Travel


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 finally getting around to jotting just a few notes on a two week bike tour I did this past summer. I really enjoyed this bike tour and while this short posting won’t do two weeks and 12 days of riding justice in terms of the experience I’ll at least give a high level perspective on the tour.

Nothing like a map to provide a little context so that’s where I’ll start. As you can see, the tour starts up near the French border in a little town named Roncesvalles and makes its way across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela. The Camino – literally ‘The Way’ – is historically a Christian pilgrimage route.

These days the Camino has become something of a tourist fav or both hikers and cyclists – whether they’re on a pilgrimage or not. There are many tour companies that’ll help coordinate and plan your way to Santiago. It was also obvious that many along the way were packing everything with them – either on their bike or on their back. Let’s just say I was glad to be on my bike and letting someone else cart the luggage from place to place.

The terrain and architecture change quite a bit as you make your way across the country. At the start in Roncesvlles, the towns and architecture look more alpine than you might otherwise expect but then it is certainly up there in the hills. In fact, upon arrival, it was chilly, wet and foggy. But the morning we left couldn’t have been better weather. I think we lucked out generally. The weather was excellent all along the route. We dodged rain a few times and it was certainly warm a few days but not bad.

The actual Camino route is mostly a trail. Sometimes it’s off road, sometimes it runs along the road and sometimes it is the road. Since we were on road bikes we deviated from the traditional route from time to time.

If you’re going to do the route, I highly recommend you get a credencial. It’s essentially a type of passport and churches and other places along the way have stamps to prove you have made your way along the pilgrimage. Mostly it’s just fun to fill it up with stamps. You have to stop at churches and take a look around, and then sure enough you find someone there to stamp your credencial. In Santiago you can get an official document as proof of your journey.

Had I gone to more effort to chronicle the trip from day to day I might have a lot more notes here. Each day really deserves its own set of notes. Every little town you stop in along the way is interesting.

Though I liked all the places we stopped, I particularly liked going through the Basque and Rioja wine regions. I’ve included a photo of me along the way in that area between Laguardia and Haro. It was one of my favorite routes/days. Low traffic, winding through vineyards with great weather. What more do you want as a cyclist?

The map here plus the stats below that follow came from a little Garmin bike computer I took along. The elevation profile below is telling. While clearly not a flat route, the terrain is not mountainous. We never got over 5000 feet of elevation. But there were days that had a bit more elevation gain.

From left to right, that first spike in the elevation profile was the route into Laguardia.

The tour was done in two week-long editions. You could do either one, or both. I and 4 others did both. The rest of the tour group – another dozen – met us mid way and did the latter half of the route. As you can see from the elevation profile, the 2nd half of the tour had a couple more interesting climbs. That said, only a couple few of us actually did those climbs. The tour group arranged for transport for most on that spike in the middle. Most chose that as a hiking day along the Camino. The climb wasn’t that bad though. And yet I was glad that we went up the direction we did. Note the backside of that mid spike in the elevation profile. It was a very steep descent!

That long and mostly flat section in the middle of the elevation profile was referred to as The Meseta. The inner plateau. It had everything from vineyards, to sunflowers, poppies and wheat fields. Our longest day of 70 miles was on the Meseta. The photo included above in this posting of the open road and wide open spaces was on the Meseta.

You can also see some of the tour group below. One of the guys snapped a good shot of us on our way to the last group dinner.

Cycling Through Rioja

Last Dinner Group

The Stats


While I was visiting Laguardia, my host at the casa rural I was staying suggested I give the Baigorri winery a try. It wasn’t too far a drive and even though it was a weekday they did a special tasting menu following the tour – if you wanted to go for the whole package. Sounded like a great way to spend a good chunk of the day so she set it up for me.

Click through to the winery link above and you’ll see the architecture of the winery is unique. From the road it looks like just an empty glass building that you can see through. As you get in though you realize it’s built on a hillside and what’s visible from the road is just the glass top floor. The winery and offices and everything else is down below and toward the back.

This architecture has a purpose. The production of the wine at Baigorri is done entirely via gravity. They don’t pump the juice around from one container to the next. The multistory nature of the building allows everything to flow by gravity. If I tried to explain why it makes a difference I probably wouldn’t do it justice. But this website does a decent job of explaining.

The tour was just two of us. And the other person spoke Spanish. The tour guide (Rocio) did her best with the two of us, splitting between Spanish first and then following that with English. There was a lot more Spanish than English but I got a good intro to the place and their wines.

At the very back of the winery, past all the aging barrels, you emerge into a restaurant with nice views of the vineyards beyond. The countryside you see in the photo at the top of this post. That’s where the tour ended and where I enjoyed a fantastic tasting menu paired with the Baigorri wines. I snapped a photo of the tasting menu which you see posted here. I didn’t catch the name of the server but she was very helpful and nice. The wine and the food were excellent!

I have no idea what a visit here is like on the weekend but visiting mid week allowed for some very personal service. As I noted, only two of us on the tour. And only two tables of us at with the tasting menu. Interestingly the other table was English speaking and had their own personal English speaking tour guide. Something tells me they planned to buy a lot more than I did.

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