Slow Road Bicycle Touring - Roscoff to Santander Part 2
Welcome to Part 2 of my Bicycle Tour from Roscoff to Santander. If you haven't read Part 1 - check it out now:
What a sleep! I must have underestimated how tired I was after the first day. Peeking out of my tent, I could see the sun rising with wonderful birdsong for the chorus, which made the short walk to the shower block a rather pleasant stroll.
Sitting down sipping my coffee with a feast of sausages, stale bread, and eggs – turning it into a rather tasty omelette that always revises the stalest of bread! I dug out my map (I do still love a good paper map – I think it makes any trip feel more like an adventure!) and decided Nantes would be my next location. This would be a 30-ish-mile ride across the countryside. And after the hectic previous day, today would be a more slow tourist approach – slow miles, and coffee and cake in the sunshine is always a great way to spend a day. With the sun now in full glory, I packed up and headed for the road.
The roads to Nantes were wonderful. The smell of summer was everywhere, with sunflowers growing in fields, and relatively quiet roads – there appeared to be more tourists than locals. Not content with my leftovers for breakfast, I made an early pit stop at a boulangerie, buying my own body weight in delicious pastries. Remember - bicycle touring is a serious business and vital nutrition and high calories are key – this is no time for a diet!
I love the city of Nantes. It is a fantastic city in the Loire that has a great atmosphere and feel to it. With wonderful buildings, shops, nice food/drink establishments, attractions, and an abundance of things to do for all ages. It is worth a visit if you are ever in the area. And it is so cycling-friendly too - with clearly marked cycle lanes, making it an absolute dream to cycle through. I stopped off at the Machines de l’Ile site. Machines de l’Ile is a place that captures the imagination of both young and old, with these very large wonderful mechanical machines of elephants, fish, and other weird and wonderful objects. There isn’t anything quite like it that I have seen. You cannot miss this if you ever visit Nantes.
Near a park by the Château des Ducs de Bretagne, I continued my quest to eat lots of food and sat in the sunshine watching the world go by, before wandering through the streets with my loaded bicycle, finding a cafe in the main square for chilling, map reading, and people-watching.
After exploring Nantes, I needed a plan for the rest of the day. I could see there was a river heading out of Nantes that kind of headed south - my thought was to follow that in hope of finding a nice cycle path. I have had many a good day cycling in France along roads or cycle paths near water. My love of these paths started a few years back when I stumbled across the Brest – Nantes canal. Sadly today, my quest for quiet trails by the river failed. The car-free road to Clisson was a pretty good alternative, and the slight tailwind was an added bonus.
A quick stop for a coffee and snack at a village bus stop (I love bus stop pit stops!), and I was ready to start thinking about where to stay that night.
My destination tonight was to be anywhere near La Roche sur-Yon. It seemed like a good place to head, as it kept me close to the coast and near La Rochelle. I wanted to visit La Rochelle and maybe head over to the island of Île de Ré if I had time.
As you now know, I do love a paper map, however, in times of need (campsites for me today), I get out my phone and use Google Maps. I select somewhere at random and get cycling - today it took me to a beautiful location in a small town called La Ferrière, and the campsite, La Maison Neuve.
Located on a small farm, this family-run site looked so peaceful when I arrived in the early evening sunshine. Hot and sweaty now, I wandered around looking for the owners. A wave from the doorway of the house on site beckoned me over. Before I knew it I was sat at a very large kitchen table, being told I looked hot and thirsty, before being handed a wonderful glass of cold and sweet cider. What an amazing treat after a hot ride. The owner was so proud of the site and gave me a tour, taking delight in telling me what a great area of France I’m in, and to make myself comfortable by finding anywhere on site to set up my tent. ‘Cyclists are always welcome’ he told me. I love this type of campsite where the owners are so friendly and welcome you into their own home. It is these conversations about your journey, life, and local recommendations that make a journey memorable. I rarely get this when staying in often soulless hotels - I certainly don't get glasses of cold cider for free!
The site was beautiful, secluded and so full of nature – certainly not an overly commercialised site. It was a simple, back-to-basics approach to camping with sprawling beautiful gardens, a giant firepit area, and plenty of space for everyone to chill. I found my spot in a quiet spot - set up my gear and sat back with another cold glass of cider. Sleep wouldn’t be an issue tonight!
What has happened to the weather?! That was my first thought at 5 am. Woken by the pouring rain, which is so much louder when lying in a tent. Maybe if I lie here a little longer it will go I thought to myself. Not a bad strategy on this day as it did clear up enough for me to get up and packed without getting everything soaked. It wouldn't last long!
I had decided before going to sleep that I would explore La Rochelle and try to get over the bridge to the Île de Ré for a loop of the island at least. I needed to keep moving south to make sure I didn’t cause myself timing issues later on, so limited myself to late afternoon before heading away from the La Rochelle area.
It was a soggy ride to La Rochelle – shortly after saying my goodbyes, the rain started and it didn’t look like it would stop anytime soon. I stopped off at a service station and grabbed a sandwich and coffee while working out my options; hang around in La Rochelle until the weather breaks, or keep going. Two coffees later, I decided not to look around La Rochelle as I had been a few times before, but missing out on the Île de Ré was not an option, so I headed straight for the bridge that connects the mainland with this island. The rain stopped again, so it was head down time and get the miles in.
Blue skies returned as I headed over the bridge to the Île de Ré. It was wonderful to see the coastal regions and breath the fresh sea air as I headed on to the island. I didn’t have the time to make it all the way around, so I headed to Saint Martin de Re (a town near the centre of the island) and had a wonderful lunch of mussels and chips, followed by pizza a couple of hours later whilst walking around the pretty streets and taking in the lovely harbour area. The weather was still holding off giving me the opportunity to sit and chill out in a nice park area by the sea.
A quick ice cream and coffee and I was ready to go. Black clouds loomed in the distance. I was now heading to the train station and quickly way away from this weather that was coming back to get me! The weather in Bordeaux looked much better on my weather app. Guess I would be in Bordeaux this evening!
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