It’s a new year and time once again to focus on a new goal to keep me in the saddle, so to speak. At this time of year, even here in Austin, it’s often gray and at least chilly if not actually cold (where cold is reserved for temps around freezing). As much as I always enjoy getting out to cycle, gray and chilly isn’t typically a recipe to motivate me to get out there.
But then the realization hits that I have a bike tour that I’ve already arranged for the new year. At least I’ve put a deposit down. I don’t have flights or any other details worked out. There’s still the ingress and egress to work out. Using a bike tour company, the getting there and getting away are the main challenges to work out.
This year I’ll be cycling Corsica and Sardinia. Here’s the tour company take on Corsica at least from when I expect to be cycling and the distance. Details at this juncture on things like elevation are limited but based on what I know, I expect the tour to be “lumpy”. These islands in the Mediterranean are not flat.
For Corsica, day 1 and day 11 with “no cycling” is typical. Actually, you do cycle on day 1 but it’s just to make sure your bike is in working order. It’s short.
Day 11 is a transition/travel day from Corsica to Sardinia.
Looks like a good mix of cycling and rest days. (Where some of those rest days may involving hiking or some other activity.) If you’re keeping score at home, my tally of the mileage works out to be around 719 miles.
I hope to be ready to simply enjoy those miles rather than consider them a major challenge. So… I’ve been getting rides in any time I can so far this year. And, I expect to keep that up.
Day 3 had doing a loop ride out of Rocamadour and then right back to stay at the same hotel as day 2.
The weather and the riding on the routes in this area were again fantastic and especially in the morning.
The photo at the boulangerie (bakery) was a particularly fun little stop in the morning. Nothing fancy, just some good coffee and a croissant. That’s Jim on the left there, me on the right.
By mid day we had arrived at a planned activity for the day and that was a visit to Gouffre de Padirac. Quite touristy but also actually pretty cool – quite literally. You descend into this giant hole in the ground to find some spectacular caverns and an underground river. And, it was much cooler down there than up top so I was glad that we had been given a heads up to bring something more to wear. I was also glad to not be in cycling shoes down there. It’s wet, its slippery and you actually do quite a bit of walking up and down stairs.
You’re prohibited from taking photos while on the tour (though that has to be hard to police and I saw more than 1 tourist being admonished) so consequently I don’t have any to post here. I would suggest instead you check out the official website.
The darker evening photo was taken from our terrace dinner location back in Rocamadour. Rocamadour is pretty small. There where other restaurant options but many of us – based on recommendation – opted to eat again at the same terrace restaurant we had been at the night before. Food was again good – I got the duck. The most enjoyable part though was simply being able to dine outdoors in what amounted to room temperature. It was really perfect weather to be outdoors in the evening.
I’d be remiss while I jot notes about Rocamadour if I didn’t also mention the cheese I ate at every opportunity while visiting. I’d never actually heard of it before the visit but the 1st night it was served as part of the dessert courses and then I noticed it was available (along with some meats/cheese) at breakfast the next morning. It was rather aptly named Rocamadour Cheese and was a little goat cheese served in a small flat and round shape. I’ll look for it around here in Austin but I don’t expect to find it. I did, however, find it in other nearby towns. In fact, I bought some more in the town of Sarlat, which would be our next destination.
One last photo. This one was taken from my hotel room window just about sunrise as we prepared to head out and ride to our next destination.
Day 2 had us heading off from Brive to the little village of Rocamadour.
Check out the link to read more about Rocamadour but as you can see from the photo it’s a beautiful little town tucked into the limestone cliffs. As you can also see, the weather we had that day was spectacular. Warm but not hot – at least by Texas standards for the time of year.
The route from Brive to Rocamadour was in my opinion outstanding. While there’s undoubtedly some troublesome traffic to endure as you leave the center of Brive, once you’re out on the rural roads it was quiet, quaint, rolling and picturesque.
Not far out of Brive we had a pre-arranged visit planned at a little farm and bakery. Had this not been pre-arranged it would have been very easy to simply roll by just another farm. But having pulled in, we were directed into a little barn and inside was the owner of the farm/bakery was a big wood fired oven and a whole lot of loaves of bread and bread-making equipment. He was also in the midst of making more bread with plenty of doughy goodness ready to be stuffed in the oven. You can see a photo here of some of the loaves in a big bin. The best part of course was sampling the fresh bread!
After leaving the bread behind and what seemed like a relatively short ride on our route we passed through another pretty little town named Collonges-la-Rouge. The town is clearly mostly a tourist attraction at this point but it’s beautiful. I didn’t take a lot of photos here but you can see one I’ve included. The town was built entirely of red sandstone bricks. Had I arrived post the noon hour I would have been inclined to stop for lunch at what looked like some interesting little places. I was a little too early though so I kept on.
Our route that day was 47-something miles and the afternoon presented both some warmer temps and some hill climbs. Challenging enough but the grades were not that bad and the roads were quiet. It was an outstanding route into Rocamadour.
Rocamadour consisted of pretty much one main street at the base of the cliff. Along the street were mostly shops and restaurants and hotels. It definitely exists mainly as a tourist destination though I would say I didn’t find the touristy bits to be too overdone. In late August, we were told the crowds were much less than just a couple weeks before.
Our hotel was right in the center of the town and conveniently had two highlights: the first was that it had a really inviting terrace/bar next to the hotel. It was shaded in the afternoon and afforded good people watching at the same time. Our crew of riders and guides gravitated to the terrace given the fantastic weather and tasty beverages. You can see a photo of some of the group laughing it up at the terrace bar post that 2nd day ride. Good times.
The other good thing about the hotel turned out to be its restaurant. The food was excellent and it too had a terrace. Loved dining outdoors!
Next day: a loop ride and right back to Rocamadour.
Alright, let’s get to the cycling already. I mean, that’s the main reason I traveled to France this year, right?
There are a lot of different ways to do bicycle touring. I’m open to most of the options when it comes right down to it but in recent years tend to favor bike tours where you pay a tour company to literally do all the heavy lifting for you. The routes are time tested, you ride from town to town, hotel to hotel. Guides are with you all along the way with van support, water, snacks. They handle the details and you just enjoy yourself. Most meals are included. You enjoy the cycling and more often than not it’s just a good time.
Oh, but then of course you pay for all that convenience. But where in the world is that not true.
Sometimes I might bring my own bike on a tour like this one (like last year) but this time I took one of theirs. It really all depends on what the tour company has to offer. In this case, it was a titanium bike with plenty of gear ratios. My bike has better componentry but this time I concluded not by a wide enough margin to be a factor. So, I brought my bike shoes, seat & pedals (and seat post – which I’ll explain later) and it worked out fine.
The photo above is of the group getting all fitted and ready to start the tour. 11 riders, 2 two guides. Nice ratio.
The ride on the 1st day on a tour like this is invariably something short. I would hazard a guess the main point is just to check out the gear and make sure you don’t have any major surprises. Any bike tour company I’ve used operates this way – and yet I always wish we’d just get on with it and get in a good ride. At least this year it was a nice little lumpy loop ride that we could just do a 2nd time if we wanted more time in the saddle.
The other photo here is of the group at the first dinner. Intros all around, great food & wine, and you can see of course it also makes for a good point at which to review the next day’s route map and elevation profile. In this case we were gearing up for 47 miles and some hilly terrain. Nothing mountainous in this part of the world.
More on the next day’s route in the next post.
After my overnight at Le Petite Clos I headed for Brive and what would be the start of my bike tour down the Dordogne river valley.
I arrived a day early knowing I typically take a couple of days to deal with jet lag.
Brive seems like some other small cities I have visited in Europe in that it has something of a sprawling and modern outskirts and then a very small historical core center, often with one or more lovely old church or similar historic buildings. In my jet lagged stupor I mostly just walked and browsed the little side streets of the central core.
My hotel, the Truffe Noire, which you see pictured in this posting was essentially on the edge of the historical center. Other than it’s convenient location, the restaurant was the key feature that otherwise set the hotel apart. The food was good. The room was nothing special but then I didn’t spend much time there.
You can see my room from the front of the hotel because it’s the one, again, with the window wide open. The weather was nice.
The other photo below was the view out my window.
The hotel was the meet-up point for the bike tour and even before the official metope time on my 2nd day at the hotel we started to meet one another. But we all got together officially at 2pm in biking gear to ready bikes and do our first short loop ride.
Next up: we’re off to Rocamadour.
One of the fun things about visiting France is happening across the markets – what we’d refer to as a farmer’s market – that you find in the little towns and cities. I stumbled on this one in Brive on a Tuesday morning before the bike tour group met and just a short walk from the hotel. I didn’t investigate but based on the weekday time and the location of the market (under a big shelter house) they may run it every day. In other little towns they block off and take over the streets of the town/city.
This one in Brive had plenty of interesting things to choose from. Vegetables, flowers, meats and cheeses of all kinds. If I’d been staying in a house as opposed to a hotel room and about to bike out of the city I would’ve gotten some things for later. But it’s still fun to look.
For bigger versions of the images, click through to open new windows.
1st Stop: Le Petite Clos
I can’t believe I haven’t posted anything since January. I should go back and post date some travel experiences. I may just do that but then this post will look a little odd because the casual observer will see postings between Jan and August and then this comment will be a little out of context. Anyway … I’m off to France! Actually, I’ve already been and am just now starting to take some time to post some of the photos and maybe a few notes. More than just the caption in a photo album would allow.
As I’ve no doubt mentioned before, I love to travel but the connections to my destination of choice are often the most exhausting part of the experience.
As with my trip to Spain a year ago I chose this time to simply rent a car upon arrival to make my connection to what would be the start of another bicycle tour. And as with last year I strategically found a small inn just a couple hours out of my arrival city to hole up and relax for a bit. (I use the map view of TripAdvisor to essentially do the equivalent of throwing a dart at a spot on the map that seems about where I would want to end up and then see what’s around there that looks interesting.) In this case, that was the small town of Chaumont sur Tharonne just a few miles off the Autoroute.
I really enjoyed my short stay at Le Petite Clos. This place is indeed small as you can see in the photo. (5 rooms) I had the room upstairs in the corner. The one with the window that is wide open.
My host Rene was both helpful and friendly. After showing me my room he offered coffee and cookies at a table outdoors in the garden area. Perfect place to unwind. And I needed the coffee. Experience shows that getting off my caffeine schedule can be one of the worst parts of jet lag.
Absolutely nothing was going on in Chaumont sur Tharonne on a Sunday afternoon. Nothing was open. No restaurants open either. And when I tried a nearby town, nothing I found of interest open there either. I was thankful for snacks I still had in my carry-on bag.
Breakfast in the morning was great. French toast, fruit, yogurt, croissant, coffee. Good for the 3’ish hour trip that remained to get to Brive. On to Brive…
Le Petite Clos
I’m back-dating this posting because I realize I never posted anything about my stay in Annecy, France.
Annecy is beautiful small city south of Geneva situated on a picturesque lake. While it’s touristy and there are throngs of people that visit I really enjoyed my stay there and would go back. I really enjoyed walking around the city and several of the restaurants. And cycling in the area is excellent. There’s a fantastic route that goes along the lake. You can spend hours on that route alone, but the other ride I did there was to bike up to the top of Semnoz.
The Sunday of the weekend I was there turned into one helluva day of cycling. It had its ups and downs both literally and figuratively. I’ll explain…
From Annecy to the top of Semnoz is up hill all the way. It’s quite a climb. But then that’s half the point of choosing such a route. It’s the challenge of it. I went by way of Leschaux to get there. The grade at 4 to 5% is not bad for the first part to Leschaux. From there, it gets interesting and a fair bit harder.
You can see my progression up to the summit in the photos here. Starting from Annecy down by the lake and then winding my way up to Leschaux. The ride up to Leschaux is not too difficult but it makes a nice spot to take a little break in prep for the next leg. There’s a bar/restaurant there where lots of cyclists take a pitstop. You can see a bunch of other riders taking it easy in one the photos.
From Leschaux the climb gets a lot steeper. You can see in the photo right below the one at the restaurant that after a bit more climbing I’m looking back down on the small town of Leschaux. You’ll need to click to view the photo because otherwise the town is too small in the thumbnail.
More climbing … you can see the grade gets to 8% pretty frequently. Then finally, the summit. There’s a couple of restaurants and a ski resort at the top. I pulled in for a coke and a sandwich. It was actually pretty chilly at the top. I was glad I had some gear I could change into for the ride back down.
After starting back, now the bad news: I got a broken spoke on the descent! Ugh! A broken spoke means the wheel was way out of balance and so the wheel wobbled horribly and rubbed the brake on every revolution. That made for a long, shaky trip back to Annecy. Thank God it was almost entirely down hill into Annecy.
Click thru here for route map to the summit, from Annecy.