May 7 – June 22, 2007
Hang those onions on your handlebars; stick that baguette right into your armpit and get that pout right. After all, when in France…!
Having crossed the border from Spain, olive groves gave way to vinyards and restaurant terraces on the beach were designed for leisurely Pernod apperitifs or
café au laits. We rustled up all the French we could and quickly launched into pomme frites!
is a charming town once described by Salvador Dali as the centre of the world. Like most French cities the grid planning is absent and getting lost in its little lanes and alleyways is as easy as it is enjoyable.
The quiet road to St.Paul de Fernouillet was dotted with impressive hilltop Cathare fortresses towering above the vineyards and pine forests. The stunning Galamus gorge en route was a spectacular backdrop for an afternoon spin, with views right down into the abyss.
Carcasonne, the setting for ‘Robin Hood-Prince of Thieves’, is one of the biggest fortified cities in Europe with double walls, dozens of turrets and impressive rampart views. It’s well worth the detour if you can close your eyes to the Disney caper inside.
One of the classics for cyclists in France is to follow the Canal du Midi, joining the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. The bike lane varies from a beautifully paved route to a narrow, muddy foot track, depending on the rain and the departement. However, overall it’s pleasant traffic-free cycling.
In Agen the canal actually crosses the Garonne River on a bridge… and so did we!
We tended to get off the canal for shopping, accommodation and variety. Lovely medieval villages in the area are a perfect excuse.
France is a campers’ paradise with well-equipped 2 and 3-star municipal campgrounds in most villages and towns, where prices range from 6 – 12 € for 2 adults and a tent / night. On the roads every so often there are convenient picnic areas to polish off a few baguettes and delicious cheese!
However, a lot of campgrounds don’t open until mid June and so we were a little pre-season. On the positive note, with campgrounds closed, we were sometimes forced to spend the night in the luxury of a charming château dating back centuries.
Toulouse seemed to be quite the city, but as we were hit by a very wet, cold front and wintery weather, it was miserable enough.
Showers followed us all the way to Bordeaux, but then the sun came out and we really enjoyed this magnificent port city and the surrounding vineyards.
Out of Bordeaux we had a bicycle route tucked in between sand dunes and pine forests that brought us north along the Atlantic coast.
Only in France! Naturist campgrounds and resorts dot the coastline…
but it was just a tad too cold for our liking…
We availed of an unusual bridge just outside Rochefort. This pedestrian and cyclist transbordador dates back to the year 1900 and is one of the few still in operation.
On this stretch we met Gerry (USA) on his lightly packed recumbent bicycle, touring from Bordeaux to Amsterdam. Gerry has bicycle touring down to a fine art. He can concentrate on pedalling and swinging stories while his GPS system dictates his route and turns, thus taking the burden of geography off his mind.
La Rochelle is a lovely place to wander around the old medieval harbour and ramparts.
After a 130km day we were delighted with the wonderful hospitality offered by Josette and André (Darina’s friend Nathalie’s parents) in St. Gilles Croix de Vie. A swim in the pool, followed by an exquisite dinner in great company was just what the doctor ordered.
On Noirmoutier Island we joined the locals on the beach to harvest oysters for a simple but delicious entré. Camping meals on the coast can be quite a treat!
Bike lanes abound… and are pretty well signposted in France. From Noirmoutier Island we had the novelty of cycling to the continent!
For an hour or so either side of low tide it is possible to take a short cut back onto the mainland. The tides didn’t suit us that day… pity we had sent our snorkelling gear home!
Just lower the net and scoop up the fish at high tide…
Crossing the Loire Estuary involved a long climb on a very spectacular 4 km long bridge, bringing us just short of Brittany.
Magnificent old stone houses abound in Brittany, making villages seem like open-air museums.
Another treat worth the detour was the megalithic site on St. Just with standing stones, dolmens and various burial chambers dating back to 4500BC. It is amazing to see stones even older than the great Pyramids of Egypt.
Kurt’s brother, Thomas and sister, Anita and family drove over from Switzerland to meet us in Plancoet.
We had a wonderful 4 days with them exploring the medieval, coastal towns in the area….
We sampled oysters and mussels…
squished barefoot in the tidal flats, collected shells and ate like lords. The persistent rain did little to dampen our spirits and we were delighted with the visit.
The rain continued and so did we… but the beautiful coast of Brittany had lots of treats in store and even a few sunny spells for the odd cheerful Kodak moment.
The pink granite coast of Trégastel was our favourite.
It was in Brittany that we came across 2 pedal-powered oddities. Alain (France) was touring on his recumbent tricycle.
Meanwhile Lutz and Michaela (Germany) were speeding around on their back to back recumbent tandem
Having reached Roscoff we jumped on the ovenight ferry to Cork, Ireland
France remains high on our list of bicycle friendly countries. Distances are short between attractions, and scenery and cuisine varies greatly from region to region. After 17 month of Spanish, it was a novelty to speak French again and we thoroughly enjoyed our month’s stay