Canal du Midi on Easter break

Easter break is a great opportunity to leave Paris for a few days. Like everybody else actually does. So train tickets were booked long before and I was hoping for a terrific weather in the south of France.

A colleague, Stephane, moved in Toulouse several months ago. Beginning of Spring seemed like the perfect time to discover the canal du Midi by bike. The canal goes from Toulouse to Marseillan, joining the Atlantic ocean (via the Garonne river) to the Mediterranean sea.

A 3 days weekend wasn’t enough, I had to take my friday off to go to Toulouse, which takes 7 hours by train.

On the friday evening, Stéphane showed me a glimpse of Toulouse before going home. A quick tour in the narrow and windy streets of the pink city (sounds strange in english).

Cathédrale Saint-Etienne

The famous Capitole square:

Place du Capitole


Pont Saint-Pierre

Berges de la Garonne

The windy weather was a very bad news. Blowing from the East (towards where we will ride) it annouces rain, heavy rain.

Our first day was a 100km ride almost totally under the rain. Which explain I got only one picture from our stop in Castelnaudary.


First 50km were concrete, but then the path along the canal became so muddy that we had to find sideways. The rain quickly cleaned the bicycles though. We finally entered Carcassonne, wet, on a busy road. With only quick stops, we arrived early after 3pm, which let us plenty of time to enjoy the medieval city and it’s crowds of tourists (mostly Spanish speaking).

The youth hostel is situated right in the « Cité », perfect location, and has bike racks in a closed and secured courtyard. The rack was already almost full with B’Twins (common rather cheap french bicycles) and one touring bike. Entering the room we faced the exact same yellow bike pannier I brought. So we happened to share the room with the owner of the touring bike.

James, an Aussie, was cycling through UK and France for 2 months already and had still a month break before starting a new job. His plan was to ride to Mazamet through the montagne Noire the day after. Very hilly plan.

After a well deserved hot shower, we toured the city and it’s impressive, almost intact walls and bought some food for the next days.


Carcassonne depuis le vieux pont

Once back to the hostel, we were four in the room. A chinese guy joined us. He arrived from Paris the day before with the same train I did and was supposed to leave with the same TGV as me on monday evening from Montpellier, kind of visiting most of the south of France in one weekend. We went all 4 together for a Cassoulet in the « cité », in a surprisingly empty restaurant for a saturday evening on Easter weekend. And we concluded the meal with a digestive hike around the illuminated walls.

Carcassonne by night

Carcassonne by night

Finally James chosed to ride with us to Narbonne, instead of Mazamet, on the Sunday. Lucky choice, because the clouds stayed stuck on the montagne noire all day long. and in the valley we met no rainfall at all.

We avoided the canal, probably still too muddy, but tried to follow its course at the same time, which made us cross it and the river Aude multiple times.

Pont sur l'Aude

We had lunch on one of the first pont-canal ever built in France (in 1676).


Time for a picture of the, not that heavy, loaded bikes:

Bicycles on the pont-canal

Having both yellow Ortlieb panniers is already a coincidence (on six people during the bike trip last summer we had six different panniers. And on a day to day basis I very rarely meet someone with the same ones). Beside that, we both had a Standfords plastic bag in it, for non Londoners, even non Brits, thats very improbable. – end of digression about bags.

The day ride was only 70km, so even taking long pauses, we arrived again early in Narbonne. The youth hostel, again in the very center, had been occupied by rugbymen for a week, and hadn’t been cleaned except one room, strange atmosphere.

On an Easter Sunday, Narbonne is very sleepy. But still it’s a nice small city center with a huge, half, Gothic cathedral and archbishop palace. The nave is 40m high, which is quite impressive, only Beauvais and Amiens are higher. And the location of the cathedral is unusual, most of the Gothic cathedrals are located in the north of France. Like Beauvais, the cathedral remains unfinished.

Cloitre, palais de l'archevêque, Narbonne

Narbonne cathedral

The last day, Stéphane had a pain in his ankle. He decided to stop and go back to Toulouse. He didn’t want to spoil his next holidays, climbing in the Baléares (how understandable).

So James and I continued to Sète.

We encountered a very steep hill before Nissan-lez-Enserune. But beside that the road remained flat as a pancake, as usual.

Moulin, Nissan-lez-Enserune

From the oppidum d’Enserune, well the road to it, we didn’t go to the top, we saw the strange shapes of the fields of the Etang de Montady, all converging towards the center of this ancient pond.

Etang de Montady

It is located next to the only tunnel on the Canal du Midi, « le malpas ».

Tunnel du Malpas

Then we arrived in Béziers and the series of locks of Fonserannes:



Starting there, the way to the sea became relatively crowded with pedestrians and other cyclists. Probably because monday was by far the sunniest day of this Easter weekend.

After a few steps on the beach in Portiragnes and some quiet small roads we reached Agde.

It has a very unimpressive, but unique, round lock. It’s also known for it’s black basalt used to pave streets and in buildings. The riverside of the Hérault is pleasant and we stopped for a beer and bottle refill on the place de la Marine.



The road from Agde to Sète is not bicycle-friendly at all. We first had to use a kind of highway to Marseillan. Then the main road had been moved further from the sea and the old one stops suddenly and we had to push bikes on the beach. I don’t complain about this part ! We had still plenty of time to reach Sète.

Bicycle on the beach

Beach towards Sète

Sète is a very nice seaside city, with a bit too much traffic, but I have no picture of it because we met a thunderstorm on arrival. It almost washed the sand of the bikes.

Within 3 days we rode 260km.

Here is the GPS track.


Grenoble et Drôme des collines

Premier voyage en TGV avec le vélo pliant pour 2011. Toujours aussi pratique et toujours des regards interloqués des autres voyageurs. Mais je n’allais quand même pas me rendre à Grenoble sans biclou ! Il suffit de suivre un peu l’actualité pour avoir de la capitale alpine une image des plus « vélo-amicale », non loin derrière Strasbourg qui conserve indéniablement la première place.

De plus c’était une visite chez mon frère et sa copine, dont la voiture, inutile, rouille depuis quelques mois. Alors que leurs vélos servent quotidiennement… même le weekend.

Donc en ce weekend ensoleillé c’est vers la Drôme des collines qu’on prévoit un tour. Aucun de nous je pense ne se qualifie de sportif alors des collines valent bien un col alpin. Surtout que j’ai des cols alpins une image assez négative, chargée d’automobiles. Si j’ai envie de voir/entendre/sentir des voitures rugissantes le weekend je n’ai qu’à pédaler le long de l’A4 ! (Chose que je fais assez souvent d’ailleurs vu que c’est le trajet le plus direct 94 – Paris).

La Drôme des collines ne m’est pas inconnue puisque j’ai déjà visité par le passé son plus surprenant monument : le palais idéal d’Hauterives.

Pour s’échapper de l’agglomération Grenobloise et de ses mornes banlieues, 40 minutes de TER nous mènent au cœur du Royans, où commence notre balade.

D’abord le long de la Bourne via Saint-Nazaire puis Pont-en-Royans.

Saint-Nazaire en Royans


Ensuite ça grimpe sec, mais pas très longtemps jusqu’à Saint-André-en-Royans, presque à la limite supérieure des cultures. Le château domine la vallée de l’Isère dans laquelle on replonge bien vite, trop vite presque.


A la Sône on coupe la rivière et on se repose au bord de l’eau… Sur l’eau même, sur un ponton d’une base d’aviron encore en repos hivernal. Pourtant la météo est presque estivale. Seul l’absence de feuillage aux arbres et quelques sommets enneigés au loin rappellent qu’avril commence à peine.

Vieux pont de la Sône

On regrimpe sans répis rive droite de l’Isère jusqu’au magnifique village de Saint-Antoine-l’Abbaye ou une longue pause « glace artisanale à la Chartreuse » est bien méritée. On retrouve dans le village des signes du passage d’un des chemins de Saint-Jacques, ça me rappelle mon précédent passage dans l’étrangement nommé Saint-Julien-Molin-Molette.






Un dernier raidillon après le village et ça descend jusqu’à Romans.

En passant par Montmiral et sa tour qui ne nous fera pas faire de détour, la vue sur le Vercors est déjà très bien d’en bas !

Tour de Montmiral

Le Vercors depuis Montmiral

Enfin ça descend presque jusqu’à Romans car les derniers kilomètres, à plat et avec un fort vent de face ont été les plus éprouvants de la balade. Mais on a eu de justesse un train pour Grenoble ([mode théorie du complot]qui nous a attendu pour nous faire payer un supplément de billet [/mode théorie du complot]).

Le GPS était là pour enregistrer le tracé de cette jolie rando.

Le lendemain on a fait un peu de vélo sur la sortie dominicale des Grenoblois : les bords de l’Isère. Et pour se donner un but on a déniché quelques géocaches au passage. Mais toutes n’ont pas pu être signées, ça grouillait de moldus.

Des bords de l’Isère on a souvent de belles échappées sur la Chartreuse à l’Ouest et Belledonne à l’Est.


Dent de Crolles

Comme quoi on prouve une fois de plus après la Suisse cet été qu’il est très facile de pédaler à plat dans les Alpes ! D’ailleurs sur les bords de l’Isère un balisage indique Chambéry, un itinéraire cyclotouriste pas fatiguant au moins, où les touristes déferleront comme sur la plus médiatique Loire à vélo ou le mythique canal du midi (c’est pour bientôt !), ou pas.

Dès potron-minet lundi j’ai pu reprendre le tgv et arriver à l’heure à 9h30 au bureau à quelques 650km de là. Vive la multimodalité à grande vitesse !

Pour ceux qui chercheraient d’autres idées de sorties à vélo (ou à pied), autour de Grenoble, je conseille les compte-rendus en image de Matthieu.