Tag Archives: Marseille

19 & 20 August 2015 – Toulon and Mandelieu-la-Napoule

I think I’ve been pedalling along the Cote d’Azur; not sure where it starts and finishes, but it’s definitely around here somewhere. It’s pretty too, but very busy, and expensive. I’m enjoying it but also looking forward to a bit of peace and quiet at some point, perhaps when I head inland towards Venice, or in Croatia. Here are my routes and stats for the 19th and 20th.

Two entries for 20 August as my Garmin turned itself off, as it is want to do sometimes when being charged off the dynamo; when the charge stops it thinks it better go to sleep.

–> 19 August 2015 – bike service and to Le Pradet, Toulon
Leaving Marseille was actually quite hard, as I’m slightly anxious about the route ahead, and this is probably the last set of friends I’ll stay with until I’m back in the UK. It’s been brilliant meeting up with several of them, and has made me realise how much I’ve missed everyone and the French lifestyle; will have to plan a return visit soon, and will make sure is coincides with Stephane being onshore.

Smaug looking a bit sorry for himself; needs some attention

Smaug looking a bit sorry for himself; needs some attention

I was also worried about my bike, which still needed new tyres and a service. It’s proven difficult to find touring sized tyres (26×1.35), perhaps because it’s the summer and they’re selling out quickly, as was suggested in one shop (bit dubious about that). I should stop worrying really, as my head knows it’ll all be alright, it’s just my heart being silly; I’m prone to a bit of anxiety from time-to-time. I have everything I need on my bike and can wild camp if there are no campsites, and it’s not like the rest of my route is devoid of shops! Gotta keep pedalling and having adventures, plus raise some more cash for the Big C; donations welcomed here (helps with the motivation) – www.virginmoneygiving.com/james

Thanks to Sophie for hosting me for a couple of nights, and good luck with your future plans! I hope you’ll all be able to come and visit me in the UK soon, but best to wait until I’m back in the country, and have found a permanent abode; my house is rented out until May next year, so thinking of moving out of Norwich into the countryside. I might even buy a couple of chickens, and a dog, always wanted a dog. Of course I’d need of get a trailer for aforesaid animal to go cycle touring with me; the dog, not the chickens, although…

After bidding goodbye to Sophie I was packed and on the road by 09.30, and had a couple of bike shops on my radar to try for tyres and a service. Thanks to Nick Paton for assisting with a few technical questions and shop locating, appreciated; he also phoned Oxford Bike Works to double-check what tyre sizes I could fit on my rims, marvellous support, and Richard from Oxford Bike Works always very helpful. Anyway, back to the cycling.

It was a long climb out of Marseille, from Pointe Rouge up past Luminy and over Les Calanques to Cassis. I just put Smaug into a low gear and pedalled slowly, being passed by a few roadies who all shouted encouragement; love that about France and Europe in general, all cyclists very friendly – saying that it’s often the same on the UK. It turned out to be less of a challenge than anticipated, so either my legs are a lot stronger than I thought, or the hill isn’t as big as I remember; probably a bit of both. There were some lovely views on the way.

The descent to Cassis was lots of fun, even if my brakes were slightly dodgy, however I had to slow down rapidly close to the town due to the sheer volume of traffic on the road; loads of cars trying to get into Cassis and down to the seafront. I decided to give it a miss, not wanting to get embroiled in the chaos and sour my mood.

I pedalled on to La Ciotat, where I stopped at a boulangerie to grab an early lunch; needed to replace energy burnt on Les Calanques. French boulangeries really do make for great food stops, and I hope they have similar in Italy and down into Eastern Europe.

After riding past several beaches, and dodging around quite a lot of traffic not moving very fast (always satisfying), I made it to Bandols, then on to Sanary-sur-Mer where I turned up towards Ollioules and my first possible bike shop; Oki Bikes. I had to wait for them to open at 14.30, so have to admit I nipped to a McDonalds a few km away to take advantage of their free wifi, and also mange a cheeseburger or two; nowhere near as nice as boulangerie fare.

Unfortunately Oki Bikes couldn’t help, but they did direct me to another bike shop just a few hundred metres away; Velo 83. Upon entering Velo 83 I immediately got a good feeling about the place; well-appointed workshop, lots of spares, great range of bikes and stock, and customers just kept on arriving. Luckily I was there just as they opened after lunch, so managed to get Smaug straight into the workshop. They didn’t have exactly the right tyre size, but they had some that would do the job, fitted my rims, and didn’t rub on the mud-guards; XLC Malamut – 26 x 1.75, so a bit chunkier than my last set but that might be handy as I travel down through Eastern Europe. This being the third bike shop I’d tried I thought it prudent to go with what they’d got, especially as my Marathon Plus were looking extremely worn. Ideally I’d like to put another set of Marathon Plus on Smaug, however these will probably do me until I’m back in the UK, or perhaps Germany where they might have some that are the right size for touring (26×1.35). I also got my brakes changes, and gears re-aligned; I can now use all my gears again, which hasn’t happened for a while. It turns out the bit of my frame on which the rear deraileur sits was slightly bent, probably from when the bike fell over with all the panniers on it (heavy fall), and needed straightening; they had a handy device for doing just that.

After a few complimentary figs and a chat with Romain, the owner, who is very enthusiastic about bikes which always gives you confidence, it was time to get back on the road. As a parting gift they gave me a new cycling top; my current one does look a bit shabby now, so it was probably well-timed. I’d recommend Velo 83 if you’re passing that way and need something done; excellent service and friendly staff.

New cycling top; Luc Alphand is a skier turned motorcyclist from Serre Chevalier

New cycling top; Luc Alphand is a skier turned motorcyclist from Serre Chevalier

Getting Smaug serviced and new tyres fitted was a big weight off my mind, however I still had some pedalling to do to get to a campsite. I rode onwards to Toulon, passing straight through the busy city before stopping at a campsite in Le Pradet. The campsite turned out to be a bit expensive, but as it was late (19.00), and I was tired, I decided to stay.

After eating a bit of pizza I’d bought the boulangerie earlier, and a can of baked beans, I was ready for an early night, although I had to evict a hornet type varmint from my tent before I could sleep peacefully; hornets slightly more dangerous than the voles I encountered Vittangi, that put holes in the bottom of my tent!

I pedalled 85km today, but it was a long day due to the bike shop stops. On to near Nice tomorrow, so getting close to Italy.

–> 20 August – to Mandelieu-la-Napoule (near Cannes)
Today was a longer day distance wise, covering 135km in about 7.5 hours. I don’t ride particularly fast, so the fatter tyres don’t really matter, but I can ride quite a long way when I want to; relatively speaking, nothing close to Mark Beaumont’s distances. He just rode the North Coast 500 non-stop, that’s nearly 840km in 35 hours and 41 minutes, a pretty astounding feat of endurance. Stats here.

I was very comfy in my tent when I woke up. It’s so much easier camping when it’s not as hot, and you’ve got a bit of grass to sleep on. Hilleberg Akto are great tents, but not as cool when it’s hot, compared with other makes. I’d still recommend them though, as mine is going strong after nearly 4 months on the road this tour, and 3 months back in 2013 on my Bike around Britain tour, plus a few weekends in between.

I set off from Le Pradet at about 09.00, immediately joining a cycle path (Littoral route) that runs all the way to Bormes-les-Mimosas. This was a definite bonus as there was a lot traffic on the road again, which can only be expected at this time of year on the Côte d’Azur. It was nice and flat to begin with too, giving me a chance to ease into the day, and say hello to lots of other cyclists going both ways.

It proved to be a very scenic day, riding along the D559 up to St. Tropez; I didn’t actually go into the town as it would have been rammed. I passed countless beaches on my way to Ste Maxime, then up to Frejus. The water looked very inviting, even if the beaches were packed. I’ll have to make an effort to go swimming in the sea again soon, but will wait for somewhere a little less busy; it’s a bit tricky stopping for a swim in the middle of a day’s touring when you’re on your own, and don’t want to leave anything unattended for too long.

I stopped for lunch in Sainte Maxime, enjoying a baguette and Tarte-au-Citron from a boulangerie; I’ve decided this tour needs more in the way of tartes, so will be sampling them as much as possible forthwith – there may well be a tarte of the day posting on twitter.

Tarte-au-citron in Sainte Maxime

Tarte-au-citron in Sainte Maxime

I must have passed millions of €’s worth of expensive yachts and motor cruisers today, as well as a lot of pricey looking and sounding cars; Maserati, Porsche, Ferrari etc. There’s obviously a lot of money on the Cote d’Azur, however it almost feels a bit too decadent to me, when there so many problems in the world needing urgent attention. I know people have the right to spend their money on what they want, but it would be fab if more donations could be made to causes trying to tackle climate change, threats of extinction, educating children in worse off countries, or feeding people in need etc etc. For the moment I’m trying to minimise my spending, but it’s tricky in this but if France as everything is expensive, especially the campsites; again to be expected in August.

There followed a lovely coastal stretch up from Saint-Raphael to Mandelieu-la-Napoule, near Cannes. I’d already cycled over a few big hills, and the day finished with more, however I didn’t notice too much as the scenery was stunning; loads of coves, little beaches that can only be accessed easily from the sea, and red rocks (must be iron ore).

The roads were again heavy with tourist traffic, so I had to be a bit on alert, but made it safely to the campsite in Mandelieu-la-Napoule; Camping l’Argentiere. I stopped for supplies before the campsite, however found it quite tricky to get to the shop; there were cars parked everywhere, and had been all along the route today, jammed into every available space. I’d passed a lot of police looking slightly hassled in the heat and traffic, and several doling out parking tickets; must be a very good source of revenue down here.

Camping l’Argentiere is a nice site, and worth a mention, it being slightly cheaper and with a friendly owner who was playing his guitar when I rolled up. He found me a small space to camp in, despite the site being nearly full, and I was able to take advantage of the free wifi which is a rarity in this part of the world. I enjoyed a few glasses of wine, it being my last night in France, with a blog update and some planning, before turning in, feeling more confident about the route ahead.

Italy tomorrow! And I’m almost up-to-date with this blog (only one day behind). Going for a cold one now, and to listen to a guitarist.

17 & 18 August – Marseille

Here’s my route and stats for the ride from Saint Martin de Crau to Marseille on the 17th. No stats for the 18th as I only used Smaug to pedal around Marseille a bit, and to visit Luminy and Les Calanques.

–> 17 August – to Marseille
Today’s ride turned out to be a bit longer than expected, covering 99km through some lovely Provence countryside and along La Cote Bleu before reaching Marseille. It’s been about 17 years since I visited Marseille, so I was pretty excited.

I'm excited about pedalling to Marseille; Lobster is worried about Bouillabaisse

I’m excited about pedalling to Marseille; Lobster is worried about Bouillabaisse

I set off in good time, keen to meet up with Sophie on her electric bike at 15.00, near where she works at the Brasserie David on the Marseille seafront. I met Sophie 17 years ago, on a return visit to Marseille to see Christophe and Stephane. She and Stephane have since married and have two lovely children; I met up with the latter at Stephane’s parents in Ruoms, great kids.

I pedalled to Istres, listening to a bit of Red Hot Chilli Peppers to distract from the noise of passing lorries, then on to Martigues next to the Etang de Berre. Martigues is a pretty town and harbour, with lots of boats. Unfortunately I passed an accident on the way through; a pedestrian had been hit by a car and was lying in the road, however the police and ambulance were quick to arrive so hope they are alright. It’s always sobering seeing an accident, and reminded me to take extra care with all the traffic; sometimes holiday traffic can be a bit random, with tired drivers, or worse – distracted drivers looking out of the window and chatting.

From Martigues the road climbed, along with the temperature, up and over to Sausset les Pins, then it was a ‘simple’ case of pedalling along La Cote Bleu to Carry-le-Rouet, up a long climb to Le Rove, before descending to L’Estaque. The climb up to Le Rove was pretty tough in the heat, however I received several encouraging shouts from road cyclists, and passed a few cycle tourers going the other way; waves and ‘Bon courage/routes’ were exchanged.

It’s not that easy to get into Marseille from the West, due to motorways on which cycling is not allowed, so I had to wiggle around a bit to make it to the Vieux Port. My Garmin helped for a change, although it did send me via some slightly dubious looking neighbourhoods, and I had to take my panniers off once to fit through a narrow gate; lucky I’ve lost some weight on this tour! I paused for a break in the Vieux Port, which looks as lovely as it used to, and slightly different to 17 years ago with the waterfront having been widened. I took quite a lot of photos.

After being spotted on the Vieux Port webcam by the ‘stalkers’ from home, and a few friends from work, I grabbed Steak/Frites baguette, before riding around the coastal road to meet up with Sophie. The ride brought back loads of good memories from my student times in Marseille, studying Oceanlogie at the Centre d’Oceanologie de Marseille, and at Cite Universite based in Luminy. Marseille has a wonderful coastline, with lots of little beaches and small islands just off the coast; looked great in the sunshine.

In case you’re wondering Chateau d’If is an old fortress and more recently prison, that’s the setting for Alexandre Dumas’ Le Compte de Monte Christo. I stopped off in Endoume, cycling down to the Foreign Legion base then around to the Centre d’Oceanlogie for a look; it’s still there and seems to be going strong. Sadly the little bar where we used to have the ‘odd’ beer is now closed; there was a sign suggesting the closure was due to a fracas – not that surprising since loads of legionnaires also used to drink there.

From Endoume it was a short ride to meet up with Sophie, then on to Pointe Rouge and their flat. Unfortunately Steph, being a ship’s Captain, is away at sea at the moment and not back until the end of September, so I’ll just have to come back next year to see him! It was good to hear all their news from Sophie, and a bit about their future plans. It was also quite amusing looking at a few photos to see how we’ve all changed; like me, Steph has less hair now, or hair that has migrated from head down to chest! All this talking in French is definitely helping me remember how to speak the lingo; when I get back to the UK I’ll have to find some French people to speak to so I don’t forget it again.

After a relaxing evening over a few beers and good food (Sophie is a chef, but I helped make the pastry/anchovie thingamyjigs and didn’t completely ruin them, win!), I slept very well, in preparation for a day off in Marseille.

–> 18 August – rest day in Marseille
Sophie had to go to work early in the morning, but left me some keys, with helpful arrows noting which ones were for which doors. Unfortunately, being a bit of an idiot at times, I picked up the keys before I noticed the arrows, thus making them completely redundant, but was able to muddle through.

I spent a great day in Marseille visiting a few old haunts, as well as a bike and camping shop. Unfortunately the workshop at the bike shop was closed, so I couldn’t get a service done, and they didn’t have the right tyres in stock so I drew a blank there too; found another shop near Toulon which I’ll try tomorrow. I had more luck in the camping shop, finally finding a hammock, along with a map of Slovenia and Croatia which will come in handy. I’ll need to pick up some other maps of Eastern Europe however hopefully I can get these in Croatia; gonna try and just use my GPS and sense of direction in Italy, with the phone as back up.

After grabbing a sandwich I headed off to Luminy and Les Calanques in the afternoon, for a bit of a walk; nice change from cycling. I used to live on the Cite Universite campus in Luminy, back in ’95/96, so the visit brought back yet more great memories. We used to spend a lot time not studying, and instead walking into the Calanques to go climbing, or down to the beach for a swim or party. I might not have been studying but I did learn to speak French well, and reckon it was a cultural learning experience!

The walk also gave me a chance to test out my hammock, which works superbly; I took at 30 minutes siesta to try it out properly. The hammock will come in very handy whilst it’s still warm, as supplies me with a seat as well as a bed, as long as I can find two suitable trees. It gives me more wild camping opportunities too, as a tent isn’t always practical, and a hammock much quicker to pack up should the need arise.

After a taxing day with lots of wandering about, and a few Desperado beers to aid with muscle recovery, I met up with Sophie back at the flat. We watched an old video taken in Tahiti back in ’96, when I stayed with Stephane and his family, along with Christophe and another friend, Delphine, for a few weeks; hilarious video and I must dig out my copy when I get home, we all look so young, and happy, with lots of tom-foolery going on.

The evening was spent at a beach party down on the seafront with a few of Sophie’s friends, several glasses of wine, and good company; chatted to Greg, a kite-surfing instructor, and might learn myself back in the UK, with my brother – they teach it at Hunstanton, just down the road from Norwich, but bit chillier in the North Sea. Gonna be hard to leave Marseille in the morning, however I’ve got a tour to finish, and I’ll definitely be back next year to visit again.