I’ve just heard on the radio that the Prime Minister back in Britain wants a ‘cycling revolution’. Well, good luck with that but its a shame he wasn’t cycling with me yesterday as I made my way along the coast from La Grande-Motte towards Béziers. Some excellent examples of what what quality segregated cycling paths can be like.
Cycling day 34 started in Nîmes on a quiet Sunday morning. And what a beautiful city it is, especially when you feel as though you have the place to yourself as I did at 8:30am. Breakfast was in a café immediately opposite the Roman arena where the blood and guts of gladiatorial competition has been replaced with… the blood and guts of a defenceless bull. Let’s not get into the bullfighting debate. Here in Béziers they are just as keen as the residents of Nîmes when it comes to glorifying the death of the animals; if I were to stay for a further couple of days I would even be able to take part in the annual blood fest that is the Feria Béziers. I’m happy I’m not. But back to Nïmes. I cycled around (trying my best to avoid the broken glass left by the Saturday night crowds) snapping a few photographs; the place must have looked its best without the hoards of people and the sun low in the sky. Judge for yourself in the pictures posted below.
The wind hadn’t completely disappeared from the previous day but at least it seemed to be helping rather than hindering me. Indeed the first stretch of cycling from Nîmes along the road to Lumel and then south to the coast at La Grande-Motte must have been done in a record (for this trip) average speed. At one point I tried and succeeded in pushing Reggie over the 40km/hr but this was on a flat road not downhill. Obviously I couldn’t sustain that kind of speed but the average for the first couple of hours of cycling must have been approaching 25km/hr.
The most striking thing about La Grande-Motte was its architectural style. Most buildings, even the ones built in the last few years looked although they had at least been designed in the 1960s or 1970s. Lots of curves and bright colours against the predominantly white-washed walls of the holiday apartment blocks. I paused for a cold drink in a drab café near the marina. It was an interesting place through which to cycle but not one in which I would have liked to spend more than half an hour so off I cycled again in the direction of Carnon-Plage and Palavas, the two towns that the residents of Montpellier must consider as their beaches. I tried to cycle as close as I could to the sea and the 8km from La Grande-Motte to Carnon-Plage was a pleasant ride along what felt like one long residential street. On both sides were more holiday flats but also a good number of holiday villas, some you might even describe as luxurious (and many more in the the process of being built that certainly were described as luxurious by the hoardings advertising them). The architecture was still very mid to late 20th century and from time to time I wondered what the area would have been like prior to the post-war tourism boom.
Well, I was about to find out. After Palavas finished, the cars of the holidaymakers were funnelled back towards Montpellier by the D986. But I wasn’t. For the first time on this trip I had consulted Google Maps cycling option earlier in the day to see where it would send a cyclist wanting to travel from Nîmes to Béziers. I posted a screen shot of the route it proposed to Twitter and many people responded by pointing out that I would need some kind of flotation device to cross the water. Well, on this one Google Maps had it right. From Palavas to Sète I was able to follow a track that was initially just a rough track along the long, thin piece of land that protected the coastal étangs from the sea. It was such a contrast from the built up seaside towns I had just travelled through; just me and a few other cyclists making our isolated ways along the coast. At Frotignan the path became a formal cycle path that took me all the way to Sète where I paused for lunch and then towards Agde another cycle path some way from the road itself led me on a beautiful coastal ride. I was a very happy cyclist indeed as I approached Agde; for the first time in my long trip from southern Greece I had been able to continue the majority of my journey on one particular day away from the noise, pollution and occasional danger of the traffic on the roads. Wonderful! So if you are reading this Mr Prime Minister, get yourself down to Languedoc-Rousillon and have a look at what has been done in terms of cycling infrastructure. You will be impressed and will benefit from a great cycling experience to book.
As I was cycling along the rough track from La Grande-Motte, I struck up conversation with a couple of men on bikes. I had already overtaken their wives who were about 20m behind them. I tossed them a merry ‘bonjour’ and they responded. One of them, seeing the luggage on the bike (and the solar panels which continue to attract more interest than anything else; even if they are not wonderful at generating power, they are great at generating conversations with strangers) asked where I was going. I have learnt over the last few weeks that the best answer to this is not to say ‘Béziers’ (or whatever destination I’m aiming for at the end of the day) but to say ‘Portugal’ as this usually comes as a little bit more of a surprise to the person I’m speaking to… and conversation ensues. It certainly did with these two guys and we ended up having quite a long chat about the cycle route we were cycling upon and my trip from Greece. In passing they mentioned the Canal du Midi.
The Canal du Midi is a 250km long body of water that links Toulouse with the sea at Sète. It was in fact the baby of a chap called Pierre-Paul Riquet, one of Béziers’ most acclaimed sons (see statue in previous post). The canal has now become a very popular tourist attraction as people can travel through some beautiful countryside stopping off in places such as Carcassonne to explore and admire some of the local culture and history. As soon as the canal got a mention in our chat, my ears pricked up. Would it be possible to follow it as I made my way inland from Béziers?
I looked at the Google Maps cycle track that had been proposed and yes, the suggested route was indeed to follow the Canal du Midi. Two-thirds of my cycle from Nîmes had already been on traffic-free cycle paths. Could the last part of the day from the coast to Béziers also be equally tranquil? My hopes were high as I located and started to follow the canal. But…
Unfortunately the authorities who manage the Canal du Midi have yet to team up with the authorities who manage the wonderful coastal cycle paths. The ground along the canal was very unsuitable for cycling anything but the most mountainous of mountain bikes. I persevered for a couple of kilometres but eventually gave up choosing to return to the relatively busy main road. A bit of a anticlimax after such wonderful cycling experiences during the earlier parts of the day but I can hope that at some point in the future and cycle path will one day link La Grande-Motte to Toulouse. That would indeed be a cycling revolution.