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Journeys : Oct Nov 2012
The plane trees were shedding limbs, branches and twigs, making progress both erratic and bumpy, hence the broken spokes. To my surprise, the bike shop proprietor understood me sufficiently, and in 20 minutes I was back on the road, having been charged a pittance for his troubles. This was typical of the reception I found everywhere in France -- friendly people willing to help and to tolerate my mangling of their lovely language. Ten days earlier, I was unpacking my bicycle in Béziers Airport in the South of France, basking in the sunshine that had eluded me for a week in England. I was cycling from the Mediter ranean to the Atlantic following the Canal du Midi to Toulouse, the Garonne Canal to Bordeaux and then up the Atlantic Coast. A borrowed house near La Rochelle was my end destination but there was a range of gastronomic and scenic delights to experience on the way. Along the Canal du Midi, the clay towpath was often narrow and criss-crossed by tree roots, making progress slow. The canal is a 240 kilometre-long World Heritage engineering masterpiece completed in 1681 ,linking the Mediterranean to the Garonne River and thus to the Atlantic Ocean. It has 91 locks and 40 aqueducts, allowing it to cross hills and valleys and even rivers. Today it is a tourist mecca, with boat and bicycle companies offering holidays, so I was not alone crossing the country in tranquillity. The canal links scenic villages and wine chateaux with spectacular tow ns and cities so you can be sure that there will be some lovely canal-side hotel or a medieval B&B waiting for you at the end of the day. On a bicycle you are immersed in the sights, smells and sounds of the countryside and as I had two weeks I was able to dawdle up the canals at whatever pace seemed best. Using the universal free WiFi in French hotels (Australian hotels take note!) I was able to select the next day's accommodation each night, based on my daily progress. Small two-star hotels provide comfortable lodging and excellent food, and they were unfazed when confronted by a tired and dirty cyclist asking for accommodation in appalling French. The Canal du Midi visits the fairytale fortified city of Carcassonne with its faux-medieval souvenir shops, but at night it becomes a wonderland of lovely restaurants frequented by beautiful people in magical surrounds. Castelnaudry is famous for cassoulet, a high-octane melange of beans, pork, sausages and duck -- cycling from Carcassonne allows you to indulge without remorse! The canal ends in Toulouse, but where one canal ends another begins, and from here the Garonne Canal leads to Bordeaux. At Moissac, famed for its 11th century cloistered abbey, the path joins a route to Santiago de Compostela and I weaved past scallop shell-wearing pilgrims. The route wends through legendary vineyards to the city of Bordeaux where I took a rest day but I was unprepared for this amazing city. The World Heritage-listed centre of Bordeau x has been 'pedestrianised' and is serviced by the world's shiniest trams. Everywhere were imposing vistas and improbably beautiful buildings. In the evenings happy people strolled the boulevards and sat at cafes, enjoying exceptional food. In July the Bordeaux Wine Festival begin s and the entire waterfront is given over to an orgy of food and drink -- I just missed it. Travelling with a bicycle in Europe is relatively painless. Budget airlines will carry bikes -- for a fee, often greater than the ticket price! Most trains carry bicycles, though TGVs and the Eurostar have particular rules. Regulations are on the appropriate websites. June weather is usually ideal -- July and August are hotter and more crowded. French canals can, obviously, be tackled by boat and there are boat and bike operations. You could drive through this area as well, but then you wouldn't earn a guilt-free cassoulet that way, would you? Vietnam, USA or France? We can take you there! RACT Travelworld consultants are experts in organising holidays in all the world's best destinations. Wherever you have in mind -- Hoi An, Las Vegas or Bordeaux -- we can take you there. Call us on 1300 368 111 or visit your local branch. From Bordeaux, cycle paths threaded through endless pine forests to the sand dunes of the Atlantic. Three days, a fer ry ride and two frighteningly-large bridges later and I was in Rochefort, celebrating the last night of my ride with a beer and a bucket of moules et frites. I had travelled 750 kilometres through a beautiful region, had indulged in some fantastic food and wine -- and all without a single puncture! Opposite: Canal du Midi. This page, clockwise from top left: Cassoulet; Monument des Girondins fountain, Bordeaux; the medieval fortress of Carcassonne; end of the journey October / November 2012 17 Destinations
Aug Sep 2012
Dec 2012 Jan 2013