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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.

 

RIDE IN FRANCE AND … EAT CAMEMBERT AND SHOOT THE TIGER!!

Story and Photos by ITN European Reporter Herve’ Rebollo

Bonjour à toi American Rider,

Some time ago, I called my road mate Philippe to suggest him a ride to Normandy. We took our bikes (a Street glide and a Slim) and we went to  …Utah Beach and on our way we made a (large) go-round to take some pictures of a … TIGER.2

Here’s some words about this ride.

TIGER

At the end of the Battle of Normandy, the little town (almost a village) of Vimoutiers  was used as a rally  point for all the retreating German units that had managed to escape from the Falaise Gap. Though most of these units were depleted, some tanks made their way to this point. Many were abandoned for some reasons, but most often due to a lack of fuel. On August 19 of 1944, one Panzer III, several Panzer IV and Tigers and even one Köenigstigerwere scattered around Vimoutiers. Panther_ArgentanOn Sunday, August 20th, the decisive stage of the Battle of Normandy is coming to an end. The Falaise pocket , where the German forces are surrounded, is on the point of being wiped out. On august 21st, five German tanks, which have succeeded in breaking out, take up position in the Guerquesalles area. One of them, Tiger Type E No. 231, heading for Vimoutiers, is immobilized shortly before entering the town ; it has probably run out of fuel. In a curve in the middle of the road, the Tiger had been abandoned by its crew. Just before moving by foot to the East, they tried to blow it up by setting explosives against both turret and engine, but to no avail. The explosion had poor or no effect. When liberating the town on Tuesday , august 22, Canadians from the Black Watch, 2nd Infantry Division, cleared the way by pushing it down in a ditch along the road. The tank laid there until October 1975, when a rescue operation got it out and set it as a monument. It’s said that another Tiger has been buried in a big hole of the road, by civilian engineers, about the same point. This tiger tank, of which only one more exists in France, was purchased by the town, restored and put on its present site. It has been under preservation order as a historical monument since 1975. Related to different books, this panzer belonged to Schweres Panzer-Abteilung 503 or II SS PanzerKorps. Actually, units that retreated from Falaise gap were so mixed and scattered that it’s a real challenge to identify precisely where came this tank from.

http://tank-photographs.s3-website-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/normandy-tiger-tank-vimoutiers-1944-ww2.html

CAMEMBERT CHEESE

The Vimoutiers Tiger tank is in the middle of Camembert Cheese Country. After you have looked at the Tiger set your Sat-Nav to the village of Camembert. Visit the Camembert Museum and see how this famous cheese is made then afterwards go to the shop on the other side of the road for free cheese tasting. For the tank enthusiasts you have to search for the Camembert Cheese label that has a Renault FT tank on the front that was stuck on Cheeses supplied to the French troops at the front in WW1. Camembert is an enchanting southern Normandy village as well as a very famous Normandy cheese. With its timber-frame farms built on lush green slopes, the village presents a wonderful image of typical Normandy countryside. Of course Camembert cheese takes centre stage for visitors to the place.7

Camembert is a commune in the Orne department in north-western France. It is the place where camembert cheese originated. Camembert has been called “The largest small village in France.” This is because the area of the commune itself is out of proportion to the center of the village which consists of the Cheese Museum (in the shape of a Camembert cheese), the Town Hall (Mairie), the Church of St Anne, the Ferme Président (a museum), Beamoncel (the house where Marie Harel, the creator of camembert cheese lived) and 3 other small houses. The rest of the commune is scattered over 10 km2 (2,500 acres).12

This Tiger is known as LE TIGRE DE VIMOUTIERS. The place is really appreciated by bikers who like to come here by little roads of Normandy to “shoot the Tiger” with their camera and have a good restaurant. From Paris, it’s about 3 hours on great charming roads (a 300km round trip ride, perfect for a sunny Saturday  /Sunday).      9

So, next time you’re in France, I’ll take you to Vimoutiers and Camembert.

We’ll eat the Tiger and shoot the Camembert, or more or less something like that … don’t worry, in any case it will be a blast!!!1113

See ya soon on the Norman roads …who knows?

Hervé, your French biker friend.