Gone Bike About

May 7 – June 22, 2007

 

Cerbere (Spanish border) – Perpignan – Carcasonne – Toulouse – Bordeaux – La Rochelle – Plancoet – Roscoff (Ferry to Ireland)
  
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!



French Pyrennes

  


Beach terraces



Vineyard terraces

  


Perpignan
Perpignan
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.



Galamus Gorge

  


Carcasonne
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. 
  



Carcasonne

  
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.



Canal du Midi

  


Canal over the Garonne
In Agen the canal actually crosses
the Garonne River on a bridge… and so did we!
  



Pigeon houses abound

  
We tended to get off the canal for
shopping, accommodation and variety. Lovely medieval villages in the
area are a perfect excuse.



Medieval village

  


Picnic area ahead
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.



Château Balous

  


Toulouse
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.



Bordeaux

  



Bordeaux

  


Pine forest trail
Out of Bordeaux we had a bicycle
route tucked in between sand dunes and pine forests that brought us
north along the Atlantic coast.
 



Along the dunes

 
Only in France! Naturist campgrounds and resorts dot the coastline…
but it was just a tad too cold for our liking…



Naturist campground

  


Unusual river crossing
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.



Gerry and Kurt

  


La Rochelle
La Rochelle
is a lovely place to wander around the old medieval harbour and
ramparts.
  



Fancy some snails?

  
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.



Josette and André

  


Sunday lunch at the campground
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!
  



Typical house on Noirmoutier Island

  
Bike lanes abound… and are pretty well
signposted in France. From Noirmoutier Island we had the novelty of
cycling to the continent!



Noirmoutier Island

  


Another 12-hour wait
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.



St Nazaire bridge

  


Beautiful stone houses
Magnificent old stone houses abound
in Brittany, making villages seem like open-air museums.
  


Brittany is not without its climbs
  
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.



Burial chamber, St. Just



Standing stones, St. Just



Burial ground, St. Just

  


Anita, Martina, Kurt, Thomas, Dominick & Markus
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.



Dinan

  


Harvesting on the beach
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.



Martina at Mt. Saint Michel

  


Fort de la Latte
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.
  


Even the postman is on the bike



Could be Ireland

  
The pink granite coast of Trégastel
was our favourite.



The pink granite coast

  


Tréguier



Thatched house

  


Alain
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.



Lutz and Michaela

  



Hydrangea country

  


10-storey ferry
Having reached Roscoff we
jumped on the overnight 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 months of Spanish, it was a novelty to speak
French again and we thoroughly enjoyed our month’s stay.



French flag