We're cycling the La Vélo Francette from La Rochelle to Caen. Here's today's first stage from La Rochelle to Arçais through the beautiful Marais Poitevin (with a lovely little detour after we missed a turn).
We set out from La Rochelle at 9am this morning after a night with Marika at the lovely Vue Sur Cour B&B. Our bikes had a rest nestled alongside Marika's stash of household bikes (including an electric and a speedy little machine for her 5-year-old mini-cyclist). Here's the super friendly Marika.
Here's her lovely courtyard.
And one of four lovely rooms. She can host up to nine cyclists at a time.
Marika's rooms are priced from €120 for 2 people or €150 for a triple, which was a bit of a treat for us. If your budget doesn't stretch that far, then we popped in and also said hi to Christine at the Best Western Masqhotel – she has double rooms from €95 and is also super bike-friendly (read her bike policy here).
Here's the modern, green reception area (the hotel meets French ecolabel standards).
La Rochelle to Marans, 27.77km
(I'll put our full GPS embed here once I figure out how to do that :) For the moment here's the screengrab).
This all went according to plan (i.e we didn't get lost).
After we'd said our hellos and goodbyes it was on to the road for our first proper day of riding.
Our lunchtime target was Marans, a small village on the junction of the Canal Maritime de Marans à la Mer and the Canal de Marans à La Rochelle (which we took). The town is also a short ride from where the new La Vélo Francette route leaves the La Vélodyssée Atalantic Coast route and goes its own way.
From La Rochelle to near Marans, you follow the established La Vélodyssée signage – I'm told the La Vélo Francette branding will soon be added alongside the La Vélodyssée signage (hopefully by June 2015 when La Vélo Francette officially opens).
The first section from La Rochelle was an excellent towpath. We hit a dirt section just as it rained at which point I said, again, how much I loved my new Whyte Devon bike (I'll review it at the end of the trip). It handled superbly through muddy puddles and one really muddy section where there was towpath maintenance going on. I've got 28s on it – road tyres, not touring tyres – and they've been fine, though I had to degunk the mud guards after one muddy bit. (To be fair I could have avoided the mud but I wanted to see how the bike would go). We also had some excellent sections of village roads, and some cobbled in towns (e.g Marans) – this route is nothing (so far) if not both flat and varied.
In Marans we had lunch at the restaurant opposite the striking village church, complete with its steel and glass top.
Clementine from the local tourist office climbed to the top with us to show us the views – the tower stairs are open selected days/weekends, so ask ahead (contact info here).
Marans to Arçais, 46.27km
This didn't go so much to plan (i.e we got lost).
We missed the turn off the canal onto the D102 for Arçais and did a little loop back around on the D123, and ended up back on the D102 (just from the other direction). It added almost 20km to the ride but resulted in us seeing a wonderful 'bonus' stretch of the canal system (and meeting some lovely locals as we tried to find our way back). Nicky's legs are holding up well despite not doing any prep whatsoever (and she says she'll be taking a more active interest in signage and map-reading from here on in ...)
Once we arrived it was a shower and then out onto the magnificent Marais Poitevin with Amandine who, as luck would have it, has just returned from a 3-month stint in Australia.
I'll write more about this amazing network of canals later. In the meantime, see here.
Fully signposted waterways:
Tonight we're staying at L’Hotel Maison Flore, which overlooks the marshes at Arçais. We'll be using the hose in the garden to scrub the bikes in the morning before we set off for Niort.
We're also hoping to meet up with Jacqueline from the excellent French Village Diaries blog in Coulon tomorrow. All being well she'll join us for a stretch of our route. It'll be great to get some insider advice from a local cyclist.