Le Grand Tour: Day 37 – Alzonne To Pouzols-Minervois (71km)

CURRENT LOCATION: Camping Les Auberges, Pouzols-Minervois

I’m on one bar of 3G tonight so getting anything uploaded aside from some good old text is very doubtful. No, more than doubtful; it won’t happen as I’m not even going to try. I’ll update this post tomorrow morning with the pictures and the video (which is ready to go!) and for anyone thinking of cycling the Canal du Midi, it really is a video you need to watch… 

I’m in the back of beyond in the Aude département (more of them in a moment) in a village that has been cut off from human existence. Well, on a Monday at least. After arriving at Camping Les Auberges earlier, I set up the tent in the sand pit (it’s a good job the Hubba Hubba is free-standing as no pegs were used because they couldn’t be used) and headed off into the village centre in the hope of finding at least a bar that was open. No luck. One of the houses had the sign ‘Pas de Pub’ above its letterbox. Pas de pub? Pas de bar non plus! Now back at the campsite I shall regale you will the story of my day. Fans of The Canal du Midi look away now… 

Yesterday evening at the campsite in Alzonne I chatted briefly to a French cyclist. We were both following the Canal du Midi and both heading in the direction of Sète. He too was having issues with accommodation. Whereas along the Nantes-Brest Canal and the Canal de la Garonne there were campsites practically accosting you on the towpath and demanding that you enter, that’s no longer the case on the Canal du Midi. Here you need to work for your cheap accommodation. There are a handful of sites marked on the official map that are close to the canal but few that nestle beside it. The Canal du Midi does, however, meander to a much greater extent so you can veer off on one direction and rejoin the canal a little further south when the meander meanders back in your direction. Back to the French cyclist at the campsite. He had identified a campsite at Pouzols-Minervois and that’s where I am tonight. He isn’t. Perhaps he had better ideas during the day. But the campsite here is in the middle of a big meander between Homps and Argeliers so by staying here, although I’ve moved away from the canal, I’m actually cutting down the kilometres. 

It’s almost as if the wider Canal du Midi community doesn’t actually want cyclists to cycle along it… The absence of nearby campsites is one thing (and in fairness, not an easy one to rectify in the short term) but what about the lack of signage? Or the lock keepers’ cottages which haven’t been turned into snack bars (which is the majority) that have signs up saying they don’t have water available, or the quality of the towpath… Let’s cut to the fundamental question: why is the Canal du Midi even advertised as a mainstream cycle route. It isn’t! 

If you have a rugged cycle touring bicycle with big fat Schwalbe tyres, you’re fine. And because that’s what I’m cycling, I’m fine. But poor Reggie (rest his soul… he’s back in the cellar in Yorkshire, rusting) would have found this route a real challenge. Anyone hurtling down that greenway south of Toulouse on their ‘ordinary’ bike with modestly wide tyres would now be in therapy. A road bike? Don’t even bother. This is rough stuff. And it changed – as pointed out yesterday – the moment I cycled into the département of Aude. They do not have people cycling along their famous canal as a priority. 

In yesterday’s post I mentioned the chat with the ex school teacher running the snack bar while his wife threw pots (as a potter, not at him). I agreed with him – and I still do – that part of the charm of the Canal du Midi is its rustic character. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore the cyclists altogether yet that is exactly what the département of Aude is doing. 

Let me make it abundantly clear: the Canal du Midi is not a mainstream cycling route. I’m not angry that I’m currently cycling it; I’m simply annoyed that people out there have dreams of doing so only to find that once the get off the Ryan Air plane and start pedalling, it’s much more than they expected. You have been warned…

Rant over, another good day of travelling. Carcassonne was packed with tourists (of which I’m one) but with so many lanes to wander it’s so much easier to explore the walled city than it is to try and get to the summit of Mont-Saint-Michel. Did you know that more people have reached the summit of Everest in 2022 than have managed to fight the crowds to get to the abbey at the top of the mount? 100% true… 

I took a relaxed attitude to following the Canal du Midi route (for obvious reasons). I did so for much of the time between Trèbes and Homps but at the start and end of the day my route was a little more Google-based. 

Tomorrow I will rejoin the canal in Argeliers to at least Béziers. It’s at that point that I start cycling – in reverse – the route that I followed in 2013 along the Mediterranean coast. I’m meeting friends Basil and Liz on Wednesday – they are staying on Pézenas – and my current thinking is to head in that direction rather than follow the canal. Ironically after Béziers the route does become more cycle-friendly… My plans, as ever, may change…


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4 replies »

  1. Glad you made it to a campground in spite of the bad state of the cycle route! That route is promoted a lot here in France in all the official publications about cycling, so I hope the Aude gets its act together and fixes up the route soon. To be fair, here in the Loire Valley where I live, the Loire à Vélo route, apparently the most-used cycling route in the country, has some very rough sections (and of course maps of the route don’t show this). As for the éclusiers’ houses having signs they don’t have water, could this be because of the water shortage? We’re rationing water here in the Loire Valley right now and it’s much drier in the Aude. Hope you have a better day tomorrow and I’m looking forward to the video.

    • No, it’s not the drought. These are permanent signs next to the ones saying ‘no toilet’. The Voies Navigables de France would clearly prefer to not have the cyclists around…

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