Kilometers covered: 548
Départements traveled: 5
Wines sampled: 16
Fromage consumed: 9
I woke up to a beautiful blue sky in Nantes, which seemed to imply that if I got my ass on the road that I might get to bike in the sun! That was certainly motivating, but I had one critical mission to attend to first. In my… enthusiasm for navigation (and Facebook updates), I had drained my phone of all data– so I needed a recharge. That accomplished, I downed a simple lunch of roasted chicken and potatoes and was on my way.
The cycling was easy: long stretches of clean asphalt, lots of sunshine, and flat as the road wound out to the sea. I had wondered earlier why I ever thought I could do upwards of 80 kilometers a day (after some days feeling exhausted after 60) but now I realized I could totally do it on flat territory. It was really the hills that killed you.
I also saw my first winery of the trip, and stopped for a full degustación, hobbling along in my poor French. At the mouth of the Loire river is Muscadet country (Côtes de Grandlieu), and I tried a dry, sweet, aged, and super-sweet dessert wine version of the grape. None of them particularly impressed me, but I was happy just to stop and learn about the wine. On another trip, I could do the whole Loire Valley, which extends from Nantes all the way up to Paris– but I was heading south rather than east.
I was ready to do more, but instead I stopped around 5pm at the first small town on the Atlantic: Bourgneuf-en-Retz. I got lucky with a last-minute Couchsurfing request, and not only were my hosts delightful (from South Africa and France, near Angers) but I had an excuse to let myself off the hook. Earlier in the day, I passed the unofficial halfway mark for my trip: 500 out of 1000 kilometers. So it was worth celebrating. At my host’s suggestion, we did “raclette” for dinner, which involves pouring melted cheese over potatoes, meat, and anything else on your plate. Really a Alpine skiiing meal! Obviously it was excellent, and we paired it with a Cabernet Franc from the Anjou/Saumur region in the upper Loire and a Négrette (one of my favorites) from Fronton, an AOC in the south.
I had intended to press ahead the next day, but my host offered to take me fishing for clams and oysters in the morning– which sounded like too good an experience to turn down. So I happily parked my bike for a day and went out the next morning with the low tide, equipped with buckets and gardening tools. The water was cold, but we successfully pried a bucket of oysters off their perch and filled the other bucket with an assortment of 20-30 clams, four small crabs and maybe 50 small prawns, netted from beneath the rocks. Not a bad morning’s work!
While cleaning off and eating lunch (a pasta with bull-sausage bolognese that I was quite proud of), we cleaned the oysters, boiled the crabs, and fried up the prawns with butter and herbs provençal. The little prawns were delicious; you could eat them like popcorn. The oysters we ate raw with red vinegar, Sauvignon Blanc and bread, followed by the small crabs with a bit of spicy mayonaise. The final dish was a spaghetti alla vongole that I made with the clams, a simple dish with pasta, garlic, parsley and white wine that is nevertheless hard to get right. We were all happy with it, though, and I felt especially lucky when I found an unbroken shell that contained nothing but sand and muck. If it had opened in the pasta, it would have ruined the whole thing!
THE MEAL: Local beer, wine, and fresh oysters, clams, crabs, and prawns: a seafood paradise.
THE WINE: five different kinds of Muscadet; a Cab Franc/Cab Sauv blend from Anjou (2013 Le P’tit Clou), a Negrette from Fronton, outside of Toulouse (“Excellence du Comte de Negret), a Sauvignon (“Vignoble du Beau Soleil”), and for dessert a 2009 Marquis de Chamterac “Monbazillac” AOC.
THE BED: Courchsurfing in Bourgneuf-en-Retz.