With Le Tour behind us, we took a day’s rest to recover from all the excitement. Being smack bang in the middle of France with no particular commitments, we considered which way we should turn. Plan A had always been to turn north and back onto Eurovelo Route 6 along the Loire. But the Dordogne, heavily populated with English speaking people and therefore a likely place to buy a bit of real estate, was calling us south.
Our decision to stick with Plan A was largely determined by the news that Arthur (the Dad in the Dutch family due to join us for a couple of weeks cycling) had been in a nasty bicycle accident. He had gone to hospital in an ambulance and left in a wheelchair, black and blue from head to toe, but luckily escaping significant injuries. If they were still able to join us, we figured he would find it easier pedaling along the Loire than up hill and down dale to the Dordogne. So! Plan A was executed.
(We also received news that Matt, one of Shane’s brothers, had also had a bingle with a car in Sydney and had had three hours of surgery to put his badly broken collar bone back together … this is the third bicycle accident to happen to good friends this year … shudder.)
Binning our preference for flat country and dedicated cycle routes, we carved out a three day cross country jaunt through the Auvergne to rejoin EV6 near Nevers. We were lured through these hills and valleys by the promise of another fine Warmshowers.org experience in an otherwise unremarkable dot on the map, St Plaisir.
(We now use a route planning site naviki.org to come up with low traffic routes and climb profiles (thanks Rita) in conjunction with a 1:100,000 paper map. The paper map is helpful as naviki.org doesn’t tell us when its proposed routes follow dirt roads – with the trailer on back, our bike weaves badly on the dirt – neither does it indicate likelihood of shops and campsites en route.)
Day one climbed 300m, but annoyingly – and typically, for the Auvergne – this was up 50, down 45, and repeat! We were all delighted how strong we felt; the big rest in the Bourgogne, followed by a few days at St Pourcain sur Sioule had us bursting with energy and strength. What a great feeling that is! We rolled into the nondescript hamlet of Deux Chaises (could have done with those, couldn’t find them!) and into the equally nondescript, gloriously cheap campsite.
Without a shop within pedaling distance, we indulged in a slab of Charolais beef at the local bar. Tom amazed us by demolishing the lot!
Day two took us rocking and rolling into St Plaisir where the adorable Dutch Wilma welcomed us with open – and dusty – arms.
That writing on the wall over her shoulder reads ‘Life is not measured by how many breaths you take, but by how many times your breath is taken away’. Like it.
Wilma recently bought an old hotel / shop for 30,000 euros and together with two core tradesmen is renovating it into high volume accommodation.
Property here is ludicrously cheap – it got us dreaming of buying once again. In this particular, very small village, four Dutch families have moved in (previously unknown to each other) and are bringing the old houses, and therefore the community, back to life. What a wonderful venture!
Towards the back of the house was the old ‘ballroom’. The older ladies of the village shared whispered tales with Wilma of how they met Henri, or Jacques, or Olivier in this room, how they flirted a little, perhaps how they went on to marry. Wilma determined to make this room a dance room once again.
Very happy to down tools, within an hour Wilma whisked us into her little van and around the area to show us some nice villages and take us to a lake for a welcome dip. At a typically – for us, excruciatingly – late hour she cooked up a fabulous dinner; capsicum stuffed with duck and other goodies, smelly french cheeses, all washed down with fine Burgundy and Bordeaux wines.
Even sleeping here was fun – all five of us bunked down in Wilma’s living room – the only habitable room at this stage of the renovations. The linen and pillows were of wonderful quality, a remnant of Wilma’s history in hospitality. We fell into bed pretty late…
We readily accepted the invitation to rest here another day. Shane offered to help out with the renovations but Wilma didn’t want her rhythm knocked by another pair of hands and demanded we took out her van and toured the countryside (duly completed!)
Exploring by car was such a novelty! We stumbled across yet another disheveled and unloved chateau, walked through a particularly old oak forest and bought some groceries in the lovely town of Bourbon-l’Archambault.
In the typically West-European manner, some more guests – Dutch Tom and his son Jacko – would be joining Wilma for dinner. Tom had also bought a place in St Plaisir; he took us over the road and showed us his purchase; two buildings on a 3/4 acre block for 50,000 euros. Like Wilma, he was renovating heavily. How fabulous.
Another fine evening – roast chicken cooked with garlic and tomatoes, more smelly cheeses, chocolate tart, wine from St Pourcain – and another late night 🙂
We made rapid progress over the 30km to our proposed campsite at Mornay-sur-Allier, but it turned out to be a dive of a village. All we could find for lunch in this sorry place were biscuits, chocolate and two apple chaussons onto which we fell ravenously (of course). We were delayed further in this miserable armpit of a village by a thunderstorm. We took shelter under the eaves of the shower block at the local campsite (!) turned on some music and played scrabble on the iPad. A memorable lunch – funny how things turn out.
We pushed on another 12km to Apremont sur Allier, a village in our coffee table book The most beautiful villages of France. It earned its place in those pages: even under the heavy grey skies the honey coloured stone glowed.
Wanting to immerse ourselves in this welcome beauty for as long as possible (frankly, the villages in Auvergne were largely sad and tired) we indulged in a menu fixe – and the worst service so far on the trip – at the Brasserie de la laverie.
Pushing on once again to Le Guetin we found the municipal campsite had shut down… we were out of luck today. Not wanting to go any further – and Le Guetin was a lovely spot – we wild camped beside the river Allier and spent the evening hiding from thunderstorms in the local pizzeria.
And then our luck changed. An email popped in with our tax return estimates – woo-hoo! We had been relying on the tax advantages of leaving Australia half way through the tax year to fund our trip and here it was – funds for another six months! We celebrated with wine and ice-creams 🙂
And now? Well, we’re at the delightful medieval town of La Charite sur Loire, where our friends Arthur, Josephine, Sten and Liam will join us tonight.
In our three days here we’ve been on a homeschool bender (we’re taking school holidays when they join us) and watched the last days of a particularly fine Tour de France. Quintana, what a legend!
We are planning on tucking technology away while we’re traveling with our friends. It might be a while before the next blog…