Friday, 21 July 2006
Distance 27 km
Duration 5 hours 10 minutes
Ascent 94 m, descent 91 m
Map 26 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
As we were facing a long hot day on the track, we sprang up early, gulped our muesli under the deserted marquee, and left at 6:40 am.
We followed the GR along the top street of Vouvray, parallel to the highway, until it sheared off and climbed to the chalky fields behind the château, planted entirely with vines for the local appellation. From these broad manicured acres we could see high over the valley of the Loire, with Tours in the distance.
We wove a crooked way down through lanes and streets, crossed the highway and took the riverside cycle path behind the houses, as we had done the year before. The same old men were still bent lovingly over their rows of lettuces in the allotments.
Without trouble we arrived in Tours and crossed by the third bridge, a metal footbridge that had replaced a much older one washed away by floods.
This took us straight to the cathedral of Saint-Gatien with its twin towers, but we did not linger, because we had explored it last year and we were in a hurry to find our way out of Tours before the day warmed up too much.
Marching briskly through streets full of ethnic restaurants, we came to the wide main boulevard, handsome but curiously devoid of bars.
We were beginning to wonder about the habits of the Tourangeais (if that is what the citizens of Tours call themselves), when we arrived at the expansive central roundabout, dominated by the Hôtel de Ville, and saw two beautiful bars facing each other under wide-spreading trees and umbrellas.
It was a great joy to take in strong hot coffees, iced water and pastries, while watching the townspeople bustling past.
When paying the bill, I asked to have our water bottles refilled. “Water or cognac?” enquired the grinning man. I said cognac but he did not oblige.
Further down the Avenue de Grammont we succeeded in picking the right place to turn in order to get to the railway overpass, even though our only guide was the TOP 100 map.
Beyond the railway we also crossed the big bypass road and the Cher river, at which point we reconnected with our long-time companion, the GR3, and set off along the riverbank on a well-marked cycle path, part of the network called “la Loire à Vélo”.
Once under the autoroute, the way became very sunny and hot, as it left the river to meander through fields of corn. At le Grand Moulin (which still seemed to be operational) we stopped for a rest and a drink under a tree.
Keith’s foot had recently become very sore and was causing him grief, so we cut the last corner of the GR on a small road.
As we came within sight of Savonnières, but still far away, we saw a group of caravans in a field and hoped it was not the camping ground. It was not, just some double-axled gipsy caravans that are not allowed in normal camping places.
The first thing we saw as we came to the village was the real camping ground, spick and span and new and green. We paid our €8 and were escorted over a plank bridge to a section reserved for people without cars.
There we took possession of two spots – one grassy but not shady (for the tent), and the other rather bare, under a thick spreading willow (for lunch and naps).
The showers were magnificent. I washed all my walking clothes, including my hat, while the hot water gushed over me, but the hat disintegrated as I rubbed it. Fortunately the lining was still holding together so I could wear it inside out for the remaining few days.
After lunch and a sleep under the willow tree, we pitched the tent and went up to the village which was just adjacent. It was charming although it only had one street, prettily paved, with a dignified half-roundabout in front of the church.
It had a baker, a supermarket, two hotel-restaurants and two bars, both of which had shady terraces across the street, overlooking the river. There was a little weir and a beach, reminiscent of the village swimming pools along the Yonne.
Neither of the bars was broadcasting the Tour, but we sat under a yellow umbrella and had coffee. We were suddenly joined by a group of cyclists when a thunderstorm blew up.
Back at the camping ground, we stopped to talk with some New Zealanders on bikes, whom we had last seen in Amboise. They had arrived at Savonnières the day before and were having a rest day. They shared our love of the French way of life, the community spirit, the fact that they grow flowers as well as vegetables in their gardens, and the way they care for the landscape.
The lights of the nearby restaurant glowed reassuringly in the cloudy evening as we approached. Tables were set in the garden, which was reached through a tunnel of greenery, and half of them were already occupied.
Nobody was eating indoors. It was lucky that there was a roof, as it rained heavily later on.
Keith had the €16 menu, consisting of a floguarde tourangelle (a little quiche with a salad), a steak and a chocolate mousse. I was wary of the menu after my lack of appetite at Vouvray, so I had a single plate, rump steak with pommes gratinées, and finished with a small coffee.
Back at our tent, we were annoyed by a gang of adolescents, French and English, who were trying to cook a meal to the strains of deafening pop music.
When they knocked over the gas burner there was panic and some parents (French ones) were summoned to sort out the mess.
The kids went off at last to clean their teeth and were trapped in the shower block by a massive renewal of the thunderstorm, returning eventually to find that all their gear had been soaked. Good practice for life, we said to ourselves smugly from the comfort of our dry sleeping bags.