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PS. A few pics of some memorable days in Biarritz.

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Day 12. 16 June. Soustons to Biarritz. 36 miles. Grand total since St Nazaire, 486 miles.

Yes! We’ve arrived and to prove it we’re here:

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A spectacular view (of the lighthouse, not us) when entering Biarritz.

Leaving our charming hostess Lucie and her little boy Marius, after hearing about her passion for Montessori education, we bid a fond farewell and set off in cloudy but dry conditions. We soon found a smooth bike path through the dunes, which then continued alongside quite a busy main road connecting the many seaside towns and villages. The busiest was Cap Breton with its impressive jam packed harbour:

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Then it was another smooth bike path alongside a mosquitoish river until we reached the outskirts of Bayonne, whizzing through a huge industrial estate as we did so – just as well that it was a Saturday.

The weather was getting warmer and sunnier the whole time and as we left Bayonne, it was time to think of eating again. Having taken a small road uphill to cut off the coastal corner, it was good to come across a friendly bistrot and to begin celebrating the end of our journey with an extra large beer apiece and excellent salads. Dick had the equivalent of a full English – fried Serano bacon, a fried egg, sheep’s cheese 🐑 and a pile of lettuce, whereas mine was a tasty chicken breast salad.

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Our final eaterie after 486 miles.

It didn’t take long to get to Biarritz after lunch but finding the Hotel Gammaritz was another matter. Dear old Eileen, my trusty Garmin satnav, got very confused and sulky by Biarritz’s myriad of tiny streets, but eventually brought us to the front door. Although in a peaceful spot, Biarritz is home to a motor bike fête this weekend and so there is a general roar of Harley Davidson’s and other bikes around the town.

Ann arrived safely before lunch and Penny is due any moment.

Dick’s final job after arrival was to inspect the wound and to show it off before the stitches are removed on Monday. Here it is looking better than it did last Monday!

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Dick’s blesse de guerre.

And on that note, it’s farewell from Dick and I, having enjoyed our third fantastic trip examining wine and food regions of France.

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Day 11. 15 June. Somewhere to Soustons. 55 miles.

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This was the house and garden where we stayed somewhere last night – note the trespassing deer. It all looks nice enough but it was unfortunately run by a bit of a dragon of a Madame and her glum husband. Le Grand Slop was our unphotographed dinner and breakfast was mediocre too. She gave me a right old telling off for asking her to dry some washing in her tumble dryer before leaving and was most upset when Dick refused her order to have his blesse de guerre seen to again, saying that he would prefer Nurse Martin to bandage him up. But she meant well.

So having said farewell to the intrepid round the world cyclist Robert, who was off to Bordeaux, we set forth on our penultimate day along relentless empty straight roads with the odd timber lorry thundering by. Timber lorry drivers seem to be the same the world over.

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There’ll be no pining when we see the last of these.

After stopping for lunch at a bar, the tedium of pine trees 🌲 was broken when coming across possibly  the largest field of leeks in the world, at least 100 acres, being harvested by this fancy machine:

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Not long afterwards the tinkling of goat bells sounded more Alpine like as they foraged amongst the trees:

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Then came perhaps the largest asparagus field in the world with only the smallest of fences to keep human foragers out:

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Due to the smooth straight boring roads and a favourable wind we upped our moving average rate to a grand 9.2mph and we were nearing our destination by shortly after 3.00, allowing plenty of time to study menus in pretty Soustons, situated just inland on a massive lake.

What a contrast when checking in at our b&b! The charming young hostess greeted as warmly and told us of all the separate languages that exist in France and how important it was to keep them alive. Her local language was Occitaine  of which there are several dialects, and gave us a rendering. It sounded very Spanish and she said it was an ancient Latin language. Then came a guided tour of her husband’s huge vegetable garden and picked strawberries, raspberries and blackcurrants for us to eat.

All was going well with our preparations for dining down on the lake when Martin noticed a flood moving slowly but surely from his shower out into his bedroom. Grabbing a towel and shouting for assistance, Mr Mop then appeared armed with a brush, mop and bucket and promptly shunted the flood back where it came from. Luckily there was no carpet to get soaked.img_20180615_182440821

Mr Mop in action.

Finally, we took our hostess’s advice and cycled down to a very nice restaurant on the lake. After some anchovy paste on bread Dick had crayfish ravoli with a lobster sauce whilst I had a local salad. Then came some giant grilled Gambas for Dick and a marmite of mussels and razor clams for me, after which we both had strawberry tart. The patron also gave us a Cognac each which rounded off an excellent meal. Here, for perhaps the last time, some of you might be pleased to hear, is the pictorial evidence:

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The journey back to the b&b in the dark was drizzly – the only rain we have had since 5 June except for a few spits and spots but it was nothing much. We have been very lucky given the storms and deaths in France during the same period.

So, tomorrow is our final day before reaching Biarritz during the afternoon and meeting Ann and Penny. It has been a fantastic journey which we have both enjoyed very much.

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Day 10. Bordeaux to somewhere deep in Armagnac country. 62 miles.

Leaving Pessac on the outskirts of Bordeaux after a 2 night stay in a very comfortable b&b, where Madame made huge quantities of Bordeaux delicacies to consume at breakfast, we soon found ourselves whizzing along the M25 for cyclists, except that we were alone. It wasn’t long before we were in Graves and Sauternes country with immaculate wine estates tempting us to have a degustation, but as it was only just after 9.00am we thought it was just a tad too early.

On we whizzed, just as well as we had a long day in store, down endless straight roads with pine trees as far as the eye could see. The expected hills never materialised and so 34 miles had been covered as the clock struck one o’clock on an 11th century church we came across in a tiny hamlet, once owned by King Edward (the first?) when the Brits ruled in Acquitaine.

Having stopped to buy a picnic lunch in a lovely old fashioned village which still had a boulangerie and an epicerie, it was a treat to sit and admire the church, from the outside only, and to share our lunch with a local dog which could smell our pate 100 metres away.

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And, of course, the church in question.

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But it wasn’t St Martin’s.

A mid afternoon beer was required to replenish some energy, assisted by nuts, raisins, some freebie Nestlé chocolate things given to us in Bordeaux yesterday, Coke, water and anything else that could be found, particularly as the final part of the journey took longer than expected.

Ending up in the middle of a pine forest miles from anywhere, with no beer but an aperitif promised at 8.30 and dinner at a late 9.00 is not what we have come to expect. However, the garden is nice and so is the owner’s dog which is 75% Labrador and 25% English Setter, but not quite so daft as a 100% English Setter.

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So it’s been a bit of a 🐕 day today so far. Let’s see what supper has in store, and any chance of an Armagnac I wonder?

Postscript. The dinner was not memorable or worth photographing but we enjoyed the company of a fellow cyclist, Robert Cleave, who is cycling around the world, having started in Agadir for some reason. He is raising money for Cancer Research and Traidcraft. His wife is joining him in Bordeaux but doesn’t expect to see much of him for the next 18 months it seems. He is seeking support at http://www.robertsride18000.com . Here he is with Dick:

And here is Dick being attended to by our strict hostess for the evening with her special medication!

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Bon nuit one and all.

 

 

 

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Day 9. Bordeaux. 0 miles.

Yes, a day off sans velos and what a great day we had exploring the sights of Bordeaux. A bus from outside our b&b took us into town where the first stop was the tourist office to get the low down on what to see in a day, and where to eat of course. That resulted in a useful walking map which took us around key buildings and monuments, too many to list here. Fortunately, the second one, a flatiron design similar to the Flatiron building in New York was also the HQ of the Bordeaux wine growers association and had an excellent wine bar……. That delayed our tour somewhat, and then lunch followed soon after, and so it was not until 4.00 that we had finished. Needing another degustation, we then jumped on a tram back to the Citie du Vin that we passed yesterday to sample some Margaux on the 7th floor with a panoramic view of Bordeaux;

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Bordeaux is a very beautiful and lively city which needs at least a long weekend to explore it properly. More pics to be added in due course, but the day would not be complete without some reminders of what we ate during the day:

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But not quite enough room for this beast:

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So, feeling replete after a brilliant 4 course meal of local food in a little restaurant discovered in a back alley, washed down with a wonderful bottle of house red, we said farewell to the owner and his staff, who as you can see we got to know quite well whilst there, and staggered to the tram stop for the journey back to our b&b.

Our longest day is tomorrow, possibly 60 miles, and so all today’s fine Bordeaux food and wine should provide the energy we will need.

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Day 8. Blaye to Bordeaux. 38 miles.

It was fortuitous that today was a fairly relaxed ride with a late start as the ferry from Blaye to Lamarque did not leave until 11.00am. Dick’s ankle seemed to be in good shape but his bank card was not, refusing to disgorge cash at 3 separate banks for no known reason.

Blaye is a very pretty town with a massive citadelle to keep out the Anglais, as our b&b proprietor M Amouller was pleased to remind us. There was no time to pay a visit but here it is from the middle of the Gironde:

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The circuitous route to Lamarque, avoiding low tide mud banks, took 30 minutes. From here onwards it was chateaux every 100 metres or so with vineyards stretching as far as the eye could see.

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This was serious Margaux country and you’re not allowed to forget it.

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Margaux itself is a small village but the Appellation seems to cover a large number of adjacent villages too, no doubt for the benefit of the local economy. Sadly, none was degusted en route, but we did stop at what first appeared to be a grotty riverside restaurant which produced a dish of whitebait and a tomato salad which proved to be an excellent lunch:

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As we got closer to Bordeaux the traffic got very heavy and so it was a relief to find a quiet route following a tramline which took us to Bacalan, home of the astonishing Citie du Vin building which we plan to visit tomorrow:

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Bordeaux is a huge city. The river front alone is 2 miles wide and it stretches inland for over 7 miles, as we discovered when cycling out of town to our b&b for 2 nights in Pessac, following Rue de Pessac and Rue Pasteur for most of the way.

Yes, we’re having a day off tomorrow! The first time we have ever stopped en route to soak up some culture, and perhaps some Margaux too.

Pessac is a pretty featureless place and although the b&b is quiet and comfortable, it is not within easy reach of many restaurants. The nearby American style retail outlets sported just one that was open this evening, a Japanese establishment that turned out to be very good and so we shouldn’t complain.

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But some serious eating might be in store for tomorrow in Bordeaux, a 45 minute bus ride away.

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Day 7. Meschers to Blaye. 53 miles.

This turned out to be a bit of a bloody day. After a fantastic stay in Meschers, still recovering from being plied with home made Pineau and other drinks, and eating large helpings of food from Pierre and Mauricette, we set off on a tour of small villages and even had some significant hills to climb with  wonderful views from cliff top Charentais vineyards of the Gironde:

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The 2018 vintage in its infancy.

Eventually we descended an 18% hill, with a sharp bend to encounter half way down, until we reached sea level. Thank God for inventing disc brakes.

This was the first time we had seen chalk cliffs and impressive they were too:

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The sea had long receded, for a mile or more, leaving the horizontal lines in the chalk and the land cultivated beyond.

Then it was deep into the flat marshes, miles from anywhere, when Dick bashed his right ankle against a pedal whilst standing next to his bike, resulting in the first aid kit being required. Several mini sized plasters were needed to cover up the gash together with a so called sterile dressing, several years old, which I had discovered in the depths of a bedroom drawer whilst packing for the ride. This all did the trick but there was clearly a need to find a pharmacy which could assess the injury. So on we pushed along a very narrow and bumpy track parallel to the beach for several miles before turning inland to a village, only to find, of course, that the pharmacy was closed for lunch and would not open until 2.30. So there was nothing to do except have a beer and some lunch in the village bar, which produced an excellent sandwich for Dick and an omelette aux cepes for moi:

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At 2.30 we entered the pharmacy who were brilliant. They replaced the amateurish attempt at covering the wound with a proper dressing but said that a trip to hospital was necessary for some sewing to be done. They would not charge for the dressing but just in case the same thing happened again a large quantity of new plasters of various sizes was purchased.

As it happens, our destination, Blaye, had the largest hospital in the area and so on we pushed, arriving at 4.00pm. Dick was attended to immediately, or so it seemed, as he was whisked into the operating theatre area without delay, only to wait for over an hour before being seen. Meanwhile there was a large supply of out of date French magazines to read in the reception area. Eventually, at 6.30, Dick reappeared sporting a very smart ankle bandage covering up 7 stitches, or points as they are known locally.

Luckily our b&b for the night at Chateau Fredignac was only a short distance away and that proved easy to pedal to, but there was no meal available. So after checking in and having a petit degustation with the owner of two of his finest red wines, we set off into Blaye to eat at his recommended restaurant, Le Marina, which proved to be one of the best meals that Dick and I had ever encountered. It was staggeringly good. Go there!

Dick’s starter was scallops with Serano ham and asparagus, and mine was a large assiette de fruits de mer. Then came a succulent and well cooked duck breast for Dick and half a delicious skate wing with capers for me, followed by ice cream and local cheeses, all washed down with pichets of fabulous white and red Cotes des Blayes.

So after an eventual day it was back to Chateau Fredignac for a comfortable stay and to see how the points might bear up for the following day’s ride to Bordeaux.

 

 

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Day 6. Fouras to Meschers. 57 miles.

Sitting here at 10.00pm on  a terrace outside my room overlooking the lovely garden of our b&b in Meschers, following a 5 course meal washed down with an aperitif, fine Charentais wine and a cognac is not a bad way of ending another long day.

We were very lucky once again with the weather today as many parts of France, including our area, have been hit with horrendous thunderstorms and the loss of 4 lives today. We had glorious conditions all day and have still only experienced a few minor drops since Tuesday.

Starting from our hotel in Fouras, we firstly stopped to admire the seafront fort:

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and then zig zagged to Rochefort where we took our own personal ferry over the Charente instead of the notorious bridge, heaving with traffic going to the Ile d’Oleron for lunch.

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Waiting for our ferry across the Charente.

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Once across, the ride became quiet and peaceful as we meandered through quiet lanes down to Marennes, which claims to be the oyster capital of the world. We headed for Marennes Plage, highly recommended for a seaside holiday with children as it effectively has a large seawater swimming pool unaffected by the tides thanks to a clever bit of French pimping, sorry, pumping.

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Marennes Plage

After a pleasant lunch in a beach bar, we climbed the bridge over the Sarthe which had a reasonable cycle lane and space on the top to admire the view out to sea and Ile d’Oleron:

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A pretty route through hilly and forested sand dunes then brought us to a very busy stretch of coastline leading to Royan, where half the population was on the beach and the other half was watching an air show. Cycling on crowded cycle paths in that situation is more dangerous than on roads, with endless junctions to negotiate. Despite the buzz and the fine views across the Gironde it was a relief to head inland to find our b&b for the night, and to receive a warm welcome from our host Pierre and his wife Mauricette. Pierre soon provided a much needed beer and told us about his passion for bee keeping. Sadly, pesticides have been slowly reducing the bee population in France and he now has just one hive compared to 7 a few years ago due to bee mortality.

Although not speaking a word of English between them, Pierre and Mauricette were patient with our rusty French as we covered many topics around the dinner table, including brandy production, Macron of course and the G7 fiasco. French farmers are also blocking roads again, which hopefully Macron will do something about. I hope they don’t block our path tomorrow.

Dinner was fabulous, starting with the Pineau aperitif followed by delicious homemade fish soup (the second time we have had fish soup this week), then melon soaked in more Pineau, then thick slices of merlue / colin poached and then fried lightly in flour served with ratatouille and pasta, then a cheese board, then a pudding of peaches, apricots, bananas and apples soaked in more alcohol and finally a choice of digestivs. Here are some more food pics for your enjoyment:

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Finally, did you know that the route we took down to La Rochelle was almost identical to that being done by the Tour de France this year, which starts from the Ile de Noirmoutier? The only difference is that what took us 3 days to achieve, the Tour will be doing in one.

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Another longish day due tomorrow and maybe a few hills as we wend our way down the Gironde for a stay in a chateau near Blaye and sample Bordeaux for the first time.

 

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Day 5. La Tranche sur Mer to Fouras, via the French fens. 59 miles.

Our longest day yet but a very enjoyable ride in splendid weather across a fascinating landscape.

Our quirky b&b proved to be excellent, not only in terms of comfort (Dick said he hadn’t slept so well for months) but the petit dejeuner was the best yet. So off we set as early as possible, at 09.30, because we knew we had a long day to come. Jean-Claude, the partner / husband of our hostess Caroline, was an avid cyclist and, indeed, a former champion of various events in California where he used to live. He was also a good mechanic and pumped up Dick’s tyres to the correct pressures resulting in an easier and faster speed throughout the day.

Here we are saying farewell to our hosts:

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It wasn’t long, however, before there was a shout behind us and Jean-Claude came steaming down on his mountain bike with clip on pedals but wearing only slippers, clutching Dick’s water bottle that he had left behind. Just as well as there was a thirsty day in store.

Good progress was made initially but an error of map reading by yours truly resulted in a longer but very picturesque detour down a long tidal inlet before having to head back inland to start navigating the enormous area of French fens north of La Rochelle.

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