5 days / 4 nights
|Accomodation: camping, WarmShowers, B&B
In Southern France, as we are still here, there is a charming place called Canal du Midi which starts in Toulouse and ends in a Mediterranean town Sète. It was created for commercial purposes during the reign of Louis XIV and is proudly listed in UNESCO world heritage. Canal du Midi is adored by every inhabitant of Toulouse – all day round loads of people are running, cycling, roller-skating or simply walking along the canal, and of course, a 241km biking tour Toulouse-Sète is a common thing to do. Then we learnt that there is a similar canal of 193 km – Canal de Garonne that unites Bordeaux and Toulouse and two canals put together, therefore, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean sea. Thus we decided to make a cycling, and in our case – tandem-tour along the Canal of Two Seas.
There are a lot of materials and guide-books about the canals, but we took a simple map that includes all necessary information, and it turned out to be very useful. It can be obtained from the site Le Canal du Midi et Voie Verte (5€ for delivery) or from the tourism office in Bordeaux and Toulouse.
!NB! If you are allergic to pollen, avoid cycling along the canals in May ! It is fucking HELL. There is so much pollen and dust that it can be easily mixed up with snow. Thanks God we had at least protecting glasses!
It might sound strange, but France is still lagging behind its European neighbours concerning the cycling policy. In particular, not every train accepts the simple bikes, so what can be said about tandems? A nice madam at the information desk told us directly: no tandems in trains. Two weeks we spent racking our brain trying to find a solution. Certainly we didn’t want to make the same trip twice. Finally we decided just to take tandem in the train and to see what happens. And there was nothing happened – not a word was pronounced against our tandem, even worse – nobody put any attention to it. Tandem seemed to enjoy itself.
68€ – two tickets Toulouse-Bordeaux for the TER train. Only in regional trains TER bicycles can be taken for free, in the other types of trains it can cost 10€ and in TGV bikes are almost never accepted.
Day 1. Bordeaux – La Réole. 85 km. Camping
After a wonderful day in Bordeaux we were ready to leave. With map and GPS we found our way easily. It’s time to mention that the canal of Garonne doesn’t run from Bordeaux directly, but starts near Langon. How to get to Langon is our problem, but the map suggests a cycling route (Voie Verte) Bordeaux – Sauveterre-de-Guyenne. It’s quite special as it was built on the railway that used to function but doesn’t not anymore due to its insignificant commercial interest. So the rails were removed and smooth asphalt was put. The old buildings of the stations still exist though, but now they serve as usual dwelling houses. Just a simple house, little garden, panties drying on the ropes and « Fronternac Station » written on the wall.
This route is very tricky and deceptive – from the first glance it seems to be as flat as a table, considering that the tour along the canals is supposed to be the flattest cycling adventure ever. But actually this very route before the canal itself is so to say « hilly »: the altitude varies up to 100 m. So it wasn’t at all as easy as we expected. Tired and struck by this sudden reversal of fortune we arrived to La Réole. In a picturesque area with the view on the town the camping site is located. The camping includes all the facilities needed, even hot water. It felt sooo good in a tent… By the way, our tent neighbours invited us for helping them to finish their bottle of wine – obviously it’s really lifestyle in this region.
Day 2. La Réole – Lafox. 95 km. B&B
Yes, we are bad. We didn’t pay for the camping. Typical case when we arrive too late, the responsible for camping is not there, nobody answers the phonecalls, so the result is 0€ for the stay instead of 10€. In the morning La Réole was way prettier as it seemed after a long tiring day.
From La Réole the canal is very close. And when we finally reached it, the trip became the way we expected it to be, and the canal as beautiful as on the postcards.Though we didn’t visit the villages around, it was still a great pleasure to move just for moving, I guess all cyclists get what I mean.
Long time ago was noticed that the second day is always the hardest. When our ass didn’t take the shape of the saddle, muscle pain after the first day and constant lack of sugar, but when you ride through this beauty, you don’t have time to complain. But sadly the beautiful part was over a little before Agen. In Agen though there is bridge-canal. It means a bridge over Garonne but that makes canal overpass the river. So you have péniches that sailing down and up. Funny.
It happened so that this day was our wedding anniversary, so we wanted something more romantic than the rest of cold chicken and a tent. Through Booking Xavier found the most beautiful B&B ever. EVER. And we’re experienced enough to compare. Les Loges du Canal du Midi is a charming B&B made for 100% with soul. Welcoming hosts, neatness, and rooms decorated with amazing taste. It turned out that we really were lucky as all the rooms normally are booked for two weeks in advance no matter which season of the year it is. Since the canal is more than popular with cyclists, the hosts offer the garage and tools and we even managed to get all the croissants that remained after a gorgeous breakfast including home-made yoghurt, jam and pancakes. Perfect place.
Day 3. Lafox-Montauban 75km. Couch at cousin’s
On the third day the trip becomes a bit monotonous. Once again – it is just pleasure of moving, speed and feelings.
That day we crossed two curious things. First – a strange place in Valence d’Agen called « Abattoir Public ». And indeed – it is non-functional slaughterhouse that was turned into a rest spot for cyclists and camping-cars. One can use toilets, shower, picnic tables – excellent, but in the slaughterhouse building where the hooks are still hanging. And though we are far from vegetarianism, the spirit of such place is not overwhelmingly encouraging. At least the concept is worth of attention.
Secondly, in Montech a miracle of technics can be seen – a special mechanism that makes the péniche to move forward despite a considerable slope. The canal is full of sluices but this one is kind of unique as it replaces 5 of normal ones. Anyway my brain refuses to understand how it functions.
In Montech we left the main canal and took a secondary one in order to get to Montauban where Xavier’s cousin was waiting for us with a wine bottle opened, of course … ;)
Day 4. Montauban – Toulouse 104 km. The sudden end.
Let’s make it clear – there is NO 104 km between Montauban and Toulouse. We’d just mixed up things a little so we had to make additional 20 km in the wrong way. Don’t say anything. Well, at least this way we settled our new record and arrived as heroes in Toulouse.
According to the plan, next day we had to leave for the second part of trip along Canal du Midi itself, BUT…
On our way we talked to several cyclists and strange information reached our ears. We were told that the asphalted cycling route ends on the border between the regions Midi-Pyrenéeans and Languedoc-Rousillon (which means in 40 km from Toulouse) and transforms into a small path full of holes, pits, stones, tree roots, well – a path that can be hardly practiced by a VTT bike and can be NO practiced by a loaded tandem. The cyclists who made this way by VTT didn’t overpass 14 km /h and at the end of their trip had their wheels transformed into 8. Our map as well as the references on the internet has confirmed these rumours. Alternative way is taking the national road but the traffic is said to be too intensive to get any pleasure at this entire «canal» trip. Shame on Languedoc-Rousillon region. Thus our ambitions to reach Sète were dead. I must say that it’s pretty shitty as it is Canal du Midi which is the oldest and most famous canal; Canal de Garonne is 200 years younger and not that historically significant.
Maybe in couple of years when Languedoc-Rousillon becomes a part of Midi-Pyrenéeans, as the president of this country wants it, the road will be built till the end. Let’s hope for that.
Has anyone of you made this trip as well? What is your favourite part of Canal(s)?