Categories: Destinations, France
Little Blue’s Big Adventureby Nadine Dirksen - Monday, June 20, 2016
A Bike’s-Eye View
Cycling the South of France
Hey there, Little Blue here! Or, as the mechanics tend to call me, bike model Ti73/1. I’m part of the ExperiencePlus! bike fleet and have arguably the worlds greatest job! Each cycling season, ExperiencePlus! mechanics tune me up and send me out so cyclists can explore Europe and make new friends along the way. I was hand made in Italy and am made of Titanium and I love to spin my wheels on back country roads.
Traveling as much as an ExperiencePlus! bike does, I sometimes fool myself into thinking I’ve seen all of Europe’s wonders. Yet, each time I’m secured on the roof of an ExperiencePlus! van, I feel a tingle of excitement: I am about to see another part of Europe through a new traveler’s eyes – I wonder what my new rider will be like? I can hardly wait to welcome each morning’s crisp air and fresh light as we will set out to follow chalk arrows, wherever they may lead.
Oh, the places I’ve seen!
I’ve traveled through much of Europe, but this month I’m sharing highlights from my new favorite ride: the Languedoc region in the South of France. Languedoc is an undiscovered treasure and it was a true joy to cycle there! I had been to France before but was unprepared for the beauty and diversity of the terrain and scenery. Paired with my new rider, Nadine (who many of you know as she works in our Colorado office), we eagerly set out each morning to pedal through the hilly landscape. It is difficult to fully describe what a great time we had on our 8-day tour rolling through France – but I will do my best.
On The Road
As we started cycling in the distance we saw the Cévennes Mountains – on approach, I found them to be a nice warm up to kick-off our bike tour as we wound around the lush green foothills. It felt like spring in the South of France as we pedaled under big skies, rolling hills and through clusters of red poppy flowers in bloom.
Every day new roads took us to ancient villages that dotted the route and Nadine made sure to stop and explore a number of them. Whenever she could, Nadine rested me in the shade while she recharged with local delicacies like flaky croissants, baguettes, olives, dried tomatoes and one day I think she had an elaborate French lunch complete with a refreshing glass of rosé gris wine.
Fairy Tale Forests
After cycling through the foothills of the Cevennes we had some days in dense, fairytale-like forests. I half expected unicorns and dragons to emerge at any moment. My wheels turned as we cycled up scenic ascents and down descents, rolled over stone bridges with water rushing underneath, and climbed at a leisurely pace until reaching impressive views of the valleys below. Countless times Nadine expressed her delight with Languedoc’s magical vistas.
Nadine and I were stunned by the abundance of flora within the Cevennes foothills and the forests but then the scenery changed again just a few more days into our ride, bringing similar delights as the route evolved into more coastal Mediterranean terrain. While descending down to our accommodations in Ganges, Nadine and I stopped several times to peek over the low stone wall alongside the road and gaze at the beautiful gorge we were riding along.
To The Sea
After an exciting match of Pétanque before dinner, Nadine and I rested up eager to tackle some great climbs and one of our longer days and head to the sea! In the morning we climbed to one of the most beautiful and picturesque medieval villages I’d ever seen. Remote Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert is a rare beauty. Time seems to be standing still in this ancient community set around its medieval Abbey. After exploring alleys vibrating with history Nadine enjoyed a delicious crêpe for lunch before we hit the road, zooming downhill across the “Devil’s Bridge”. Both Saint Guilheme and the Devil’s bridge are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and deservedly so. That day we finished our ride with a gorgeous view of the blue Mediterranean Sea laid out before us as we approached Sete.
Following The Ancient Trade Route
The next morning we followed the chalk arrows along a bike path stretching out several kilometers along the coast. This path connected up with the famous Canal du Midi, where we waved to river barges and their crew and fellow cyclists along our tree-lined ride. I have seen my share of rivers and waterways, but let me tell you – following an ancient trade route that connects the Atlantic with the Mediterranean Sea is impressive in so many ways. The towns, the Canal infrastructure remind you of the goods that were moved along this 240 km long waterway over the past centuries.
We continued following another trade route as we left the sea and headed inland to Narbonne. Narbonne is on yet another important historic trade route dating back to Roman times. We partook in some trade ourselves when we took a detour to the other side of the river before our ride the next morning to stock up with food at the local market for our lunch picnic. Bustling with activity, vendors displayed the likes of freshly baked bread and pastries, sea food, fresh picked fruit and of course delicious cheeses.
We pedaled out of this friendly city and weaved our way along vineyards and gentle hills. Not realizing that the most impressive view of the ride was still in front of us until we turned a corner and like a giant castle we viewed the impressive Carcassonne walls. It was a sight to behold to see the man-made fortified city against the cloudless blue sky. It’s a pity that bikes can’t eat, I hear that the local specialty: cassoulet is a delicious piece of history within the city’s walls.
Languedoc – the South of France certainly stole my heart – and seems to have taken Nadine’s as well. I was sad to say good-bye to Nadine and to France but did feel like I had done my job well. Back home in Italy I knew some thorough wellness treatment (some folks call it “maintenance”) was in store before I roll out on my next assignment. Where it will take me? Only time will tell, but I am certain it is going to be a great adventure!