My Favorite Rides (#2): The Azay – Villandry – Usse Loop

Let’s try something a little different.

I have lots of photos, and even a few short videos, of one of my favorite rides: Azay-le-Rideau to Villandry to Usse and back to Azay. I call it the Three Castle Cruise. So, instead of me going on and on about how to turn right onto the D39 to the D16 and then over to the …

I’ll let my photos tell the story…

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This is the castle in Azay-le-Rideau. Not bad, huh! Built in the 1500s by some lord or duke or dauphin, it’s considered the most romantic of all the Loire castles. Why? Not sure, think it’s because its surrounded by water (a moat) and the perfect reflections of the castle you can see in the water when the sun is shining. People (including me) line up to capture the reflection

 

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From Azay, head west on the D120, past the train station (gare) and a hundred meters later, make a right onto this tiny road and start heading up the hill … and into the rural-ness of the Loire

 

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This is apple orchard territory. They’re everywhere. Thousands of pomme trees. Couldn’t resist, picked one … ate it … and delicious. May have taken another. Not sure if this is considered thievery (probably is), but come on, I’m in the Loire, riding my bike, there are millions of pommes everywhere and …
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Saw this along the way. Not sure what kind of trees they are … or why they’re planted in such perfectly aligned rows (which is quite common in France), but liked the view. Stopped and ate another apple

Up and over the hill, down into the town of Villandry, along the Cher River, walked thru the gate and into the gardens and…

And…

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I know, kind of amazing
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And then even more amazing
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And it has a moat/canal in the middle

After a few hours in Villandry (bring your lunch and eat in the gardens), rode over to Brehemont and did a little loop around this peninsula filled with farms and flowers. And took this video along a quiet, residential street…

 

Then followed a bike path/small road west along the Cher, made a left turn, looked up and saw this (wait for it…)

From here, headed back to Azay. It was a 44-mile ride total, not much climbing. Here it is on MapMyRide.

Here’s the link to the blog post on my 1st Favorite Ride post: The Gorges de la Nesque in Provence

And, for more on Biking the Loire, check out my eBook on this very same subject (coincidence? I don’t think so).Loirecover

 

 

My Favorite Rides: The Gorges de la Nesque

This is the first in an on-going series of my all-time favorite rides.

There’s something about a gorge that’s just … well, what else can I say … gorgeous. Sorry to be so cliche-ish. I’m sure several of my former editors just cringed and thought: “Oh Steve, didn’t I teach you anything?”

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Here’s the Nesque view a couple of kilometers past Villes-sur-Auzon

It takes millions and millions of years for a gorge to form, as the water from the river (in this case, the Nesque River, hence the name of the gorge) carves away the rocks, and the cliffs get taller and taller. It reminds me of that episode of the Flintstones cartoon, yes, the Flintstones. How’s that for a long-ago reference? Fred and Barney are out walking and come across the tiniest of creeks. And there’s a sign that says: Grand Canyon.

Anyway, the Gorges de la Nesque is one of my favorite rides. In fact, on one of my Nesque rides, I couldn’t help notice that I was smiling. Maybe you will too.

My Nesque ride usually starts in Bedoin, although it can also begin in Sault or Venesque. So, here we go, from Bedoin … you can click here to see the route.

nesque7From Bedoin (the base city for the most difficult of the three ascents of Mount Ventoux) head east and south toward the little town on Flassan. Then on to Villes-sur-Auzion and onto the D942 and the start of the gorge. Make sure you don’t follow the D1 signs to Sault. The D1 is a much busier and less scenic route.

Hey, what’s that? Off in the distance, looming above everything, all white and ominous at the peak? It Mount Ventoux. Which dominates this region of Provence. It’s everywhere. Mocking me and just daring me to climb it.

From Villes-sur-Auzon you have to climb up and over a preliminary peak to get “inside” the gorge. And once you do, the fun – and amazing views and smiles – begin. It’s a long, gentle – and sometimes a little steep – climb to the top and you pass through three tunnels carved into the side of the stone cliffs. Below, hundreds of feet down, is the river.

During one Nesque ride, I noticed several guys walking around, in the woods and brush above me … carrying guns. “Oh shit, this must be hunting season for cyclists!” It wasn’t. Found out later it was hunting season for … wild boars. And there’s a bit of a controversy, as the hunters may or may not sneak up on mothers in the midst of child birth and started blasting away. And the meat, some say, gives you cancer.

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The Ventoux is everywhere

As I warily rode by the hunters, praying none of them had an itchy trigger finger, a group of about 10 French guys passed me. I joined the pack and was able to keep up with them and even chat a bit as we climbed.

They were from Annecy and had come to Provence to climb the Ventoux, which they had done the day before. Several spoke English and one of the guys told me that one of the guys up at the front of the pack was born and grew up in New York and that I must talk to him when we got to the top. Being guys, we picked up the pace as we approached the last few kilometers of the climb, and turned it into a race. I was able to stay with the lead pack for a kilometer or two, as one, two, and then three riders dropped off the back and quickly fell behind. With a kilometer to go, my legs and lungs were screaming and I was beginning to crack. I wasn’t the only one, and our pack of about six split apart. It was like being in the Tour de France! Two guys surged ahead and the rest of us fell back and finished as an exhausted-yet-smiling group.

We regrouped at the top, next to the viewing station – and I chatted with the guy from New York. We compared route notes, Mount Ventoux experiences, etc. The guys headed back they way we’d come, while I headed down to Sault.

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On another Nesque ride, at the top, was a sheep. One single, solitary sheep. And he (she?) looked lonely. He was hanging out at the viewing station, wondering where the heck all the other sheep had gone.

There wasn’t much I could do … other than take his photo. He didn’t seem to mind

The ride down the gorge to Sault is fast and spectacular, as the valley on the other side is spread out in front of you, with Sault off in the distance, atop a hill. You can see the patchwork of farms, a sea of greens and blues.

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The view across the valley toward Sault … not bad, right?

As you approach Monieux, which is down in the valley, you’ll see the remains of a castle high up on a hill.

Sadly, our ride is coming to an end. There’s a bit of a climb into Sault, which is also usually packed full of cyclists. The Sault route up to the top of the Ventoux is considered the easiest of the three routes and … it is. Kind of. The first 20 Ks are actually easy, then you reach the Chalet Reynard turnoff and join the Bedoin route for the final 6 Ks to the top. The toughest 6 Ks.

nesqueThere’s a nice cafe at the edge of Sault, with a view across the valley and up to the summit of the Ventoux. We’ve stayed in Sault a few times, as it’s actually a nicer town than Bedoin. And, we’ve sat at the cafe, drinking a beer and eating a pizza

Heading back to Bedoin?

There are a few options. You can go back the way you just came and see the Nesque from a entirely different perspective. Or, you can climb the Ventoux and then fly down the final 21K to Bedoin. Or, here’s a nice option: Head back to Monieux. Find the D96 in the middle of town and follow it to the D5 which will take you up and around the south side of the Nesque, but without the view down to the gorge.

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Heading back from Sault … to Bedoin

For more great rides in Provence, check out my eBook: Biking Provence.

This is the first of several posts on my favorite rides. So, stay tuned.