Day 17 – St Vincent les Forts to Digne les Bains
Not a big day for miles but I had to ride three Cols today, so at 76 + kms and over 30 degree heat, headwinds too, I figured that I’d done enough – at least my body told me so. The 8 km that I knew I had first thing this morning, turned into 10 kms to the Col St Jean at 1333 metres. There was camping there too – so I should have kept climbing the Col yesterday instead of going downhill to the other campsite! I would have saved myself about 6 kms of climb today that way, but I wasn’t to know, and a bird in the hand…..
Nice Sunday market going on in St Jean Montclar at the Col and I managed to get some food there too. Saw a camel there, “what,” you say??? I discovered after seeing the animal that there had been a circus visiting the village, but it was still weird to see a camel grazing on the village green!
Back to the ride – all on D900 apart from about 3 kms from the campground – D7 I think? After that first Col, I went downhill again only to start another climb up to the Col de Maure at 1346 metres. Down again and up to the Col du Labouret at 1240 metres – so yes, I deserve to be tired. The whole route today is part of the TDF route as was yesterday through Embrun. Digne les Bains was the end of one the stages on this year’s TDF.
Lots of mountain villages today including Seyne, which had a citadel perched way above the village proper. Good views from the saddle again and I’m in the Alpes Haute de Provence area – very hard to determine regions here as signs are not very clear and the maps don’t really outline the regions as ours do back home. I guess the easiest way I figure it, is that I’m the Alpy region of Provence – whatever, it’s still very nice! I was talking to a French cyclist yesterday and told him my plan of allowing 8 days from Carcassonne (a medieval city that sounds very interesting for a visit) back to Paris and he told me to figure at least 10 days – yikes, I’ve only got less than a week here in the south then, before I have to turn around – hard to believe. Anyway, I’ll be checking the maps tonight to see which way I have to go in the morning – either I miss touching the Mediterranean and head inland or???
Nice campground last night, I looked down and watched the antics on the lake – water skiing etc. – and if I looked up I was watching some paragliders jumping off the cliff tops – neat stuff!
Adam K. & (I wish I knew where we were going) Basil.
Day 18 – Digne les Bains to Aix en Provence
What a difference kind roads make – I covered 115 kms in about the same time that it would have taken half that distance in the mountains. That’s not to say that the roads were all flat, but the climbs were much shorter and faster than riding the steep cols.
From Digne les Bains, I took the N85 west, then the D4 south to the D4096, D996, D(N)96 just about all the way in to town. My map showed some roads as D roads, but in actual fact they may have been upgraded to N roads – “Route Nationale” – even so, the number seems to remain the same. Quite a dramatic change in scenery too – from seeing mountain sides close by, to now having vistas a long way distant. And into fruit growing agriculture and even olive groves. This part of Provence reminded me of the Okanagan in BC in some ways -minus the old villages perched on the hillsides here. All a very pleasant change from the steep hills and mountain fauna.
I decided to head west to Aix en Provence, as that will still leave me time to sightsee and at least see the Mediterranean for a couple of days – albeit not in the well known venues of Cannes, Nice and St Tropez. I’m here in this city for a couple of nights – another well deserved rest day tomorrow with a zillion things planned. At least half a dozen museums and plenty of other sights in this very historic city that was the home of Paul Cezanne the famous French artist. Not only sightseeing day though, but a good chance to catch up on some other necessary duties – laundry for one (boy, all of my gear smells the same – bad!).
Unfortunately, the hostel in town had no room for me here (or maybe my smelly gear really did a job on them!), so I had to find a hotel. In a touristy town like this, even a two star hotel is quite pricey – but what the heck, I need a break from camping anyway. Had to buy a new pair of reading glasses today too – there was a little fly in the tent a couple of nights ago and that bloody Basil decided to swat it when it was on the side of my head – whack! – there went the arm of the glasses! Clumsy bugger!
Yes the ride was very nice today, and even though I love the mountains, the change in tempo was much appreciated by the body and I was still riding through some very pretty country – I can certainly see why people fall in love with Provence.
More Frenchy dislikes… very much like Poland, there is dog shit all over the city and town streets. You really notice it in larger towns and cities, at first you think that everyone is avoiding eye contact, but it’s a case of eyes down, watch for the shit! I can’t believe that in a country as forward thinking and civilised as France, that they don’t have a “poop and scoop” bylaw in the towns and cities – hard to understand!
I was pretty lucky today – just as I arrived in town the thunder and rain started, so another good reason for a rest day and no camping. Those stormy nights in a tent are quite the experience – especially that one I had up one of the mountains. Well, I’m off to bed – I’ve got a lot of sightseeing to do tomorrow. I’m about 30 kms north of Marseille – if I have time, I might just catch a train there for a bowl of the real Bouillabaisse!
More in a couple of days,
Adam K. & (I didn’t break his glasses – guess who did?) Basil.
Day 19 – Rest Day in Aix en Provence
The day off was great – didn’t manage a trip to Marseilles, just too much other stuff to do and explore in the historic city of Aix en Provence. museums, the old town, food, drink – laundry, haircut etc., etc. And I did find some Bouillabaisse – scrumptious!
Day 20 – Aix en Provence to Arles
After my day off, I was all refreshed for today’s ride and a great ride it was too – kind roads and great scenery through this part of Provence where old wineries and olive groves abound. The only bad part of the ride were the strong headwinds. At one point I passed a wind farm – so go figure, they don’t set up those turbines in calm areas! Hence, 96 kms of mostly headwinds was enough for today. I did get to see the Med today though – albeit a very large bay of the ocean, “Etang de Berre.” And it was really nice to spend some time riding alongside the waterfront – I hope for more of that tomorrow – minus the headwinds!
The roads today were as I said, very kind and had a nice smooth shoulder even though the roads weren’t that busy – funny how that works isn’t it?
It was the D10 all the way out of the city to the D5 and then some minor roads to the D453 into Arles. Stopped for a nice lunch in St Martin de Crau – “Plat du Jour” is often the best deal of day at restaurants, as it includes a small salad, full meal, dessert or cheese and maybe a 1/4 litre of wine – today that was €8 – not bad at all!
I tried to book the hostel here, but their phone wouldn’t answer on the multiple tries that I made and they didn’t open until 5:00 p.m. either, so I did some sightseeing while I waited.
Arles is a splendid town that came into being in Roman times. And even though the middle ages brought some destruction to the town, there is some wonderful architecture here, some of which is UNESCO designated. By far the most spectacular building here is the huge Roman amphitheatre – it was built to hold 20,000 spectators – it is in amazingly good condition and is presently under restoration. There are many other fine examples of Roman and Medieval architecture here too, and suffice to say that they are all a treat to the eyes.
Back to the hostel… Opens up at five; quite a bunch of people waiting, I’m first and the others are mostly Dutch and German – young guy behind the desk, speaks pretty well only French. So I do my bit to the desk clerk, and the Dutch people are impressed – they speak English, but no French, so they ask me what certain words mean – like “compris” – which means that something is included. So I apologise for my bad French as usual, but they say that I am doing very well. So I get a bed, there are other beds in the room, which is normal for many hostels, but the door lock doesn’t work – back downstairs to complain – young fellow tells me not to worry, everything is safe – not! Then I ask where to put my bike and gear – he tells me to wheel it round the back of place – which is accessible from the street via an unlocked gate. But there is a large gated lock- up around back, with one bike hanging there and some other junk. I go back to ask him to unlock the gated area and he tells me that everyone just leaves their bike outside – not! I asked him to unlock the advertised bike storage and he refused, so I got my money back off him, dumped the clean sheets he had given me onto his desk and buggered off. I might add that this is the first time that I have ever had this kind of problem in a hostel – I will be writing my displeasure to the Association after I return. Absolutely crazy to have a bike lock-up area and not let people use it!
Anyway I rode to a very close by campground, of course it’s getting late by now and they were full – “Oh shit” I thought, now I’ve done it. Luckily, there was another campground about one km away, so I snagged a spot there – phew! I would have hated to go back to the hostel with my tail between my legs!
Adam K. & (What does “stick your hostel up your derriere” mean?) Basil.
Day 21 – Arles to Sete
What a great day of riding and map reading – I don’t know how I’d be managing without buying the large scale (orange) Michelin maps as I travel around. Today would have been very difficult without them.
Starting out from Arles on the D570 was easy enough, especially as there was a nice signed bike path to take me across the Grande Rhone river and to keep me off the high speed motorway. From the D570, I continued on to the D38 & D58 – all these roads are through the fertile marshlands and delta of the Rhone. Evidence of fertility are huge expanses of vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees – lots of sales stands selling the local wares too – I just wish I could take some samples home! From the marshes I entered the town of Aigues-Mortes – what a zoo – the old town is completely enclosed by a castellated wall and towers – just fabulous to see, as it is all in very good condition, unlike many of the ruins that I have seen previously. I got lost in the mass of tourists and quagmire of streets inside the walls though – after a little while, I figured out how to escape and skedaddled out of there!
From there I took the D979 to the beaches of of Le Grau-du-Roi and La Grande-Motte – bigger zoo! Luckily, today was a bit cooler and cloudy most of the day, so the beach roads were passable – on a hot day, I can imagine it must be just a mess along that stretch of the D62 & D59 – miles and miles of sandy beaches, tourists, vehicles – mayhem! But not as bad as the actual town of La Grande Motte – people there were double parked and it was absolute bedlam – so much for a quiet ride along the coast – fun anyway (for a one time experience), at least on the bike I could manoeuvre better than the cars.
I carried on to Carnon-Plage and Palavas along the dune road and then made for the D185 and some other smaller D roads to get me to the port town of Sete – more of a city than a town though, as it is quite large and extremely busy. Right now, I’m waiting for the hostel to open – it is situated at Mount St Clair – which should tell you that it’s up one great big bloody hill!
The last bit of the hill was about 30% grade and I had to push the bloody bike up that bit! I’m staying here for sure – hopefully they have my reservation – as I can see a few places to store the bike safely already. And after 117 kms today, I don’t feel like exploring for another place anyway.
At least the headwinds weren’t as bad today, and the roads in this delta and beachfront were all pretty flat – until Sete that is. Yes marshlands, just like where I camped last night – well marshlands means mozzies, and sure enough they got a donation from me last evening – as soon as the sun went down, there they were – that’s the first time I’ve been bothered by them to any extent during this trip thankfully.
As I mentioned it is much cooler today – I think being by the ocean feels cooler anyway, but with the cloud cover today, it made for very pleasant riding – I even saw some rain in the distant hills and felt a few raindrops periodically. Tomorrow, the plan is not to ride as far and try and enjoy some more of the coast for a final day. Hopefully the rain stays away as I plan to camp near the beach.
Well, the hostel’s opening soon, so I’ve got to store the bike and gear, have a shower and then hit the town for some fresh seafood – I saw lots of fish boats in the harbour as I rode in and I’m starving!
Adam K. & (That was a really steep hill at the end – even I had to get off and push!) Basil.
Day 22 – Sete to Beziers
Not a big day for miles, but it was extremely hard work attaining them…
It’s been blowing about 50 kms/hr from the southwest and directly into my face from the start of the ride today – together with some fairly heavy rain first thing in the morning; it was a struggle just keeping up momentum. Just about all of the area I had to negotiate was wide open space – nowhere to run, nowhere to hide as they say! The rain mercifully abated after about the first hour of this muscle-fest and I only had to show brute determination to complete the hard gained 50 kms! It’s too bad too as the the first 20 kms were along a spectacular spit – all beach – that runs all way from Sete to Agde. There was no one on the beach, but hundreds of motorhomes parked alongside the strip, with the occupants huddling inside, drinking their “café” and watching, through their windows, some madman worming his way on a bicycle into the windstorm.
It was going to be a camp night on the beach at Valras Plage today, but the weather nixed that idea and besides all the beach-side campsites that I have passed have been extremely crowded – tents are just about piled on top of one another. So I made the decision to head inland a little to just south of Beziers where there was a campground listed on my map. I stopped for some supplies about 2 kms from the campground and after shopping, noticed a convenient restaurant that looked quite busy – “must be a good deal,” I thought. It was a Chinese buffet place – let me in! They didn’t make too much profit from me – I filled my plate quite a few times and left feeling quite satiated.
I arrived at the campground and the first question from the manager was to ask if I had a reservation – oh, oh, I thought. “No,” I replied and he said he was full – bummer! So I begged and snivelled and he said if I didn’t mind camping behind the swimming pool, he could fit me in there – yeah right, so that was a real hardship being parked next to the pool watching all the ladies sunbathing!
Yes, by this time the skies had cleared and it was sunbathing weather, but that ugly wind was still around. The campsite is very nice and the most expensive that I have had up to now – reason being is that I had to pay for two people as they charge per person and obviously could have rented my spot to a couple or other group. Anyway, it’s got a bar and it’s next to the Canal du Midi, so I can have a cold one and watch the boats and barges going by.
I hope that this wind dies down – I’ve got about 90 kms to do tomorrow to get to my reserved hostel in Carcassonne – it might be a long hard day! I asked at the campground if it was always this windy here, I got the “of course not!” answer – but I’ve been fighting winds for the three days that I’ve been on the coast.
I keep writing these emails, but haven’t had WiFi for three days now, but I should have a better chance of sending once I reach Carcassonne. The McDonald’s in this part of France don’t have the free WiFi deal – so I only stop there for toilets and ice creams now – not necessarily in that order! There’s really not that many though, and usually not on my route. At least I got another fresh Bouillabaisse last night – but what a very expensive rip-off especially in a fishing town – the old wallet went “ouch!”
Adam K. & (Bloody wind!) Basil.