There is a framework of long distance bike routes that criss cross Europe called the Eurovelo network. These are better marked and mapped in some countries than others. Eurovelo 6 runs from Nantes to the Black Sea; Eurovelo 1 runs from Scotland to Portugal. We took a bit of an inland shortcut from one route to the other as we crossed from Nantes towards l’Ile de Noirmoutier where we aligned ourselves with Eurovelo 1.
10/02: To Beauvoir sur Mer 90 km
Leaving Nantes in the misty half light, we rode along the north side of the Loire estuary and crossed by ferry to Le Pellerin. After crossing rolling farmland, we approached the Passage du Gois at a exactly the correct time to make the 4 km low tide crossing to Noirmoutier. This crossing used to be the only way to reach the island, though now there is also a bridge. It appealed to us, but sadly it was closed for an upgrade to the surface.
Too bad for Noirmoutier! It was ‘t meant to be. We rerouted based on inaccurate advice that meant an out and back on rough dyke paths through salt marshes. Returning to civilization rather knackered, we collapsed into a Logis de France.
10/03: The woods near Sables d’Olonne 80 km
We were now on the official coastal cycling route that is a part of Eurovelo 1. Most of this day was on sandy tracks through a forest of maritime pines planted to stabilize the dunes. Several organized groups of cyclists passed us: a muscle-bound brightly clad mountain biker would lead, followed by a motley string of cyclists who signed up for a sortie encadree, with a cheerful fellow at the end of the line with a large sooty broom jauntily emerging from his backpack. I assume this symbolized that he was the official SWEEP – not a bad way of depicting the role. I believe the term for the last guy who collects the stragglers is equivalent in French.
The forest looked ideal for discreet camping, and we’d bought supper ingredients. We cooked these in an aire de repos near two English lads bent on surfing, and doing the same as us by their camper van. Then we slipped off into the woods for the night, reassured that the fine if caught camping illegally was only 22 euros. All the caravan park campsites – which at least have showers- are closed.
10/04: To La Rochelle 108 km
We provided degreaser and rags for a local woman to clean her hands after dealing with her bike chain issue. The area north of La Rochelle is salt marsh and farmland, criss-crossed by canals and channels. We stopped near a channel to down some apple juice, and so began a chat with an off- duty gendarme who was most informative. He told us it hadn’t rained since July, there were water shortages, that it had been far hotter that usual, but that the pattern was about to break. He also warned of a bridge blockaded by mussel fharvesters protesting this year’s greatly reduced harvest.
Pedestrians and cyclists were being allowed through the manifestation. The mussel fishermen looked as if they were using the blockade as an opportunity to drink and lot and play checkers. When asked about their theories for the big drop in the mussel harvest, their answers are neither scientific nor logical.
The heavens opened. Summer was over, and a more typical coastal weather pattern was moving in. We donned jackets and pedalled hard through rain till nightfall into La Rochelle. We arrived in the fabled city from which emigrants to New France departed, and staggered, drenched and tired, into an Ibis hotel.
10/05: To Royan 80 km
There is something about La Rochelle that hold a place in the minds off all Quebecers, even those who are not of pure laine stock. When in a canoe, it is only natural to keep the rhythm of one’s strokes by belting out “M’en revenant, de La Jolie Rochelle ….C’est l’aviron qui nous mene….” I heard French Canadian accents and saw a number of maple leaf badges on knapsacks, so others must feel the same.
We set off in much cool clear weather to the port and to the Tour de la Chaine, where I went to see the display about emigrants departing from La Rochelle to New France. These included Les Filles du Roi, in a scheme whereby the king of France endowed some 800 young women, all widows or orphans, with dowries and sent them to the colonies where women were scarce. They were given suitable education in language and domestic skills before departing, and when they arrived in Montreal they were housed in la Maison Saint Gabriel, run by Marguerite Bourgeoys. Here they were allowed to select husbands from among the earlier settlers, and they became the founding mothers of New France.
This was my special morning. Chris sat in the sun with bikes by the harbour and I waved down from the top of the tower. From across the port I could hear bagpipes, and I recognized the melody as “A Scottish Soldier.” We rode around the port for a closer look and listen; of course they were Breton pipers with not a kilt in sight. When another tune ended, I heard the leader suggest they play Les Montagnes Vertes, and they began again the tune familiar to me. Traditional music was clearly shared among neighbouring cultures.
At Rochfort, we crossed the river Charente on the century old cable car or transbordador rather than brave the new bridge. Continuing south toward Royan, we crossed the expanse of oyster farming ponds that surround the river Seudre.
From here, a ferry will take us across the Gironde estuary to the peninsula of Medoc, but only after we’ve rested and sat out some weather. A good bottle of red would not go amiss today.