We're cycling the La Vélo Francette long-distance bike route from La Rochelle to Caen. Here's today's stage from Arçais to Niort.
Day two of riding was a gentle 36km continuing through the peaceful Marais Poitevin from Arçais to Niort with a lunch stop in Coulon. Nicky was (not-so-quietly) relieved that it was a shorter day than yesterday, though she's putting in an amazing performance given she hadn't ridden a bike over any great distance in several years.
This section of the route is already almost fully signposted (by June 2015 the entire route should be fully signposted).
This is what you'll see:
Here's a wrap of what we got up to today.
Arçais to Coulon, 16.32km
We'd stayed at L’Hotel Maison Flore, overlooking the marshes at Arçais and with boats bobbing up and down in the garden (you don't get to type that very often).
The B&B's bike shelter is in the garden and protected by water on three sides and a gate that's locked at night on the other.
The B&B carries the French-standard ecolabel, with rooms overlooking the Marais starting at €59.
This photo of Nicky outside the B&B is for her mum in Australia (hi Jude!):
We followed the D102 (not at all busy in May) from Arçais to the turnoff for Irleau, which then led us onto backroads (like the ones below) and dedicated bike trails.
The route was a series of paved backroads, towpaths and forest tracks of a clay-type consistency that made for (mostly) smooth riding. The dedicated trails that weren't paved roads were generally of excellent quality. It's rained A LOT in this area lately and, even taking this into account, the percentage of what I'd call muddy trails was small. As with yesterday, I had no problem with my 28s (in fact Jacqui and Adrian – see 'Coulon to Niort' below – had even thinner tyres).
One particularly magic section just after the pretty village of La Garette was a shared pedestrian-cyclist boardwalk through marshes and forest. It was a real delight to ride.
I liked it so much I'm showing it to you again.
Coulon to Niort, 20.15km
A highlight of the day came after lunch in Coulon when we met up with Jacqui, of French Village Diaries fame, and her other half Adrian.
They rode the Coulon-Niort leg with us and, while they'd never ridden this specific section of the route before, they know the area's roads and bike trails really well and were a great source of local info.
The photo below is at La Roussille, where there's a restaurant perched on a very picturesque bend in the river La Sèvre Niortaise. We'd already eaten in Coulon, but this would make a great lunch stop too.
We talked bikes, cycling, France, and much more before capping it off with a beer/vin rouge/rosé in Niort (not too much, though, as Jacqui and Adrian had to cycle back).
Here is an obligatory church spire photo from Niort.
The signposting was pretty reliable on this section, though Adrian's Garmin (much posher than my Garmin 200) came in handy to double check the route on several occasions.
Tonight we're staying at Maison La Port Rouge, a beautifully restored and elegantly furnished B&B owned by the lovely Christine. She has the biggest, friendliest smile imaginable, and among her first words was 'douche'. At which point I wondered whether she might consider adopting me.
Christine has five rooms priced from €65, and two studio apartments available on a nightly or weekly basis (from €85 per night/€120 per weekend/€280 per week).
This is my room.