Friday, 21 November 2008

Auvergne France 2008

This describes our adventures in the wonderful French region - Auvergne - wonderful from the 1st of August until the 15th of August. We were there just after the 15th and have some great memories of rain and cold. So this was our summer holiday in 2008 when we were dreaming of sun on our skin because of the fairly sad weather back home in Belgium. Anyway, I'm exaggerating, we also had sunny days (they just weren't warm :) and now in November it all seems as a great trip.

We did cross the region from North to South and from West to East. The whole trip was 561 km long and we did around 8000m of positive altitude difference. It took us eight days. Here are the details:

Day 1 - round trip around Mont Dore - 50 km - 500m
Day 2 - Mont Dore - Murol - Condat - 71km - 600m
Day 3 - Condat - Bort les Orgues - Mialaret - 89km - 1100m
Day 4 - Mialaret - Mauriac - Le Falgoux - last turn of the Pas de Peyrol Pass - Le Falgoux - 75km - 1400m
Day 5 - Le Falgoux - Salers - Puy Mary - Lavigerie - 72km - 1700m
Day 6 - Lavigerie - Murat - Prat de Bouc - Saint Flour - 58km - 750m
Day 7 - Saint Flour - Ch√Ęteau d'Alleuze - Chaudes Aigues - St Martin sous Vigouroux - 76 km - 1480m
Day 8 - St Martin Sous Vigoureux - Neussargues - Massiac - 70 km - 50m

You can see a map of the trip here: http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=fr&msa=0&msid=109702653242020781086.00045538f103f756fde10&ll=45.224612,2.71637&spn=1.307721,2.460938&z=9

General: Auvergne is a good cycle touring destination: the landscape is beautiful with a reasonable level of difficulty. Villages you cross are very authentic. There is enough touristic infrastructure and the food is really nice (especially the cheese and meat if you are not a vegetarian like me). The roads were very calm as well we had absolutely no problems with too much traffic. Finally I fell in love with the local cows - Aubrac - which look exactly like the cows in comics that you watch when you're a child.

Day 1 - We were dropped here by car - the original plan was to start in Clermont-Ferrand arrive to Mont Dore on Day one but the weather was bad so we pushed to Mont Dore directly. Mont Dore as well as La Bourboule are typical thermal towns with some nice architecture from the beginning of the century. We stayed in a really nice B&B La Marmotte du Sancy - all constructed in wood - where we also had a nice dinner. We can recommend this: http://www.fleursdesoleil.fr/crans-maisons/63-bouget.htm

Day 2 - the day started with a pass : Col de la Croix Morand (1400m) but that was the only major difficulty of the day. We hanged around Murol, stopped on the way to see the Lake Pavin (worth seeing) and as from there to Condat it was all a long way down. However to finnish we had to climb quite high towards our B&B in Veysset - Les Sorbiers http://www.les-sorbiers.net/ . Nicely situated on a plateau, the B&B is simple but the comfortable. In the same village (it really is a hamlet rather than a village) you can find a very surprising restaurant Chez Marissou. There is no choice in the menu but all food is home made (even the bread), traditional from Auvergne and very hearty http://www.auvergne.fr/le-plus-petit-hotel-du-monde.html

Day 3 - this was the sunny day :) we started by going down which was not bad after the dinner Chez Marissou. The road follows the river la Rhue and there are some nice sights on the way down. We went to see the castle Chateau de Val which is situated on the Bort les Orgues dam. Then we headed to Bort les Orgues and climbed up on the "Orgues" (special form of volcanic stone) from where there is a great view over both the Massif du Sancy and Cantal. We then headed towards Neuvic where we stayed overnight.

Day 4 - This started in the rain so what was supposed to be nice - passing by the Dordgne - was all foggy and we didn't see much. We had lunch in Mauriac where we met other cyclists (that's always a good moment). From there we climbed up the valley to Falgoux, we dropped our luggage in the hotel and went up the Peyrol Pass. This was hard but definitely worth it - even though the weather wasn't great. In Falgoux we stayed in the Hotel des Voyageurs http://www.cantal-hotels.com/lefalgoux/hoteldesvoyageurs/hoteldesvoyageurs.htm. Good value for money simple but comfortable and not expensive.

Day 5 - The hardest and at the same time the rainiest day. This was meant to be a series of wonderful views and turned into battle against rain. But never mind we made it. The good thing we did was that we asked a car to bring our luggage on top of Puy Mary and leave it in the Tourism Centre up there while we were doing our round trip through three passes. We went to Salers where we met our friends cyclists from Mauriac... Salers is indeed a very picturesque place. Then we continued to contour Puy Mary and soon after noon it started to rain which it only stopped as we were approaching our B&B after having passed Puy Mary, frozen, wet and without any view.
Our B&B was wonderful (though up-market but worth it) Auberge d'Aijean - we also recommend to have dinner if you stay there but you'd better reserve: http://www.auberge-puy-mary.com/fr,1,3989.html

Day 6 - We stopped in Murat, charming medieval town, went through the Pass Prat de Bouc - nice and very calm road - to arrive to Saint Flour at the end of the day. This was a rather easy part but we needed it. Our bike as well since when we arrived to Saint Flour we were missing five spokes on the back wheel which is the one carrying the heaviest luggage (and me :). This was just in time to find a repair shop as we had no spare ones.
Saint Flour was also a pleasant break - it's just that our hotel was more than ordinary - Hotel de l'Etape...

Day 7 - another quite difficult day with some rain to wash our sweat... this wasn't difficult because of any passes but because of many ravines that where we had to go down just to go all the way up on the other side. We passed by Chaudes Aigues, another thermal town, and followed the road past the river Tuyere. We stayed in a beautiful B&B (also on the expensive side) ; it is a medieval castle in Lescure - really authentic if it fits in your budget - nice dinner as well. http://membres.lycos.fr/psvlescure/

Day 8 - this was our final day - we first wanted to go to Aurillac and take a train here but we learnt in the B&B that there were works on the line and no train traffic from Aurillac so we had to change our plan and head towards Massiac where we were able to take a train for Clermont. The road from Neussargues was busy and not interesting but we had little choice. On the other hand we quite enjoyed to land in Clermont-Ferrand in the evening and rest knowing there was no need to pedal the next day.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Canal du Midi - France - October 2007


In October 2007 we have cycled past the Canal du Midi, from Valence d'Agen until Sete.
We were lucky as the end of October that year was particularly sunny. The canal and the landscape surrounding it were truly beutiful at the autumn light. Late autumn seemed to us as the best period because:

- there are no crowds: we have only meat few pilgrims and some cyclists while in summer the channel is probably much more crowded
- the autumn light gives wonderful colours to wineyards around the channel
- you need no booking in advance

However in late autumn the rain is more likely and honestly it is not very entertaining to follow the channel when raining.

We have started in Valence d'Agen as we have friends there but you can start even in Bordeaux. From the traject we did the part Valence d'Agen until Bezier was nice. A little after Bezier the landscape is made of caravan parks and sometimes truly ugly.

The cycling path:
Most of the time you will cycle on a dirt path which follows the channel (chemin de halage). This makes you progress slower than on the road and one should take it into accound when planning. Some parts are in concrete. It is better to follow instructions as sometimes you have to change the side of the channel. We used the book Canal du Midi a pied a velo (http://www.amazon.fr/Canal-Midi-pied-v%C3%A9lo-Bordeaux/dp/2841823148) but it is only available in French.

Housing:
There are numerous B&B's on the way and we will cite some below.

Itinerary:
We have done the journey in four days and half.

1st day - Valence d'Agen - Toulouse (approx. 70km)
If you do not know the area and have time you should definately stop in Moissec and have little stroll in the town.
2nd day - Toulouse - Castelnaudary (approx 78km).
A long part of the road is in concrete and hence you progress very well. In Castelnaudary we stayed in a B&B at the port called "Le grand basin" (http://www.legrandbassin.com/). It's location as well as rooms, hosts and breakfast are very good.
3rd day - Castelnaudary - Carcasonne - Marseillette (approx. 78km)
This day we left the channel for a while at Castelnaudary to reach Saint Papoul. A village with a medieval monastry worth seeing (see our map).
Part of UNESCO world heritage, Carcasonne is a must!
In Marseillette we stayed in a B&B "Relais Occitan" (Le Beauvoir route de Capendu 11800 Marseillette). It is located a bit outside the village in an old wine warehouse. Very charming!

4th day - Marseillette - Beziers - Villeuve les Beziers (approx. 90km)
The seven channel locks just before Beziers are truly spectacoulous.
We opted to sleap in Villeneuve les Beziers rather than in Beziers which we found not very welcomming.
In Villeneuve we stayed in La Chamberte (http://www.la-chamberte.com/) a very charming fully renovated and tastefully decorated wine warehouse we can only recomend (the dinner is also very good). But be aware that it is not a low budget place.
5th day - Villeneuve les Beziers - Sete (approx. 50km)
Here we had to leave the path quite soon as it was disappearing and also we have done this part under quite heavy rain. The area around Agde is honestly not very nice, especially when deserted by tourists (as it is the case in autumn).
Total - approx. 370km

Sunday, 9 March 2008

The Netherlands - August 2007

We did our trip around the Netherlands with our parents. It is the perfect destination for cycling in family. Cycling routes are everywhere and altitude is not a challenge. However there are other challenges: the wind and the weather. We all ended up equiped with waterproof capes.

If you want to make a budget trip we recomend staying with inhabitants. You can join the association: http://www.vriendenopdefiets.nl/ and for a symbolic membership fee you can benefit from a very good tarif in their network of inhabitants who accomodate cyclists.

We only had a week and wanted to cover a big part of the country without carrying our lugage. Therefore we opted for the car and bicycle model. We drove to a place did a day cycling and moved forward.

We followed the national cycling roads and we bought the Landelijke fietsroutes maps: http://www.fietsplatform.nl/routes/
This was really helpful.
you can find our tour on: http://maps.google.be/maps?hl=fr&tab=wl but note that this is only approximate given that the roads we followed were often only very small paths.

Here is the itinerary :

Day 1 - Maastricht - 20,5km
Day 2 - Maastricht - Sibbe - Elsloo - Rekem - Maastricht - 56,4km
This was the only hilly part of our trip. We strongly recommend to see Maastricht and its surrounding hills.

Day 3 - Park Hoge Veluwe - 59,8km
This national park with its sandy dunes and heather was a very nice surprise to us.

Day 4 - Meppel - Giethorn - Sint Jansklooster - Meppel - 58,6km
Giethorn is a touristic attraction but worth the trip.


Day 5 - Grooningen - Haren - Oudemolen - Norg - Groningen - 72,7km
The tour in the Drenthe countryside was very pleasant and Groninghen is a nice town.
Day 6 - Niekerk - Lauwersoog - (Schiermonnikoog) - Vierhuiwen - Niekerk - 60,4km
I have to say that the trip to Schiermonnikoog was a bit expensive for what you get. You have to pay 14€ per person and the same price for your bike and the countryside there is not very different from the rest of the coast.
Day 7 - Alkmaar - Heiloo - Wormerveer - Wijk aan Zee - Egmond - Alkmaar - 88,9km
Day 8 - Middelburg - Zoutelande - Westkapelle - Domburg - Veere - Middelburg - 55km
In both last two days we followed the coast for at least a part of the trip and cycling in sandy dunes was very pleasant though it can get boring. Veere is a nice town among those we saw in our last round.

TOTAL - 472,3

Andalousia - tips

Useful things to know:

Seasons: We’ve been there at the end of April - beginning of May and it was just perfect. The countryside was green and flowers were in bloom. It wasn’t too hot which was good for cycling though we have had some rain as well.

Roads: We tried to take smal roads as often as possible and they were mostly in a very good shape (thanks to EU structural funds :). They were also not very crowded. Most of the time we could cycle without being much disturbed. However as soon as we took a bigger road the traffic was much more dense with trucks passing by. If you have time you can nearly always find a secondary calm road that gets you to your destination. The Michelin indication of "sceneric roads" (green line on the map) was usually trustworthy.

Trains: There is no problem to take bikes on trains in Spain. It is a bit more tricky with tandems. If you ask those selling tickets they will be dubious. However we were always lucky and accepted by the controller.

Housing: We originally planned to camp. We were carrying all the necessary equipment with us for just one night in a camping. The problem is that there aren't many campings once you leave the coast. In addition you can find really cheap hotels (between 35 and 55€ per couple) so if you are not on a seriously low budget you can leave your tent at home.

Note that breakfast is usually not included.

Map: we were using the Michelin 1:200000 map of Andalousia. It was sufficient. We also bought the book "Cycle Touring in Spain: 8 Detailed Cycle Tours (Cicerone International Walking)" but honestly it was not very helpful. It only contains eight rather small tours.

People: They are nice and welcoming (specially to tandems :). However they do not speak much of anything else but Spanish (or Andalousian more percisely). But we always managed to get what we wanted with our five words of Spanish.

Andalousia - Our first cycling tour - April-May 2007

This was nearly one year ago and hence some memories might be fading away (such as some hotel names etc.). Nevertheless - here is what we did.

Itinerary (Total 570km):
you can find the map here: http://maps.google.be/maps/ms?hl=fr&gl=be&ie=UTF8&msa=0&msid=109702653242020781086.000448063b5ac33b64e50

Day 1 - Arrival - Seville Airport - distance approx. 20
It is a bit tricky to find a way from the airport to Seville by bike as the only road that goes there is a highway. So for those interested: There is a dirt road that follows the highway and gets you to a cross-road where you can join a normal road. (this is where we had our first flat tyre).

Day 2 - (by train Seville - Las Cabezas) Las Cabezas de San Juan - Villamartin - Prado del Rey - Zahara de la Sierra- 75,68 km
Note that until Villamartin the road is not very interesting it is only once you get to the hills that it becomes a real pleasure.
In Zahara we stayed in Los Tadeos -nice and cheap.

Day 3 - Zahara - Ronda - El Burgo - 72,01 km
This was one of the most beutifull parts of the trip. The part Ronda-El Burgo takes you up the hill to the pass "Puerto del Viento" - 1200m. The trafic is low and the scenary is awesome.
The only negative point is the way to Ronda where you have to share the road with all the cars going to Ronda.

Day 4 - El Burgo - Alozaina - Casarabonela - Alora - 53,11 km
We stopped to eat in Alozaina. We decided for the perfect pick-nic spot: the court of the Alozaina church which has a view over the orange tree orchards.
Note that it was a bit hard to find a hotel in Alora - there are only two of them.
My only regret - we did not go to El Chorro and I think it might have been worth it.

Day 5 - Alora - Antequera - El Torcal Camping - 53,11 km
The road is nice and Antequera as well (though it is not a must). The El torcal camping is very good.

Day 6 - El Torcal - Villa Nueva de la Conception - Puerto de las Pedrizas - Villa Nueva del Rosario - Villa Nueva del Trabuco - Los Alazores - Loja - 79,26km
This part required some serious efforts as it took us through two passes. We went first up to the
Puerto de los Monteses (880m) than down to Villa Nueva de la Conception and again up to Puerto de las Pedrizas (780m). The remaining part is nice and less demanding. In Loja you arrive to Olive trees country.
Note that Loja is really not interesting. If you can avoid staying there, do it. The only hotel we found was at the outskirts and not very nice. The only advantage of this town - the train station.

Day 7 - Loja - Granada (by train)
Day 8 - Granada
Day 9 - (Granada - Loja by train) Loja - Algarinego - Priego de Cordoba - 67,52 km
Very nice day and Priego de Cordoba is definately worth a stop.

Day 10 - Priego de Cordoba - El Esparragal - Luque - Zuheros - Baena - Castro del Rio - Santa Cruz - 84,3 km
Unil Baena the road was nice. Than we decided to spead up and went on the main road (N432). Mostly because we wanted to arrive to Cordoba as soon as possible and because it was about to rain. We first wanted to stay in Espejo but there are no hotels there. All we found on our road was a "road hotel" called after a dog (don't remember the name anymore). There are two of them one on each side of the road. It was better than nothing and really cheap.

Day 11 - Santa Cruz - Cordou - 20 km
Day 12 - Cordou
Day 13 - Cordou - Medina Alzahara - Cordou (-Seville by train) - 30 km
Our original plan was to follow the road past Guadliquivir but it was dizzling and the road was very boring. I guess it is better if you have time to go through the hills north of the river. We didn't and therefore we returned to Cordoba and took the train which allowed us to spend more time in Seville.
Day 14 - Seville
Day 15 - Seville
Day 16 - Departure (Seville - Airoport) - 13 km

See also "Andalousia Tips" on my blog - http://ulicnadan.blogspot.com/2008/03/andalousia-tips.html

Getting started

After having discussed our wish to share our cycling advantures with others - who may potentially use them as inspiration, I have finally found some time to get started.
Ouf.
so here are our notes and - most important - our itineraries from our previous cycling tours (Andalousia, Netherlands and France - Canal du Midi).

This year we're planning to go to Switzerland!

daniela