Chateau de Matel

Day 8. Orange to Roanne. 302 Kms, 187 miles.
Dorothy followed the Yellow brick road in the Wizard of Oz, and today we followed the Rhone. My iPad keeps changing the spelling of Rhone to Rhine, so if you see the Rhine word, just pretend it says Rhone. Or replace all I’s with O’s. Loke thos. Nit loke thos thiugh.
Anyway, the area is called the cote-de-Rhone for a good reason. This is a massive river, running more or less from north to south, originating from a Glacier in Switzerland, and running south through France in an almost Swiss-like efficiency, in a single and very straight line. It is obvious what the importance of the river has been, and there are a lot of industrial installations along the way. However, these are not dominant, and there are a number of pretty little towns and villages too.

The river Rhone
We rode through a region known as the Ardeche, and after following the River for a couple of hours, turned west a bit, and headed upwards into a national park know as du Pilat. It was very pretty, with a twisty road and often high rock faces on both sides of the narrow roads, and we felt once again like we were in the Alps themselves.
After half an hour in the natural surrounds, we suddenly found ourselves dumped in St Etienne, a large and unwieldy city. Fortunately the satnav took us onto the highway for a spell, and we sped through the conurbation. North of this city, we spent a lot of time riding along very straight roads, in unremarkable countryside, joining up the dots between towns, car sales lots, and Mr Bricolages. Now I am not sure who Mr Bricolage is, but he has a lot of shops. I think they are a kind of DIY store that sells masonry, bricks and concrete, but every village, town and city seem to be overrun by these establishments. I think the French must do a lot of building, or home repair. Or perhaps they are waiting for the next time the Germans come a-visiting, and getting their repair materials ready just in case.
Our destination today was Roanne, about which I know nothing. The last 20 minutes of our journey was again on a motorway, and our satnav showed that the hotel was 2 minutes off the exit from the road. And indeed, it was correct. However, this two minutes took us past an industrial estate, and into a mature forest, where there was a beautiful old Chateau waiting for us.

Our room in Chateau de Matel
The building is from the 13 century, and I think was built up in the late 1500’s by a lady who founded an order of nuns, before dying and then haunting the establishment.
We didn’t meet her, however we did meet the present owners, a large and very welcoming family. The chateau is mainly used on weekends, for weddings. They converted a barn into a hall, and the wedding party stays in the hotel. During the week they are pretty empty, in fact there was only us and one other couple staying over.

Dinner outsside the chateau
The building is lovely, and the grounds are beautiful. The rooms are nice too, and we have a four-poster bed in our room. We settled in, had a swim in the pool, showered and looked at the days photos, and then rode back into town to fill up with petrol, and go shopping for dinner. The local Carrefour provided, and we took our dinner back to the chateau.
The owners gave us plates and knives and forks, plus wine glasses. We had bought a bottle of 2euro wine from the region we stayed at last night, Orange, and it was delicious. The chateau owner gave us the glasses, and explained that they have different types of wine glasses for each wine region. These apparently bring out the differing qualities and flavors of the wine types. Either that, or he was just gently teasing us ignorant foreigners- but I suspect not.
Anyway, our meal was lovely, and we were joined by various dogs at various junctures. Two very large alsatians, and a small rat-like creature, came and went. The main protagonist was the largest, a ten-month old pup called Flick. He was really lovely and friendly and playful, but was mostly after whatever we were eating.

Lovely dogs
We finished our food and wine, sitting outside the house. We felt like exclusive guests at our own private restaurant, as the other couple had gone to town for their evening, so we had the place to ourselves. The family run this place, so there were no staff about, and we had a very relaxed time. Once again I fell asleep before my head hit the pillow-this holiday must be relaxing me very much, because I normally take quite a while to go to sleep. Either that, or Jelly Bean is exhausting me with her chatting. But I think not…..
Don’t forget, until I get home and sort out the pictures, they can be found here

Per temps de pluie

Day 9. Roanne to Troyes. 320 Kms, 198 miles.
We had breakfast in the chateau, with the owner, who filled us in some more on the place and it’s history. It was built in the last 1500’s, but burned down within 2 years because of religious wars. It was rebuilt immediately, and was the centre of the order founded by some lady de Matel, who was born there. The order remained until 1905, when the French very sensibly banned all education that was not state controlled, and the order moved to the USA – who I am sure would appreciate the mania more than the French.
The house has had several owners, including Andre Citroen, he of the famous car. The present owners have had it three years, taking it over from a cooking school. They have done a lot of work on the place, and run it mainly to fund their repairs and upkeep of the house, which is beautiful and very interesting. They mainly host weddings on weekends, and run the place as a B&B during the week, letting out no more than five rooms, but usually only having one or two guests at any time.
It was raining, so we suited and booted in full regalia, loaded the uncomplaining bike, and off we rode. At breakfast we had discovered that in fact the River Loire was only 800 meters from the back of the house, and we soon crossed it. We had plotted our route to take us through a national park, rather than stick to the quicker roads, and much of they day was spent without seeing much traffic.
Actually, we didn’t see many people at all. I think the whole of rural France is on holiday, asleep, or have been murdered in their beds. We pass through 30 small villages or more each day, and hardly ever see signs of life. Everywhere is well kept, nicely tended, and looks in use, but we don’t see actual people. Very odd. Maybe the recent rapture that was offered by that mad preacher in the USA was only partially successful, and that part being the smaller towns of the Rhone and Loire valleys.
If yesterday was about the industrial Rhone, today was definitely agricultural. We sped through rolling hills of well cultivated lands, interspersed with lots of white cows. No sheep or pigs, but a few horses and the odd chicken hove into view. I think that all the pigs are already in sausages-and I have eaten at least a third of the national sausage stores while on this trip.
The land often looked quite similar to the UK, except that they had no dry stone walls. Take note, British farmers, people can be neighbors, know who owns what, and still run a farm without committing suicide, without walls in between every bloody field.
In fact, on this note, the French do really well without many of the tight-arsed boundaries and nit-picking rules of the UK. When you pull up at a traffic light, for example, there is no line across the road that says “stop behind me, or a big policeman will take your picture, hit you with a truncheon, or give you a fine of a years salary. Also, your neighbours, and people you don’t even know, will judge you forever unto eternity as a cretin for this transgression”. Here, they just stop, wait for the lights to change, and go again. No-one dies, no-one is mortally offended if you are two centimeters nearer or further from the lights, and no-one behaves irresponsibly. Yes the scooter drivers are maniacs, but they are fair game, and you can’t count yourself as a qualified French driver unless you have a few scooter scalps nailed to your bumper.
Anyway, where was I? Ah yes scooter riders. Well, I have more to say on that one, but that can wait for another day. We were traversing the beautiful rolling hills of the Champagne region, riding through rainstorms that would have put Noah off. We got very wet, and the rain was so hard that it actually hurt when landing on my jacket.
We did our usual picnic lunch, in a mostly dry spot. We passed through some lovely and very dense forests on our way, and with the rain they smelled wonderful.

Shelter from the rain
We had picked Troyes as our destination pretty much at random, being roughly on the way back to le train, and at what seemed like a suitable days ride away from the last stop. Other than the fact that they had an Ibis hotel here, I knew nothing. We arrived, got checked in, unpacked, showered, hung up wet gear to dry, and went for a walk.
What a revelation this town is. Apparently it harks back to Roman times, and has a history that features the betrothal of Henry V (the one who starred in Shakespeares play), Joan of Arc, various popes, and a pretty Greek lass called Helen. OK, maybe not the last one, but historic this place certainly is. Much of the town centre is well preserved, and full of wonderful buildings, lovely streets and food. It looks a bit like old parts of York, but much nicer, classier and with a better accent. We loved it, and wandered the streets like proper tourists, going “ooh look at this”, and “ooh look at that”. Unfortunately, the official photographer had left the camera back in the hotel room, so no pictures are available with this part of the soundtrack. However, go on google images and look up Troyes, you will be in for a treat.
Tomorrow is the last full day in France, and will mostly consist of a trog up the motorway to the coast. We are staying in Boulougne sur Mer tomorrow eve, so until then, au revoir, mes amis.