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The South of France
Two of our Adventure readers recently travelled to the southern parts of France and Portugal for a cycling holiday. Gloria Crowley selftoured through the South of France while Ruth Jillings chose a guided tour through Portugal. Both covered some serious miles and had share with us their journeys.... Our three-week cycling adventure through Southern France began with meticulous planning of the route and accommodation along the way. We were very fortunate the friends we travelled with had already done three previous cycling trips through France so were very happy to organise this trip. A very useful guide is Lonely Planet Cycling France which is invaluable for routes, distances sights and terrain. Our friends took their own bikes but we hired ours from an excellent company in Bordeaux called Bike Hire Direct. They went above and beyond good service and were happy to meet us along the way with a replacement mountain bike as I found the road bike too highly geared. We each had two panniers on our bikes which held enough, as long as you were happy to travel light and wash out your cycling gear each night.
We started cycling up the Atlantic Coast to Arcachon using the cycle ways provided. We continued up the coast through forests and cycle paths with stunning ocean views and a side trip to Dune du Pilates, the largest sand dune in Europe. We caught the ferry at Le Verdon -sur Mer across to Royan where we cycled along the waterfront to Saint Palais sur Mer. Each morning we bought delicious and so cheap baguettes, pâté, cheese salami etc to have a picnic lunch along the way. Shops and supermarkets all close for two hours from noon so we soon learnt to stock up early. From there we headed up the Gironne Estuary stopping at beautiful old towns along the way.
We averaged about 15 km/h and usually cycled between 45 and 60 km per day. We explored the stunning chateau of Biron, where it is rumoured the chateau is haunted by Count Biron on the 31 July, the anniversary of the day he was beheaded. We then headed East to the Dordogne following the Dordogne River stopping at St Cirq for a guided tour through the caves there that feature prehistoric drawings and also a museum containing prehistoric bones, fossils etc. From there it was a welcome threeday respite in the beautiful town of Sarlat. We loved Sarlat so 3 days was great to relax and make merry, give the bikes a rest and our legs. Eating and drinking wine is always a highlight in France so we took full advantage of the opportunities offered!
With continuing great weather we headed further into the Dordogne where every tiny village/town is unbelievably old but each time different. Rides each day were spectacular and always changing. Limestone hillsides are dotted with ex cave habitations and the smaller roads we used were not too hilly. An exception was the road to Rocamadour but so worth the effort when you got there. We spent a few days cycling through the Lot Valley which has to be up there as a top cycle. Flatish (truly!!) and spectacular, following the river and dwarfed on both sides bycsreep limestone cliffs. Had a couple of nights in a Gite across the river from Saint Cirque La Popie...had a win on that one! St Cirque also beautiful but different again.
We had one night in a real chateau...Chateax de Saint Dau. Was fairytale amazing from the outside but, with the exception of the first level living, dining and guest rooms...a crumbling mess of about 30 other rooms over 5 levels. It was cobwebby, filthy and falling apart everywhere. We also accepted the offer of dinner in the 'Grand Dining Room' which was actually excellent, especially with low lighting, huge fire going and a 24 seater dining table! After 4 excellent bottles of champagne and red wine between us, provided by the owner who also acted as the chef it was a place to remember for many reasons. Our journey sadly ended in Cahors where we parted company with our friends who continued cycling for a further six weeks while we took the train back to Bordeaux to return the bikes.
The trip was amazing, cycling was the best way to enjoy the journey and I would recommend it to anyone, even those who are not very fit as E bikes are a very popular option. The French drivers are so considerate to cyclists and we never once felt in any danger from motorists.
TOP: A gite for sale near Biron, our friends were interested! MIDDLE: The picturesque town St Cirq Lapopie BOTTOM L to R: Rail trail at Calviac-en-Perigord Our apartment in Sarlat