I’m writing this on 27 June, from a small town South West of Bordeaux called Biganos, near Arcachon, where I’m having a day off cycling; although that’s not strictly true as I pedalled about 40km to get here this morning, but have had a siesta since then. It’s cooler today, and I’m lounging next to a swimming pool which is most pleasant. In fact, I think I’ll go for a quick dip before starting to write this, but in the meantime here are my routes and stats for the 25th and 26th.
–> 25 June
I covered 94km today, in 5hrs and 20 mins of riding, mostly through more vineyards; not unpleasant but it does give one a bit of a thirst. I awoke slightly disoriented as I’d slept the wrong way round in my tent, due to a gradient, however once that was all sorted out I was on the road by 09.30, bidding ‘au revoir’ to my friendly hosts and riding on to Chateauneuf-sur-Charente.
It was already hot by 10.00, and only got warmer as I cycled up and down hills on my way to Archaic, then on to Jonzac. One thing about this part of the world, aside from all the vineyards, is that a lot of the towns and villages are built on hills, which would no doubt originally have been for defensive purposes, and certainly gives cycle tourers a good work out nowadays.
I pedalled through mile after mile of vineyard, with workers out in the fields tending the vines, as I made my way towards Bordeaux through Cognac country. The grapes are only just appearing on the vines, from what I can see anyway, but it’ll no doubt be a good harvest/vintage if the weather carries on likes this. The people tending the vines were all heavily tanned from long hours working out in the fields, and sometimes surprised me by appearing from between the vines and saying ‘bonjour’ as they made their way along the rows; a lot of the work seems to be done by hand.
I nearly went up to Cognac, but it would have added about 30km on to the day and I’m trying to force myself to slow down a bit, in preparation for some hard work over the Pyrenees.
As with yesterday I managed to zone out a bit as I cycled along, whilst still remembering to drink lots of water. This helps the kilometres fly by, as well as the hills, and meant I could give more thought to book writing; got a few ideas coming along nicely.
After Jonzac it was on to Montendre, through more wine country, and then some forest which provided a nice change. The countryside as well as architecture is really looking like the South of France now; the smell reminds me of living just outside Marseille near the Calanques – dry and pines.
I stopped at a supermarket in Montendre for some lunch, enjoying the cold aisles for a bit, and downing a litre of chocolate milk which was absolute bliss. It must have been over 30 degrees, and it’s due to get hotter, however at least I’m acclimatising to it and when cycling you always have a breeze. It’s strange to think that a month and a half ago I was in Northern Scandinavia with temperatures just above freezing; bit of a contrast.
My destination today was Le Maine Blanc campsite, however I pedalled past it to Saint Christoly-sur-Blaye to get a few supplies first, before returning, setting up, and going straight to the swimming pool. I could definitely get used to campsites having swimming pools, long may it continue! Le Maine Blanc is an excellent campsite, in the countryside with lots of shaded pitches, and fairly peaceful aside from the faint noise of the autoroute which isn’t that far away.
Dinner consisted of Camembert and baguette, fruit and biscuits, with a glass or two of Rose to wash it all down with; would be rude not to sample the local wine after cycling through so many vineyards. I did some planning, then retired for the evening listening to the sound of frogs ribbeting in the surrounding woods.
–> 26 June
Today was a shorter day, covering 78km in about 5hrs as I wanted to spend some time in Bordeaux. This proved a good decision; Bordeaux ranks up in the top 3 cities I’ve visited so far on this tour.
The temperature definitely went over 30 degrees today, hitting 33 at one point but I think it topped even that. Someone at the campsite mentioned it’s due to go up to 40 degrees Celsius next week, around Bordeaux anyway, but it might be cooler in Northern Spain around the mountains; although that might just be wishful thinking. I’m very much looking forward to starting the Camino de Santiago in about a week’s time.
I’d slept well in my shady spot at Le Maine Blanc, and as a result was up and on the road by 09.00, keen to make sure I made the 10.30 ferry across from Blaye to Lamarque, just down from Fort Medoc; Medoc being the next wine region on my route. I’d decided to take the ferry over the Gironde, rather than stay East of it and go down to Bordeaux that way, as the Western side looked quieter and was purportedly good for cycling.
As it turned out I made it in plenty of time, as it was only 16km to Blaye, and mostly flat, so I stopped at a boulangerie and bought second breakfast; France is very good on the second breakfast front.
I had a quick pedal around Blaye, and arrived at the queue for the ferry just as the boat pulled in; another advantage of cycling is you can go straight to the front of the queue. There’s a big citadel in Blaye, presumably built to defend against English ships coming up the Gironde to attack Bordeaux; I wonder if I should call them British ships or English ships? Whilst looking at the citadel I had a chat with a French cyclist out for day’s ride; he wished me ‘Bon route’ et ‘Bon courage’.
I boarded the ferry along with a number of motorcyclists, and lots of cars, for the short crossing over the Gironde. It must have been about 3km in total; nice scenery and a pleasant break that gave me a chance to eat my croissants and pain-au-chocolat before Lobster finished them all.
From Lamarque, where the church bells tolled 11.00, I rode through more vineyards, each with their own sign; there are loads of them and I wonder if some are owned cooperatively, with everyone pitching in to take care of the vines. I also spotted a group of young workers, who might’ve been travellers earning a few quid before going on to their next destination; pretty hard work in this heat – at least I get a breeze.
I passed a lot of buildings called chateau, but not all of them looked chateau-like. Perhaps that’s just what each building that’s central to a vineyard ends up being called, whatever it looks like. I enjoyed riding through the flat countryside, and spotted lots of wildlife today, including buzzards, Goldfinches, Black Kites, Swallows, cows (thanks for the reminder Lobster) and two Coipo – one alive and shuffling into the reeds next to the river, and one unfortunately dead, probably hit by vehicle.
It was a hot ride down to Bordeaux, some of it alongside the Gironde, and then the Garonne, and some of it on back-streets as I followed a diversion around road works. I had to negotiate a lot of bumpy cobbles again, which always fill me with fear that something is going to break, however there were no issues on this occasion.
The ride down the esplanade alongside the river to the centre set the scene for Bordeaux, a magnificent city, and one that I knew little about beforehand. According to Wikipedia it was founded by a Celtic tribe, then the Romans came along and introduced wine growing, which has persisted in the area ever since. I believe there are still Roman remains in the city however I’m not sure if I saw any as I meandered about its narrow streets, then wide boulevards and squares.
I think I prefer Bordeaux to Paris, which might be a bit controversial, but it has the same appeal from a historical and architectural point of view, and was far less packed when I visited; much easier to relax and take it in. I enjoyed a walk around the antiques quarter, then had a ‘Baguette Steake Frites’ at the Esplanade Des Quinconces. The square is massive, and home to the Monument aux Girondins; a tribute to a group of ‘deputes Girondes’ executed during the French revolution, and regarded as heroes of the republic.
After a quick trip to the tourist information, where I acquired map, I headed down to the Miroir D’Eau, next to the river, which is essentially a large open area where water slowly trickles up from the paving stones, and occasionally mists the area; very refreshing on a hot day and the ‘miroir’ was packed with people relaxing in the sunshine. I had a paddle, and was spotted on a webcam by the ‘stalkers’ from Norwich; good job!
From there I walked through the shopping district, which was positively bustling, then headed to the Cathedral before making my way out of the city.
Bordeaux is definitely worth a visit, with lots to see and a great atmosphere. One thing I realised latterly; I didn’t see anyone begging or homeless, which is in stark contrast to other cities I’ve passed through, and I couldn’t tell you why this is the case. Maybe Bordeaux is too remote, or the authorities move people on.
My intended destination for the night was Gradignan and the Beausoleil campsite, about 10km outside Bordeaux. To get there I rode through the university district, arriving at the campsite about 17.00, and feeling very hot. Whilst the small campsite was fine for one night, it didn’t have any shade, and was lacking the swimming pool I’m getting used to, so I decided I’d move on in the morning rather than take a rest day.
I nipped up to a local shop and bought melon and taboule for dinner, as well a couple of Grimbergen Blonde beers just to keep my calorie count up, then managed to find some shade to relax in for a couple of hours. Two Spanish motorcylists arrived at the campsite, on their way to Kiev, and I chatted to them for a bit, before calling it a day once the sun had gone down and my tent had sufficiently cooled to permit sleep without slow-cooking myself.
Tomorrow I plan a short ride down towards the coast near Acarchon, rather than follow the Eurovelo 3 route inland which seems to bend about a lot and I’m not sure why. The coastal route down to the border with Spain, near Biarritz, looks very pleasant, with a marked cycle route and miles of forest and beach to enjoy. I’m also more likely to meet people and maybe find some fun activities to do if I go that way. Whatever happens it’ll be an interesting side-trek before I cut back inland to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, and the start of the Camino de Santiago. Tomorrow is also a bit of a rest day, which’ll hopefully involve getting some washing done in-between doing some lounging, however the next few days will, touch wood, be pretty relaxing as I slow down in order to rendezvous with my parents in Spain.
Hope all is well back in the UK, and summer has properly arrived; I haven’t looked a the news in a while, and intend to try and avoid it for the most part, but let me know if it all goes bad for Greece; fingers crossed it won’t but can’t see how they’ll get out of the current crisis.