We're cycling the La Vélo Francette long-distance bike route from La Rochelle to Caen. Here's today's stage from Parthenay to Thouars.
Today's distance: 76km
Day four of riding was meant to be a 67km stretch from Parthenay to Thouars but my GPS tells me we did 76km – I'm still not sure how that happened or why we rode longer, but likely a combination of us missing signposts and/or us thinking we'd save time by choosing our own adventure on the main road (clearly didn't work).
Ultimately I blame the rain – as my dad in Australia would say, it fair pissed it down, which is roughly equivalent to 'it was raining cats and dogs' or plain old 'it was terrential'. We also had our first puncture.
Here's today for you.
Parthenay to Gourgé, 28.28km
(Still haven't had the time/energy to sort out GPS embeds but will do them soon, I promise).
We were meant to make it well beyond Gourgé for lunch but that didn't happen because of this:
You can't tell with the shutter speed in the photo but it was POURING, plus it was bleak and gloomy (which you CAN see).
Our morning was further made miserable when this happened:
We'd stayed with M et Mme Fourniau at the supremely original Villa Ayrault B&B, just north of Parthenay in the area of Chatillon sur Thouet. I'll post an alternative in the town centre in my Where to Stay section when I get a chance in case you prefer something more central, or something less, er, original (that's a cue to read on).
Villa Ayrault was quite the novelty – a bit like stepping back into the 1950s (not that I'm old enough to remember them ...). The villa was built by Mme Fourniau's parents more than 50 years ago and remains much the same as it was at the time – complete with pre-colour TVs (for show, not to watch), old grammer phones and a button-operated electric table to bring the condiments directly to you. There are marble walls, delicately tiled bathrooms, and avant-garde and retro touches at every turn.
Here's a photo of one of the rooms I pinched from their website because our room was too messy to photograph this morning.
See also here (which I did manage to take myself):
Mme Fourniau's dad was something of a local legend, running a successful brickworks that was known throughout the region. Her mum was known for her hosting skills – there were always clients, customers or employees in the houes to entertain. Luckily for us, Mme Fourniau has inherited her mum's skill in the kitchen, and we ate a dinner and a breakfast of home-cooked cuisine made with fresh local produce.
They are a great couple and gave us a uniquely French experience. I think they felt sorry for us leaving in heavy rain – M Fourniau even had our bikes washed down and ready for us this morning.
This section isn't marked yet with the La Velo Francette signage (it will be by the end of June). So we followed the little green bikes again.
Here's a reminder of what the official signage will eventually look like.
Here are the last two photos I took in Parthenay before I resigned myself to a damp day on the bike.
Gourgé to Thouars, 48.21km
I can't remember much about this stretch, other than the excellent lunch we had (€18.50 for three courses) at La Petite Marmite in Gourgé and that we left lots of puddles on their floor from our dripping clothes (sorry M et Mme Vandeville!)
Oh and it was sunny for a few hours. The route I'd say was 'intermediate' but the hills were more forgiving than yesterday. Even so, after the puncture and the rain, we were so far behind when we left the restaurant that I banned myself from taking any more photos for fear we'd still be pedalling after dark.
In the end we made good time on a combination of near-empty roads and dedicated bike tracks, and with a few little detours from the official route when we thought they would save us time (they didn't). We arrived at the excellent Hotel de la Gare in Thouars at 7.30pm to be met by the lovely Willy Aubineau, the man behind the Velo Francette project.
I was too exhausted and dirty after the changing-the-punctre-in-the-rain-and-mud experience to ask the hotel owners their names, but they whisked the bikes off to the garage, gave us bottles of water and told us to bring our wet and muddy clothes back to be washed. Oh the joy!
Tomorrow we're off to Saumur for our first taste of the Loire. We're attempting to complete a full day of cycling without consuming any wine (Nicky thinks this might make us faster). I'm not sure how successful we'll be, but I'll report back.