From la Rochelle I rode on La Vélo Francette, a brand new cycle path along the Loire and la Mayenne.
- La Rochelle – Niort
- Niort – Mazieres
- Mazieres – Airvault
- Airvault – Samur
- Samur- Angers
- Angers – Laval
- Laval – Domfront
- Domfront – Flers
- Flers – Thury Harcourt
- Thury Harcourt – Honfleur
I find this route very beautiful, green and romantic. Full of castles and flowers, fishermen and funniest cows ever.
French are obsessed with flowers and gardens. Gardeners were everywhere and some plants get the most ridiculous haircut.
One thing I noticed after cycling for quite some time by now is that I laugh a lot, for anything, it is amazing, I smile, I laugh, I cry, so often. And I feel good. It is so great to have fun because of small things like a sheep bleating.
I mean, you are going to attend several sheep´s concerts on this route.
Sometimes I was the only one on the street and all of a sudden I could hear those animals talking out laud but I could not see them, no I am not crazy, they where somewhere inside the forest, possibly trying not to drown in the Loire.
The Loire is … huge.
I was riding there exactly during the 2016 flooding time. So, just imagine how big she turned out to be. Immense. And scary.
Cycling here makes you understand how rivers were fundamental for this country in the past (also nowadays), and they are one of the key reason for its development. Communication and trade.
Along this route I passed through plenty of old and fascinating villages worth a visit. Just avoid big cities as usual and spend more time at small towns where you can find a spot for camping, Gites (B&B) and castles as well.
My first stop was Niort where I rent a lovely room from Emily, a young girl of my age who bought and renovated herself the apartment. Because of whatever destiny I arrived exactly for La Fête des Voisins. All neighbors party together on the street to celebrate their neighborhood. What I find amazing is that “La Fête des Voisins” is a national event, It is official! so official that the major made special biscuits to celebrate it.
I encourage every country in the world to announce such a festivity.
After dinner, wine and talks I was the first leaving the community around mid night. They stayed much, much longer. Emily even gave me earplugs! just in case…
But you know, I had to leave in the morning and despite the wine I could not stay in bed until mid day. Or should I have?
Anyway, I left Niort on a great warm sunny day to end up after lunch chased by an upcoming storm. Does it sound familiar, right?
Well, good weather comes with a price, and here we go.
I was quite confused on the road as I did not know what to do when Y&Y offered me shelter for the night.
Amazing adventurous couple. True travelers. Cyclists as well.
They gave me a room, dinner, breakfast, lunch (!!) and great company.
Thank god I studied french for three years otherwise it would have been impossible to communicate with many people as English does not seem really a good option here.
They were my first spontaneous hosts and I was impressed. It is not that easy deciding to host someone you just met a second ago. I could have been anyone. They trusted me. They trusted the world. And I also remember the moment I had to choose. I could have declined the offer and keep cycling but I looked at Y. and without knowing them I simply decided that trust is a much better feeling, and I needed trust on that day. Weather was really bad and some coincidences never comes back so that was the right moment, the moment.
Thanks to Y&Y I finally learned the difference between panbrioche and croissant.
Hmmm, I love panbrioche since then.
Honestly, It is curious but I very often found french people really open to strangers.
This really surprised me especially because many things happened in France during the last years and media keep pushing people to fear each other.
Well, so far, french were really spontaneous and hospitable to me.
Thank you guys for fighting against manipulative fear.
Because of the floods I often had to deviate from the cycle path as it was either flooded or unusable because of some fallen tree. But I always managed to get on the right path sooner or later. The weather was always a question mark from Samur onward and when I got to Domfront, the first city in Normandy, I placed my tent just in time in the cheapest camping I ever stayed.
3 euro, one night with shower and common room in case of rain. Fantastic.
Especially because then I could go out for dinner and try some local dishes.
Here I met an old German cyclist who was riding from London to Paris. I could imagine him being almost 80yo. Respect.
When I reached Flers I dropped my bike and panniers at the camping ground and looked for a train to Paris where I should have met my boyfriend.
No train to Paris, national strike.
Floods were not enough, also never ending strikes? I mean you guys did it right, I know there were good reasons for it but when at the front office they told me there where no trains I was almost collapsing.
Luckily I found a bus to Caen and from there I took a train to Paris.
On the way I met Gwen, a funny french girl who made me laugh for hours with all her stories about funerals. Yes, funerals.
I met the most incredible people during this trip. And Gwen was one of them.
Paris, Marco, swing nights, Indian food and croissant were a perfect combination.
Here we visited Le Grand Voisins, a great initiative for Paris. People and associations occupied an abandoned hospital and reconverted it into artists studios, café, laboratories and shelter for refugees. They even have a camping ground and a hydroponic system.
Seeing this initiative really working in a metropolis like Paris restored a bit of faith in cities.
I am confident that if we planned a city properly, based on a more self sufficient quarter concept, then we might embrace a positive change.
I wish to see more ideas like these coming up in large urban settlements.
When I left Paris on a train to Flers I knew I had to ride for quite some kilometer before meeting Marco again. I felt nostalgic watching the landscape running away from me too fast to capture its beauty.
La Vélo Francette ends at Ouistreham close to Caen but instead of finding an accommodation there I preferred to cycle a little further and camp in Hornfleur.
I could not have made a better choice.
The air finally tasted salty again.