Loches again, cycling (sort of)
A September week in Loches, Touraine, France: cloudless skies, 34° afternoon temperature, quiet roads, empty villages, lovely châteaux, walks, some cycling. Heaven!
Unfortunately our hosts for the past three years are moving on; they have bought the outbuildings of the Château de Chavigny near Chinon and are taking their antique French furniture with them, so it seems unlikely we'll be staying at the delightful riverside gîte in the centre of Loches again next Autumn. Time passes, things change.
Actually, the small town of Loches, a half-hour drive south east of Tours, has not changed much since the 1990s when we camped there en famille a number of times. The main difference is that the open air swimming pool next to the municipal camp site has shut (there is apparently a new pool somewhere). There is still a pretty young woman serving in the pâtisserie and ice creams for sale at the entrance of the château up on the hill. The top photo is taken from the château looking down on the ancient rooftops of the town and which have probably not been touched for two hundred years. Anyway we have always liked Loches and in recent years have taken our bikes to enjoy some cycling in the serenity of the forest, empty roads and deserted villages in this part of France. Generally the ground seems elevated between the meandering rivers of the Loire, Cher, and Indre and we prefer open country. The towns with hilltop châteaux are also gorgeous of course.
I meant to bring back the maps of the official cycle routes around Loches but I think I forgot to put them in my bag (they might turn up). They are numbered day rides of 10-30 miles or so, and signposted, which is just as well as there are no tyre tracks to follow. No-one but us has ever cycled these routes and during our past three visits to Loches we have done them all apart from three from Le Grand Pressigny, another small town a little further south. They are a pleasant mixture of quiet roads and deserted tracks through La forêt domaniale de Loches, although here and there are warning notices to watch out for hunters.
2012, cycling in one of these forests, a dog bit my leg. This year I caught the same leg on my bike pedal, replicating exactly the bite marks from the year before. I showed it to our host Jean-Claude, who remembered the bite, and I told him the same dog had bitten me again this year in the same place on the same leg.
Alongside the D760 from Loches to Manthelan a Danish-style two-lane bike road was built a few years ago. In many places it is covered with dead twigs and acorns and the surface is beginning to break up. I don't know what to say about it except that it appears unused. We used it to cycle westwards before turning north along farmland tracks then round in a loop via the deserted village of Azay-sur-Indre. On this ride, near the village of Dolus-le-Sec, we saw two cyclists in the distance. French, possibly, but too far away to tell*.
It really was hot. On the hottest days we drove instead, then went for an evening walk. We had never visited the Château de Montpoupon before, although driven past. France does not have the equivalent of the British National Trust and Montpoupon is privately owned, lived-in and maintained. Jean-Claude knows the owners, who apparently watch every Euro. It is a fine small château with outbuildings full of hunting regalia and old family photos. I have never seen the point of 'the hunt' but there is reference to it in many of the French château. Our favourite, incidentally, is Valençay – too far from Loches to cycle to although we have cycled to our second favourite: Chenonceaux.
The memory of our visits to Loches in 2011, 2012 and this year 2013 will be the peaceful Frenchness of this part of France and, with the châteaux, its place in the history of Europe. Next year, who knows.
*Cycle routes along the general path of the Loire/Cher from Chinon to Langeais, Tours, Amboise and Blois are much busier with people on cycling holidays of one kind or another, where a more established trail exists with the attraction of cycling along a river through a succession of larger towns, all with important châteaux as well as those at Ussé (with its piped American pop music, our least favourite), Langeais, Villandry and Chenonceaux.