Why the Loire is your ideal option for the summer


“We’re going on a bike trip,” enthused Ruby Wax, tossing me some hideous padded cycling pants. “Across the Loire.”The look on my face must have registered more surprise than the congregation at Oscar Wilde’s wedding. Ruby? Cycling? I immediately imagined myself pedaling frantically on a tandem, soaked in sweat, while my best friend lounged in our shared bicycle basket, munching on a croissant.

As Ruby conjured up images of us in berets, casually humming Edith Piaf songs as we meandered through sun-drenched vineyards, I suspected that reality would involve doing all the legwork, carrying our luggage in my satchel, to get desperately lost and being forced. bivouac in a field infested with nettle. Yes, the idea of ​​Ruby and I enduring a self-guided bike trip seemed as plausible a proposition as Madonna in a convent or a Mormon with a bar tab.

Kathy and Ruby on their bikes

Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong as Ruby had booked with operator Cycling For Softies. This meant that each morning our luggage was collected from one quaint boutique hotel and dropped off at the next. We didn’t even have to drag emotional baggage as all the decisions had been made for us, including the best restaurant reservations.

All we had to do was cycle through quaint riverside villages and explore formidable fortresses at our leisure, only stopping to devour a castle in each castle. Because, of course, cycling means guilt-free gormandising. There is no need to regret a baguette or not to snack on that bun, as you just pedal the pounds afterward.

The only real danger in cycling the Loire with Ruby was running into streetlights while laughing too loudly. This was mainly due to our cycling pants. These padded shorts are designed to prevent chronic numbness and the painful rubbing of the bike on the parts of your body mainly reserved for childbirth. But it also meant that our rear came about five minutes after us. Hell, they had their own zip codes.

The Loire is known as the Garden of France


• Five of the best things to do in the Loire

Ruby was convinced that she now looked like a Kardashian and began to twerk on pedestrians as we whistled past. And of course, I couldn’t resist glancing over my shoulder to catch their disbelieving expressions. This is why I continued to collide with inanimate objects such as cars, carts, and cows that stubbornly refused to take evasive action.

Besides the multiple bruises caused by the stacked streetlights, the only other obstacle in our way was a questionable GPS. When he died on the first day, we quickly understood the insufficiency of our French vocabulary, which was limited to “date, champagne, affair, lingerie and croissant” – words that can lead a girl to one place: out of the path of virtue.

Cycling from Chinon to the sleepy little town of Montsoreau, we tried asking a few French people for street directions, but the day we found ourselves inhaled in a forest of dismissive nostril hairs. Still, it was a glorious morning, with fluffy white clouds roaming an azure sky – who cared if we got lost?

The path led the couple past the legendary Château d’Ussé


Thirteen miles later, we drove him to our first destination – the luxurious La Marine spa hotel. With restraint from an Exocet missile, we were out of our sweaty clothes and into a bottle of local white wine, feeling an exhilarating sense of accomplishment. Believe me, nothing whets your appetite more than browsing through what you’re going to drink that night.

After exercising so vigorously, we could also devour the four courses of the charming restaurant Le Montsorelli, without any calorific qualms. Ruby even managed not to blaze her eyebrows when she got a little excited by the waitress lighting up the brandy on her baked Alaska – a dessert I haven’t seen since the 1970s. Guess you should check it out. ‘call’ dinner with an old flame ‘.

The second day started in a syrupy sun bath. We had 23 miles to go along the river to the medieval village of Azay-le-Rideau. The path took us beyond the legendary Château d’Ussé. This Renaissance architectural gem is so magical that it inspired Charles Perrault’s story of Sleeping Beauty. I found myself surprisingly carried away by the romance. Exploring these Rapunzel-like turrets made me dream of being saved by a French knight in brilliant Armani.

Thoughts of a knight our age only brought out Ruby’s dark humor. I tried to follow his Loire Noire, until we passed another elegant and architectural masterpiece – Chateau L’Islette.

Standing in front of the sign and hiding the first letters, I felt as though I had stumbled upon my ancestral French home, Chateau Lette. “Let them eat cake,” I decried, filling myself with Marie-Antoinette.

“Madame Defarge is my role model,” Ruby said in a choppy voice, pulling me dangerously close to the moat. Luckily, she was distracted by the perfect mirror reflections of her padded rear of the year in the pond that surrounds the lavish castle.

A gourmet frenzy at the Côté Cour and a bit of cocooning at the jewel Hôtel de Biencourt, and we were ready for our last day – an 18 mile climb to Chinon, through ancient royal hunting forests.

Looking out over the steep, wooded hills, Ruby and I made a noise like a bursting bicycle tire. Maybe we should call the paramedics ahead of time? But the organizers simply swapped our bikes for electric bikes. Doubtful about their abilities, we reluctantly saddled then… vrooooom! It was as if our bikes had been drinking espresso. We climbed these slopes like sharing a tandem with Chris Froome.

At the end of the trip, Ruby and Kathy toasted their pedaling prowess

With the wind whistling through our hair, we were sure to soon catch up with the Tour de France – or the de-Tour de France, as we couldn’t resist veering off course to a paintball center in the woods.

At the end of the bike trip, sitting on our balcony at the Hotel de France – sipping wine, listening to music floating from the plaza below, and with the 12th century Plantagenêt fortress, home of Henri II, Richard the Lionheart and Joan of Arc standing above – Ruby and I toasted our pedaling prowess. Not bad for two girls in their sixties. We would carp-the-diem-hors-de-diem in the calf shaping style.

The Loire is known as the Garden of France. Cycling through its tapestry of strawberry fields, forests and vineyards was like falling into an impressionistic canvas of Cézanne’s glittering poplars, Corot’s softwoods and Monet’s glistening streams – literally picturesque. Dotted with medieval citadels, ruined abbeys, and enchanting Renaissance castles, the entire region has a history of hemorrhaging, offering a host of ghosts in every nook and cranny.

And exploring by bike gives you time to drink it all – while you drink. Better yet, in France it is always wine time, and the wine is of such good quality that we have never felt the wrath of the grapes. We returned home feeling fitter, half a lighter, closer friends than ever – and so sorry to say “goodbye, Loire”.

Now that the lock has finally been relaxed, we have booked ourselves another bike trip – a little something to do with the fact that when I stood on my talking scale they said, ‘Please keep the distance. social. One person at a time. ”

Even after pedaling those unwanted pounds of Covid, however, I don’t think I’ll ever get Ruby out of her darling padded cycling pants – at least not without an oxyacetylene cutting torch to help me out.

A four-night softie bike tour of the Loire costs from £ 1,175 per person (April to September). The price includes flights, transfers and a stay at La Marine de Loire (020 3944 5834; cycling-for-softies.co.uk).


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