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).
The famous Capitole square:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
It is located next to the only tunnel on the Canal du Midi, « le 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.
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.