2013/09/30: 63 km to Soissons
2013/10/01: 91 km to Senlis
2013/10/02: 59 km to Claye-Souilly
2013/10/03: 33 km to Paris
Our final days took us from Reims to Paris across the countryside of Champagne-Ardenne, along the river Aisne, and across southernmost Picardy to enter Paris from its eastern edge along the Canal de l’Ourcq. We stayed in progressively more basic chain accommodation along the way: Campanile, Budget Ibis, and finally Akena, where the receptionist first checked us into a room that contained someone else’s belongings.
The nights were fairly basic, but the days and the rides were memorable. There are no long-distance bike paths here, so we worked our way using Google Maps which often suggested rough but pretty farm tracks, and roads too tiny to appear on even the most detailed Michelin map. At one point we met a group of about a dozen sprightly grey-haired hikers who, they told us, got together twice weekly to do a longish “rando” together. They were hiking on the same track we cycled on. I did my best to sell them on the use of two wheels so as to extend their exploration possibilities.
We were planning to ride via the Clairière de l’Armistice near Compiègne, where both WW1 and WW2 armistices were signed, but were informed in Vic sur Aisne that everything there had closed for the season. We changed plans, and rode instead to admire the château at Pierrefonds, and on through forest to Senlis. This meant we could easily reach Chantilly the next day.
At Chantilly, we visited the magnificent Great Stables, built between 1719 and 1735 by by Louis Henri de Bourbon, Prince de Condé, who was mad about hunting as was much of the French aristocracy. The extensive renovation of the stables and their conversion into the Musée Vivant du Cheval was largely funded by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, which has also supported refurbishment of much more in Chantilly that we did not have time to see, and not all of it horse-related.
I knew the Aga Khan was keen on horses and especially on flat racing, so I guess his involvement at Chantilly makes sense. There is a
huge oval racetrack with viewing stands in front of the Great Stables, and Chantilly is surrounded by stables that train thoroughbreds for flat racing, though some focus on other disciplines too. The local forest is criss-crossed with tracks, still maintained and sign-posted at carrefours with their historic names, that are laid out in a hexagonal pattern that allowed good access by hunting parties. The ground is sandy –ideal footing for a good gallop– and we saw a wider trail signposted as reserved for race horses only.
Closer to Paris we did a bit of a hack through industrial areas to our final night at Claye-Souilly. We’d chosen this as well-positioned for entering Paris the next morning on a piste cyclable alongside a canal. We made our way through suburbs, past Roma encampments, graffiti, and then gentrification as we neared the centre. Finally, we threaded our way on crowded streets of the city centre to Place de la Bastille. As in 2009 we were welcomed by Anne, and fed a hearty lunch.
All rides must end, and this was a good one. We’re already discussing the next adventure.