Category: France (Page 1 of 2)

France: Hills and Plains

After a sunny day off the bike in Le Puy I headed northwest through the hills of the Haute Loire region. The rain returned and I spent a few days in constant precipitation followed by a few more spent trying to dodge occasional passing thunderstorms.

The roads gradually descended from the rugged hills of France’s volcanic interior to more gently rolling hills and finally open plains of wheat and corn that reminded me of the American midwest. I avoided most of the larger cities, but still got in some time in large towns and visited some impressive chateaux and castles. One of my favorite features of bike touring in France quickly became the daily (or twice-daily… maybe three times on special days) visits to bakeries and patisseries to load up on bread, pastries and the occasional quiche.

Eventually I reached the Atlantic on the coast of Brittany a few kilometers east of St. Malo to officially complete an Aegean-to-Atlantic bike tour. A couple nights in St. Malo touring the city and browsing the weekly flea market rounded out my continental tour before I caught the ferry across the English Channel to Portsmouth.

 


 

 

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Riverine France

From Basel I rode across the border into southwestern Germany then immediately across the Rhine into France. The next several days were defined by smooth, flat bike-paths along canals and rivers as I followed the Rhine-Rhône canal and the Saône river through Mullhouse and Besançon and continuing southwest. The weather was sunny and warm for several days and I enjoyed some long, easy rides. I stayed more-or-less on one of the major EuroVelo bike routes so it was fun to see dozens (if not hundreds) of other bike tourists along the way. I biked for a couple of days with an English guy much more adventurous than I since he was riding across Europe with no money; busking, begging, and dumpster-diving to keep himself going. Fascinating trip, but not something I think I’ll try.

A little north of Lyon I turned west off the major bike route and headed up into the hills of the Haute Loire region. Unfortunately this coincided with the arrival of wet weather so the next few days were rainy, but the rugged terrain made for a beautiful change from the flat land of the rivers and canals.

I finally reached the gorgeous town of Le Puy-en-Velay where I took a day off to visit the cathedral, one of the traditional starting points for the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. I had been considering walking the pilgrimage route myself, but my visa status didn’t leave me enough time in France and Spain for that and biking the route seemed somehow wrong so I decided to make that trip some other day.

 


 

 

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Into Basque country

I woke up early in Mimizan and packed up the tent before any fishermen arrived at the lake. I hopped back over the fence out of the closed campground then took a while to sit and watch the sunrise while eating a breakfast of bread and cheese. I haven’t gotten around to buying any fuel for my stove yet, so I rolled on into town to find a cafe to get coffee.

The rest of the day was an enjoyable ride through the coastal forest next to the dunes. Once again this involved long remote stretches. Coming down the coast I had seen several picnicking/parking areas near beach access points where it appeared that a few people were spending the night in their camper vans. I figured one of these would be a good option for tent camping so I started looking for likely locations late in the afternoon. I started to worry since it seemed I’d hit a dry spell, but eventually stumbled across a large picnic area a little ways before Capbreton. I wasn’t sure if camping was legal here, so I lingered about eating dinner as dusk came on and then setup my tent in the trees.

The night was without incident and the next day I had a short ride to Urrugne just shy of the Spanish border where another Warm Showers host was willing to take me in.

Even with short days, it’s nice to get near the day’s destination before taking much time off the bike. So I rode straight through Bayonne and bypassed the beaches of Biarritz. Stopping only briefly to watch surfers out catching waves.

The landscape changes dramatically here from the flat coastal forest to rocky, hilly terrain and I got my first glimpse of the Pyrenees in the distance. Getting close to Urrugne, I stopped for lunch in St. Jean de Luz and spent some time lingering by the beach and the town’s central square. I was entering Basque country here and signs now had Basque as well as French names. As I proceeded on to Urrugne I also started seeing the occasional Basque flag.

Ingrid and Jon, my Warm Showers contacts, welcomed me into their lovely rural house outside of Urrugne. They live in a big Basque-style house (or at least I took it to be Basque style) with green sheep pastures stretching up from behind their place into the hills.

Ingrid and Jon have traveled extensively so over dinner we had a good conversation about our various travels and I got an introduction to Basque culture and politics. I fell asleep listening to the bells on the sheep grazing on the hillside.

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