Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Cycling in the Vienne part one

French Village Diaries family cycling in the Vienne Montmorillon

Living with a teenager it is all too easy to slip into a routine during the school holidays; he gets up at midday, breakfast rolls into lunch, an afternoon bike ride with us is frowned upon as he’d rather watch YouTube, so more often than not the only time spent together was dinner. The opportunity to review Longère Louise from a cyclists perspective gave us a very welcome couple of nights away, as a family, just before packing Ed’s suitcase and taking him back to school.
French Village Diaries family cycling in the Vienne Montmorillon
Montmorillon from the old bridge
Situated to the east of Poitiers in the Vienne department, we found ourselves in an area we had yet to discover, despite being only a two hour drive from home. On our way there we parked in the village of Lathus, had our picnic lunch and set off on the bikes for a 40km circuit to Montmorillon. I’d always wanted to visit this town, feeling a kind of spiritual connection to a place that not only calls itself the city of writing, is full of little bookshops, but has it’s own speciality almond macaron too. The end of the school holidays might have been close, but I wasn’t giving up on summer yet.
French Village Diaries family cycling in the Vienne Montmorillon
Bookshop window, Montmorillon

The cycling was along pretty back roads with a few hills but nothing too challenging, following the Gartempe river valley, which disappointingly was often hidden from view. Montmorillon with it’s old stone bridge (parts of it dating back to 14th Century) separating the old town on the hill with the new town was just as pretty as I had hoped. We took lots of photos on the bridge before wandering slowly around the old town, whose streets were too narrow and steep for cycling. Unfortunately for us it was a Monday and there wasn’t a lot open, but we did get to peer in the windows at the pretty displays of the bookshops that were closed. I had also read that the church was worth a visit and was pleased to see the door was open. I propped my bike up by a tree and was just about to trot inside (with my clomping hoof-like cycle shoes) when something about the sombre mood of a small group of people gathered in the shade of a tree made me think ‘funeral’. Almost immediately the hearse arrived and I was glad I hadn’t been stuck inside dressed in purple lycra. It was time to make a hasty retreat and go searching for macarons.

With the disappointment of the bookshops being closed and the church being otherwise occupied, my hopes were pinned on the macarons; a delicious sounding treat made with egg whites, sugar and ground almonds, with a moist centre that is top secret. However, every boulangerie and patisserie we saw was closed and we couldn’t find anything on the town centre map to point us in the right direction of the family business that has been making them for generations. Disappointed again, we cycled out of town.
French Village Diaries family cycling in the Vienne Longère Louise
Longère Louise, bedroom

As soon as we arrived at Longère Louise our spirits were lifted. It was beautiful, looked tiny from the outside, but with space for the bikes in an inner hallway, a lovely family-sized table in the heart of the kitchen, two good-sized double bedrooms and an upstairs lounge Ed soon occupied, it wasn’t short of anything, except headroom – poor Adrian was just too tall for some of the doorways and low beams, but nothing that wearing a cycle helmet couldn’t fix.
French Village Diaries family cycling in the Vienne Longère Louise
I found everything I needed in the kitchen to cook our evening meals and pasta salad lunches, in fact I think it was better equipped than my kitchen at home and most of our meals were eaten out in the secluded courtyard. The cottage is in a quiet hamlet, but only three kilometres (an easy cycle ride) from the village of Liglet where we found Le Sapin Vert, a bar/restaurant under new and friendly ownership and the boulangerie/general store.
French Village Diaries family cycling in the Vienne Longère Louise
Longère Louise, kitchen
Day two was our big bike adventure, crossing the border into the Indre and discovering the Brenne national park. This area of over 3000 manmade lakes was once a forest, but with the wood used for iron extraction the first lakes were made in the Middle Ages for carp rearing, which continues today. Most of the lakes are privately owned fish farms, 60% of the fish raised are carp and are mostly exported.
French Village Diaries family cycling in the Vienne Brenne
Brenne national park
Our 70km route followed a voie verte cycle way along an old railway line from the town of Le Blanc, before picking up a marked circuit that takes you around the lakes. The railway line was quiet, tree lined and shady, and the dry summer meant the first of the leaves had already started to fall, crunching under our wheels along with the popping of crushing acorns. Once out into the flat, open national park we cycled past straw coloured fields where the grass was as dry as hay and the pale coloured cows stood together in the shade of the trees. The air was warm and pine scented, with plenty of shade from oak and pine trees and I could smell the cool freshness of a lake as we approached. The lakes are home to water lilies, herons, egrets, swans, coots, turtles and that was just what we saw. What there wasn’t much of though was picnic tables or benches, probably because most of the lakes are privately owned. We also seemed to pick one of those days where every village bar and boulangerie we passed was closed. Thankfully we found somewhere with a bench to share, and tucked into our picnic pasta pots. It was a lovely, family day out, even if I was left trailing at the back most of the way.

We might only have been away from home for two nights, but it felt like a proper holiday and I am happy to recommend Longère Louise to anyone looking for a Vienne holiday. Click here to read my full review for FreewheelingFrance with booking information.

Longère Louise is priced from £350 per week.

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