Loire Valley
Bike/Barge Trip
May, 2010



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HAT Tours /  Van Gogh Tours


Thursday, May 20 - The Journey Begins


Ooh la la . . . we’re off on another bike/barge trip, this time to the Loire River Valley booked with HAT Tours of the Netherlands.  We found out about this trip through our favorite bike tour company, Van Gogh Tours.  It's a 7 day bike trip and we've booked some time in Paris at the Hotel Brescia on the Right Bank in the 8th Arrondisement at the beginning and end of the trip.  

We have much to celebrate this trip --  our 25th wedding anniversary and Bill’s 55th birthday.

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Friday, May 21 - Day 1, Paris

Park de MonceauThe flight was uneventful.  We arrived at Charles de Gaulle at about 7:45 and cleared customs promptly.  Our bags came off the belt quickly , and we found our way to the Roissybus to take us to central Paris, not far from our hotel. We caught a taxi to our hotel and were happy to hear that we could check in right away.

After a brief rest, we headed out to explore the area. We went in search of a café for lunch and found Rimal, a friendly Lebanese Arc de Triomphe outdoor café on Boulevard Malesherbes where we stopped in for grilled sandwiches and salad.

Afterwards we strolled through the Parc de Monceau and enjoyed a leisurely walk and people watching session.  It was a perfect spring afternoon – 70’s and sunny.Spiral Steps to the Top!

We then sauntered off to the Arc de Triomphe and walked up the 284 steps to the spectacular view of Paris and the 12 roads that fan out like spokes on a wheel away from the Arc. 

We strolled a few blocks of the Champs Elysees; then started to hike back towards the hotel. By now it was after 7:30 p.m., so we ventured into the Café Restaurant LeCarre on Place Saint-Augustin. There was a good crowd there, but we managed to find a nice table inside. We shared the cheese platter, olive tapenade and an assortment of fresh bread, a glass of wine for Diane and an Affligem Belgian ale for Bill.  

We returned to the hotel by 10:00 and split a ½ bottle of wine on our little terrace before retiring at 10:30. Looking forward to a good night's sleep so we'll wake up tomorrow with our internal clocks adjusted to the local time zone! 

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Saturday, May 22
 Transfer from Paris to Cour-les-Barres

Musee Jaquemart AndreWe slept well, had breakfast and headed to the Musee Jaquemart Andre – an elegantTour Eiffel mansion once owned by an art-collecting couple.  It was a lovely take-in with an English audio-guide.

We had to check out of the hotel by by noon so headed back to the hotel.  After paying up, we stowed our bags in the lobby and headed to a nearby café to lunch (croque monsieur for Bill and salad chevre chaud for Diane).  Bill tried the Grimbergen Belgian Ale and Canal System of the Loirewas not disappointed!  After lunch we strolled around the neighborhood and browsed through an open-air market.

By 2:00 we headed back to the hotel to grab bags and head to Gare du Nord toAnna Maria IVmeet our cycling party for the bus transfer to Loire.  After a short wait, we found the bus across the street and met 9 of our cycle mates:  Steve & Sue, Linda & Al, Lyn & Graham, and Keith & Sheelagh (all old high school chums from England) plus  Petra, a German school teacher traveling solo.  We were missing one other couple, Mike and Eva, and waited about 45 minutes for them until getting the word from the tour company to go on without them.  

Anna Maria IV - Our BerthOur drive to Cours-les-Barres was three hours, about twice as long as we expected, but we eventually arrived around 7:00 p.m. and found the Anna Maria IV waiting for us with our captain Martijn, his lovely wife, Marjorie, their dog Poekie and our guide Jan Willem welcoming us with glasses of sparkling rose wine.

We were shown to our cabin, a compact and efficient compartment with a twin upper and double lower berth, sink, under-berth bins for clothing storage and a separate closet with shower and toilet.  Our cabin had a nice, wide window that opened to a canal view.  Dining Room, Bar & Galley on board

We were called to dinner straight away and enjoyed a dinner of vegetable consommé, spaghetti Bolognese, and yoghurt with strawberries.  After dinner we had a few laughs and a nightcap on deck.  Our missing tour mates finally showed up by cab around 9:00.  Mike and Eva from England (she’s originally from Germany) had been delayed on their train from England due to vandalism on the train line, and they missed our tour bus by mere minutes so had to catch a train and then a cab to get to us.  


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Sunday, May 23 - 50 km
 Cour-les-Barres Loop

Getting Ready to Ride!We awoke to another hot, sunny day for cycling.  Breakfast was at 8:00, and we were off by 9:00 on aHere We Go! big loop that would eventually bring us back to Cours-les-Barres.  Our cycling took us along farm roads through fields of buttercups dotted with cows and sheep. As we cycled along, we came upon a nice scenic vista,  Le Bec-d'Allier that overlooked the confluence of the Rivers Loire and Allier. We cycled along through some lovely small villages and then Here Come the Sheep!continued our journey on a bike path next to the canal.

Our first stop of the day was anMarket Day! open-air market where we  bought a mini quiche and a spinach & goat cheese tart for lunch.  Next stop was Nevers on the River Loire.  We took a little break from the cycling and walked around the town to do a bit of sightseeing. We saw the impressive Duke's Palace and the Cathedral as we meandered Pretty Ridingthrough the narrow, quiet streets lined with medieval houses from the 15th and 16th centuries. Part of the Duke's Palace now houses a pottery museum. Cycling Along the Canal

We got back on the bikes and cycled a bit further along the bike path where we stopped for a picnic.

Next stop was the historic Parc Floral d’Apremont. The stately grounds included a towering 12th century Parc Floral d'Apremontcastle with 5 of its original 12 towers still standing and impressive gardens with peaceful ponds and all sorts of flowering trees. The castle, high on the hill, was a fortress in the Middle Ages to defend its strategic position onFloral Park in Apremont the River Allier as well as to collect fares from travellers crossing the river.  We had a quick beer in the Parc’s beer garden before cycling the last 15K back to the barge to change for dinner.   Dinner on board tonight was salad with foie gras, honey glazed pork cutlets with pomme fritte and broad beans w/ bacon, with yoghurt and sliced fruit for dessert.


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Monday, May 24 (55K)
Beffres to

Beffres StartWe slept well and awoke to another gorgeous, hot sunny day.  We cruised aboard the barge for two hours to our starting off point at the lock in Beffres.  The locks along the canal are just wide enough to accommodate the Anna Maria IV. As weIn the Lock prepared for the day's ride, we were asked by Capt. Martijn to manually open the lock to allow the barge to exit the lock at the lower water height. So we managed to crank open the lock gate by hand to allow the barge to pass through!  As we admired the vessel sailing off to this evening's destination, Bill realized that he left his Bill & Diane opening the lock gates!Camelback (water bottle backpack) on board. He hurriedly jogged down the canal path to get Captain Martijn's attention as the barge was pulling away. Marjorie found the backpack and tossed it over to Bill (who was now quite relieved!) OK, we've had enough excitement for the dayExiting the lock and we hadn't even begun cycling yet!

As we began our ride, we cycled along through wheat fields, and after a while we saw the small town of La Charité sur Loire in the distance with its majestic Notre Dame Church spire pointing up to the heavens. We cycled across a beautiful Entering La Charite sur Loire16th century stone bridge and entered the town.  We stopped here for a walking tour and a short visit to a local café for refreshments.  The church is on the UNESCO World Heritage list.  In the Middle Ages it was a stopping point on the pilgrammage to Santiago deLa Charite View from the Top! Compostella in Spain. 

Even though our legs were a bit tired from the cycling, at the urgency of our guide, Jan Willem, we hiked up to the topmost point in the town for a commanding view of the village below and the mighty Loire River.  While enjoying a rest in the café, we walked across the way to a local pâtisserie and bought some pastries to supplement our packed lunch.

Pouilly sur LoireAfter enjoying the charm and beauty of La Charité, we cycled on for about another hour or so along a wooded path that took us past local farms, vineyards and the village of Pouilly sur Loire. We had a nice view of the village from the river. Eventually, we arrived at our picnic lunch stop, a pretty campground/park area near the river. After lunch, Diane and several others took a dip in the Loire to cool off from the heat of the day!

The Wine Tasting!Back on the bikes, we continued another 15K along the path and then down a dirt trail that led to to a goat cheese farm (unfortunately it was closed for some sort of national holiday).  With our expectations dashed, we climbed back on our trusty metal steeds and headed towards the town of Thauvenay for a much anticipated wine tasting at the Eric Louis winery (www.sancerre-ericlouis.com), which is located Enjoying the Wine!right outside of Sancerre.  It has been another hot day, and we felt a little overcooked, so the winery was a lovely, cool respite.  We sampled a number of tasty wines, bought a few and then rode the last quick 2K to the barge, arriving around 5:30.  

Steve & Poekie Out for a Ride!We enjoyed a round of cocktails on the deck, and a few of the guys took turns on the kayak with Poekie the dog riding along (she’s a very cute mix of Corgie and Samoyed, as best we can tell.)  For dinner, Marjorie and Martijn served cream of mushroom soup, minced pork and beef rolls wrapped in bacon, boiled potatoes, red cabbage, and apple sauce, followed by ice cream profiteroles with apricot peach sauce.  After dinner, some of us hiked up through the town and over the aqueduct for a birds-eye view. (see photos below)

Ménétreol Walk   The Old Aqueduct   Nice view of the village of Ménétreol   Iron Railing along the Aqueduct

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Tuesday, May 25 (50K)
Ménétreol to Beaulieu

Our 25th anniversary!  The day started out sunny and warm, like it hasWhere are We? been for the last few days. Keith was the designated "sweeper" today. He modified his bike to give himself an added incentive. It's a full bottle of beer, dangling from a pole affixed to the front of his bike just out of arms reach! We'll see how long that lasts!

We started the day by cycling The climb to Sancerreup a 2-3K gently graded climb up to the historic wine village of Sancerre, where we toured the Maison des Sancerre, a nice little wine museum that had a great audio visual presentation of wine production of the area. At the conlusion of the tour, we got to taste some wine again!

After the museum visit, we picked up some Crottins de Chavognol, the Grand Cru of goat Sampling Sancerre's Finest Vintages!cheese famous in this region along with some bread, quiche and chocolatetartlets for our picnic lunch.  

After a coffee break at a local café, we rode back down the hill; then back along paths through the fields and along a canal to our lunch stop at a park along the river.  Our sunny weather had turned cloudy and was threatening rain, but after two days roasting in Bill and Baguette the sun, we were ready for a break, as all of us were a bit pink despite using sun block.  

After lunch, we headed back out on a small farm road through fields of wheat (where are all the vineyards?).  We had a brief downpour – we had no sooner stopped to put on rain jackets;   then needed to stop again to take them off because we got too hot. We had a lovely, gentle up and down ride, ending up in Beaulieu for a quick 15-minute coffee break aboard the barge (served Dutch style, with cookies, of course).  

We then headed out for a kayaking adventure on the Loire. Despite our dissimilar paddling techniques and Bill’s aching back, we still had a lovely downstream ride, pulled along by Bill's Bike the swift current, stopping for a swim midstream along a sandbar.  Near the end of our route, the river branched around a tiny island, and we had a choice to go through rapids on one side or go around the calmer side (we chose the latter).  As we pulled up to our disembarkation point, poor Bill lost his balance getting out of the kayak and fell in!  

All the fun on our kayaking adventure caused us to arrive back to the barge a bit later than expected. We quickly showered and headed straight to dinner.  Tonight’s menu was schnitzel, seasoned fried potatoes and spinach. It had started to pour during dinner, so Poekie snuck into the dining room (normally not allowed during meals), and Martijn let her stay – top step only!  After dinner It had stopped raining enough to sit outside under the umbrellas on deck, having after-dinner coffees, drinks and singing songs (at least the parts where we could remember the words). 

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Wednesday, May 26 (40K)
Beaulieu to Briare

Wednesday's StartToday started off cool and overcast, and we cycled along at a leisurely pace alongside the canal then along the Loire itself (along the same route where we had kayaked the previous afternoon), passing lovely homes facing the canal.  Along the Loire

As we were cycling along the canal, Jan Willem stopped briefly to chat with a gentleman who was standing at the top of the embankment. Turns out he was a shepherd attending to his impressive flock of sheep that grazed over many acres in the area. Châtillon-sur-Loire locksHe had them  under his watchful gaze along with the assistance of two alert and friendly border collies.

We stopped briefly at the historic lock near Châtillon-sur-Loire then entered the town at 11:00 a.m. and stopped for a short walk and a coffee.  The name of theChâtillon-sur-Loire village originates in the Castillo, a small fortress which was built in the 10th century on the hill where the church now stands. On our walk we saw several interesting medieval era buildings.

We’ve made a daily habit of stopping at a boulangerie to supplement our lunch. Today we bought a yummy chevre pizza and also chocolate éclairs.  (The éclairs never made it to lunch -- we enjoyed them with Graham sharing his bottle of red!our coffee, yum!)  Our route to lunch was over coarse-chipping roads gently rising over long grades and down again.  

By lunch stop outside a small village of Bannay, it was raining hard, so we pulled into a park in the center of the village and sought refuge under the canopy of some big trees and decided this was a great spot to have our picnic.  Graham and Steve had provisioned earlier on and filled glasses Seeking refuge under the treesof red so we could take the chill off!  The rain serendipitously stopped as we finished our picnic.

After lunch, we cycled off to the nearby Chateau St. Brisson sur Loire  in Brisson for a short tour where we learned ofChateau St. Brisson sur the history of the castle.  When the tour concluded we came back out to a thunderstorm.  We waited 15 minutes under a tent set up outside the chateau; then sprinted the final 6K to the barge.  We all got back safe and sound amid the claps of thunder overhead!

Approaching the Briare AqueductWe stayed on deck to watch as Martijn expertly navigated the barge over the Loire River via the aqueduct at Briare, a narrow squeeze with only inches to spare on either side. Thankfully the barge is fitted with bow thrusters that allow Martijn to navigate in some of Frances's narrowest canals.  The Briare aqueduct was builtBriare Aqueduct Column between 1890 and 1896 and was designed by Gustav Eiffel.  It is lined on either side with elegant lamposts, and each end is marked by two ornamental columns similar to the Pont Alexandre III in Paris.  For many years it was considered the longest steel constructed aqueduct in the world Evening Stroll through Briareat 662 meters, and it is a registered historic monument. Imagine being on a boat suspended hundreds of feet off the ground by an aqueduct filled with enough water to handle boat traffic!  

After crossing over the Loire, we gently glided into our overnight stop in the village of Briare.  We relaxed on deck before dinner (onion soup; chicken curry; and crème caramel).  After dinner we walked through town and along the Loire to view the aqueduct from underneath – an amazing architectural feat!

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Thursday, May 27 (45K)
Briare to Rogny-Les-Sept-Ecluses

Happy Birthday Bill!  We awoke to gray skies – iffy weather.  We headed out along a wooded path and stopped by a spot in the woods where all the damaged tiles from the Briare tileworks are Broken Tilesdiscarded.  It was rather odd to walk through the woods and come to a clearing covered in an acre of broken tiles, many feetGien deep.  The sound of the tiles crunched underfoot.

We re-mounted our bikes and had a long stretch along a rough wooded single-track, more suited to mountain bikers then we casual cyclists. The narrow, one tire width wide trail was booby trapped with ruts, roots and rocks.  We managed to traverse this section with no major mishaps, and eventually we arrived in the town of Gien for a rest and lunch.

We visted the International Musum of Hunting and Falconry that inhabits a grand old castle high on the hill overlooking the town and the Loire River.  There were some interesting exhibits related to hunting through the centuries Hunting Museum/Castleincluding weapons of many types and an impressive collection of several hundred hunting trophies of stuffed game that adorned walls in several rooms.  It was moderately interesting in a macarbe sort of way since neither of us have an appreciation for hunting.  The architecture of the castle itself was interesting with its slate roof, many chimneys, towers and large windows.Hunting Trophies in the Museum

After the museum tour, we strolled along the Rue Gambetta, a pedestrian walkway and enjoyed some people watching as we window shopping past interesting French shops, cafés and retail establishments.  To complete the scene, there was a loud, noisy band of public service workers marching in protest for a wage increase in typical French fashion! 

While we were at the museum, Jan Willem did some advance reconnaissance and was able to make reservations at the Narval Café across from the Loire River Hiding from Jan Willemwhere we had a “real French lunch.”  We heartily devoured plats de jour of steak with fritte and stuffed tomatoes and eggplant, accompanied by carafes of wine and some fine Belgian ale while being entertained by the portly, jovial owner and the friendly waitstaff. The Beer is Flowing!

After lunch, we stopped at a little shop that sold faience style pottery and tableware, of which Gien is well known.  While there we played a trick on Jan Willem and hid behind the building. When he figured out what we had done, he took it in stride and laughed along with us.

RognyWe cycled out of town after a leisurely lunch and had some long up and down grades on rough  roads again.  Bill’s chain came off en route while switching into 3rd gear, and it got badly wrapped around his pedal, requiring him to remove the wheel.  Fortunately our trusty “sweeper” was not far behind with the tool kit.

We caught up with the others a short distance away at (not surprisingly) a nice roadside café where the beer bottles wereThe Seven Historic Locks already crowding the small tables.  The proprietor was having a merry time entertaining us with his pantomimes, donning a Napoleon chapeau crookedly on his head and staggering about like a drunk.  Thankfully we only had a short ride back to the barge where we had a nice leisurely coffee upon our return.  For dinner Marjorie made us a nice pasta salad with a pinch of curry added to the vinaigrette and tossed with green beans, tomatoes, cucumber and corn.  The main entrée was haddock in dill sauce, steamed potatoes and haricot vert, followed by ice cream cake.  After dinner Who's having fun?we took a walk up to the antique locks. While there, we gathered around a coin operated audio guide to get a brief history of the locks but as the darn thing kept malfuntioning, reducing us all to fits of laughter.  I think Jan Williem was having the most fun of all of us!  After this little adventure, we returned to the barge and had coffees and liquors back on deck.

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 Friday, May 28 (50K)
 Rogny-Les-Sept-Ecluses Loop

Our Last Day on the Road!We had high hopes for a sunny day but awoke to chilly, foggy weather.  Jan Willem rallied the group and gave us some last minute information about the day's ride before we headed out. Jan Willem was amazing, a happy-go-lucky Jan WillemDutchman who was close to 70 years old and fit-as-a-fiddle.  It had been a pleasure to have him as our tour guide for the week. We've been on many guided bike tours over the years and he is right up there with the best!

We had an hour’s ride to the market town in Châtillon-Coligny. Along the way, we stopped briefly at a memorial to the town's fallen war heroes. The bronze sculptureFrench War Memorial representing all soldiers was poignent and brought home to us the price of freedom and that major world wars were fought on the very same ground we were riding our bikes.

When we arrived in Châtillon-Coligny, it was chilly and misting heavily.   It was a pretty little village so typical of rural France.  We took refuge under the canopy of a local café, then decided to explore. We bought croque chevre and brownies for lunch and walked around the farmer’s market, eventually returning to the café for coffee to warm us up.

The mist began to let up as we headed out along the canal to our next stop, a small church adjacent to the canal.  Jan Willem retrieved the large metal key to the church that was kept at the nearby bakery so we could have a look inside.  The church was usually kept locked during the week.  As the weathered doors slowly creaked open, it was peaceful and quiet inside.  While walking around, Mike surprised us when he sat down at the small church organ and began to play...beautifully! The sweet sounds of the organ resonated within the church space.  This was a lovely, serendipitous experience!

 Chateau La BussiereWe cycled another half hour or so and stopped at a small picnic area for lunch. After lunch we had only 10K to our next stop, the Chateau de La Bussiere and the beautiful gardens.  The chateau houses an interesting collection of works of art on freshwater fishing and is situated on a six acre pond.   We toured the inside of the chateau, then enjoyed a walk in the large gardens that included an extensive collection of vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers.

Afterwards it was a short 4K back to Adon to the same Belgian beer café with the goofy proprietor.  Diane tried a Abbaye des Rocs (9% alcohol!), and Bill had the Gauloise Ambre.  

Back to the BargeWe had a very leisurely ride for our final 6K back to the barge.  For our final dinner aboard, Marjorie prepared a lovely dinner of tomato soup, Greek salad, mashed potatoes, cauliflower and chicken cordon bleu.  After dinner, we all returned on deck.  It was clear but pretty chilly – you could see your breath – but we all piled on sweaters and jackets and huddled down for a final round or two of drinks and singing.







Saturday, May 29
Rogny-Les-Sept-Ecluses -End of Tour

It was a cool, clear morning, and we had our last breakfast before the bus’s scheduled arrival at 10:30.  Poor Poekie looked depressed as the luggage appeared on deck.  We tried to cheer her up by pointing out another dog on a passing barge to bark at and telling her what a wonderful dog she was!  We took a last quick walk around the little town (to find pastries to snack on for the bus ride); then piled onto the bus at 10:30 and said our sad goodbyes to Martijn, Marjorie, Jan Willem and Poekie.  We arrived back at Gare du Nord by 12:30, made our farewells to our new-found friends and then all headed our separate ways.  

We spent a lovely relaxed evening in Paris having dinner with with Bill's cousin's family, David & Laurence Lopes and their three lovely children, Charles-Albert, Jeanne-Louise and Simon-Pierre. They have a lovely apartment near the Arc de Triomphe. It was nice to catch up and share some fun family memories with them!

Group Picture Aboard the Anna Maria IV

Group photo aboard the Anna Maria IV!

Having celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary and Bill's 55th birthday with such a fun-loving group of fellow international travellers made this vacation very special and memorable.  Many thanks to our tourmates; Petra, Alan and Linda, Sheelagh and Keith, Steve and Sue, Lyn and Graham, Mike and Eva and our great hosts, Captain Martijn, his wife Marjorie and our great tour guide, Jan-Willem. We shared many good times this week and we hope to meet up with you all again, perhaps on another bike & barge trip?

For now, it’s au revoir to France, until our next bike journey beckons . . .

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