Today we all had to take the train to St. Nazaire and then ride from there to Mesquer-Quimiac, our final destination. I chose to take the 8am train so that I’d have time to really take my time and enjoy the day.
As I got to the train I saw that 2 other members of our little group had decided to be early birds, so we rode together and chatted and the hour went quickly. Upon arrival in St. Nazaire we went our separate ways. I headed into town and took a quick ride through the big U-Boat bunker (remember the film “Das Boot”?) and then headed out of town.
Since I didn’t exactly follow the proscribed route out of town I did a lot of stopping to look at the map, which led to some interesting interactions. Once as I was standing studying the map two French bikers stopped to offer help. I was actually headed in the correct direction and we rode together for a short stretch until they had to peel off in the other direction. As I stopped once more to check the map, a team of road bikers rode by—kind of made me feel like a Tour de France spectator.
There was something about the directions today – as I chat with all of the members of the group this evening, it seems that we all had interesting experiences and took some detours.
The countryside here is really beautiful – of course it seems even nicer due to the fact that the weather is finally good. Today was fantastic! I started out the day with a long-sleeved shirt as it was only about 60-65 degrees when I left the hotel. Shortly before midday I changed to a short-sleeved shirt but continued to wear my wind vest, and then when I stopped for lunch shortly after 1:00 the wind vest got packed away for the afternoon.
Most of the countryside is gently rolling with no particularly steep hills but definitely not at all flat. Lots of oak trees, with dry-ish undergrowth and many grain and corn fields and an occasional sunflower field. I’m also seeing way more cows this year than last, even Holsteins (the black and white cows).
On one of today’s several scenic detours (the map was not very easy to read and the signage less than stellar) I stopped for a cup of coffee at an extremely picturesque thatched-roof café. Shortly thereafter I reached my first goal of La Chaussée Neuve, the small harbor for the flat bottomed boats that navigate the waterways of the great marshes. I didn’t spend that much time there as there wasn’t much to see – but there was a public restroom where I could change out of my long-sleeved shirt and use the facilities. (That cup of coffee, you know…)
The next stretch heading towards Guérande was also rather over hill, over dale. I sort of made up my own route and rode by more cows, sunflower fields, oak trees and a few thatched-roof houses. Eventually I landed in the outskirts of Guérande where I made a stop at a big sporting goods store (I was riding by, what the heck) and then no thanks to maps or signage, made it to the center of town.
As I arrived in the center of the old walled town things were a bit full and hectic. There were quite a few tourists and in addition to that, the weekly market was just breaking up and all of the vendors were trying to get in with their cargo vans to load up their products and leave. Somehow all the chaos didn’t bug me, it sort of added to the immediate charm. Before everything closed I was able to buy some Fleur de Sel and a “Bretagne” striped shirt – I know, very touristy, but I don’t care.
Hunger was setting in and I wandered around until I found a restaurant that fulfilled my requirements: a place in the sun with an interesting view and salads on the menu. I ended up with a very pleasant seat and enjoyed a tasty seafood salad with a lovely glass of white wine.
As I was making my way out of town after lunch I ran into a couple of other members of the group who were just arriving. They had left Nantes on the later train and ridden straight through making fewer stops than I had. We traded taking pictures of one another and they set off in search of lunch.
From Guérande it is only about 15Km to Piriac-sur-mer but not in a straight line. I turned left and right, up and down hills, riding for a bit with an older man and his teenage grandson. The older man rode on a not-so-new racing bike with skinny tires – I saw this a lot as I was underway. My general impression is that the French keep their bikes longer than the Germans – I saw lots of way-old bikes underway, ridden by people of all ages.
By the time I arrived in Piriac and got my first glimpse of the Atlantic, it was 4:00. I wandered through the little town, pushing my bike, soaking in the views and the lively atmosphere. I discovered a fantastic ice cream place and treated myself to two scoops – caramel and strawberry cream with chocolate chunks. Ooohhhh, creamy, rich, flavorful.
I lingered a while, sitting on the harbor wall and watching the activity and at about 5:00 speedily (using my clickies) rode the last 5Km to my destination for the next 3 nights, Mesquer-Quimiac.
The hotel would be perfectly charming were it not for the hideous plastic bath cell. For those who have not had the pleasure, these are a one piece sanitary unit that can be set into a room with no facilities as a quick and easy new bathroom. Now 30 years ago they might have been ok, but for me they have long since lost their charm, especially the electronic toilet, where you get the feeling that it doesn’t ever REALLY flush and the small, dark shower cell. Yucky-ucky! Added to that, the water pressure was one of those “you’d better hope that no one in the next room is showering” situations – you ran the danger of having the water turning suddenly all hot or all cold.
The other thing I found less than optimal was the fact that there was only one plug to be had in the room, right next to the bed, nowhere near either a mirror (for drying hair) or the miniscule desk (I sat on the bed to type in my netbook). Plus points were that the view was nice and it was quiet.
I ate dinner that night in the hotel’s own quite good restaurant.
Wine: Sauvignon de Touraine
Appetizer : Foie Gras with baby artichokes (perfectly al dente) and rucola with very light viniagrette
Good bread; Fleur de sel on table with little wooden spoon for serving
Main course: Vegetables in a very light tempura batter, very hot, pure flavors of vegetables (carrot, potato, tomato, zucchini, red onion) on a guacamole, really just a mashed avocado mildly spiced – oh and don’t forget the langoustines. Yum
Cheese: 2 slices flavorful white cheeses plus a wedge of Roquefort and a small corner of goat cheese with ashes. All good.
After dinner I walked to the beach to catch the last rays of the sun.