• James & Kate

We in Wine Country now

Big day today, as we reached our first vineyards of the trip. Looking forward to having them within view for the next 1,000km or so and sampling their produce.

Leaving Mayan we crossed into the département of Anjou, even passing through home town of Lady Angevin. Real name of Renée Bordereau, she was born in 1770 and is famous for disguising herself as a man to serve with distinction in the Royalist cavalry in the Vendée wars against the Republicans. Respect. Today’s proud inhabitants of Soulaines-sur-Aubance seem to have erected a small Spar supermarket and a Post Office in her honour. Very touching.

A pleasant café stop in Brissac-Quince fuelled us up for an absolutely deee-lightful (and flat) stretch, rolling through vineyards and corn fields, past plenty of picturesque little villages, and right alongside the banks of the sizeable Loire river.

We passed Le Toureil, once a busy trading town when the Loire was a working river. Nowadays it has comprehensively shrunk, but along the banks you can still find plenty of the flat-bottomed boats with little cabins, looking the same today as they did in the 1700s when merchants and tradesman would ferry them across the shallow waters. Quickly after that came Gennes, with it disappointing remains of the largest Roman Amphitheatre in western France.

After four days we definitely haven’t quite mastered the French opening hours yet - leading to an increasingly frantic search through villages around lunchtime to find somewhere open to get a bite to eat (can someone tell me what the point is of a café that shuts at lunchtime??).

Saumur was our saviour, an aesthetic but sizeable town famous for (and very much centred around) its wines, notably their sparkling cremant which is a rival to champagne but without the price tag. So after an obligatory baguette lunch we went to a Cave (cellar) for a dégustation (tasting) of their vins (you know that one). Domaine de Sanzy welcomed us with open arms and full glasses, and very nice it was too.

Just when it was all going too smoothly, the hilly section of the day arrived at the end as we climbed up to Fontevraud l’Abbaye, a beautiful place laden with history. The “Abbaye” in question dates from early 12th century, and is the resting place of such luminaries as Eleanor of Aquitaine and her son Richard the Lionheart. Napoleon then changed its use to a prison, which served until 1963 when it switched to its present status - tourist attraction.

Our happy arrival into such a prestigious place was jolted slightly when we arrived at our charming B&B, only to find the owner completely and utterly shitfaced, balling her eyes out about Brexit and the youth of today, and coming back and interrupting us more times than Columbo to start another nonsensical political discussion. Soon after we found her collapsed on the stairs, unable to move and unwilling to accept help. I love wine as much as the next person, but it has its downsides it seems.

But France, I will magnanimously forgive you those last hills and the batshit crazy B&B lady, as otherwise you’ve laid on an absolute beaut of a day.

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