We had a few nervous moments with the car but, after a tasty (local and organic) breakfast we got underway with all systems go. Knowing we might not have time to stop for lunch (or, if we do, much time to eat dinner that night) we swung by a Leclerc store and bought the essentials: ham, cheese, jam, wine and baguette. By the way, in our first 48 in France we saw half a dozen people walking down the street carrying only a baguette. We’d see a dozen more over the next week. The French really do like their baguette.
We decided to stop at Chateau de Villandry, famous for its lovely gardens. In fact, we didn’t even visit the inside of the chateau, we just walked around in the massive gardens outside. There were lots of ornamental gardens, including a maze, but there’s an actual working farm portion too…they were harvesting vegetables when we visited. There were also piles of fish in their moat, which was weird…they come right out of the water looking for food, with their dead eyes, like a doll’s eyes…uh, ahem.
We kept driving, now right along the Loire. We saw a heron and the odd roadside cat and some kind of nuclear steam cloud (don’t ask) and navigated around a detour. That was to become a recurring theme. We finally reached the tiny town of Candes-St-Martin at the confluence of the Loire and the Vienne, and parked the car so we could walk to the hill above the town for a great view of the surrounding countryside. We got another great view when we walked down the riverside.
We kept heading west along the Loire and realized, just as we’d reached the town of Saumur, that we’d somehow missed the Chateau D’Ussé entirely. We didn’t spend much time in Saumur as we were tired and hungry and late and lost, so we ate lunch at some awful touristy place right next to the chateau.
We decided to skip the rest of the drive along the Loire, to Angers, and just bust north toward our next B&B. Carmen took us a crazy route (we told her to avoid toll highways, but still…she had us on some pretty hardcore back roads), and it didn’t help that we kept hitting detours, including a visit from the Gendarmerie. Eventually we got on to progressively bigger highways, and after a few minutes on our first autoroute we were in love. After driving 40 km/h through driveways and farm lanes all day, doing 140km/h in a straight line was pretty sweet. After a long day of driving we finally reached Les Blotteries.
This was probably my favourite place of the whole trip. The house and farm were lovely, but the owner, Jean-Malo, and his dog (Madame Plume) made us feel like family the minute we arrived. We didn’t linger long that night as we decided to drive the 10 minutes to Mont Saint-Michel so we could take pictures of it at sunset. We had to stop along the way to let a herd of sheep cross the road. Jean-Malo later insisted with a smirk that they just do that for the tourists.
We made our way back to Saint-James for dinner at the Lion D’Or, where we sampled wine from Saumur (the town redeemed itself!) before returning to Les Blotteries for a good night’s sleep. I actually didn’t want to leave the next morning after breakfast (and great conversation with his other house guest) but when the time came Jean-Malo sent us off with two bottles of locally-made apple juice, directions for a much prettier drive than we’d planned and a fresh croissant for the road. I missed he and Plume the moment we pulled away.
However, we had new adventures to get to. We took the scenic route Jean-Malo suggested, driving up the Atlantic coast toward Granville (with a semi-frantic detour in search of diesel) before turning northeast.
We stopped in Bayeux to see the famous Bayeux Tapestry and have lunch. It is at this lunch that I got myself a baddass mofo sunburn. From there we drove the short distance north to the Juno Beach Centre, a museum dedicated to the Canadian participation in the D-Day landing as well as all Canadian troops who served in WWII.
We arrived just in time to make the 3:00 tour, which is good, since it included a tour of the bunker on the beach. We find out about the museum, the sculptures, the bunker, the town and the beach itself. It’s not a bad little tour, and I have to admit to some chills when standing on the beach. There were tourists and fishermen walking up and down it when we were there, but standing at the water’s edge and looking toward the beach, it’s hard to believe someone actually mounted a successful attack that way. I couldn’t even imagine what it must have been like.
Tour finished, we called ahead to the next B&B to let them know we were coming. I had that conversation entirely in French, and realized I must be getting better at this. Five minutes later we were at the Le Mas Normand, meeting Christian and Mylene and their dogs.
Our room was tiny, but wonderful…we could see cows out one window, dogs out the other and the courtyard through our little dutch door. We didn’t have a chance to sample Christian’s cooking, so we had dinner at some bistrot in the town. When we got back to the B&B we weren’t tired, so we bundled up and sat in the courtyard and drank a bottle of wine like the party animals we are. The Belgian couple and American couple went to bed early; the two Canadian couples rolled home last, and we slept like the dead.