Saturday, 16 July 2011
Distance 16 km
Duration 3 hours 15 minutes
Ascent 22 m, descent 28 m
Map 133 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
As we packed up, our cheerful hippy host sailed by on his bike and stopped to shake hands with us. We were leaving without nourishment of any kind, having used up all our powdered milk (which we needed for muesli), and intending to have breakfast at St-Georges-sur-Cher, not far downstream on the other side.
The riverside path that we had taken into town yesterday continued in the other direction as well, and as we went down towards it, we noticed for the first time a large new building on stilts in the far corner of the camping ground.
It dawned on us that this might be the missing “grands sanitaires” and so it proved to be. Everything inside was shiny and modern and it probably even had hot water! The long-distance cyclists were packing up nearby and we gave them a fraternal wave.
Once on the path, we swung along easily, staying close to the river even when the GR41 turned away over the fields. On our previous visit we had followed this GR up into a hidden valley behind Chissy-en-Touraine, but this time we were keen to cross the river and walk on the opposite bank of the Cher.
Half an hour later we came to the bridge at Chissy, set in a manicured park. On the other side there was a sign reminding the reader that the Cher river had been the dividing line between the occupied and “free” zones during the Second World War, with a customs post between the two.
There was another sign recording the height of the great flood of 1856, the same flood that we had seen memorialised at various places along the Loire.
We were looking forward to the pleasures of a café in St-Georges-sur-Cher, as our stomachs were starting to rumble. But all we could see was the highway (the same majestic D976 that we had last seen at Thésée), with a huge sign welcoming drivers to the town, and no visible town, apart from a few low, picturesque cottages.
Nevertheless we crossed the highway and pressed on along the side road, which turned out to be the old highway, and eventually came to a boulangerie, all by itself in a row of solid, comfortable private houses.
It did not promise well for a bar and we were almost too afraid to ask the woman who served us whether there was one in the town. But when we did, the answer was yes – eight hundred metres further on.
That was a fair step for people as hungry as us but at least our anxiety had been relieved.
We could see the spire of the church ahead, marking our destination, but there was no sign of the bar until we were almost upon it, tucked into a corner just opposite the church.
Inside, whether because of our hunger or because of the superior quality of the coffee and pastries, we had one of the most delightful morning refreshments of our whole trip.
On our way back to the river, we passed a brand-new shopping centre on the edge of the highway, and stopped to buy a few lunch supplies (tomatoes and a red onion) to go with the bread that we had just bought and the cheese saved from last night.
We skipped back over the highway and down to a sort of fairground beside the water, where we picked up the walking track again.
This took us through light-filled woods of chestnut and birch, then over a side-stream and into the new department of Indre-et-Loire, marked by a rusty sign.
We were never more than a few steps from the river and before long the creamy arches of the château of Chenonceaux appeared, looping gracefully across the water from the grand entrance on the other bank to the quiet woodland on this.
It had been a gift from Henri II to his lover Diane de Poitiers, a married woman twenty years older than he, famous for her beauty, with whom he had been besotted since puberty. When the king died young after a jousting accident, his plain-faced widow, Catherine de Medici, spitefully banished her rival for life from Chenonceaux.
It was getting hot, even though the sky was heavy with clouds, and I took the opportunity, before we reached the tourist-populated front of the château, to change out of long trousers into shorts – it was one of the few times that it had been warm enough to do so.
The riverside path soon emerged from the trees and became a white road lined with fields of sunflowers.
An hour’s walk got us to the camping ground at Bléré and we entered through the back gate. It was a big, open expanse, packed with caravans and motor-homes. We found out later that a lot of them were here for the car rally, which was to take place tomorrow. The cars were already assembling in rows just outside the camping ground.
After we had paid our dues of €11.80, we had showers and made the same mistake as we had the day before. We endured a lukewarm dribble at the nearby ablutions block, and then noticed a grand new block further along, no doubt with scalding hot showers.
The weather had become cold and blustery, so we ate our lunch in a sort of games room behind the office, surrounded by people playing ping-pong.
After a little rest inside the tent, we walked the short distance into the main square, remembering it from our visit in 2005. Our aim was to find a bar showing the Tour de France and we eventually found one, just next to the church.
As on every other Saturday that we had been walking, there was a wedding in the village, the happy couple and all the guests spilling out of the church at four o’clock. Several of them came into the bar and joined us in front of the TV.
Back at the camping ground, it started to rain and we took refuge once again in the games room. When it eased off we hurried back to town and had our pastis and rosé in the brasserie opposite our afternoon bar.
At this time of year, they would normally have been serving their guests under the awnings in the square, indeed we had eaten there on our previous visit, but tonight everybody was tucked away snugly indoors. After our apéritifs, we roamed around the streets looking for a good place to eat and came to the conclusion that the best place was the one that we had just left.
The menu was €15 and we started with colourful salades italiennes, piled high with capsicum, tomato, cucumber, olives, lettuce and herbs. Then I had a mixed grill, while Keith stuck to his perpetual favourite, entrecôte. As usual we demolished two or three baskets of bread and all the wine.
We scuttled back to our tent in the drizzle, just in time for the real rain to begin, and it continued to rain quite hard for hours.