France truly made me happy. I loved this adventure immensely. It was almost spiritual walking around the corner from the Best Western Latin Quarter Pantheon to the historic piazza on our last morning in Paris, and we found the streets empty of tourists while we enjoyed our cafe at the lovely le Comptoir de Pantheon. My friend, Gretchen Compton, surely found that name fun! I took a quick walk down the street to the lovely public Luxembourg Gardens, where I saw the morning joggers and beautiful flowers. Ahhh, I could have explored for a couple of hours there, to be sure!
From the Paris Austerlitz rail station near the Pantheon, it’s just a one hour trip to Orleans, France. Situated on the Loire River, this UNESCO designated city is fascinating! Having never visited the area before, I was pleasantly surprised at the ease of connection to extend our week long Paris-Normandy river cruise experience. (See my previous two blogs for more on how to enjoy fully the lovely Normandy region of France as well as Paris).
We chose Orleans (pronounced Or-lay-own) for a two night stay for the biking trails along the river, and we were not disappointed! The weather in early August was unseasonably cool, making for a perfect cycling experience. The folks at Detours de Loire bike shop were friendly, helpful, and responsive by email as I arranged pre-trip to rent performance bikes for two days. Camille is awesome, and you will be able to arrange either round-trip or one-way rentals from them. We paid about 70 Euros for two bikes for two days, and were even able to pick them up the evening before. The shop was just a short stroll from our hotel. On the second morning when my rear was really sore, we stopped and asked for a padded seat cover…voila! Grin. Bottom line…pun intended…this shop is awesome!
After a comfy train ride to the Orleans station, we walked immediately into a shopping mall. (Be sure when you book tickets you don’t make the mistake of stopping outside the city). We gathered a few necessary snacks at a local grocer and walked the two blocks or so to our Hotel D’Orleans. What a fantastic find this was! We learned upon arrival that we could store our bicycles in their garage each evening when we finished riding. The desk clerk would walk us into the underground garage and lock our bikes in a closet. That made us comfy, to be sure. They were so incredibly accommodating.
I challenge those who think the French people are not welcoming to Americans. When we greeted all with a smile and a “bonjour”, the favor was returned. We struggled with the language, but communicated best we could in each encounter. It’s actually fun to try to speak with the correct accents, and this city’s residents welcomed us.
One particularly lovely experience happened on a sunny and warm Sunday afternoon in the crowded open-air riverside bar (that we visited more than once to quench our thirst!) A local one-man-band played his accordion folk music to the local dancers’ delight. We were tempted to join in, but everyone seemed so well-trained in the steps, we thought better of it! I am certain you would have also enjoyed watching the festivities with a beer or glass of wine in your hand.
The cycling trails along the Loire River are easily navigated, and the scenery is breathtaking. There are castles up and down to visit, wineries en-route, and the little towns are so quaint. Gretchen and I took the southern route from Orleans the first day, traveling about 70 KM or so round trip to a town called Beaugency. Beyond this town down river is the lovely castle Chambord, easily reached from Orleans in a day trip.
Along the way we saw many cyclists loaded down with gear as they were obviously traveling from town to town. We met two ladies who had come all the way from Germany and were heading down river to, we assumed, the ocean! I was impressed, as they were not spring chickens. Another couple we met had motor-assist bikes. Brilliant! The paths along this route were both paved and crushed stone, very well-maintained and fairly flat. We once accidentally missed the usually good signage and took a detour uphill towards a town, realizing our mistake a few kilometers later. That was one reason we didn’t make it all the way to the Castle Chambord!
Another relatively short detour through a wooded trail brought us to the end of a little tributary stream of the Loire. It was stunningly beautiful, and proved to be the perfect spot for a lunch. For a little while we were there alone, enjoying the sights and sounds of the cool shallow waters filled with bright green grasses. Soon we were joined by other bikers wanting to cool their feet and we watched with interest as they began to carry their bicycles across on their shoulders. Hmmmm….we realized soon afterwards that either we re-trace our path for a KM or so, or we must do the same! I love this photo (left, above) that someone took of me with my bike on my back climbing up the opposite bank. I struggled in my bare feet and I gratefully accepted help from a kind Frenchman. Here’s a picture of the local folks with us after the climb to the other side. Funny…we accidentally met up with them at a cafe later in the afternoon and enjoyed each other’s company. No matter that none of us know both English and French and therefore had to use lots of finger pointing and smiles to communicate. Don’t you think Gretchen (in the middle) looks like she could be their sister? That was such a pleasure meeting them!
After a long day of biking and a lovely dinner on the town square right in front of the carousel, my bed was totally delicious. A good night’s sleep cradled us well, and the next morning’s cafe and croissant fueled us as we rode up river a few kilometers to La Marine. What a lovely lunch! We had a table beside the canal, and the meal was delicious. The view was incredible, and the wine superb. I would have to say that I enjoyed this meal as much as any I had on the entire trip, simple though it was. Perhaps it was the fresh air. Maybe it was the view. Or it might have been that my legs and eyes had delivered to me so many amazing memories to savor that I was truly in sensory heaven. No matter which, if you find yourself in the area, it is without question worth a visit. (It is also an inn!)
Ahh, but all good things must come to an end. Our rail journey that evening took us back to Charles DeGaulle airport for a one night sleep at Hotel Oceania Paris Roissy CDG. A quick shuttle ride from CDG delivered us to this wonderful property. You may recall from Part One of this story that we had two bags hand delivered; immediately after checking at the desk, a staff member brought our bags out of storage to us, refusing our grateful tip with a smile. Goodness that was so incredibly kind of them.
We had a final nightcap and light dinner at the bar (there is a full restaurant adjacent), enjoyed a hot tub in the lovely pool area, and readied our bags for the journey home. The rooms at the Oceania are well-furnished and comfortable, have plenty of space with decent storage, and they offer a really great shower and separate toilet room. I know that I can count on this hotel for future guests who want to be near the Paris airport for their return home to the US.
I hope I have inspired you to explore France by cycling. Although I probably should have, I did not physically train or prepare for my rides in any way. If you are relatively fit and feel comfy on a bike, you can do it! And remember you could also consider a motor assisted bicycle. I have done this in Italy and will be doing it again at the beginning of October there, and it’s an awesome way to explore in any place.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you would love to know more, of course. I am always at your service to help you create your own amazing adventures…that’s my passion, after all! If you know someone who might enjoy this story, do them a favor and share the link with them. And stay tuned for adventures in Italy next month when I return from leading my group of ladies to Venice, Emilia Romagna and Florence. Italian shenanigans ahead, you can be sure of that!