Le Grand Tour: Day 40 – Montagnac To Chateauneuf-du-Pape Via Sète (77km + Train + 24km)

CURRENT LOCATION: Camping Art de Vivre, Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Day 39 existed. I didn’t just time-warp myself from day 38 to day 40 but having met up with friends Basil and Liz in Pézenas yesterday lunchtime after having done my pit-stop tasks (washing, post office, podcast editing…) we had a very enjoyable afternoon and early evening of drinking, eating, wandering, drinking, eating and drinking.

So you can perhaps understand why the day, although thoroughly enjoyable didn’t merit a post in the anals of cycling history. I cycled back to the Home Camper place near Montagnac at dusk yesterday evening, finished putting the podcast together and slept well. No, that’s not true. I never sleep well in the tent. Relatively well. That’s perhaps more accurate. 

I’m currently at a campsite near Chateauneuf-du-Pape in an area with limited mobile coverage so again, don’t expect many photos and the video until tomorrow when I rejoin western civilisation somewhere further north along the Via Rhona. (Lyon?)

The Via Rhona… my new mission in life. It’s perhaps the leg of this European odyssey that I have thought the least about. And bearing in mind I didn’t think much about about the other legs in advance of setting off, my level of ignorance is particularly high.

I set off this morning from the Home Camper place with expectations of cycling on a fairly direct route to Montpellier to take the train to Avignon. But when I realised this would inevitably involve cycling along a series of potentially busy D-roads, the pull of the coast was strong and by 9:30am I was back on familiar territory in Sète. 

The Via Rhona as shown on OpenStreetMap has as its start point a roundabout. Not very auspicious so I was happy to find any official sign and take things from there. This I did on a bridge over the canal and set off cycling along what was an increasingly familiar route; I cycled along this section of the Via Rhona / EuroVelo 17 back in 2013 as it is also part of the EuroVelo 8. I had positive memories of doing so and I can’t deny that this played a part in me staying clear of the D-roads. With water on either side of the cycle path, a blue sky and even flamingoes appearing sporadically on the water, the D-roads were never going to get my custom even if it did mean adding perhaps 10km to my cycling day. 

It did, however, add a little time-pressure to the morning’s proceedings. I needed to be in Montpellier for my train by 2pm at the latest, but this was never in doubt. Even with a long-pause to admire some graffiti (see the video) I arrived with plenty of time to spare and for the SNCF in-house shop to extort €2.50 out of me for a bottle of Orangina. 

The train journey itself was monumentally uneventful and I arrived in Avignon at just before 3:30pm. I was delighted to see from my online ticket that the distance was 99km. Up until now I’ve been under-exploiting my 100km maximum distance for the ten trains I’m allowing myself to take (there are four remaining by the way) so to come in at only 1km short was rather satisfying.

Avignon is a familiar place. I’ve visited at least twice before (including on that 2013 cycle when I was accosted my one of the children I was teaching back in Oxfordshire at the time (“Mr Sykes??!! What are you doing in Avignon??!!). No such recognition this time. I was too busy trying to fathom a way across the complicated road system  that separates the city from the Rhône. If ever there there a bit of France desperately in need of pedestrianisation it must surely be that section of multi-lane highway. 

I eventually re-found the Via Rhôna after loosing only minor limbs at the altar of the traffic and then started the left-right, in-out, shake-it-all-about nature of the cycle route that had me changing directions through suburban Avignon more often than a Tory leadership candidate in desperate need of a new Daily Mail headline. It did become rather frustrating. Even the distant appearance of Mont Ventoux (yep, I climbed that back in 2013 too…) didn’t help but, in the last few kilometres, the sudden apparition of the hilltop town of Chateauneuf-du-Pape did. What a sudden and dramatic change of view. Surrounded by vineyards and with Ventoux as a backdrop… Beautiful! 

The campsite is a friendly one for cyclists. I’ve eaten in the snack bar this evening and went for the ‘Assiette de Cyclo’ which tonight consisted of lentils, melon, cheese and a slab of pork smeared in pesto. I think, basically, the chef has worked out that cyclists will eat anything at the end of a long day and he chucks on the plate anything he has hanging around the kitchen that is approaching its use-by date. Ironically one of their two options on the menu was ‘pasta and pesto’. It was very tempting… 

Tomorrow: Montelimar and nougat.


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2 replies »

  1. Oh, you have bypassed Avignon and Arles … but I guess you have seen them more than one time already.

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