Sunday, 23 July 2006
Distance 23 km
Duration 4 hours 20 minutes
Ascent 199 m, descent 213 m
Map 25 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
We got up at 6:15 and left a bit before 7. There was no call for gymnastics as the big gate was already open, but that was the only thing that was – all the bars in town were tight shut.
Disappointed, we bought some croissants and resigned ourselves to a long, uncaffeinated walk to Chinon, but just as we reached the bridge we found another boulangerie which was also a Salon de Thé, with a coffee machine and some tiny tables.
The only proviso was that we could not eat the pastries of the rival shop there, so we bought another lot and squeezed into a soft bench for an unexpected treat.
Across the river and through the drab little adjoining village, we arrived at the highway (D751) that we had encountered briefly yesterday. It had bypassed Azay-le-Rideau and was heading as straight as an arrow for Chinon, twenty kilometres away through a huge plantation forest.
It was a big road, but a great deal shorter than the GR, and at this hour on a Sunday morning there was no traffic and the shadows of the trees stretched right across the road, so we progressed very well.
Halfway along we stopped and ate the bread and cheese from last night and drank a lot of water.
At last we came to a roundabout where the D751 branched off to avoid the town, and we took the old main road straight ahead.
It was disagreeably uphill at first, through nondescript houses, but as we climbed an interesting tower appeared over the rise, and at the top there was an information board with a town map, which showed us a good short-cut we could make to get down to the centre without following the big loop of the road.
It was a small street through a mass of houses (in one of which Rabelais was probably born), which became a staircase and delivered us to the main square, which was a mass of umbrellas, trees and tables, with a fountain in the middle.
We quickly joined the throng for a second round of coffee in the shade. It was 11:45 and we stayed there until 12:30.
We had to search to find a shop that still had bread at such a late hour, and when we found one we made haste over the bridge, having guessed that the camping ground would be on the opposite riverbank. This proved to be right, so we settled down in the shade of an oak tree for lunch.
Across the Vienne, the ruined château sprawled along the ridge. Its time of glory was long past. In the twelfth century Charles II Plantagenet, king of England, and his queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, set up their court there and gave it most of its present form.
Again in the fourteenth century, at the time of the Hundred Years’ War, it was a royal residence, and the last of the Knights Templar, with their grand master Jacques de Molay, were imprisoned there before being burnt at the stake in Paris, with Jacques’ famous last words ringing in the air (he cursed the king and the pope, both of whom died unexpectedly within months).
Joan of Arc called in to pay her respects in 1429, but by the seventeenth century the place was in decline, neglected by its owner Richelieu, who no doubt had more on his mind than the upkeep of a château. A big restoration project has just begun and one section was swathed in scaffolding.
Just below us, a canoe hire company was frantically busily sending people off down the river with their lifejackets and barrels, or hauling canoes up the gravelly beach to load onto vans for transport upstream.
We confined our water sports to a shower, which was at much the same temperature as the river, but we enjoyed it, the weather being what it was.
In the middle of the afternoon we crossed back to the town and installed ourselves at a bar to watch the last stage of the Tour de France on a big screen. We occupied a sort of sofa, the softest thing we had sat on since we got to France.
Then we did a reconnaissance of the nearby restaurants, which were few, and decided to go back to the bar with the TV, but this time we sat outside, under the sea of umbrellas, close to the naked maidens of the fountain.
We started with a glass or two of white wine, then called for the menu.
Our first course was tomates antiboises – big ripe tomatoes stuffed with vegetables in mayonnaise, our main course was the inevitable (but delicious) steak, with Béarnaise sauce and a crusty gratin dauphinois, and Keith finished with a lemon meringue pie.
When we went to pay the bill, we had the same experience as yesterday and were unable to use a credit card, with the result that we were left very low in cash.
As we made our contented way over the bridge at 10 pm, the sun was setting down the river and when we got to the camping ground, the boom gate had been locked for the night, but it was no obstacle to pedestrians.