres (8.467 mi) long, making it one of the longest circuits in the world.

The Le Mans circuit has a long and proud history in motor sport, more famously for 4 wheel racing, but the French circuit is a fan and rider favourite when it comes to MotoGP, with the capacity to accommodate 100,000 attendees. The circuit lies 5km south of city of Le Mans and 200km south-west of the French capital or Paris, proving accessible and popular for travelling fans. The circuit was opened in 1966 and was built around Circuit de la Sarthe, the existing 24-Hour track and was first used for a Grand Prix event in 1969, when the 500 race was won by Giacomo Agostini. Since its opening, Le Mans has hosted 26 Grand Prix events including the Grand Prix ‘Vitesse du Mans’ in 1991. After 1995 the circuit was struck off the calendar after a serious accident involving Alberto Puig. The circuit was returned to the calendar in 2000 after safety improvements were completed. The current Le Mans Bugatti Circuit consists of 14 turns; 5 left corners and 9 right corners with the longest straight measuring 0.674 km.

Capacity of the race stadium, where the short Bugatti Circuit is situated, is 100,000.

And of course, during these 3 days of this French Moto GP in the village of the brands, mainly dedicated to the god of speed, you even can meet your favorite brand: yes, the MoCo is there!

Right at the main entrance, you can visit the Musée des 24 Heures du Mans an amazing motorsport museum.

Up to 85% of the lap time is spent on full throttle, putting immense stress on engine and drivetrain components. Additionally, the times spent reaching maximum speed also mean tremendous wear on the brakes and suspension as cars must slow from over 320 km/h (200 mph) to around 100 km/h (60 mph) for the sharp corner at the village of Mulsanne.

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Car speeds increased dramatically in the 1960s, pushing the limits of the “classic circuit” and sparking criticism of the track as being unsafe, after several trials related fatalities occurred. Since 1965, a smaller but permanent BUGATTI Circuit was added which shares the pit lane facilities and the first corner (including the famous Dunlop bridge) with the full “Le Mans” circuit.

And by the way, why Bugatti? Because the directors of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest / ACO (West Automotive Club) at the time honoured the French constructor’s glory which marked the history of the auto and motorsports. As proof, the type 35 Bugatti and its 2,000 victories between the two world wars and the Bugatti Royale, the most legendary car of all time until the Veyron of today…so tribute is paid to one of the most emblematic car constructors in French motorsports.

Le Mans was most famous for its 6 km (3.7 mi) long straight, called Ligne Droite des Hunaudières, a part of the route départementale (for the Sarthe département) D338 (formerly Route Nationale N138). As the Hunaudières leads to the village of Mulsanne, it is often called the Mulsanne Straight in English, even though the proper Route du Mulsanne is the one from or to Arnage (if you have time and even if you don’t like car races, take time to watch Le Mans movie, issued in 1971 with Steve Mac Queen – a blast!).

The French Grand Prix was held on different circuits in its history: on the Charade Circuit between 1959 and 1967, Le Mans Circuit on numerous occasions since 1969, alternating with the Paul Ricard Circuit at Le Castellet, used it for the first time in 1973, the Circuit Paul Armagnac in Nogaro in 1978 and 1982 and the Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours once in 1992. Since 2000 the race is held at Le Mans on the Bugatti Circuit.

Son next time you want attend a great motorcycle race, please come to France. I’ll take you for a 3 days trip to Le Mans.

Waiting for you American rider.

Hervé, you French biker friend.

 

 

MARCH RIDE TO THE MATRA MUSEUM

Story and Photos by ITN European Reporter Herve’ Rebollo

Salut à toi American rider,

For my monthly ride, my friend Thierry was with me (he’s a Porsche driver), I wanted to make him discover a surprising little automotive museum, right in France center located in the city of Romorantin. Another good reason to go there was that the museum was giving to show a marvelous collection of English vintage motorcycles of different legendary brands.

Located in an old factory from the early 20th century in a warm and clear site, the only museum in honor of MATRA has 70 vehicles that trace the history of this great builder. Two exposure levels are proposed to relive a saga in three dimensions: the industrial adventure, a unique sporting achievements and prototypes that coexist harmoniously. Matra F1 World Champion in 1969 with the MS 80, three times winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours with the MS 670, also built production cars. Djet, 530, Bagheera, Murena, Rancho, Space to the Avantime, the collection is in full force. Cradled by the majestic sound of the V12 engine, the visitor also finds unique pieces such as the Espace F1 engines and sumptuous dining.

Never really heard of MATRA? I wouldn’t be surprised. Like so many legendary teams of years gone by, their star burned brightly but briefly: starting in the mid-’60s, their glory period in motorsport was hemmed in by the ’70s. By the ’80s they were stifled by frequently changing management and by the ’90s their creative talent was limited to under-the-counter skunkworks, which often went unappreciated at the time. For instance, the Espace MPV. Matra made the prototype half a dozen years before it was taken up by a manufacturer.

But, before enjoying this amazing cultural visit, we had first to take the road …

Leaving Paris on a Saturday sunny morning, we took time to discover our beautiful country and of course we did a maximum of photos during this two days road-trip of about 700km / 435 miles.

Of course, our first stop was at a little traditional bakery to buy some famous French specialties: Croissants.

And then, villages after villages, castles after castles, we got a great time, clearly, it was a blast.

In the little city of Belgarde, we wanted to have a stop for having our coffee. I hope i’ll take you soon to that incredible bar. Named “Café du Chateau” (Café of the castle) it’s based in a traditional old building of 1717. The boss is a biker and a great fan of the American culture. Inside you have more or less the feeling to be in a Texan bar with American stuffs everywhere and tributes to Elvis Presley on every walls. So … strange but really funny. Welcome to the French heartland, come to meet the French rednecks (I precise that I’m myself a redneck, I was born not so far from that place). 

Then, we followed our way to the south and crossed the Loire river in the nice city of Gien.

And, in the late afternoon, we were at our campground for a night in the nice city of Bourges.

Yes, I know, you and us haven’t exactly the same definition of “campground”. Lol. It’s only because when we want to roast our shamallows we like to do that in a real chimney built in a nice historical place. We use to call it “French way of life”.

And, on Sunday morning, it was time to go to the museum. After one hour of tiny roads across the forest, we where right in time for the opening of the place.

I went here in 2017 to see a former exposition that the museum dedicated to American automotive and motorcycle brands. It let me a very good memory.

In the Matra Museum you see there all the cars, that made MATRA (Mecanique-Aviation-Traction) history and particularly most of the race cars and engines. In 1965, Jean-Luc Lagardere, chairman of Matra Sport, began the history of Matra in Motorsport, ten years later it had won LeMans three times, was F1 champion with Jacky Stewart, three times European F2 champion and eventually Matra cars had won 133 races. The story ended in 1982 with the V12 engine on a Ligier and the stillborn V6 turbo F1 project. First Matra single-seater was made in 1965.

Called the MS1, it was a Formula 3 racer with a 1000 cc engine. Then it was easy to enter Formula 2 as well. These cars are also exhibited. Matra was also succesful in Sport Prototypes and in the Museum you can see some of these from the 1960s as well. During its heyday the company employed 3,000 people and contributed almost a quarter of the tax income of the town. By the end there were just 100 staff in the road car division, maintaining spares and making electric bicycles. Now, Matra only exists as a military contractor (returning to its roots), based in Vélizy near Paris. Interestingly for photography buffs, the current museum building wasn’t actually part of the Matra campus, instead being the previous home to the old Beaulieu camera factory.

The collection of old English motorcycle was amazing : AJS, BSA, Excelsior, Matchless, Montgomery, New Hudson, Norton, Raleigh, Scott, Triumph, Velocette, Vincent and even a NorVin … You could see the same model of Vincent that Rolly Free used in this morning of September 13, 1948, when he raised the American motorcycle speed record by riding the very first VINCENT HRD to a speed of 150.313 mph. Free adopted a style used by others of lying flat-prone along the machine’s back spine, thereby minimizing wind resistance and placing most weight over the rear wheel.

I was so happy to seeing this MATCHLESS G50 SEELEY. The Matchless G50 is an historic racing British motorcycle made by Associated Motor Cycle (AMC). Financial problems at AMC ended production in 1963 and all the tooling and spares were sold to sidecar Grand Prix racer Colin Seeley in 1966. Seeley went on to develop the engine and made his own custom frames to produce a number of G50 ‘specials’ some of which were known as the called the Seeley Condor. These exclusive motorcycles continue to be hand built to this day to individual customer specifications by TGA Ltd, now based in northern France. As well as building motorcycles from new parts, TGA also convert secondhand racing motorcycles for road use.

Lost right in the middle of this platoon of old ladies, you could even find… a very rare American Italian British INDIAN VELO 500 of 1971. Incredible!!  Former West Coast Indian distributor and motorcycle magazine publisher Floyd Clymer, acquired the rights to the Indian name in 1967 and made a number of attempts to revive the marque. Clymer worked with two German firms, Munch and Horex, to build prototypes of an updated Indian, but neither of those projects got beyond that stage. Eventually, Clymer succeeded in creating this machine, the Indian Velo 500. It combined an Italian frame and other components with an engine from the British Velocette factory. And in 1969, he offered the Indian Velo 500 to the public. The bike was powered by a 499cc, single-cylinder, four-stroke engine that produced an estimated 34 horsepower at 6,200 rpm. Unfortunately, the Indian Velo came along at a time when the motorcycle world was rapidly changing. Indeed, the year it was first offered to the public, Honda unveiled the four-cylinder 750, and things would never be the same again. Estimates of the number of Indian Velos produced range from 100 to 150 before Clymer’s death in 1970 brought an end to the effort.

I felt in love with this AJS 7R BOY RACER of 1961. The 7R was a factory road racer produced by AJS from 1948 through 1963. It’s 348cc displacement put it in the middleweight, or ‘junior’ class of racing, and hence the nickname “Boy Racer”. With up to 40 horsepower and weighing only 285 pounds, they were fast (120 mph top speed) and competitive on road racing circuits throughout Europe and the British Isles. 7Rs won two World Championships and the Isle of Man TT and many more victories during the mid-1950s.

About forty motorcycles are gathered here. They are all in a perfect state. And the great surprise is that 90% of them come from 50 miles around the museum from private individual collectors. Yes, indeed, center of France is very well known for having many classic motorcycle rallies and private collections.

At the end of your visit (which will take you two hours) don’t forget to have a look to a very surprising little sidecar that Matra studyied some years ago.

So, next time you will be visiting Paris, we’ll take our motorcycles and after a nice ride of two or three hours you will discover this beautiful museum which will show you a part of the French automotive industry’s story..

See ya soon on the road, who knows?

Hervé your French biker friend.