2005 – The Pyrenees and the Côte Vermeille

Day 0 – Friday 12th August 2005

After quickly loading our Thunderace with panniers, top box and tank bag. we caught our usual 5:30 p.m. ferry from Newcastle to IJmuiden. We had a really nice buffet in the restaurant, with a window seat enabling us to watch the Yorkshire coast slip by. Instantly on holiday! The standard of food and accomodation on the ferries was good, out and back. We found the best VFM food-wise was the buffet. E25 for as many helpings as you liked. We managed about 6 courses before giving up.

Day 1 – Saturday 13th

Having rolled off the ferry at IJmuiden at around 9:30 we headed south on the first of two days spent covering ground to get down to the Lot Valley. We were booked in that night at the Logis Hotel Au Bord du Lac, St Remy. This turned out to be a really nice little spot.

hotelauborddulac

On the way we were most surprised to bump into Nick and Linda, two friends from ukrm, at one of the Airs. First we recognised the Goldwing – then them. We also stopped at Verseilles for a coffee and quick look at the palace.

Day 2 – Sunday 14th

A day of motorway travel down to the Lot valley. There was quite a downpour as we got near, but nothing our waterproofs couldn’t handle. One new experience for us – being invited to undertake by cars that couldn’t be bothered to pull over to let us past. I can’t say we were happy with the idea, but when in Rome … We stayed the first of two nights at the Auberge De La Sagne, a kilometre or two up the valley from Cabrerets, on the north side of the Lot.

aubergedelasagne

Initially the landlord was a bit grumpy, as we’d neglected to confirm the rooms as we should have, but he soon thawed enough to find a nice safe spot for the bike.

Day 3 – Monday 15th

We eschewed the leathers in view of the heat and trundled the few miles down the road to the very pretty St Cirq de Poppy. After admiring it from the opposite side of the river

stcirqdepoppy1

stcirqdepoppy2

we went up into the village itself

stcirqdepoppy3

and walked through the very steep narrow streets to the lookout point with fabulous views of the Lot in both directions.

westalongthelot

eastalongthelot

We then headed downstream to Cahors. Got chatting to a large party of French bikers at a filling station. They were all from Bergerac and were spending the holiday weekend touring the Lot. Inevitably we ended up having a beer in the village square before wandering round the town and finishing with a late picnic lunch by the river.

On the way back we parked up in Cabrerets and climbed up a very rocky footpath to the Grotte du Pech Merle. It was a longer climb than we realised, which made the drinks in the cafe at the top all the more welcome. We couldn’t be bothered to go round the Grotte.

Come evening we made our way to St Gery where we’d been invited to a BBQ by ukrm’s very own Wavy Davy and the delightful Kate. They own a gorgeous ex-Auberge, well on the way to full restoration, and we ate and boozed (well Pat did) the evening away with them and various members of Kate’s family who were staying with them.

Day 4 – Tuesday 16th

A fairly long day’s drive, but on fun roads. First up was a drive upstream along the Lot, branching off at Carjac to Villefranche, thence cross country to cross the Tarn at Requista, then south to Lacaune and right round the Lac de la Raviege, finishing up at Mazamet, at the foot of the Black Mountains, for the night. Received the usual offer to put the bike in the hotel garage at the back.

Day 5 – Wednesday 17th

Headed south through Carcassonne, through Limoux, left turn at Couiza and through Bugarach to Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse. Here we stopped for lunch (sheep’s cheese sandwiches), and then made our way as close as we could get by bike to the Chateau de Peyrepertuse. This was a Cathar fortress, and still looks impressive.

chateaudepeyrepertuse

Dodging the rain with only partial success we headed on south, passing another Cathar fortess, the Chateau de Queribus.

chateaudequeribus

Thence we took the D117 to join the A9 at Perpignan and the last few miles south to our home for the next week.

We were a bit too early to pick up our key, so we detoured a few kilometres to Ceret – a delightful little market town and the source of a much-needed drink in the square.

Our little townhouse in Laroque des Alberes turned out to be really nice – ground-floor garage for the bike, first floor sitting/dining and kitchen area and second-floor bedrooms x 2 plus bathroom. We knew from photographs that the street it was on was very narrow

laroquedesalberes

but we hadn’t realised this was the main road connecting the old village to the new. Full of life and great fun.

A quick change and over the street (literally) to the nearest restaurant (Casa Lili) for dinner.

Day 6 – Thursday 18th

After a slightly sleepless night (very noisy scooters – why do they do that?) our first full day in Laroque was spent wandering around and stocking up with essential supplies – starting with fresh bread for breakfast from the baker 100 metres down the road. The old village was originally fortified by a circular wall, and is small so didn’t take much exploring.

Day 7 – Friday 19th

Off on the bike to explore the coast – too hot for leathers so we settled for thin shirts and trousers and resolved not to do silly speeds. Hit the coast at Argeles and followed the coast road down over the Spanish border. We immediately fell in love with the Cote Vermeille – beautiful scenery and a really twisty road. We ended up mid-morning on the north edge of Cap Ras, where between the rocks we found a really nice secluded cove in which to strip off and veg out for a while.

Back into France for a long lunch at a beach restaurant at Banyuls sur Mer followed by a slow trundle back up the coast for a late afternoon visit to Collioure. This is another very pretty town, which we’d like to revisit for a bit longer another time.

Day 8 – Saturday 20th

The main item on the agenda was the weekly market at Ceret, which kept us amused all morning as only a good French market can. Picked up some fresh fruit and veg,being amused in particular by the melon-seller who could judge the ripeness of his melons to a T. The lady in front of us wanted four to be eaten on different days, so he picked out four and carefully numbered them so she’d know which was which. We also got some pantaloons for Pat, and listened to the buskers – several of them, in fact, all playing to professional standard but periodically and very unfortunately drowned out by a South American pan-pipe band – just as loud as the regular one we get in Newcastle. I don’t mind pan-pipes, but they’re getting everywhere.

Spent the first part of the afternoon trying to find a way to the top of the mountains behind us – unsuccessfully. So we decided we’d pop up to Perpignan and find an internet café. Bad move. Perpignan was packed out, and huge dark clouds were building. We decided we’d head for home, and ended up spending the entire trip right on the front edge of a squall – barely getting wet and almost enjoying the chase. Once we were back it bucketed down. This was the last rain we saw on the trip, so we counted ourselves lucky.

Day 9 – Sunday 21st

We decided we’d spend the day looking at the coast north of Perpignan. We found this featureless compared to further south, not helped by the wind which was as strong as I’ve ever ridden in. The first beach we stopped at was blowing enough sand in our faces to be painful, but we did eventually find somewhere a little more sheltered – enough to eat our picnic lunch.

Day 10 – Monday 22nd

One of the brochures in the house was for the Gorge de la Fou inland up the Tech river, so that’s where we headed. Well worth a visit.

gorgedelafou

We stopped at a picnic spot to picnic and then headed further up river to Prats de Mollo, the southernmost town in France. The Tech valley is really nice, and again we found ourselves dawdling just to admire the scenery. We tried to get up into Prats de Mollo itself but took a wrong turning and ended up on a tiny road high up in the mountains. We decided exploring was what we’d intended all along.

Retracing our steps we headed up to the Spanish border at the Col d’Ares for yet more stunning views.

spain

In the Pyrenees, as in the Alps, you end up almost overloaded with vistas.

Day 11 – Tuesday 23rd

We fancied another trip to the sea, so we repeated Friday morning, but with a picnic at lunchtime. We had another trip into the mountains behind us in the afternoon but again failed to find a way to the top. The mapping in this part of the world is not the best. Dinner on our last night in the village was at La Cueva, owned by a delightful young Lancashire lass who’d married a Spaniard and settled in France.

Day 12 – Wednesday 24th

Bidding our little house farewell we set off north, due to spend two nights with my cousin and her family not far from Anduse. We stopped off on the way at an olive oil mill, owned by a local cooperative and open to the public.
After a tasting session we selected one of the local bottles, together with a little dish for putting olives in (we’d been looking for a nice but cheap one all week).

We stuck to the motorway as far as Montpelier and then headed north – having great fun on a typical winding N road into the Cevennes. Finished with a dip in said cousin’s new pool.

Day 13 – Thursday

Spent the morning at Anduse market (still more sodding pan-pipes) and the afternoon by the pool, joined by another cousin and his partner who live further up the valley.

Day 14 – Friday

Early start for the long journey up to Contrexeville, near Vitel. The roads were all very busy, full of (mostly French) holidaymakers getting an early start back home. I was interested to note that, with the roads as full as English roads, the lane discipline (which we normally find good in France) descended to English levels. So maybe it just depends on the amount of traffic rather than nationality (with the possible exception of the Belgians).

Arrived in time to have a nice stroll round the town before dinner. Contrexeville is (or was) like Vitel, a spa town – very reminiscent of Harrogate, with a nice park thrown in.

contrexeville

Day 15 – Saturday

We had allowed ourselves enough time to enjoy the Ardennes, so that is what we did. We headed off on country roads, first stop being Verdun. This turned out to be a really nice little town, complete (as expected) with impressive war memorial.

verdun

Coffee, then back on the bike up to Rochehaut. Many on the spring TOG tour to Sedan will remember the gorgeous view from here along the Semois.

After a bite and a drink we made our leisurely way along the Semois to the Meuse, and then down that to Givet where, as last year, we were spending our last night. Our favourite hotel had been refurbished, which was nice, with a compensating rise in costs, which was not.

givet

Still, it was really pleasant sitting out by the river.

Day16 – Sunday 5th September 2004

The final drive through Belgium and Holland to IJmuiden and the ferry home. It was really foggy to start with – to the extent that it would have been a close call catching the ferry had the fog continued – but it didn’t. By now the rear tyre was looking decidedly ragged (as in shiny metal) so we kept the speed down and didn’t detour. Featureless countryside, so a bit of a dull day. Once at IJmuiden we chatted to the other bikers until it was time to board.

I hadn’t realised that, reserving our seats in the buffet on the ferry, I’d picked the second sitting which didn’t start until around 9:00. We asked the very nice girl at the desk to change it to the earlier sitting and, to compensate us for not getting a window seat, she gave us a seat on the edge of the balcony overlooking the piano in front of the huge bow window. So we were serenaded beautifully during our meal. We spent the rest of the evening in the nightclub watching first class singers and dancers.

A nice end to a nice holiday. It was even sunny when we rolled off the ferry.