Biking & Hiking: Castles to Crags

March 22, 2002

The peripatetic Reuls, Chuck and Sandra, treated the Obsidians to a “wish you were here” account of their 15th (!) trip under the aegis of British walking companies. It was a trip of contrasts, the first week being spent biking in the chateau area of Loire in France and the second hiking in the Dolomites of Italy.

Sandra led us through picking one’s way through the hundreds of chateaus in the Loire region. They were conveyed to hotel stays of two nights and were then on their own to explore on bikes. Complete maps and information are supplied. The area is ideal for biking — flat and safe with little traffic. The chateaus visited were all beautifully furnished and each had a unique interesting history. For example one, near Amboise, where Leonardo da Vinci spent his last years at the invitation of the King of France. A common feature of the chateaus were the beautiful formal gardens. The area is also noted for its excellent vegetables. One of the largest and finest of the formal chateau gardens was planted completely to vegetables — and, would you believe, is mostly turned over for compost (what a great place it would be for U-pick).

Chuck then took over to fly us to Cremona (Stradivarius’ home base), and then on to Trento just south of the Dolomites. The week was spent at one small hotel whose Italian owner was also the mountain guide for the daily group hiking. The Reuls were the only Americans in the group of 11. The hiking was all in the lower regions (6000–7000 ft.) of the Dolomites and is very much like the Oregon Cascades — including the rain (which the Scots in the group thought was great!). The food was outstanding, and done to individual taste if desired. One four-course dinner featured gnocchi (probably the most frequently mispronounced Italian word). A specialty of the area is grappa (made in a 500-year-old distillery) which has evidently been transformed over the years from the poor peasants’ brandy (made from a forced second fermentation of the lees from wine making) to an elite status! Ten o’clock coffee was laced with it, and the successful ascent of every summit was toasted with a shot! Perhaps this accounts for the lax attitude toward trail safety (as also noted in the February potluck talk by Jim Blanchard on trekking in the Alps). With no warning of the nature of the trail, Chuck found the descent of a last climb of three closely connected peaks a bit harrowing. It would seem that the time for a toast is at the end of a successful trek.

Chuck will field any questions at 541-485-0301 or

Bep Fontana

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