Mike and I have now spent six weeks along the Mediterranean with the last two at a campground in Agde. During this time we have cycled about 400 km (250 mi) and we have never walked along a sandy beach. We look and admire the beach and the gorgeous views and yet we stay on the boardwalk with all the cafés and places to ride. I look at people swimming and think that we should join them. We never do. We are just strange!
Our original intention was to continue east along the Mediterranean. We have decided to save that for later in the year and instead we are heading north towards the Loire Valley which we haven’t seen in 30 years. We are thinking about wintering our camper in southern France at the end of this year or somewhere that would let us get back to southern France in early spring next year.
The bad news is that, as I write this, Mike is driving us to an area that is predicted to be over 35° C or almost 100° F for the next week. The campsite that we are going to has very low power electrical output (6 amps equivalent to 12 amps in Canada). If it won’t run our air conditioner we will be leaving tomorrow or the next day. We have two air conditioners but even in the good campgrounds we can only run one of them at a time which isn’t enough to cool the camper in this weather.
Over the last week we ended our Mediterranean cycling route for now in Montpelier but we didn’t get to visit the town. We had planned to come back with the car and then changed our plans. When we return we will start there and tour the town properly. In addition to cycling along the Mediterranean we did some driving up in the hills and around some of the old Medieval villages.
If you have read my previous blog entries, you probably know by now that France has designated over 100 villages as Les Plus Beaux Villages or the most beautiful villages in France. One of them, Olargues, was about an hour north of our campsite up in the mountains. We drove there for lunch and then cycled up and down and around some of the other villages. France had converted an abandoned railway line into a cycling path which we got to use for part of the way. That is a great thing to do for cyclists.
If you look at the picture above, you can see some closed umbrellas on a deck. That was the restaurant in Olargues that we ate in. The couple owning it was from Britain and they only opened back up two weeks ago after being shut down for two years due to covid. We sat and talked with them for quite a while One of the things they told us was that four times in the seven years they have owned the restaurant the small river you can see had flooded badly. The restaurant is two stories high. The bottom level, with the umbrellas, is more than two stories above the river. We were on the level of the small balcony above the deck. Earlier this year the river flooded and completely covered their lower level and came within a foot of the balcony we were on. This meant that it rose more than three stories in height. At this time the restaurant had been closed for two years and they still had to work to fix it up. They had just finished replacing all the railing around the lower level when we arrived. How awful. They told us that owning and operating the restaurant had been their idea of semi retirement. Were they ever wrong.
Here is another town, Mons, in the mountains that we cycled to. I know that it is counter intuitive but one of the coolest things for us to do in the hot weather is cycle. At 20 km / hr we generate our own breeze and it feels great. It is only when we stop that we realize how hot and sweaty we actually are.
We did revisit Beziers, from our “Awful Day” article, and completed the ride that we started out on a week earlier. If you look closely at the picture below you will see that there are multiple locks in a row. There used to be nine locks but two were decommissioned and there are still seven locks, one right after another. During the summer you will see hundreds of people lining the side of the locks to watch the boats go up and down the water staircase. It has turned into quite the tourist attraction for Beziers. There are no holding bays between the locks so boats have to traverse all seven locks before anyone can start going the other way. This takes about 30 – 45 minutes. I would assume that in high season there will be long queues just waiting to get into the locks.
For the boaters reading this you can take a virtual tour of the locks here.
Mike thinks that we are picking up the French language, I think he is nuts. I will admit that I recognize the word “écluse”. It means “lock” as in boating locks and we see it often cycling along the canal. Every so often Mike gets frustrated when the servers in the restaurants don’t understand him and he swears he sounds just like they do. We test this by having him say the same words to Google Translate. Most of the time Google can’t understand him either. At least he probably tries more than I do.
It is surprising how many carousels that you see throughout France. You often see them on the waterfront. You also see them in malls, in squares in the middle of town, almost anywhere. They are usually on their own and not in a fair or anything like that. Not as common but you also now see large ferris wheels going up in cities around the world. Millenium wheels or The Eye are common names for them.
Mike and I have been cycling along a route known as the Canal des Deux-Mers, a route that stretches from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The major canal you cycle along is the Canal du Midi which enters the Mediterranean in the town of Sète. Below is a picture of the canal going right through the centre of Sète which I found quite interesting. Mike and I talked about getting our inflatable boat out for the first time in a few years but it didn’t happen. I’m engaging in positive thinking and believe that we will use it a few times this year.
One day we rode to the waterfront and I ordered a cappuccino. I got a drink with much more whipped cream than coffee. At the end, after I stirred the drink, I was eating coffee flavoured whipped cream with a spoon. At a different restaurant I ordered a cappuccino and got this tall COLD drink that you can see here. I tell you, France just doesn’t understand how to make a cappuccino.
On the waterfront in Agde you can rent a jetski. 20 minutes will cost you 60€ or $80 Cdn. We saw a group of jetskis following a leader in a line so we don’t even know if that price buys you any freedom. You can also pay an additional 30€ ($40 Cdn) for a drone to take a 3 minute video of you. The drone operator must be doing well.
The other day I was looking at the map of our long distance cycling in Central Europe. We were pleased with ourselves cycling from the Mediterranean, through parts of Italy, Slovenia and Croatia, then up around Austria to various capital cities along the Danube and finally through Czechia all the way to Prague. We thought that after going through all those countries meant that cycling around France would be a breeze – right. Wrong! I didn’t realize that our cycling track that took three years to create, covered an area similar to the size of France. Since we don’t have three years to spend in France we aren’t going to do a single line around and through the country like we wanted. We have now ridden from Bordeaux near the Atlantic to Montpellier along the Mediterranean. We will extend this route later this year or early next year. For now we will start another long distance track along the Loire Valley and possibly up north into Brittany and Normandy. On our various visits to France we have never spent any time in the north of France and are looking forward to it.
As we left the campsite this morning many of the campers came out to watch. Some of them knew ahead of time that we had a couple of extremely tight turns. We were applauded as Mike made it through the campground. Luckily the bushes and small trees that I was afraid we were crushing sprang back when we moved on. Mike always tells the people that think our camper is too big to drive in Europe that the problem is really only the last few turns: the final road to the campground, entering the campground and getting to our camping spot. I just had a look at the side of our camper and I think some of those bushes were too close. Mike thinks that the “scratches” will wash away, I am not so sure. Oh well, the camper is definitely not pristine new anymore but it has been roughly used for nine years. Labrador, in Canada, might have been the roughest 😊
When Mike paid for the last two weeks at the campground they gave him a bottle of wine. We aren’t sure why but we happily accepted it.
We just drove over a pretty fantastic bridge. Mike insisted that I take pictures of it while we were driving. He is extremely impressed and said that it had to be mentioned in this article. Luckily Google works even when travelling on very high bridges in the mountains. Here is what I found out. It is called the Millau Viaduct and soars over the Tarn Valley. I will admit that the views from the bridge were outstanding. The bridge is both the highest multi-span bridge and the longest suspended bridge in the world. It is 900 feet above the valley floor Aviators will recognize this as just about circuit height. It is considered a major engineering wonder and worth a visit. The motorway that we were driving on might not be a toll highway but there was a toll to cross the bridge which cost us 40€ or $54 Cdn. It isn’t like you have a choice, given that the major highway runs over the bridge. The views on the drive were pretty spectacular. The highway climbed to over 1,100 metres, almost 4,000 feet. Heaven knows how much fuel we used on the various climbs. The internet says that this is not a route for cars towing heavy caravans due to several long and steep climbs and descents. I am glad that we had left the highway before I read that.
I am not looking forward to the heat for the next while. I will let you know if I melt or not. Mike says that it bothers me much more than him and he is correct.