The Valley of Heaven and Hell - Cycling in the Shadow of Marie-Antoinette by Susie Kelly

The Valley of Heaven and Hell is a quirky, highly entertaining and endearing mix of personal travel adventure and French history. Alongside her energetic and resourceful husband (when he's not zooming on ahead), novice cyclist Susie bikes 500km following the identical route taken by Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI when they tried to escape from the Revolution, and their journey back to their executions.
In this unique blackbirdebooks presentation the reader can follow the author's journey online through links to the websites of hotels, campsites, gardens, restaurants, historical places of interest, and even songs, that Susie encounters along her way.
Travel with Susie as she wobbles through Paris and Versailles, the battlefields of World War 1, the Champagne region and more.

The best travelogue I've read (the only travelogue I've read) - made me want to bike through France myself!

Excellently written, the book contains a great balance between the past and the present. It tells the daunting task of biking for so long in all sorts of weather and conditions, and it explains the current state of affairs and what visitors could expect today and combines this with stories of the past, like where and how champagne originated, what wars where fought there and why. Last but not least it follows in the footsteps of Marie-Antoinette and Louis XIV and the route they took when they attempted to flee the murderous revolution but were captured and brought back to Paris to face brutal justice.

It's humoristic and interesting to read, and I loved all the little stories and details about the past of the many small towns of France that are otherwise unknown to the world. I've been to France myself, so some of the places described I could easily recall and loved reading about now with more historical description than I ever knew. I'm also a big fan of biking around the countryside and could easily feel the author's pains when it comes to biking in poor weather conditions, heavy traffic and so on. Furthermore the author includes many links (urls) to the various places and people she describes, which in my eyes is a brilliant idea.

All in all The Valley of Heaven and Hell hit all the right buttons for me and I heartily recommend it to anyone who fancy a round trip through historical and modern France as seen from a bike.

226 pages / published as an e-book in 2011
Review by Iben Jakobsen, BoB, 2011

Many thanks to the author for supplying me with a copy of the book.


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