ACROSS FRANCE

(Well actually from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Nice)

TO THE MEDITERRANEAN

One of the advantages of taking early retirement is that you can take off at a moments notice. This was the case in mid-Sept 1999 after only being back 2 weeks or so after spending 2 months in France with our motor caravan. The weather was bad and we fancied some warmer weather and especially wanted to have a good cycle tour rather than just doing day rides, which was the case with holidaying with the van (we sold the van in 2002 and now holiday with bikes only). It took a couple of phone calls to book the ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge and a cheap flight back from Nice to Liverpool using EasyJet. Total transport costs for the two of us about 160.

The other aims of the trip were go up Mt Ventoux(one of our favorite mountains) and also to collect more BPF stamps.

* BPF is Brevets des Provinces Francais of which there are 540 (90 departments with 6 in each) scattered throughout France. These are specific points of interest e.g towns or villages of historical, religous or of tourist interest, viewpoints, and some cols e.g Tourmalet, Aubisque, Lautauret, Idzoard, Porte, Aubisque, Allos, Cayolle and others. Set up and organised by the FFCT (the French CTC) you are required to get a stamp for each location on a card.Varying numbers of cards in turn make up a specific region or province (there are 36 of these), for which medals are available. We have been ‘collecting’ these stamps for some years now, it helps to provide us with specific targets when planning any cycling trips.

The trip diary is written as brief notes to give a flavour of the ride.

21/9 - Home to Hull Docks:82mls.Mild,some sunshine,light winds.

Turning up at the normal Tuesday cafe stop with panniers on caused some surprise to our friends - they had no idea we were going away.The Trans Pennine Trail was well marked from around here and very useful in keeping us off main roads as we got nearer to Hull for our ferry. One other cyclist at docks - heading to Holland for a short trip.

22/9 - Zeebrugge to St Amand-les-Eaux: 72mls. Cloudy,few showers, side/head wind.

Off the ferry by 08:00hrs and across Belgium in a day, 90% on cycle paths. Why do Belgium cafes not seem to open until 11:00hrs? Cobbled streets (hard work) and interesting town centre in Tournai. Puncture outside hotel at Armand. BPF stamp here : abbey with spanish tower, priory.

Grand Hotel de Paris in central square, faded glory. Room 185frs. Good meal. Buffet breakfast. Bikes in hotel carpark.

23/9 - 65 mls to Hirson. Sunshine day, side/head wind, warm all day.

Jo was told off at small shop for picking her own fruit. We eventually got onto quiet roads to Bavay; BPF stamp for roman ruins, archaelogical museum. Another puncture later on; changed tyre. Pleasant wooded countryside to Trelon, BPF stamp: forest, lake, working glass museum. All 6 stamps for the Nord department now completed. Tipsy bar owner where we had a coffee, drinking his own profits? GPF signs on road - 67th Grand Prix de Formies road race run every september.

Hotel Le Calais Bale, part of station, bedroom overlooked platform 1, great for trainspotters. Makes a change from road noise. Cost 200frs. Meal and breakfast ok. TV on in restaurant for workers on pension arrangement. Bikes inside hotel in spare room.

24/9 - 68 mls to Beaumont-s-Vesle. Warm sunny day, side/head wind.

One of the flatter bits

Up and down day across rolling farmland. Tractors and sugar beet everywhere. Very few cafes/shops in villages. Took 2 flans into a cafe to eat, barman provided napkins. Busy roads around Riems. Bridge for an essential river crossing was barred, luckily there was pedestrian access, saving us from a busy N road. Expensive hotel was the cost of not going into Reims. Heavy rain in the evening. Spots on my back - flea bites?, but where from? , spare pillow against back at last hotel perhaps - previously used as a dog bed?

Hotel La Maison du Champagne, Logis 2 star. Cheapest room 280frs. White coated waiters and a wine list the size of encyclopedia britannica completes the picture. Not enough calories for a hungry cyclist. Other diners drinking the wine of the region - champagne! We should have shocked them by eating in our cycling gear. Bikes in secure garage.

25/9 - 56 mls to Sezanne. Grey start, brighter & warmer later, little wind.

Champagne vines everywhere, harvest time, distinctive smell. Workers drinking coffee around fires. Caravan accommodation for them on all available spare ground. BPF stamp at Verzy in the hills: panoramic view. Didn’t realise there were so many individual champagne producers. Flatter roads to more champagne fields at Vertus, BPF stamp: 12C church & crypt. Lunch in first class bus shelter. Undulations to Montfort-Lucy, BPF stamp: chateau, church, forest. Totem pole like memorial to decisive 1st WW battle near Sezanne- french won, stopped germans getting to Paris.

Hotel La Croix d’Or, Logis 2 star. quality hotel at 240frs, good buffet style breakfast. Bikes in secure area at rear.

26/9 - 81mls to Magnant. Cool to warm, some brief showers, westerly wind.

Rainbow's end

Sunday cyclists out on roads. Flat at first then slight undulations. Headwind and climb to Montguex, BPF stamp: wine village & panoramic view. Brief heavy rain shower. Bypassed Troyes on quiet roads. Drunk in cafe playing silly games - told off by lady owner. Hunting season underway - old chap tottering down road with gun over shoulder - don’t think he should be out on his own ! BPF stamp at Rumilly: church and manor. All 3 hotels at Bar-s-Seine shut on a Sunday - can’t they organise a rota! Rainbow with all the colours and the end of it clearly seen - but no pot of gold.

Hotel Le Val Moret, Logis 2 star. Motel style rooms at 210frs. Good meal and buffet breakfast.Busy place. Bikes locked up outside our ground floor room.

27/9 - 43 mls to Aisey-s-Seine. Cool, getting warmer, troublesome wind. very cloudy, 20C max.

More vine picking in progress. Cheapest coffee yet, 2 for 10frs at Grancey (mistake?). Got to tourist office at Chatillon at 12:02 - it closed at 12:00hrs. - we had no hotel list for region so were unsure how further to go. Decided on an early finish and some clothes washing, packed in by 14:30hrs. Two other english couples in hotel. One couple on 69 B & B, ferry, 3 night deal from the Times newspaper, the other two splashing out on expensive last night meal & wine before going home - problem was the hotel could not accept their Visa card - machine was broken, left them to sort it out - they had no cash.

Hotel du Roy, Logis 2 star. Excellent stop, 160frs and good 75frs meal. Bikes in secure area at rear.

28/9 - 53mls to Somberon. Becoming sunnier but always windy, no more than 20C.

Hard work with side wind. Other cyclists out - Dijon cycling groups? Hillier countryside now; wooded and very pleasant. Short climb to Alise St Reine for BPF stamp: roman ruins, Vercingetorix statue, views. Why are a lot of these BPF places on top of hills ?! Had our lunch in an old wash house. More climbing on quiet roads to St Seine l’Abbaye; BPF stamp: abbey, close to source of the River Seine. Long distance views on higher ground towards Somberon for another early finish.

Hotel le Somberon, Logis 2 star. 220frs and good meal but inadequate breakfast. Bikes in secure garage.

29/9 - 66mls to Lux nr Chalons-s-Saone. Wet start, getting dryer and warmer. 10 - 20C.

Goretex on for wet descent start. Short steep climb to Chateneauf-en-Auxois for BPF stamp: chateau and views(but not today) Met a Colorado couple, she asks “is it very hilly that way?” They were only going another 20mls today and were not used to rain, “we don’t get rain in Colorado” - what do they get? Missed a turning - did 7mls more. Expensive coffee and sandwich in Beaune; BPF stamp: burgundy wine centre. Vinefields everywhere on way to La Rochepot, BPF stamp:15C chateau and wine centre.That completes the Cote D’Or department. Busy roads around Chalons before finding a hotel.

Hotel Saonoazur, by main road, but reasonably quiet and good value at 195frs with excellent 78frs meal but another inadequate breakfast. Bikes in garage.

30/9 - 58mls to Chatillon-s-Charlaronne. Rain eventually easing off then dry & cloudy.

Revised our originally planned route away from the hills because of the weather. Took a wrong turning when seeking out unsignposted minor roads, finished up at a farm - had to retrace. Puncture later on, but luckily near a cafe - mended it indoors over coffee. Excellent 60frs lunchtime 4 course menu including coffee & wine at Sermoyer - a reward for the naff weather we were having. Met a New Zealand couple from London on ‘town’ bikes having puncture problems, on their way to Avignon. We bought a new tyre for 8 - should have checked mine before leaving home. Stopped early. Biggest, and a very impressive, wooden market hall at Chatillon - a very pleasant town.

Hotel Le Commerce: 1 star good value accommodation & food, 160frs room. Interesting town. Bikes in secure area.

01/10 - 56mls to Bourgoin-Jallieu. Brief drizzle, sunnier and warmer later.

Coffee stop at Montleul - but they did not have any milk, they went out for some. Went to use the toilet - they asked if we needed paper - they did not have any ! Busier roads around the eastern side of Lyon. Took another wrong turning - finished up on unmade road for 1ml. Busy Bourgoin, town centre hotel. Got stuffed on large pizza and fancy big ice creams.

Hotel du Commerce: 1 star, no restaurant. 160frs room, good value 20fr breakfast. Bikes in small secure storage room.

02/10 - 61mls to Alixan, nr Valence. Increasingly windy, mainly cloudy. Cool all day.

First views of snowy Alps. Up and down roads most of today. Goretex on a lot. Gusty winds after Romans-s-Isere, a struggle at times. Another useful bus shelter for lunch, out of the wind.

Hotel de France: excellent small hotel, 140frs room and good 80frs meal. Bikes in secure storage room.

03/10 - 40mls to Montelimar. Rain on and off, very heavy at times. Cold to cool.

Another revised route because of weather; we had initially wanted to head for the hills. Cafe at Etoile-s-Rhone with old slow lady serving, disturbed her watching religous program on TV; 5 old blokes then turned up after church for their pastis. First back wind (the Mistral was blowing). Road awash with rain. Good lunchtime 55frs meal at Livron-s-Rhone waiting for the rain to stop. Flew down to Montelimar on N7 (hard shoulder). Huge painting on power station tower. Packed in by early afternoon. Watched Paris-Tours road race on TV.

Hotel Dauphine-Provence: Logis 2 star with 220frs room. Excellent breakfast. Bikes in secure garage.

04/10 - 38mls to Vaison-la-Romaine. Blue skies & white clouds all day, warm - hurrah!

Climb from Rhone Valley

Lovely road over to Grignan, hairpins, first view of Mt Ventoux. Followed a pleasant cycle route onway to Vaison where we finished by early afternoon. Beers in the sunshine. Eurosport on TV in bedroom had David Duffield commentating (why not in french?) - U23 TT championship. We know the parents of the Aussie who came second - sent them a postcard. Ate out in the evening - busy place with only husband and wife working - arguments in kitchen. We were there over 2hrs. One group left because of slow service.

Hotel le Theatre: central location and cheap at 155frs, indequate breakfast. Bikes in small secure storage room.

05/10 - 40mls to Mt Ventoux and back. Total blue skies but cool northerly wind. Cold on top.

Final slopes of Mt Ventoux

Big market starting up as we left Vaison - traders in woollies and gloves. Coffee at Malacene before ascent. Quite sheltered on the way up, only 1 other cyclist seen until top - took us 2.5hrs. Longs on for final 5k. Heavy frost on north side and ice on the structures. 2 hot chocolates in cafe. Wonder if there is ever a day when Ventoux is open and there are no cyclists up there - about 10 of us today; it's just about our favourite top. Freezing hands on the descent. Headwind back. Mistral wind rattling the hotel shutters. Tried a different restaurant in the evening.

06/10 - 63mls to Fontvieille. Blue skies all day, cold start, Mistral blowing strong.

Goretex on, cold hands to Orange; waiter felt them in the bar. Crossed and followed the River Rhone past Avignon under new bridges for the TGV trains. Lunch in full sunshine with Goretex on. Lovely narrow ascending road with hairpins towards Les Baux de Provence, used by Classic Haribo one day race earlier this year. BPF stamp: limestone crags and gorge, ancient feudal home of Prince of Monaco. Touristy (full of Japaneses, Americans, etc) but impressive.

Hotel Bernard: good room 205frs, good meal 78frs and biggest and best breakfast so far 35frs. Bikes inside in spare room.

07/10 - 77mls to Martigues. Sunny & warm by 11:00hrs with favorable winds, ideal.

Across the Camargue

Student demonstration on in Arles, BPF stamp: Roman theatre and arena. Cycle lane for 90% of the way from Arles to Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, BPF stamp: fortified 12thC church. We liked this place - seemed like the end of the world. Lunch by the sea. Pink flamingoes nearby. Cycleable track across the Camargue, black flies and mossies. Didn’t know mossies could bite through lycra - they can - spotty, and itchy bums the next day. Ferry across the Rhone. Increasingly busy main roads to Martigues, luckily had hard shoulder. Martigues has a nice harbour centre, BPF stamp: known as the provencal Venice.

Hotel Balladins: 2 star ‘business’ hotel but the benefit of buffet entrees & breakfast. Room 220frs. Bikes in spare room.

08/10 - 57mls to Bouc Bel Air,Nr Aix-en-Provence. Total blue skies, warm all day.

Delayed on the way to Istres with 2 troublesome punctures then we missed a turning; getting nowhere fast! - 8mls in 1.5hrs! Bought tyre and tube, threw old tyre away. Into busy Salon de Provence for BPF stamp: 13thC Chateau, 14thC Church, Tomb of Nostrodamus, ramparts, celebrated fountain - got a lot going for it. Long, straightish and ‘heavy’ road to Eguilles - 20+ young cycle campers coming the other way on dutch type bikes. Busy around Aix - had trouble finding somewhere to stay without going into town. Should have gone into town as hotel we eventually found was expensive.

Etape Lani: 2 star room at 270frs (got it reduced from 350frs) but 3 star restaurant! - cheapest menu (but excellent food) was 148frs! Slightly saved by the superb buffet breakfast at 38frs - banannas and cakes in the pocket. Bikes outside but undercover.

09/10 - 54mls to Cassis. Blue skies again and warm all day.

Descent from Col de l'Espigoulier

Up and down roads, with good views, north of Marseille, good cycle lanes. Lots of  cyclists - in fact hundreds of them, was there some sort of event on? Drooled over some smart bikes in shop at Auriol. Lovely area around Massif de la Sainte Baume, BPF stamp. Superb hairpinned descent from Col de l’Espigoulier to Gemenos. Hard to find a non-motorway road to coast - extremely busy. Organised train journey to Nice. Saturday crowds at Cassis- hotels full, should have rung earlier. Climb out for 5k to hotel with no restaurant - bar sandwiches for dinner. BPF stamp at Cassis: Les Calanques (limestone coves). All 6 stamps for Bouches du Rhone department achieved

Hotel Bois Joli: 260frs with good breakfast for 30frs. Bikes outside our ground floor room.

10/10: 10mls and a boat ride. Some hazy cloud, warm with light winds.

Calanques d'En-Vau

Lazy day out in Cassis with the Sunday crowds. Boat trip to Les Calanques, human ‘seal’ colonys on the rocks including some bare ones. Good lunchtime meal in side street. Watched final hour of World Champs road race in bar. Is the Col de Gineste on the road to Marseille the only one with a cycle lane up to it? Weekend motorbikers made the road seem like a race circuit.

11/10: 12mls and a train ride. Increasing cloud, warm with light winds.

Another lazy day. Two german cycle campers on road, they stopped to remove some clothes - literally the cheek of it. Hassle free train journey to Antibes, with a change at Toulon. Good coastal views from train. Ride by sea to St Laurent near airport - traffic and plane noise, and bar noise until after midnight!

Hotel St Laurent: good basic place at 190frs. Ate out by the sea. Bikes outside at rear.

12/10 - Nice to home, a plane and train day.

Easy check in for Easyjet flight - wheeled the bikes up to the check-in, tyres slightly down, pedals off and a bit of plastic around the chain - that’ll do nicely thank you. Beautiful clear views over the Alps - all the cols around Barcelonette, Alp d’Huez hairpins etc etc A hassle free train journey from Liverpool (2 in 2 days - is that a record?) and home by 16:00hrs. That was it then - 1142 miles, only 2 cols, oh and 22 stamps. Back to reality and that decorating still needs to be done

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