When we arrived at Nantes, via train, it was cloudy. We walked our bikes across the train station, found the start of the route and started pedaling down the street. “Creak…”
Our bikes are terrible. It took close to a month to get outfitted, to test everything out, to cycle around Pamplona, San Sebastian and Bordeaux for a bit, before finally deciding: we’re ready.
Oh god, I hope this is good.
So much expectation has gone into this trip. Then we see it. The river. La Loire. Meh. The first few days of biking… essentially all the way from Nantes to Saumur is a collectively held breath. After the hills between Pamplona and San Sebastian, after the cliffs in French Basque country, we’re a little… underwhelmed.
But the biking is fun, flat and easy. Wild camping is so easy it’s insane. We tuck into hay fields at the end of the night, we wash up in Loire a Velo rest stops, we fill up our water bottles at campgrounds we pass along the way. There’s brie and baguettes and pate for lunch. As we travel it becomes increasingly lovely, and by the time we hit Saumur we’re in love. La Loire! Okay we get it.
The biking itself has been absolutely perfect. After navigating Spain city streets with the baby trailer and all our gear, this feels like being spoiled. There’s no one. Not a soul. We might pass a dozen other bikers a day. Half of the route is dedicated bike lanes, the other half is completely deserted farm roads. Sometimes a car will come and we’ll remember — oh yes — this is a normal road, perhaps we should move ourselves out of the middle of it.
The second half of the week has been rainy and it looks like the rest of our time in France will have rain. It cools everything off, but how can it be so cold in the mornings? It’s July, right? It’s a minor complaint, but if someone could look into it, that would be great.
Taking this route, you spend so much time with this river. No boating, no swimming, perhaps a little fishing, but not much. Mostly it’s a silver thread running across France that feeds the farmlands and impresses the occasional tourist.
There’s been wild cherries, ripe and ready for whoever can reach them. I fill my pockets with them and eat them as I ride. There’s lavender too, so much that I can scent our laundry with it. I see blueberries, figs, and sour green apples, but nothing else is ripe yet. We could spend all summer here, I think.
Once you get to Saumur (and note to those considering the Euro Velo 6 route: start in Saumur if you’re rushed for time) then come the castles. It’s impressive to see from a distance, but biking through the towns, where all the houses are part of original complex (like La Chateau in Saumur) you get to experience this perfectly maintained moment. It would feel Disney-esque if not for the scale and scope. Then you bike to another little town. Another castle. A cobblestone street. Adorable. Then another. Dozens of these.
All surrounded by wine vineyards, where you can go on tastings all day. We’re on someone’s very romantic honeymoon right now, except we’re camping with kids and eating lunch from a grocery bag at the park.
After our first week, we logged 233 km (or about 144 miles). That brings us up to 445 km of our 4,000 km trip. There’s something so calming about knowing, “okay we can do this”. I don’t want to gush too much, but at this moment, I’m totally in love with traveling by bike. (Padded bike shorts help). It’s a good start. Week one.