Thursday, 20 July 2006
Distance 19 km
Duration 3 hours 45 minutes
Ascent 15 m, descent 28 m
Map 26 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
As a demonstration of the possible, we walked out of the camping ground at 6:30 am and had our breakfast on the river bank beside a big bronze statue of Neptune, out of sight of the rigid functionary when she arrived to open the gate at 7 (we subsequently got a letter from the camping ground demanding payment, which we ignored).
I had almost run out of my specially fibrous muesli mixture, so I breakfasted on the left-over pizza from Chaumont, and it sat like a stone in my stomach.
Our aim was to get to Vouvray, but instead of going down the left bank, as we had done the previous year, we crossed the other half of the Loire to the less glamorous side of Amboise.
Walking through the dowdy, empty streets, we wondered whether this was a wise decision, but soon the houses thinned out into fields and we approached the village of Nazelles-Négron.
Just ahead of us an old woman was tripping along with a purse in her hand and we caught up with her.
She was a widow, going to visit her husband’s grave, as she did every morning, a walk of four kilometres that did her no harm, she said. Her only child lived in Brittany with a husband who did not like his mother-in-law, so she spent Christmas alone.
All this and a few other things we found out in the few minutes that it took us to arrive at the little row of shops at the crossroads. She indicated the bar, blessedly open, and vanished into the boulangerie.
We sat indoors as there was no terrace, and Keith had a croissant with his coffee, but I was still weighed down by the pizza. The barwoman gave us not very complicated instructions about how to get to Vouvray (“toujours tout droit”) and we set off along the little road, with the river Cisse on our left and a line of low hills on our right.
It was an easy, delightful walk past various wine domains. We cruised past the hamlet of Noizay, but when we came to where the Cisse joined the river Brenne, the straight road was blocked, and there was a detour via the bridge at Vernou-sur-Brenne.
This was no bad thing in our case, as we were ready for another round of coffee and we found a bar open opposite the church. From its cave-like interior we could see the bustle of the weekly market in the bright square outside.
We crossed the river and the highway, took a small side road to the roundabout, then made a dash for Vouvray along the D46, passing under the TGV line as it emerged from a tunnel in the hillside.
The first thing we came to on the outskirts of the town was a large supermarket, so we stocked up on lunch supplies. Vouvray was familiar from last year, with its streets rising from the river flats and its great church at the top.
We went down past the restaurant where we had eaten before (les Chalands), checking as we passed that it would be open in the evening, then went straight to the camping ground below the highway, near the confluence of the Cisse with the Loire.
There was nobody in the office so we went in and set ourselves up under a tree. The place was not crowded and the grass was thick and soft. We had just finished our showers when officialdom came wobbling up on a bicycle, knees out, elbows in, and Keith went with him to pay.
It turned out that tonight would be the occasion for the weekly “glass of friendship”, offered every Thursday to the campers by the mayor and syndicate of the town.
About 4:30 we went back to town, to the little vine-covered corner bar called Le Balzac. The name recalls the fact that this great nineteenth-century writer made Vouvray the setting for his comic novel ” L’Illustre Godissart”, in which a swindling commercial traveller is out-swindled by an old winemaker. There is even a statue of this fictional con man in the town.
At the bar, people were watching the last hour of the Tour and we did the same.
When we got back to the camping ground at 6 pm, it was much more populated than before and our host was laying out paper tablecloths and glasses in a large marquee.
The campers gathered and the mayor made a graceful little speech welcoming us all to the area and outlining its charms.
Corks were removed from several bottles of the local appellation and plates of rillettes were passed around.
At first we were the only non-French people there and we were able to have some pleasant conversation in French, before we were seized upon by an elderly English couple desperate for someone to speak English with.
They had owned a camping ground themselves, in the Lake District, and they invited us to call in to their caravan when we came back from the restaurant.
The garden at les Chalands, overhung with trees and lanterns, was well occupied by the time we arrived. Nobody was eating indoors, because of the oppressive heat. We ordered the €15 menu and a jug of wine.
For starters Keith had a terrine and I had fish soup, which was a mistake, not from any intrinsic fault, but because it was heavy and filling and made me feel hotter than ever. It came with grated cheese, aïoli and toast and was a meal in itself.
Pressing on, we had an entrecôte and a filet mignon of pork, then cheese and a fruit tart for Keith. All my meat and most of the cheese ended up in my bag for tomorrow.
Back at the camping ground, we sat with our new English friends outside their big sleek van for coffee. They were a relaxed and genial pair and had won the award for Best Caravan Park in England two years running, then retired to a life of caravanning themselves.