France From Inside Cycling and Wine Tours France

Cycling, Wine and Cultural Tours in the Dordogne, Pyrenees and Southwest of France.

Join email list

In the news

Bookmark and Share

Chateau de Pitray
Chateau de Pitray

  • Bookmark and Share
  • This is classic southwest France in the summer, 90+ degrees, clear blue skies, neatly cut fields up against oak and pine forests. We all know that a picture never does justice to the real thing, so I guess you had to be here, this is a rather stunning spot, the countryside has a certain "savoir faire."

    And now the contrast, Brittany in the summer! The choice is obvious in my opinion. For some reason Monty Python comes to mind, "bring out your dead."

    Every now and then the rain lets up and you can go outside without your rain boots. Sign me up, I'll be back next summer.

    The sign on the door says, "build it and they will come." Even the stone in Brittany is gloomy, dark and gray.

    Noirmoutier, an island off the Atlantic coast just south of Brittany. Already the weather has improved. Note the shorts and espadrilles sandals ... instead of the rain boots. Two tidbits of fun facts about this island: 1) Noirmoutier is the location of the "first recorded Viking raid on continental Europe" in the year 799. The monastery of Saint Philibert of Jumieges was the lucky host to that event. 2) The island also has the famous Passage du Gois. More on that later.

    Noirmoutier is also known for its salt marshes and hence the sea salt that is cultivated. Rich in trace elements (so goes the marketing) and clear as the driven snow (my marketing idea). Hmmm ... an indispensable ingredient in all kinds of culinary delights, such as Noirmoutier Salty Croissants (another brilliant marketing/sales idea of mine. I will gladly entertain a partnership with anyone willing to finance the venture).

    I am providing you with instructions on how to get the salt. Wait until the tide drops and then sweep into piles. Keep the dogs and cats away so that you don't get yellow snow. It is as easy as that.

    And now the Passage du Gois. It was for all of time, going back to before that friendly Viking visit and until a bridge was built in 1971, the only means of access to the island from the mainland, and only accessible at low tide. So of all the signs that could possibly be posted in commemoration of this historically important passage, this is the chosen one. Maybe Facebook will get a mention underneath sometime soon. I like the TDF but ...

    Obviously the cool part about this passage is that there are occasionally entries for the Darwin Award. "Bird Nests" are built along the 4.5 km passage for people to scurry to safety if they decide to "chicken out" at the last moment.

    This is the passage on the island side at high tide (I know what you are thinking, "no shit Sherlock, what's your next clue").

    And as the tide drops the "creatures from the black lagoon" come out of the water.

    I wanted to ride my bike across but I could not wait until low tide, so instead I rode my bike over the bridge and to the other side of the passage on the mainland.

    Here is the perspective from the mainland, as the tourists wade into the shallows like dutiful lemmings.

    The bridge option. Not nearly as romantic but open 24 hours a day and probably the winner for the most brutal traffic jams in France.

    The island of Noirmoutier has charm.

    So much charm that I was glad we only stayed a couple of days, just like the Vikings.

    ... more charm.

    Back in the southwest of France. I came across a bull standing on what looked like an oversized "pitcher's mound." It was hot, 100 degrees, but he did not seem to mind.

    I wonder what was going through his mind, "fast ball inside?"