3: A Day Rich in Contrasts

This hotel is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever stayed. Who needs a sterile five star luxury hotel when one has this beauty and character? The utter silence and darkness of the night and the sounds of the mooing calves in the early morning – for me the city dweller a true luxury.

How can such a seemingly simple breakfast be so delicious? The yogurt was thick and creamy, the bread with a lovely crunchy crust but tender insides, warm mini-croissant and pain au chocolat, homemade plum jam and delicious café au lait.

After breakfast I took a little walk around the grounds and visited the cows in the neighboring field. Naturally, they were curious, so as I stood at the fence to take pictures, a couple of them came and stuck their noses out and sniffed at me. They were fairly shy, however, and only sniffed my hand and didn’t let me scratch their noses.

Shortly after 10:30 I headed out to Fontevraud – the hotel was kind enough to allow me to leave my bike packs there so I didn’t have to worry about leaving them unattended during my abbey visit.

I took the little country roads back to Fontevraud and experienced my first hills of the day. The countryside was beautiful, though, and it gave me a chance to practice using my new click pedals. The right one clicks in very nicely, but the left is being rather difficult, so I’ll have to adjust my shoes once again.

I had a lovely, leisurely visit to Fontevraud. It was so cool to see the graves of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II & Richard the Lionhearted and to think that they had stood on the very stones where I was standing! I may have to watch “The Lion in Winter” again soon. Lunch was a delicious whole-grain baguette filled with rillettes from the local butcher, which I enjoyed on a terrace overlooking the Abbey’s kitchens and gardens (from which I stole a twig of lavender to stick behind my ear).

After a visit to the gift shop I got on the road again and on the way towards Montsoreau, stopped back at the hotel to pick up my bike packs. My next stop was a few kilometers further along, at the restaurant by the chateau where I’d had such a lovely lunch last year. This time I indulged in an ice cream. Because the sky was so grey, the view wasn’t as nice as last year, but it was still definitely worth the effort of riding up the hills to get there.

I had been debating about whether to take the hilly upper route, which I hadn’t taken last year, or following the river course. After one look at the darkening sky coming towards me I opted for the quicker lower route and was glad I did. After about 3 Km it started to sprinkle and I stopped and put the rain covers on the packs and donned my wind jacket.

The sprinkle soon turned into a downpour and I waited it out a bit under a tree (which happened to be at exactly at 0 meridian, just like Greenwich), but it was obvious that it wasn’t going to stop soon, so I just rode the next 9 Km to Saumur as quickly as I could. The other fun part was the head wind which blew the rain right into my face. By the time I reached Saumur the rain had momentarily stopped and I beat a quick path to the hotel.

Talk about a contrast! There could hardly be a greater difference between this hotel and the one last night. Last night was only 11€ more, but the difference is a universe. This is an extremely run down and tacky 2-star place. It does seem to be clean, and hey, if I lean out my window I can see the chateau. Glad I’m only here for one night – sure hope the rest of the hotels on the tour are better.

My next touristy event of the day was a visit to the oil “museum” that was located fairly near our hotel. As I suspected, it was not really a museum per se, but merely an oil factory with a bit of the older equipment in the sales room. It was rather sweet, and I tasted lots of interesting sorts of oils, like first pressed walnut oil, pistachio oil, pecan oil. All very yummy – I bought some to take home. Can’t wait to try them on a salad.

At 7pm there was a group meeting with the tour organizer to learn a few more details about the week to come and then organize the bikes for the folks (10 out of 13) who had rentals for the week. Although the bikes are ok, I’m sure glad I have my own. It just fits me better. A total of 13 folks are taking part and we all seem to be in an age range from 45/50 – 70. Although we won’t travel together every day as a group, I imagine we’ll see each other daily.

I ate dinner at the only restaurant that was anywhere near our hotel (what makes a hotel good – location, location, location!). The restaurant was another case of having pretentions to be something better than they are. At least it wasn’t horribly expensive. (I swear restaurant prices are lower here than in southern Germany.)

First course: Foie gras on a bed of lettuce with brie toasts. The foie gras was good but the brie toasts were on triangles of while sandwich bread and the lettuce was only moderately fresh. Accompanying the entire meal were a couple of petit pain that came out of some sack in the back room.

Main course: Lieu (a white sea fish), poached and served with a very yellow lemon sauce, accompanied by white rice (ho-hum), a broiled tomato half (tasty) and some haricot verts that were cooked slightly past the point of no return.

Cheese course: A round of goat cheese and a slice of another tasty cheese (they would have had even more flavor had they been room temperature and not cold). The cheeses were served on a bed of less-than-fresh lettuce covered with too much mediocre salad dressing.

Dessert was an apple cake with walnuts which reminded me of the “Farmer’s Wife’s Pear Tart” from the Marcella Hazan cookbook that I make. I like mine better, but the crunchy walnuts in the cake were a nice touch.

All in all a sad exercise in mediocrity.

Day 3

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