CURRENT LOCATION: Au Chat Botté, Pézenas
I’’m glad to have finished the Canal du Midi section of the Canal des Deux Mers cycle route. Now in Pézenas – I’ll explain in a moment – the highlight of yesterday was cycling along the excellent voies vertes that brought me inland from Sète yesterday evening. Cycling at the end of the day is something that doesn’t often happen (the way I tend to organise my days) but the advantages of cycling at that end of the day are similar to those of early morning cycling; quieter roads, cooler temperatures and the ‘golden hour’ sunlight that washes a beautiful soft tint over the landscape. It’s also worth noting (and remembering) that the winds tend to die down in the evening. Mmm… Perhaps I should do night shifts on the bike.
I continued to cycle along the D5 road from where I was staying to rejoin the Canal du Midi at Argeliers. It was curious small town which had me people watching as I ate my croissant and pain au raisin. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the tensions of Manon Des Sources, especially when the rather over-officious municipal police offer remonstrated excessively with an old woman for parking her car in an inconvenient position. “Vous êtes la seule personne dans ce village madame?” were his last words on the subject before she shuffled off to follow his orders. What’s betting his great-grandparents were collaborators…
Back to the cycling. Much to my delight, the section of the canal from Argeliers had been adapted to fit the purposes of cyclists. A decent surface upon which to cycle that continued for a few kilometres. It didn’t last but was welcome whist it was there. After reading my write-up yesterday, some questioned what I had said about the route not being fit for cycling. I don’t think it is on a global level but my issue is not with the authorities: Voies Navigables de France (VNF) – the equivalent to the Canals & Rivers Trust in England – or the département, Aude. My issue is with those organisations which promote it as a cycle route when it isn’t. VNF and Aude make it very clear they don’t want cyclists anywhere near their canal; they must despair when they see another glossy brochure being produced. The Canal Des Deux Mers should really be rebranded as an excellent – first rate even! – cycle route between Royan/Bordeaux and the motorway service station south of Toulouse where Haute Garonne stops and Aude starts. Leave the Canal du Midi to the boats.
The sad reality is that the sections of the canal where cycling is a more pleasurable experience are where trees have had to be removed because of ‘chancre coloré’. This is tree fungus that has resulted in many of the older trees being removed and replaced by saplings. It will be many, many years before these offer any kind of shade approaching that of the older diseased trees but the authorities have improved the surface of the towpath where this replanting has taken place. Take your pick; get shade and a terrible towpath or no shade and a quality surface…
It was a delight to approach Béziers; the Malpas tunnel was, alas, just for boats but anyone could marvel over the splendid the the 9 locks in quick succession that bring the canal down from the hill above Beziers to something approaching sea level. From Béziers, however, concerns about accommodation started to play on my mind. The route from Béziers to the coast was nothing to write home about so instead my mind played out the possible permutations as to where I could stay in the evening. A WarmShowers request for a place in Agde had gone unanswered. Campsites along the coast don’t cater for people with a bike and a tent (and charge a fortune). Hotels? In Sète? I darn’t even look… What I did know was that friends Basil and Liz would be in the town of Pézenas on Wednesday to meet up with me. I looked on Home Camper – which I’d used back in the north of France – and there was a place in nearby Montagnac that fitted my requirements. I would need to cycle another 35km after Sète but needs must and, as mentioned above, that cycle heading north turned out to be the highlight of the day…
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