Friday, November 14, 2014

Autumn in Angoulême

Pic by RLT.
The cycling season is coming to an end here in Toronto. This summer I have covered some 550 miles on three tours. Here is the report of a trip to Angoulême, France in September.

Tues 16 Sept:
An early start. We caught the 05.23 train from Lewes to Ashford, changing at Eastbourne. The connecting service was running late, so we scramble at Ashford for the 07.28 Eurostar to Lille Europe, arriving at 09.30. The early departure is dictated by the limited Eurostar service from Ashford.
We ride the short distance to Lille Flandres station, coffee out front at Restaurant Le Napoléon in the Place de la Gare, immediately panhandled. There are too many beggars hanging round the station. France is doing everything it can to make life unpleasant for tourists.
11.06 Lille Flandres (1st class) to Nantes arrive 15.59. Cycle about 15 miles south, out through the suburbs of Nantes in rush hour traffic, using iPad navigation, a bit stop-start but better than getting lost. Overnight at Château-Thébaud at the winery. The owner had mixed up her days and wasn't expecting us, but all was quickly sorted out. Good digs.
We ride our bikes to beer and buffet supper at Au P'tit Sarment, "Le Bulay" R.N. 137, 44690 Château-Thébaud. Exceptional value for hungry cyclists. Three courses for three people, Euro 40 including drinks. Back at the Cave, on the farm, we are gargling two more bottles of wine, Muscadet and Rose from the fridge.

Weds 17th
Cycle 54 miles. We set off at 09:00. Snacks at St Martin des Noyer, drinks at Bournezeau.
This is the deep end. I am not sleeping (jetlag) or feeding well, it is blazing hot (86 Fahrenheit), and the camions are getting closer as we tackle a long switchback sector on a main road. I arrive exhausted. My companions think I'm faking it. Despite all difficulties I am on my best cycling form.
Overnight at Sainte Hermine, Vendée, in an old chambres d'hôtes with a Citroën 2CV parked in the yard. We have a five room suite at Euro 125 for three.
After lying prostrate we walk out in the town which appears to be closed. We retrace our steps to the main road. Luckily we blunder into Le Minage, 17 Route de la Rochelle, 85210 Sainte-Hermine. They are not yet open so we take a beer in a nearby bar, Au Père La Victoire, in the Place Clemenceau. The supper is quite upmarket, considering the setting, and a proper treat commencing with Kir Royal and seafood starter.

Thurs 18th
Cycle 58 miles. After breakfast in our suite, which is brought on a tray, we set off through the Vendée. We are following the Michelin cycle route, which in places is more suitable for mountain bikes. I am happier back on the blacktop. The first two hours is crucial, as a good launch phase sets you up for the remaining ride. This is windy country with windmills everywhere. Arrive at Mouzeuil-Saint-Martin, Pays de la Loire, on the D104, where we stop at the boulangerie, opposite the Mairie. Exit D68 for Le Langon.
On to the linear village of Vix, which seems to go on forever. Gathering supplies at a pâtisserie we lunch at the bus stop. Then across the ancient canal and on to the Sèvre Niortaise river, which we follow for a while before getting disoriented. We drift south-west to Courçon, where we have a pitstop by the church, then a supermarket stop at Intermarché, Rue de la Distillerie, Mauzé-sur-le-Mignon. Try finding a cold drink in a French supermarket!
Overnight at Vergne in a cheap motel, where we have an inclusive stopover deal with a meal at the Relais Tout Y Faut, out front with the truckers. Overall good. Not sure about the S&M club in back.
A great day in the saddle.

Fri 19th
Cycle 50 miles. News that Scotland voted No.
We make a flying start, teamworking our way south-east on the D115. We divert for a pitstop for Orangina and Perrier at Aulnay, outdoors in the town square, at the Bar Tabac Le Concorde. The weather turns wet at lunchtime as we snack in a bus shelter at Verdille, then exit D66. To Vouharte on the D737, where we meet the dreaded route barrée sign. Always a dilemna for cyclists. Do we divert or press on? We press on passing some road works with ease. We are continuing by the Charente. We want to stop for a drink, but nowhere presents itself. Eventually we stop at our old favourite Bar Le Donjon, Montignac.
On the last travelling day collaboration vanishes as I get tailed off heading uphill on the D737. A sign for Champniers leads to a navigational snafu, resulting in a long downhill on the D37 to the village of Argence, followed by an inevitable climb, all avoidable. (The hotel is not really in Champniers, which may not matter to motorists but is important to this cyclist.) I reach the Hotel Kyriad on a frontage road totally baffled thinking I'd finished. Ride on to Bouticycle shop and all becomes clear.
Arrive at Hotel F1 Angoulême Nord for 3 night stay. Meet up with Pete Webber who joins us for the weekend on his circa-2000 green Brompton bicycle. Beers in the bar at the adjacent Ibis Hotel. Supper at Restaurant La Boucherie, Les Grandes Chaumes, 16430 Champniers.

Sat 20th
Cycle 23 miles. Easy ride (without luggage) to Bric-à-Brac at Vindelle, on the Charente, where Richard snags a cheap road sign. Drinks at recently-opened Le P'tit Varsois, Vars, then D115 to Montignac for beer at the Bar le Donjon once more. We return via Rouhenac. The party splits at Courcon, after the first hill on the tour nobody could cycle up. I am secretly pleased. I lead the charge back to the hotel for a snooze, while the rest take further light refreshment at the Cafe de Pontouvre by the roundabout. Supper at Ristorante Pizzeria Anfiteatro, Zone des Avenauds, Gond Pontouvre.

Sun 21st
A day at the classic car races in Angoulême. We take a taxi into town, encountering a large display of Alpine cars, in the Place des Halles. Paddock tour. Lunch near the Champ de Mars: Latitude Pub, 10 Rue Raymond Poincaré, Angoulême. Indifferent service. The acid test is would you go back? Probably not. We finish at familiar watering hole: Café Bulle, 36 Rue de la Cloche Verte, 16000, Angoulême.

Mon 22nd
Ride into town, then idling at the outdoor station café. 12.27 Angoulême to Lille Europe (1st classs) arrive 16.38. 17.36 Lille Europe to Ashford arrive 17.37. Change for Lewes.

Total: 205 miles approx.

Plus Points: GPS navigation; weather (sometimes too much of a good thing); new gilet suitable, especially in the dark; health benefits (the gift that keeps on giving); no punctures; avoided Paris.

Downsides: Too many professional beggars trading on public stupidity.

Learning points: The Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyre is definitely suitable for a Brompton, and desirable on long trips. Cut down on luggage even further.

Overall: Good tour in interesting part of France.

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