| Part 4: Loire valley, Atlantic coast
5.8: Tours ->
Azay Le Rideau castle -> Chenonceau castle
Hotel Etap, Tours Centre.
Weather: warm in the morning, blue
sky mixed with clouds in the morning which makes one wonder how the
weather will develop over the day. Almost spotless blue sky in the late
afternoon and evening. 28.5°C in the late afternoon.
We leave the hotel as usual after 12pm and arrive at the Azay-le-Rideau
castle at 1:15pm (entry ticket: 7.50 Euro). The castle is beautiful
and lies in a beautiful setting. The castle interior is kind of
interesting, but not that impressive. After the castle visit we buy
some overpriced ice-creams in a cafe. So far we have only found
overpriced ice-creams in France (2-3 times what they cost in Germany or
Italy; no idea why ice-cream has to be so expensive). The
quality of this ice-cream is also poor, as it has been refrozen.
It's 3 something pm when we leave for the next destination, the
Chenonceau castle. We only arrive there shortly after 4pm, partly
because due to the GPS navigation system I miss a motorway exit and
have to make a detour. At the castle there is a huge queue of people in
front of the ticket office (I spend about 20-30 minutes in the queue).
The ticket costs 10 Euro.
Since it is already quite late and we still haven't had lunch, we eat a
sandwich in a nearby cafe before entering the castle. Chenonceau is
very nice, especially the bridge over the river, but is less
impressive than I had imagined from brochures and pictures. Azay Le
Rideau is at least as nice. Again, also at this castle they sell
overpriced ice-cream of poor quality.
While at the castle Alissia and I rent a row boat for half an hour (4
Euro). Now, had you been at the castle you would have seen the funny
scene of a big guy and a small 4 year old girl on a row boat fighting
for the control of the rows. It takes a while until Alissia finally
realises that she is not strong and big enough to move those
rows (and after some bruises Alissia also understands that she cannot
sit on my lap holding the rows while I am rowing).
Finally at 6:35pm we leave Chenonceau and drive back to Tours, arriving
around 7:40pm at the Carrefour shopping complex near the hotel (we
stopped somewhere to refuel the car). We have a dinner in the Flunch
restaurant of the shopping complex (good food, good choice
and also good value), then head back to the hotel. Around 10pm I check
briefly my emails in the McDonalds restaurant near the train station.
6.8: Tours ->
Rigny-Usse castle -> Tours
Hotel Etap, Tours Centre.
Weather: already very warm in the
morning, the temperature tops out today at 34°C (and doesn't drop
below 32°C before the evening). Almost spotless blue sky.
We leave the hotel after noon, heading towards the Carrefour shopping
complex. The plan for today is to take it easy, doing first some
shopping, then bringing Alissia to a children playground in the
afternoon. We later skip this plan because of the strong sun and strong
heat, as the playground is open air and Alissia would roast under the
sun in the heat.
Anyway, it's already 1pm and we still haven't had neither breakfast nor
lunch. We go to the same restaurant where we had dinner yesterday (the
Flunch restaurant). Again they have an wide choice of good food at very
good prices. Alissia, Shirley and I spend in total 24 Euro and that
includes three meals, desserts and drinks.
After the lunch we do some
shopping in the mall. It's a very big shopping complex, fully
air-conditioned and with a very big free parking outside. I have a
look at the Saturn electronics store. Very big store with a wide choice
of electronics and music/video stuff. Even bigger than the Saturn
stores in Munich. Expensive DSLRs with lenses on it are available for
testing (in German photo shops and stores all
DLSRs are inside glass cabinets and you have to ask the staff to show
you the camera).
At 2:20pm we leave for the Rigny-Usse castle, which looks quite
interesting on the brochure I picked up in the mall. Alissia likes to
explore castles and I figure out that she'll have an interesting time
in this castle. Thanks to the satellite navigation system I manage to
take again the wrong motorway exit and have to drive 8+8
km of motorway for nothing and pay twice 1.20 Euro of motorway tolls.
In any case, at 3:15pm we arrive in Rigny-Usse. Next to the castle is a
dusty free car parking. It's very hot and we still need to feed
Natasha who has already been complaining for a while (where is my
milk?). We head to the ticket office, and surprise, surprise, the
tickets cost a whopping 12 Euro per person. Compared to the two castles
we visited yesterday, the Rigny-Usse castle is way overpriced - it is
far less interesting, but more expensive.
In any case we get the tickets and enter the castle. The special thing
about the Rigny-Usse castle is that it lies on a hillside
surrounded by forest and in the castle room they have recreated scenes
with live-size puppets representing fairy tales. There is a room
showing the sleeping beauty in her bed being woken up by the prince, in
another room you see the evil witch preparing a magic potion and so on.
In other rooms they have recreated scenes from the 1920s showing people
in cocktail dress having a drink, one room shows a scene from the 18th
century and so on. Rigny-Usse is the Disneyland of the Loire valley
castles. Alissia likes it as she walks up and down the staircase
eagerly exploring the entire castle.
At 5:35pm we leave the castle and drive back to the hotel, arriving
there around 6:30pm. On the way back the satellite navigation system
directs us into a street which is temporarily closed and we have to
drive back and find a different route. The overall status of the roads
and streets we have seen so far in France is almost ok, although the
quality of the streets is not on the same level as it is in
Germany. Traffic is almost ok, with people behaving correctly
most of the time but not always (to make an example, in one case the
car in front of us simply passes a
red traffic light).
In the hotel we take a rest, then at 7:30pm we go to the Ibis hotel
opposite the Etap hotel and have a dinner there. After the dinner, I go
to the McDonalds where I check my emails and surf the web.
Tomorrow we are heading to Les Sables d'Olonne. The idea is to spend a
few days on the beach relaxing.
7.8: Tours ->
Les Sables D Olonne -> Bretignolles-sur-Mer
Hotel La Garenne, Bretignolles-sur-Mer.
60 Euro for a small room with attached bath (bathtub with hot shower).
No A/C, no telephone. satellite TV, no Internet in the room. This place
is a bit run down, but at least the toilet works. The location is
excellent - the beach is in walking distance (about 200m). This place
also has a restaurant.
Weather: overcast the whole day,
every now and then it rains with varying intensity, from a light
drizzle to a heavy shower. Strong wind on the motorway, and strong
wind as well along the coast. Temperatures between 21 and 25°C
during the day.
We get up before 10am and manage to check out by 11:45am. We drive to
the Carrefour shopping mall where we have a lunch at 12pm at the Flunch
restaurant. Around 1pm we leave for Les Sables d'Olonne. The GPS
navigation system (Magellan 1215) predicts initially an arrival time of
4:05pm. In reality we'll arrive at 4:15pm, because the navigation
system sends us to the wrong motorway exit (internal maps are not up to
date) but we manage to recover some time while driving.
Very heavy wind on the motorway, which pushes the car to the left and
right and makes concentration necessary when driving. We arrive in Les
Sables d'Olonne at 4:15pm, then lose time trying to get down town to
tourist office. Very heavy traffic with traffic jams in Les Sables
Les Sables d'Olonne seems to be a boom town on this summer afternoon.
Full of people, full of cars, hotels fully booked. The whole world
seems to be in this place, all French seem to
have converged to this place today. There is one huge long beach facing
the Atlantic ocean with its dirty water. This is not exactly a place
where to relax and take it easy.
Around 5pm I enquire at the tourist office about hotel rooms. We had
already noticed while driving to the tourist office that the local Ibis
hotel is charging 91 Euro for a room vs. the 63 Euro Ibis hotels
elsewhere in France. This is almost a 50% premium over the standard
indicates that rooms here are more expensive than elsewhere. The
tourist office gives us a list of hotels and marks the hotels which are
After a number of phone calls it becomes apparent that the few hotels
which the tourist office marked as still available are actually booked
out. One hotel has a room for 120 Euro, which is more than we are
spend. Also the private rooms are already booked out according to the
tourist office. I ask if there are perhaps hotels along the coast out
of Les Sables d'Olonne, but the staff in the tourist office insists
that along the coast the situation is the same as in Les Sables
d'Olonne. Pretty scary. I start regretting to have driven to this place.
I call the Etap hotel in La Roche sur Yon and they still have rooms
available. Fine. La Roche sur Yon will be our fall-back solution in
case we can't find a hotel along the coast. Then we drive a bit through
Les Sables d'Olonne, south along the coast, looking for a hotel with a
'rooms available' sign. Very difficult to drive by car here as there
are traffic jams everywhere. We arrive at the Mercure hotel, then drive
a bit further. It appears that there is no coastal road along which to
drive looking for a hotel. So we get back to the Mercure hotel. This
belongs to the Accor chain, to which also the Ibis and Etap hotels
belong. In the Mercure hotel I ask about a nearby Ibis hotel (there is
no Etap hotel in Les Sables d'Olonne, but there is an Ibis hotel and in
general there are many more Ibis hotels than Etap hotels in France).
It turns out that the Ibis hotel in Les Sables d'Olonne just sold out
the last two available rooms, but the staff in the Mercure hotel gives
me a list of Ibis hotels in La Rochelle. La Rochelle is a nice city
about 60km south along the coast. I call all three Ibis hotels in La
Rochelle. The first two are booked out, the thírd one has one
room, but when I mention that I have one child they say that the room
is just for two people.
At this point I decide to use the fall-back option, but after calling
the Etap hotel in La Roche sur Yon it turns out that also this place is
now fully booked. It's now 6:30pm and for a moment I don't know what to
do. The idea was to spend a few relaxing days on a beach, but now it
seems that it was a dumb idea to drive to the coast as everybody else
also had the same idea and everything is fully booked. Had I known that
situation is like this, I would have booked a room before driving here.
In this moment I remember that the Magellan navigation system has a
directory of points of interest. This includes a category 'hotels'. You
can for instance specify a city or location and the Magellan navigation
system will generate a list of nearby hotels with address and telephone
number. I check the map of the coast around Les Sables d'Olonne. The
next city along the coast to the north is Bretignolles-sur-Mer. I enter
that into the navigation system and get a list of hotels in this city.
I call the first on the list, the hotel La Garenne, expecting to be
told that it is fully booked. Surprise, surprise, they do have a room.
60 Euro and the room has an attached bath. Can the room also accomodate
one child? Yes, no problem. Fine, I book the room and enter the
destination into the navigation system.
Around 7:20pm we arrive at the La Garenne hotel. We unload our luggage
and Shirley feeds Natasha in the room. At 8:30pm we go out of the hotel
and look for a restaurant. The pizzeria near the hotel is full and
there are people queueing up. I look a bit further and find the La
Pergola pizzeria restaurant, which has a good choice of pasta dishes
(Shirley would like to have some pasta) and an available table. Around
8:45pm we settle down in this restaurant. The food will only arrive one
hour later, but at least they give us a free drink as an apology. The
pasta dish actually is quite good. At almost 11pm we go back to the