I love riding my bike – I always have, and I hope I always will. As a teen in rural Northern Michigan, my driver’s license was a ticket to freedom in an area with only a few “cyclable” months out of the year. When I moved to the desert Southwest, however, and then to France, I was able to hang up my car keys. Rain or shine (mostly “rain”, the “shine” is mostly in the summer, hélas) I can be seen riding through town, quite often with Guppy in the child seat with me.
When I found out about a local cycling association, La Vie à Vélo, I knew I wanted to go on one of their ballades en vélo, organised bicycle rides through the scenic villages and countryside here in Seine-et-Marne. Last Sunday, under a beautiful August sun, I went on what I hope to be the first of many rides with La Vie à Vélo.
View of the Seine River from one of the charming bridges in Melun.
We took the train to Melun which was my first time riding the train with my bike, and I thought it was pretty darn cool. The SNCF (the French Rail Company) does allow bicycles on trains and some TERs, except during peak hours en Ile-de-France, and the Paris Métro Line 1 also will allow bicycles prior to 4:30 p.m. on Sundays. Be warned, however, that many of the RER lines are not at all bike-friendly (the trains aren’t the problem, however the gates within the stations are nearly impossible to pass with your bike in tow). For more information about bicycles and public transportation in France and the Ile-de-France region, you can visit here (en français), here (des associations de vélo parisiennes, en français), Vélo & SNCF (en français), Train & Bicycle (in English).
Melun is an ancient city, dating back 52 A.C., and is known for a particularly brutal battle between the British and the Bourguignons, and the city’s motto, “Fida muris usque ad mures” or “We’ll remain loyal to the city walls, even if it means having to eat the rats.” was born from the battle. This because the siege had the city’s inhabitants starving within its walls, but rather than surrender to the British, they opted for the rats…poor things! (The rats, I mean!).
There were neither rats nor battles in Melun this beautiful Sunday morn, just lovely views of the Seine river from the city’s many bridges, the majority of which decorated with potted flowers.
We cycled through Melun, rather quiet on this particularly sleepy Sunday, because it’s August and the vast majority of people are on holiday at least for a few weeks this month.
I just love du lierre (ivy)
A lovely little stream…
Our nearly daily rain during the Autumn, Winter and Spring does make me a little crazy, but this lush greenery is so refreshing during the summer’s heat.
The historical La Laiterie des Trois Moulins, (no longer in operation). As a vegan I choose not to contribute to the suffering of animals by abstaining from their flesh and secretions, however, I would be remiss if I did not mention that my region is particularly known, both culturally and in culinary circles, for its Brie cheese, the Brie of neighbouring cities Melun and Meaux being especially well-known.
If you’ve ever had the chance to visit the famed château Vaux le Vicomte (you can read more about the castle en français or in English), than this tree-lined path is probably familiar to you. We rode from Melun through forest and fields to Vaux le Vicomte, which inspired both the creativity and the jealousy of Louis XIV who upon visiting, ordered the construction/elaboration of le château de Versailles (and the incarceration of his former Minister of Finances, Fouquet, for “showing up” the King with his provençial castle).
This shot was taken through the castle gates – we didn’t stop to visit, though if you ever have the opportunity I highly recommend it, Vaux le Vicomte is one of my personal favourites. I like that it’s not overwhelmingly big, giving visitors the opportunity to take their time and enjoy the castle, the Carriage Museum and the grounds.
If the castle looks familiar, it’s because you’ve perhaps seen it before in films (recent movies filmed there include “Ridicule”, “The Man in the Iron Mask“, “The Brotherhood of The Wolf”, “Vidocq”, “Marie Antoinette” and “Molière“. American television actress Eva Langoria and Franco-American basketball player Tony Parker celebrated their wedding reception at the castle in 2007.
Vaux le Vicomte is also unique because it’s still a private castle, meaning that it still belongs to a family, not the state. The current owner received the château as a wedding gift in 1945, and lived there with his family, and opened the castle to the public in 1968. (Visit Wiki for more information and some lovely photos – click to the left for an English translation).
Stay tuned for Part 2 of my little (well, more than 60 kilometers) bike ride through the region…