30 May – to Remoulins and the the Pont du Gard

A long ride today in the heat.We started out heading to Orange to see the amphitheater there. Couldn’t really find a suitable bike path – at one point we road along a path by the river, where I got my bike all muddy, but it was too rocky to ride on for long. Eventually we gave up and rode on a busy road. Passing Mornas and seeing a castle overlooking it on the edge of a huge cliff was impressive.

Orange was crowded with traffic, so after examining the amphitheater, we headed out along quieter roads as advised by the tourist office. We crossed the Rhone again and went through a perfect little town called Cordolette – very prosperous looking with lots of hanging flower baskets and cobbled streets.

We made our way to St Laurent des Arbres; mostly through vineyards now and very hot. There we found the tourist office (which was in a small castle) closed until 3pm. The whole place was very quiet – maybe they were all having a sleep. We had a small picnic of bread and cheese and decided to head on to Remoulins to find accommodation. At Lirac we tried to get onto a rural road again and found ourselves on another rocky road and then in a vineyard. Looking up we saw a monks cell built into a cliff; which is probably where the road was heading. So we backtracked and went on the busy road again – it was ok for a while but unpleasant as we came into Remoulins.

Our accommodation is bed and breakfast just outside town – ok except there are mosquitoes!

So a longer than planned ride at 95km, but no spokes broken three days in a row now!

Highlight:

  • Evening picnic on riverbank at the Pont de Gard  – only about a km away from where we are staying. This is a Roman aquaduct built in around 50AD to carry water to Nimes. It was amazing with huge arches – as big as any modern bridge. It was lovely walking over it at dusk and seeing all the swallows fly around it and into holes where they nest. The river was still and beautifully reflective.

Lowpoint:

  • Prostitutes blatantly working on the road coming into Remoulins at 3 in the afternoon. Very high heels and skirts so short you can see their crotch. Must be very unsafe for them getting into trucks and cars on the roadside.

29 May – to Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux

Fresh cherries for breakfast on the farm this morning.

We had an early start at around 8am but the heat was already building up and we were sweating by 9am.

Kris took us on a route across the farmlands to avoid the highway – this was lovely while it was through rolling wheat fields, with mountains in the distance.

Once we reached Allex (small town with very narrow streets and stone buildings) we took an unintended route which took us up hill climbs again (I pushed much of the way – too hot). The road eventually deteriorated until it was so bad (rocky) we had to push our bikes. After a few hundred meters we came across a very smart house with amazing views. The road was marginally better on the other side. This road meandered on and on – shocking road, lovely houses, awesome views. Even though we were a bit off track in retrospect this was the best part of our ride.

Coming down off this hill was also interesting – the steepest road we have experienced in Europe – even worse than Horokiwi!

The rest of the route was not as much fun, as we were on the road most of the time – not such good bike tracks in this part of France.

We stopped at Montelimar to buy a bike part and also some nougat (and pastries). This is evidently the nougat capital of the world – a fact which is evident by every shop selling it. We bought ours from a nougat factory shop. We also drove through the old city (entering at city gates).

We crossed to the other side of the river at Viviers/ Donzere and marvelled at the old ruins on the top of the hills and cliffs next to the Rhone. Also some very nice cable suspension bridges. At Pierrelatte we found the tourist office closed till 2.30pm (from 12.30 – we find it curious how many businesses just close for large chunks of the day here), so we crossed the river again and went on to Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux, by which time their tourist office was open. In all we had done about 75km – it was frankly too hot to carry on so I was glad our accommodation was close.

Our accommodation is in the old medieval city of St-Paul, bed and breakfast on the top floor of a narrow house.  The outer houses are built into the wall and there are several gates. The old city is like a rabbit warren of narrow streets. We wondered around for quite a while looking for our accommodation until the owner came running after us – she was expecting two New Zealander’s on bikes so we must have been quite conspicuous.  The house looks very plain from the outside but has a lovely dining, kitchen area out back leading onto a patio area and swimming pool. Our room is big and has an adjoining kitchenette.

Once we had cleaned up we went for a walk around the old city and found a shop to buy supper. Ended up with far to much food – bread, cheeses, olives, salami, strawberries, tomatoes – and red wine – yum.

Highlights:

  • The Cathedral Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Paul in the old city – an ancient Roman Catholic cathedral, rebuilt in the 12th century by the Templars – it is beautifully plain inside – ancient stone walls. See http://www.art-roman.net/stpaultrois/stpaultrois.htm
  • Walking around the city after 9pm when it was starting to cool down a little – stopping at a outdoor restaurant for a beer.

Note – We have now traveled over 1500km over 20 days. Our daily average is 78km.

28 May – to Valence and then Etiole Sur Rhone

Had a nice early start today due to no breakfast at hotel. Instead we had coffee and yummy pastries from next door bakery.The bike paths were not too difficult but did disappear at times. We did around  85km following the Rhone.

We stopped for info and accommodation booking in Valence and then onto the supermarket before it closed for the afternoon, as it was a public holiday.

Our accommodation is out in the countryside on a farm – took a bit of riding around through wheat fields to find and also took us a bit off route. Still we got their nice and early just after two, with the heat just building up. We have a self contained room built from stone off the side of the rambling farm buildings. Lovely roses growing outside and chickens wondering around.

We enjoyed a bottle of red wine and strawberries on our patio before falling asleep for a couple of hours!

Quite a relaxed day as no spokes broken!

Highlights:

  • The early morning ride next to the river with the reflections of trees on the still water and an easy bike path: Passing two swans with cygnets.

27 May – Along the Rhone to Serrieres

I am writing this blog from the balcony of our hotel room, overlooking the Rhone river in the fading light. It is past 9pm but still light and warm – I am only wearing my T-shirt.

Today we only did around 65km and arrived here nice and early at around 3pm.

The Saone river joins the Rhone at Lyon, so we are following the Rhone down south from now on.

Our day started with a detour from the motorway which took us up a long hill climb of around 3km – a bit of a shock to the system after all the river rides. It took us onto a plateau with very prosperous looking farmland and farmsteads. This was the most scenic part of the ride. Kris asked directions from a old codger who was amazed to see us – the first time he has seen cycle tourists up there.

Once we came down the hill we made our way to Vienne  – another ancient town on the river overlooked by a ruined castle on the hill. Here we were surprised to find the tourist office open as it is Sunday – picked up a map of the cycle route south.

The cycle route south was pretty good – off road along the river most of the way to Serrieres.

Highlights

  • Passing through a nature reserve on the cycle route, forest type environment together  with hides for bird watching
  • Walking along the promenade by our hotel in the evening and then having a drink at the local pub
  • Seeing four swans flying together low along the still river at dusk

Lowpoints:

  • Kris breaking a spoke and then Jenny also breaking a spoke in the heat of the day. Kis spent at least an hour fixing spokes today.

25 May (Saturday) – Lyon

We had been debating whether to go round or through Lyon as big cities are no fun on a bike. Today we ended up going through it.

We started out without a bike path today and lots of traffic leaving Creches-sur_Saone. However Kris ably navigated us to some quieter country roads to the east of the Saone river and we had an enjoyable ride through some very picturesque towns – all ocher walls and old men tending immaculate vegetable patches. Roughly going south along the Saone, but not usually in sight of it.

Some of the hills in this area really remind me of the Western Cape.

We stopped at the tourist info at Trevoux, a beautiful town right on the river with ancient stone buildings. They were very helpful and booked our accommodation and provided maps.

Then onto Lyon. We navigated through along the river the whole way and out the other side without veering into central streets. Coming into Lyon was lovely – there was a bike path, albeit part of the road, and we traveled along the river looking at all the buildings; cafes; bridges; avenues of trees etc. Towards the center it became denser and denser – some parts very nice along the waterfront and others difficult to negotiate. It is a huge city. Caught sight of some stunning old buildings but also some very unusual modern architecture on the southern side.

Leaving was a bit of a nightmare with bike access disappearing and cars in all directions. Kris did wonders again guiding us onto back streets and then through to the town of Irigny on the outskirts.

In all we did around 85km. It was extremely hot in the late afternoon – the temperature seems to build up during the morning and peak at around 3pm – then not cool down until around 9pm

Highpoints:

  • Having a cold beer at the top of a long hill in Irigny, only a few hundred meters from our destination – very friendly garden restaurant-pub.
  • Our accommodation in Irigny -in a nice residential area – we have a flat at the bottom of a large home with it’s own entrance. There is a large garden. Full kitchen, bathroom and bedroom very nicely decorated. Very comfortable and private. Also full Internet access here (cable not wifi).

Lowpoints

  • Two spokes broken

25 May – The green route (Voies Vertes)

We completed the green cycle route today, doing around 70km from Givry to Creches-sur-Saone. We started fairly late at around 9am after a delicious breakfast with croissants. The first 50km or so were very easy – the best cycle route we have been on. It is so well graded, tarred throughout and totally separate from the road, you can make good time. Very gentle slopes. All through stunning countryside with rows of trees shading the way, fields of wild flowers, eventually also vines. It is at its most stunning when we were taken a little way up and had a vista over the surrounding farms.

We past Cluny and went into the town to see if we could see the Abby, but it was disappointing, very busy with cars on narrow streets: However the buildings were stunning – all made of old stone. (why don’t they make the center pedestrian only like so many other towns?)

After Cluny the bike path became a bit steeper in parts until it eventually ended. We made our way on to the town of Creches-sur_Saone at around 3pm (very hot by this time), which is a pretty bustling place with several hotels and large shops. We are in the Comfort Hotel – part of a chain and pretty standard hotel.

Highlights:

  • the Tunnel du Bois Clair few km after Cluny – it is only available to bikes or walkers, 1.6km long. It is pretty cold inside (relief from the heat) and lit by electric lights. There are bats which hibernate from Oct to March when the tunnel is closed, but we didn’t see any.
  • Talking with a Dutch couple on the other side of the tunnel who had cycled from Barcelona and were on their way back to Holland – quite a bit older than us and doing similar route.
  • Shopping at the Carrefour near our hotel – it is like a hypermarket with hundreds of cheeses and a whole isle of yogurts to chose from, quite overwhelming:
  • Eating hamburger and egg at a Belgian cafe in the mall – we were beginning to crave protein.

Lowpoints:

  • One spoke broken – at least the rate of breakage seems to be slowing
  • The computer keyboard is no longer working (at least a few keys aren’t) – must have taken a knock. We bought a cheap keyboard at a local shop and that works for now, but it is French so some of the keys are in the wrong places (a,w,m and .) which makes life difficult. Also one more thing to carry – we are wondering if we should buy a new netbook.

24 May – To Givry via Chalon sur Saone

Terrible sleep last night- itching all the time, I’m sure there were bedbugs or fleas in the bed (we slept on our sleeping bags). I hope we don’t catch something nasty.

We were out of the hotel as soon as possible and on the road at 7.30am (no breakfast provided).

A nice cool misty morning and easy road along the river. However the EuroVelo6 was not as easy to follow today and we left it on several occasions (we later met some British cyclists who had also lost it, so I think it was not just us). Mostly the landscape is very flat here, all farmland interspersed with small villages.

We found some pastries for breakfast – yum.

More mechanical dramas today. Kris’s rear tire was losing air slowly so we decided to change the inner tube. We had three brought from NZ. One we donated a few days ago to a down and out cyclist on the road with an ancient bike and a flat tire (we have come across quite a few of these – they  are like tramps – one of us gave us direction today). So we replaced the tube and had trouble with it bulging when we inflated the tire. Half an hour later or so the tire was flat again. So we replaced it with our last tube. By this time around 10km from the city of Chalon sur Saone. Anyway, this one lasted to the city outskirts before the whole thing fell apart and Kris was pushing his bike. By this time the sun had come out and it was really hot. We walked into the center and found a bike shop – luckily they were very helpful. We were so relieved he could fix the bike right away and have it ready by 3pm. So we had an hour to walk around the city, go to tourist info, buy groceries etc. They also straightened the wheel and replaced the tire which was getting worn.

Then we cycled about 10km to the beautiful little town of Givry and our wonderful accommodation there. I really am quite taken with this town, it is really pretty, and at the start of the next bike route, which evidently goes through vineyards.

All up we did around 70km today.

Highpoints:

  • Picnic in rose garden at Givry- Kris likes drinking the red French wine out of the bottle. We have no glasses with us.
  • Our accommodation is amazing and our best yet. It lifted our spirits after a difficult day. It is in a converted barn attached to the back of a house near the centre of town. Very private through our own entrance off barn/ garage where we store our bikes. There is a kitchen at the bottom with a stone floor and wall (looks ancient). Upstairs is a sitting room, bedroom and bathroom. Elegantly decorated. The only hazard are low beams which are an original feature of the building (Raewyn needs to move in here, the rest of us have to duck). Outside the window we can see the town and church steeple. Behind our place is a large garden enclosed with old stone walls. In the centre a large cherry tree with delicious cherries – we can eat as many as we wish. The hosts are friendly, also go on cycling holidays and speak English.
  • Walking around the town at around 9pm, temperature still 19 degrees and the light fading into sunset.

23 May – To St Jean de Losne

A good ride at around 85km in cool overcast conditions.Still on EuroVelo 6 next to the canal and river- nice and flat.We passed Roquefort but couldn’t find anywhere to buy cheese, so went on to Dole.

Dole is a beautiful small city – the birthplace of Louis Pasteur. We stopped at the tourist info to book our accommodation and then went to the supermarket where Jenny was overwhelmed by the range of cheeses (yes, we did buy Roquefort cheese, plus red wine and pastries – this is the life!).

After riding around Dole and seeing Pasteur’s birthplace we went on to St Jean de Losne where we found our accommodation at around 3pm. We had a picnic on the riverbank and then a few beers and coffee at the waterfront bar adjoining our accommodation.

Highpoints:

  • a man playing the violin on the other side of the riverbank
  • Dole Cathedral interior with huge paintings illustrating life of Christ up high on the nave.
  • seeing boats going through the locks for the first time and chatting to some South Africans who were on the boat, on a canal boating holiday.
  • Picnic on the river at St Jean de Lesne – alongside all the tourist barges.
  • Enjoying the atmosphere at the riverside pub including French music – European tourists, our hosts with their dog, smoking while waiting on table – don’t give a damn in typical French fashion and cannot speak any other language. Numerous locals walking dogs – they really love their dogs here.
  • No broken spokes today!

Lowpoints:

  • The accommodation the worst yet – at the back up a narrow staircase off a dark hall  – all a bit seedy. However after spending some time at the cafe out front we warmed up to the place. We should have been warned by the very cheap price – next time we will ask the tourist info for something a little more expensive!

22 May – EuroVelo6 to Besancon

Today was a shorter (rest) day – only did around 60km on a flat road. It was wet but not cold. The bike route is still along the river and sometimes on towpaths along a canal which has been built to the side of the river. These canals were built in 18th to 19th century and are not functional today. However we began to see quite a few houseboats moored along them today.
We spent quite a bit of time in Besancon, both at the tourist info and looking around the city. We also visited 3 bike shops but none of them could sell us a new wheel for Kris’s bike. Kris is resigned to replacing all the spokes, we think it is due to poor quality spokes as the bike mechanics can’t see anything wrong with the wheel (never buy an Avanti! We have friends that had the same problem with Avanti).

We found our accommodation through the tourist info – it is a bed and breakfast at the top of someones house, practically on the cycle path. It is at Beure, just a few km outside of  Besancon. He charged us 5E less because we arrive on bicycles. The other guests are French and also on bicycles – we all had coffee together when we arrived and a conversation in a mixture of French, German and English.

Highlights

  • breakfast at the farm B&B- our best so far. All farm or local made products. She had made the best apricot jam I ever tasted. Also wonderful cheese. Coffee served in bowls.
  • Reflections of the trees in the canal
  • The rain stopping and fresh feeling in the air
  • Coming around a bend in the river and seeing the Besancon citadel emerge out of the mist up on a hill (looked like something out of Lord of the Rings)
  • riding past citadel fortifications which are UNESCO world heritage site
  • bike path going through a tunnel alongside the canal on entering the city (with water dripping on you from above)
  • Narrow streets and tall white stone buildings in Besancon centre

Lowpoint

  • 1 spoke broken today

21 May – EuroVelo6 along the Doubs (to Baume-les-dames)

We have found our way onto a cycle route along the Doubs river.  It started out as a towpath along a canal, when we left Autrechene, eventually becoming a path alongside a large river. Saw quite a few people fishing along the banks but no boats.

Most of the ride was flat and easy. We ended up doing around 100km, even though our destination was only 70km away, due to going in the wrong direction at the start and then spending some time riding around Montbeliard. Kris bought a French mobile phone chip (expensive) and I bought a pastry (the bakeries here are a joy). We also bought groceries.

More trouble with the spokes put pressure on getting to our accommodation in the evening. Our accommodation was difficult to find but was lovely – rooms at the top of a large farm house.

Highpoints:

  • herons on the river banks
  • locks at regular intervals
  • seeing the river grow and the banks change from farmland to cliffs and trees