|A sandy island in the Loire River|
In a month dotted with public holidays and long weekends, the weather has not been kind. It's almost as if Mother Nature wants to punish the French for having so many days off during one of her most productive periods. Thanks to a series of relentless thunderstorms that she manufactured at the beginning of the month, Stéphane and my cycling trip in the Loire Valley quickly evolved into a wine and cheese tasting extravaganza.
Not surprisingly, Stéphane feels slightly bitter about Mother Nature's turbulent behavior and has made some rather unkind comments while hunkered under his umbrella. But not me. I'm still thankful that Mother Nature produced a spectacular day when I needed it most. Too bad for Stéphane that he was back at work while I was picnicking on a "toue", a traditional boat used locally on the Loire River.
Bruno Gabris of Passeurs de Loire piloting L'Aigreet and the wooden boat moored for our picnic lunch.
Gazing ahead as he expertly guided the wooden-hulled L'Aigrette upriver, professional fisherman Bruno Gabris told our small group about the different species of fish that inhabit the Loire and described the techniques he uses to catch the bream, catfish and carp swimming in its murky water. When he suddenly noticed a low flying tern with a long forked tail out of the corner of his eye, Gabris explained that the migratory bird was preparing to dive for a fish. A hush fell over our group as we turned our heads to watch. It was obvious that Gabris, who has a degree in forest management and environmental ecology, is at home on the water. He knows the stretch of river from Sigloy to Bouteille like the back of his hand. As he steered L'Aigrette towards the sandy bank of an island, he pointed towards a worn path on the river bank. It was a beaver slide, slightly downriver from the point where we moored the boat for our picnic lunch and beer tasting.
|Asparagus starter from Le Grand Saint-Benoît|
Since my picnics normally consist of some bread, cheese, pâté and wine, the term was a bit of a misnomer. After polishing off a couple of jars of Bruno's fish terrine served with a crusty baguette, we indulged in a three-course meal prepared by the gastronomic restaurant, Le Grand Saint-Benoît. While savoring the white asparagus with shaved parmesan and a dollop of pesto sauce, craft brewer Laurent Boulay invited us to try his artisan "Belgian Strong Ale". Considering that we were in a region famous for its wine, Boulay's beer was a thirst-quenching revelation, the kind that I thought only existed across the border in Belgium.
|Laurent Boulay of La Brasserie des Ecluses and Bruno Gabris|
Seeing the delight with which we drank the Belgian Ale, Boulay urged us to try his Irish Stout. Tempted to decline his offer since I'm not usually a fan of more bitter brew, I nonetheless accepted a small amount to accompany the main course of chicken served with a medley of spring vegetables. It was full-bodied, yet smooth. Just the kind of beer that was easy to drink while relishing the warm sunshine on my back.
Mother Nature has her moments. To enjoy them to their full advantage, take a boat trip on the Loire River with Passeurs de Loire. An English speaking fisherman can accompany your group if it's requested in advance. Even though I would recommend letting Grand Saint-Benoît prepare a three-course gastronomic picnic, you're welcome to bring your own food aboard. Passeurs de Loire offer several different types of trip. Please refer to their website for additional details.
Passeurs de Loire (Boat Trips)
45110 Sigloy, approximately 34 kilometers from Orléans
La Brasserie des Ecluses (Craft Brewery)
94 Route de la Chênetière
45530 Vitry aux Loges
|The Loire River -- it doesn't get much than this!|