Wednesday, 1 June 2005
Distance 16 km
Duration 3 hours 40 minutes
Ascent 137 m, descent 125 m
Map 26 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Our plan for the day was to cross back to the Loire on a cycle path that we had been told about. It was not very far, so we rose at a leisurely hour and went back to the village for Bléré coffee and croissants in the square.
My toes were individually wrapped in sticking plaster in an attempt to prevent what had already happened. The only reliable treatment for blisters that I have found is not to get them in the first place.
By the time we got back to the camping ground, the dew had dried from the tent and we set off across the bridge and then on a small side road which took us to connect with the cycle way, marked with green signs.
It was also used by local traffic, but very few cars came past. In fact we met very few of anything.
We walked through rolling fields of grain, then entered a thick forest and stopped for lunch at the junction with a busier road, the one direct from Chenonceaux.
We had to follow this road for a few kilometres until we got close to Amboise, where we escaped onto a tiny street and ended up at the door of the Clos Lucé, the last home of Leonardo da Vinci.
Leonardo lived in this comfortable mansion for three years until his death in 1519, supported by François I, purely to provide the king with daily edifying conversation. We went into the grounds and looked around, then took an alleyway down a steep hill which came out at the back of the royal palace and into tourist bedlam.
A solid line of eateries served the jostling mass, and down along the river it was even worse. As the Office of Tourism was closed for lunch, we sat down at an unspeakable brasserie where the waiters spoke a kind of sneering dog-English.
The coffee took so long to arrive that we were on our feet to leave when it came.
At the Office of Tourism we found out that the camping was on an island in the river, just a short walk over the bridge.
When we got there we had to insist on paying our €8 on the spot, although the woman was doubtful. Correct procedure was to pay as we left, after 8:30 in the morning, when the boom gate opened. She seemed incapable of imagining that we did not have car and would be long gone by 8:30.
We found a delightful grassy spot for our tent, looking over the shallows and sandbanks of the Loire through a screen of trees, with the royal château itself just beyond. The big campervans that required electricity could not use these choice sites. My feet were hurting and I collapsed in the shade for a while before I even had the strength for a shower.
By evening we were greatly restored and very hungry. Leaving our washed clothes fluttering between two trees, we stepped back over the bridge and strolled around the streets, which were emptying quickly as the shops closed.
The restaurant we chose, Le Cadran, had a walled courtyard at the back, painted in Mediterranean style with trompe l’oeuil windows, potplants and a cat.
It was packed with busy diners and we found a table beside a young couple whose nationality we never found out, as they never spoke a word. They seemed to be in the last stages of a marital collapse, and looked everywhere except at each other, with scowling faces.
We had a wonderful meal of omelette, pasta and salad, with two baskets of bread and a jug of wine. As usual, not a particle of food went back to the kitchen, in contrast to our silent neighbours, who sent back most of their beautiful salads.
As we returned over the bridge, the château was lit up rosily by the last rays of the setting sun.