Loire Valley cycling trip: Day 2, getting to know Chinon

We really didn’t have the time to research exactly which towns to visit in France ahead of time. Our decisions were made pretty hastily, mainly based upon cycling distances between towns. Well, upon arriving into Chinon around 7pm, we were really glad that we had planned to stay two nights here. We passed through what seemed to be normal industrial suburbs – a bit disappointing – then descended down to the town centre, a medieval village with the river to the south and vineyarrds to the west. We were thrilled to discover that the accommodation that I had booked us was right in the centre of the old town, an ancient stone inn.

In some ways it’s better to do your research in advance. But there is more of a sense of adventure when you discover things as you go. Over our day in Chinon, we found out that nearly one thousand years ago, Chinon had been the centre from which Henry Plantagenet had ruled as king of England as well as over much of the Loire Valley. He had built one of the three connected castles towering on the cliff-top over town. His son, Richard the Lionheart, had lived and died here, too. And Chinon is the town where, in 1429, Joan of Arc visited King Charles VII. She was a peasant girl who claimed she saw and spoke to the saints, and she became an advisor to the king and to the military, leading them to many important victories.

Just wandering around town was incredible – all stone buildings, some with the medieval timbers supporting them showing through the sides: giant oak beams 500 or more years old, from old growth trees of a size that France has not seen for centuries. We climbed up through town. The tall stone clocktower of the easternmost castle had been beckoning Dave since we had arrived there – and ascended for a visit to the castles.

Climbing up through town to the castles.

About to enter the castle! This clocktower was built in the 1300s. Its bell has rung every hour since then… we heard the same bell that Joan of Arc would have known so well.

Dave’s self-portrait in front of the clocktower with the thing he loves most in life: his favourite hat.

We were both so impressed with the building technology – not just in Chinon but throughout the Loire Valley. These self-supporting dome roofs were built so many centuries ago, some of them nearly a thousand years ago – and they are still standing. Makes you wonder how many of our modern buildings will still be around even a century from now.

View of old Chinon and the River Vienne from the castle.

Medieval graffiti.

After our castle visit, we wandered eastward along the cliff edge, to where old dwellings and an old chapel have been dug into the sandstone cliffs.

Taking a little break in the cave-dwellings.

And the cave-dwellings weren’t all ancient – many of them are still being used!

The end of an interesting and educational day… evening on the banks of the River Vienne.

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