Saturday, 22 July 2006
Distance 17 km
Duration 3 hours 30 minutes
Ascent 111 m, descent 115 m
Map 25 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
When we woke at 6:20 several parties of cyclists were already half-packed, but we still got away first. We passed our packs over the fence into the adjoining picnic ground and clambered over ourselves to have breakfast at a table.
The bike track of yesterday continued pleasantly beside the Cher, although the GR had disappeared up the hill.
When we got near Villandry, just before the confluence with the Loire, we turned off the cycle path towards the town in a tunnel of plane trees, and could see the château over the bramble hedge as it came near.
We got bread and pastries at the baker and settled down to enjoy them at the little bar, with big nourishing bowls of milky coffee.
We were too early to go into the famous gardens of the château, and we probably would not have anyway. We saw glimpses of them as we went up to look at the church.
On the way down we missed the connection with the GR and also the little road beside the highway that was marked on the map. It must have been up on the escarpment, but the main road turned out to be quiet and shady so we had no trouble.
As soon as we had gone under the autoroute we turned uphill for a couple of kilometres, sweating in the sun, to the village of Vallères at the top of the rise.
This was an unpromising canyon of grey houses, but to our surprise there was a cluster of blue umbrellas in the church square, belonging to a bar across the road.
The waitress had to walk over the zebra crossing to bring us our coffees.
Greatly strengthened and rested, we pressed on, over the railway line, past great apple orchards shrouded in netting, until we merged with the highway coming from Tours (the D751).
It was a surprisingly steep drop into the valley of the Indre and the town of Azay-le-Rideau. We were surprised again by how busy and touristy the town was, with cafés and gift shops abounding.
Following the signs, we soon got to the camping ground, which was no great distance upstream from the château, protected by tall barriers which would be locked, we were told, from 10 pm till 7 am. They would present more of a challenge to the early departer than the boom gate at Amboise.
We paid the necessary €5.90 and found a spot with rather scanty grass but a fair amount of shade in a grove of thin trees. After sitting on the edge of a concrete flower bed devoid of flowers, for lunch, we had showers and a sleep.
It was too hot to contemplate anything beyond an afternoon in a bar, watching the Tour. We found ourselves near the chapel, where a wedding was taking place, and the sound of singing drifted out delightfully into the street.
At 5:30 the day’s riding finished and we wandered back towards our tent, pausing to admire the château through a big gate. It was built in the reign of France’s first Renaissance king, François I, on an island in the river, with its foundations rising straight out of the water.
François was a great humanist and patron of the arts, and a contemporary of Henry VIII in England, with almost as many mistresses but only one wife. It was a better arrangement for the women, who all kept their heads.
Another hour or two passed on our bedrolls in the shade, long enough to let some of the heat drain out of the day, and we then returned to town for dinner.
After inspecting various menus we decided on a little place on the main road, without a terrace but with a cool, pleasant stone and timber interior.
It was full, but the waiter told us to come back in ten minutes, so we walked down towards the bridge, had a glass of cold rosé at a bar, and came back in time to get a lovely table near the open window.
We were ravenous and ate all the bread in the basket before the first course arrived, but it was quickly replenished.
We had ham and a plate of crudités, then a steak and a chicken leg, followed by crème caramel and a selection of cheese, which vanished into my bag, together with a few rounds of baguette. It all cost €30 and it was lucky that we had the cash, because their system could not deal with foreign credit cards.
On the way back to the camping ground we passed the château, all lit up and lively with tourists.