After several months of not being able to decide where to bike this summer (yes, I have the same decision-making problems as you), I finally made a decision. Sort of. I’ve decided to divide my time exploring three different areas and I couldn’t be more excited! It took a bit of time to work out the logistics, but with that behind me, it’s full steam ahead with the planning.
First, the specifics: I’ll spend one week bicycling the Canal du Midi from Toulouse to Sete with some deviations into the vineyards along the way, one week in Provence and almost a week exploring the vineyards in the Medoc and St. Emilion. It’s a trip that will enable me to sample some of the best bicycling itineraries in Southern France, visit 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and share more insight with you on these popular cycling areas.
Here are a few thoughts on each area of this year’s bicycling adventure:
Canal du Midi
I’ve wanted to bike along the Canal du Midi ever since last summer when I learned about the fungus that has infected 42,000 trees along the Canal. I wrote a post about this fungus, called canker stain (http://experiencefrancebybike.com/42000-canal-du-midi-trees-threatened-by-fungus/) and from that time the Canal du Midi has been on my list of top itineraries to do. While a major redevelopment project is underway to replace the 300 year old plane trees, this 10-15 year project will forever change the appearance of the Canal. The current plans estimate that 4,000 trees will be cut down and replaced each year, beginning this year. Bicycling the Canal during the initial phase of this project will enable me to enjoy the majestic beauty of the decades old plane trees, while at the same time get a sense for what the future look will be.
The trip along the Canal will be full of incredible experiences including the opportunity to explore over 20 towns and villages along the route, including Carcassonne, Europe’s largest walled city. I’m also looking forward to seeing the operation of the 64 locks along the route and learning more about the mechanics of the Canal, considered one of the greatest engineering achievements of modern times. And then there is the wine. We will definitely need to set time aside for the tasting the wines of Corbieres, Minervois, St. Chinian and Faugeres and also for exploring the daily markets along the route.
The Vaucluse Region of Provence
What a difference 5 years has made in the development of cycling itineraries in the Vaucluse. While I have been off exploring bicycle routes in the Loire, Burgundy, Brittany, Aquitaine and the Atlantic Coast and the Dordogne, Provence has been busy establishing itself as a cycling destination, not just for the Tour de France enthusiasts, but also for recreational cyclists like me. The expansion of cycling in this region is just another example of the French commitment to cyclotourism.
Divided into 5 areas with 1,500 km of mostly signposted cycling routes and over 250 Accueil Velo service providers, the Vaucluse just may become my new favorite cycling destination. The area has something for everyone from killer rides up and around Mont Ventoux to easy, weekend and longer itineraries for families and recreational cyclists, and everything in between. There are famous wine towns like Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas and Vacqueyras, several of the most beautiful villages in France including Seguret, Bonnieux and Menerbes, the little Venice of Provence, the town of Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Fontaine de Vaucluse, the Mont Ventoux Biosphere Reserve, lavender fields in bloom from late June through July, the Luberon Natural Regional Park, Castles of Pays d’Aigues, local markets, and the list goes on and on and on. My only regret is that I will only have one week to spend in an area one should spend the summer!
I am still in the process of developing my itinerary for this region but I will be sampling some of the more popular routes in the Luberon including the Veloroute du Calavon, the itinerary through the Land of Ochre which includes the famous town of Roussillon, and the Veloroute of the Luberon. Information on all of these routes are available in English from Velo Loisir en Luberon, a resource that I wrote about several weeks ago. This organization along with Vaucluse Tourism in Provence are not only some of the best bicycling resources, but their customer service is top notch! You quickly get the feeling that this region really wants you to come to visit. They will do everything they can to provide you with exactly the information you need to plan the perfect trip. Your biggest problem will be trying to zero in on where you want to go!
Last but not least, I will spend several days exploring the vineyard routes around St. Emilion, including Pomerol and Fronsac. These itineraries are perfect for a weekend cycling trip if you are visiting Bordeaux or the Charente Maritime, so I’ll look forward to providing you with information on these routes and the attractions along the way.
For those of you who know how much I love canele, the incredible breakfast treat that come from this region, it should come as no surprise that when I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days here, I didn’t have to think twice. In addition, it gives me the opportunity to stay at one of my favorite places in Aquitaine, Chateau Franc-Pourret.
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