Cycling along le Canal Du Midi

By bike from the Dordogne to the Mediterranean Sea and back.  Via the Canal de Garonne (Canal des deux mers) and the Canal du Midi

From 28 August to 19 September 2017.

Start and end point:  St. Cirq in the Dordogne – between Le Bugue and Les Eyzies de Tayac – to Sète (in 9 days) and back, all the way to Arcachon and Cap Ferret.  In total 1704 km in 23 days of which 21 on the bike.

 

canal des deux mers map

Preliminary:

  • Luc Oteman’s “Cycling along the Canal du Midi and the Canal de Garonne”  is ideally the first and actually only  guidebook you should consult… and this will improve your Dutch as well! Alternatives : the English edition of CICERONE: “Cycling the Canal du Midi”  (Only from Toulouse to Sète), or  GRIFFITHS : “a Cycling guide to the Canal de Garonne and the Canal du Midi” ;  in French : D. JAMROZIK (www.cartovélo.com) : “le canal des deux mers en vélo” and  CHAMINA : “le canal des deux mers” .
  • From St. Cirq we looked for quiet roads to connect with the Piste Cyclable de Roger Lapébie in Sauveterre en Guyenne. Those first 2 days (and the last 2) proved to be the toughest but very beautiful!
  • On the way back, just before La Réole we branched off to Langon to connect in Roaillan with the Piste cyclable Mios-Bazas  that runs through the Landes de Gascogne.  So to read our comments re the 2 Canals it is best to read till day 16, that is until we cycled along the canals in both directions.
  • We bike on Koga Worldtraveller, 40 mm tyres. We only use rear panniers. (no tent, but we do carry a “bug Bivy” of Outdoor Research, to have a bug- free quiet siesta!). With a daily picnic and 2 bottles of water we carry about 10-12 Kg.  The bikes are brilliant, btw!
  • We were using GPS but relied often on the Canal to tell us whether the GPS was right or not.
  • Le Canal de la Garonne is on sealed road but does not necessarily offer always a smooth ride … The roots of the trees have pushed the concrete/ asphalt up seriously! Sometimes you wish for the soft surface of the route along the Canal du Midi…
  • The hourly averages once you get on the unpaved paths (some 50 km east of Toulouse) go strongly down. We continued there at a cautious 12km/h instead of the 20 km/h before. Well inflated tires and our steering skills – evidently! – made sure we did not have any puncture during the whole trip.
  • What the French commonly call “la saison” ran towards an end. Hotels can be closed!  (Tourists need no sleep, especially not on Sundays and Mondays!)  Even the “Logis de France” (Ldf) were closed! And even all hotels in the same town can be closed… So better call in advance before you go the extra mile (kilometer)!
  • As many signs “Piste cyclable entre deux mers” there are along Le Canal de la Garonne, as few you will find along Le Canal du Midi…
  • When platane trees are being felled and part of the path is closed off, it can take a while to find an alternative way …. From Friday noon till Monday noon however you should be ok as municipal services usually take a long weekend off…
  • Look for hotels, rooms or gites with “Acceuil Vélo” sticker: they offer – at least – a safe shelter for the bikes.
  • We were planning to have a day off now and then to visit a city, eg Toulouse. But the canal forms such a stark contrast with the city that we most often cycled immediately through looking again for the tranquility of the canal.
  • If you first want to try out how much you  like a bike ride along the 2 canals, we would recommend to cycle from Bordeaux to Castelnaudary (if less time: Depart from Agen): this part is largely paved, both cities are accessible by train and before Castelnaudary (when you drive from west to east) you will also get a taste for a stretch of unpaved trail!
  • It is nice to see that with e-bikes and their improvements more and more elder people have rediscovered the joy of biking!
  • On our way back from Sète to Arcachon we were facing continuously a headwind. Western winds seem to prevail..
  • The two canals are closed for pleasure boating from late October till 31st March. Pretty much all businesses along the Canal are closed then as well.

Canal_du_Midi_location

OUR ROUTE

Day 1: From St Cirq to MONBAZILLAC: 65 km,  670 meters elevation.

We started from “Le Raysse” , a delightful holiday stay in St Cirq, see http://www.leraysse.com. (For a detailed route description, see end of the report).

We stopped on the way for a coffee in Cours de Pile, in Café “Chez Darling” (below the Church) . “Mais vous êtes fous!”, greeted Darling us.  That had certainly helped us to get there in 37 degrees C !

Limeuil is one of “Les Plus Beaux Villages de la France”.  Trémolat is a cute village with a charming little church and 2 good places to eat.  Les Cingles de Trémolat offer a magnificent view of the Dordogne and a magnificent picnic place. Mauzac has a picturesque harbour. Lalinde is good to cycle through. In Cours de Pile you can get a quiet siesta in the shadow of the church on freshly mowed grass.  From St Nexans on you can enjoy the rolling vineyards of Monbazillac and Bergerac.

In Monbazillac we slept in Gite ” En Rouge et Noire”  80 € breakfast included: cosy and perfect! Recommended!  Had dinner in “La Grappe d’Or “(3 km by bike) which has nice and tasty menus for €27 with specialité de la Maison: cassoulet de Canard . Note: La Grappe d’Or also has rooms!

Day 2: From Monbazillac to SAUVETERRE de GUYENNE: 67km, 425 m elevation.

(See again the end of this report for detailed route description )

The D14 is a beautiful road through the vineyards of Bergerac, but…  you will soon understand that the biggest danger in French traffic are the delivery vans of courier companies and municipal services and the racing vans of self-employed professionals! The former want to finish work as fast as possible and the latter are always already late for the appointment they are racing to… .

From Pont de la Beauze the road becomes nice.  Make a little detour to the old part of Gensac. Between Gensac and a few kilometers before Sauveterre the scenery is amazing!Sauveterre on the other hand is quite depressing… Around 21.30h that night we strolled through the city and everything was closed already!

But as Luc Oteman is also mentioning in his guidebook: a stay at the Hotel de Guyenne, just outside the city walls is a must and quite an experience! The restaurant offers a menu for 12.90 € all-in: a buffet of starters, choice of 4 main courses (take the “Frites Maison”, better than anywhere in Belgium!), a big plate of cheeses to help yourself and a desserts buffet ( you can chose 2) with a quarter liter of wine.  And neat rooms for €40! (Earphones help to sleep as the hotel is at a busy crossroads.)  And friendly staff.

Day 3: From Sauveterre de Guyenne to SERIGNAC Sur GARONNE: 87 km, 361 m climbed.

We tried to follow the “Canal des Deux Mers“ signs where there were any and took the D670, then D230 and then D129 via St Martin de Lerm to La Réole.  With a little more effort and search we could have avoided the busy D670 (is only a small stretch but dangerous!)

The D129 runs through rolling vineyards and makes you deserve extra lunch!

After La Réole ( stop for croissants, delightful pastries and breads at the “Place de Richard Coeur de Lion” )  starts “le Canal des Deux Mers” (the Canal will be indicated like this till you reach Le Canal de Midi.)

The former tow path along the canal is hardened but you better keep an eye on it: the roots of the trees can send your front wheel and youself in all directions! Make sure all zippers are well zipped up as well!  My wife also commented that as a woman you better wear a good sports bra to “prevent a boob from jumping out”!

Note that “Christ on the Cross” from Rembrandt (painted in 1631) In Le Mas D’Agenais temporarily moved to Bordeaux in the Cathedral of Saint André until the glass showcase in Le Mas has been restored. This to ensure better conservation of the painting. But it is still worth taking a break in the village, if only for the snappy climb to it!

At the “Écluse de la Gaule” we noticed a cozy restaurant across the canal : “La Chope et le Pichet “(on the way back we stopped there for lunch;  it is run by a friendly Belgian couple who serve typical Belgian fare)

We stayed overnight in Serignac at “Le Prince Noir” for €78 excluding breakfast. LdF. Charming rooms but quality of dinner was below LdF expectation.

Day 4: From Serignac to MOISSAC: 65, 5 km

The many kiwi- orchards/plantations before and after Agen were new to us.

The Pont Canal of Agen is impressive! And worth a stop and exploring. “La Poule en Vélo “in St Jean de Turac is a quirky restaurant with alternative owner and ditto dishes as “L’Assiette Végétatout”. Make enough time for the Abbey of Moissac and its market place!

We stayed in “Le Pont Napoleon”, a neat little hotel with Belgian hostess. Good rooms with fine dining!  Le Tartare de Saumon a la Combava was exceptionally tasty! Recommended!

Day 5: Moissac to VILLEFRANCHE de LAURAGAIS: 111 km.

Just outside Moissac we saw 2 deer swimming, crossing the canal (see picture).

The Pont Canal after Moissac is also impressive!

The scenery before Toulouse (so, to the west of the city) is reminiscent of the bygone glory of many industrial cities. This in stark contrast to the landscape and the surroundings of the canal after Toulouse. Here you drive through the campuses of universities and residential districts of the aviation industry that Charles De Gaulle has started there. The quality of the bike path reflects the newly found source of wealth for the city.  The stretch after Toulouse (to Avignon Lauragais)  is the best 50 km of the whole route! If you ignore the A61 motorway, it could even be one of the most idyllic parts!

Try to make a stop in L’Ecluse de Castanet and/or in L’Estanquet (Gardouch) for a coffee or a delicious meal!

We soon realized that Cassoulet de Canard is advertised as a specialty for the whole South of France!! There is even an Académie de Cassoulet! For that reason, we thought initially that there were no ducks to be seen along the canal.  But this changes after Agen once the canal has gained greater flow through the Tarn and the Canal de Golftech and the water has become much fresher and cleaner.  From then on flocks of ducks sit on the canal bank and don’t even look up when you are passing….

We didn’t stop in Toulouse for reasons explained higher. Les  Chambres d’hotes La Moustière in Gardouch was fully booked so we headed for Villefranche. We slept in Le Relais du Lauragais (LdF) for €80 breakfast included; specialty for dinner: Cassoulet Royale which we easily and happily finished after 111 km on the road!  (the Hotel is located 3 km from the canal but hotel and restaurant are recommended! When they are open…)

Day 6: From Villefranche de Lauragais to CARCASONNE: 71.4 km

10 km before Castelnaudary the road gets unsurfaced but still consists of reasonably good gravel. Towards Carcassonne it becomes really bumpy … but very nice scenery!

We stayed in Carcassonne for a day. It is worthwhile to visit La Cité with a “visite guidée”  to book at La Porte Narbonnaise . During the morning (and late afternoon) before the hordes swarm in, la Cité definitely has its charm!  La Ville however is rather depressing.

We slept in Hotel Astoria for €80 without breakfast. Very basic but with a good bike garage!

Day 7: From Carcassonne to LE SOMAIL: 62.5 km

This is the most beautiful stretch with a lovely terminus! The landscape becomes Mediterranean especially because of the majestic umbrella pine trees along the canal. Also, the weather gets hotter! Strangely this makes many passengers on the rental boats feel like they must make a new fashion statement by sitting half naked on deck exposing multi-layered love handles or cleavages starting at the belly button.

Traffic from rental boats on the canal from Castelnaudary on gets busy! Nice to see that some lock wardens try to make an extra buck by selling essentials like cooled wine, captain hats and… gloves!  These are needed to protect the soft hands of the sailors (usually the wives…) against the coarse ropes with which to moor the boats in the locks.

During picnic, it is great to watch what is going on in the locks! This can be hilarious, especially when there are several boats in front and behind the locks waiting to go in and the pressure is on.  Even more so when one of the boats in the lock is a private boat and anxious of being bumped against by these clumsy rentals….!

We stayed in “La Maison des Escaliers”, a beautiful house that unfortunately is no longer serving as a  Chambres d’Hotes! There is one alternative left at the time of writing and recommendable: “Le Neptune” also run by Belgians.  You better book early as Le Somail is popular!! But “Chez Mariance” (3 rooms), on a boat just outside Le Somail could still have a place for you.

We had dinner in “Le Comptoir Nature”!   Everything on the menu comes from local, smaller producers.  The local olive variety “de Luque “is simply delicious! And don’t forget ice cream with ewes’ milk as dessert!

Day 8: Le Somail to VIAS: 62.5 km

The road doesn’t get better, but the landscape all the more!  With some additional attractions as the Tunnel de Malpas.  (on top of the bridge, just to the right is an office de Tourisme. For all the money it has cost the taxpayer, it is not indicated on the cycling path… ! It is a very luxurious building , fully airconditioned and stocked with regional specialties, also showing a scale model of the tunnel.  We went in when going and when returning. Both times there was no soul, apart from the 2 uninterested ladies staffing the office…!)

Also the Ecluses de Fonserannes deserve a stop! Quite impressive, also how it is imbedded in the landscape!

We stayed in Hotel Mucrina in Vias for €81 . (Better to just skip Vias at all)

Day 9:  Vias to SèTE: 48.5 km

In Agde we had quite some difficulty finding the right way. After entering the city and having crossed the bridge over the Herault, go immediately north and keep following it. At a certain point you must go like into an open parking space on gravel with at the rear a small dirt road going into thick brush and trees, still along the river. This for 1-2 km . Once you have noticed “ Écluse de Prades” and “La Guinguette” to the right, you know you are on the right track!

Note that the last part that can bring you to the “Pointe de Onglous “ (the official end of Le Canal du Midi, photo option)  has become a private road with a youth holiday colony at the end. They allow you reluctantly through on foot.

The last stretch through Le Bagnas and particularly the last 12 km before Sète is a wonderful ride along the dunes and the sea (But how crazy it must  get here in summer…!)

Make sure you time your arrival in Sète with lunchtime! Le Cube, just before the end of the cycle path before entering Sète, has a wonderful terrace and ditto food and is run by some perky ladies!

Sète has character, especially the old port that feels like cosy chaos! The city government should have the courage to make it traffic free! Enjoy the fruits de mer and some of the beautiful beaches!

We stayed in Hotel de la Plage before the centre, along the sea (well, there is a road between hotel and the sea, but that is everywhere the case!) . We had dinner in the restaurant of La Conga, next door.  Cosy and really family run French! Both are advisable!

It was September 7th in the meantime and fortunately the masses were back home by then….!

Day 10: RETURN:  From  Sète to Le Somail: 97 km

On a closer look we should have stayed one day longer to explore the northern villages of l’Etang de Thau (Bouzigues, Mèze and Marseillan) but the call of the ride back along the sea was too strong! (we will do the visit sometime when we do the Via Rhona.)

We cycled back all the way to Le Somail, although we looked for sleeping in Capestang (interesting market place) and Ouveillan (LdF closed!).  The prospect of another night in Le Somail overjoyed us but we found out that “everything” was fully booked because of a “vide grenier” – literally :“empty the barns”  or fleamarket-  the day after in the village! We slept with Mariance on the boat for €65 breakfast included. Had a cosy dinner in…. Le Comptoir Natur.

Everywhere during our trip we saw signs of “Vide Grenier” . Each village in France plans at least one during the summer months! Incredible what and how much the French keep in their barns and cellars! We suspect though that there must be something like a central “Depot National ” which every year at the end of spring trucks out all the stuff to the villages and at the end of summer sends back what is left and new old stuff.…!

Day 11: To Narbonne and a bit further …  and back : 68 km  

Via Canal Junction and Canal de la Robine.

Is a nice route! And the crossing of the Aude over the railway bridge of G. Eiffel is quite unique! (not that evident to find though!)

Narbonne is a very pleasant city! Unlike most cities along the Canal, prosperous and vibrant! The highlight of course is Le Canal de la Robine running through the city and its banks forming the commercial heart of the city.

We continued a bit further towards Port-la-Nouvelle (the path is very poor, and it rained) but just past Ecluse de Mandirac (café closed…) we turned around. We think though it is worthwhile to explore the coast on a later bike ride!

Slept in La Maison des Escaliers and of course had another wonderful dinner in Le Comptoir Natur!

Day 12: From Le Somail to Carcassonne  : 64 km

A fierce wind against and after some rain, rather slippery paths!

Avoiding tree roots and other obstacles require concentration but increase your steering skills and thus the joy of cycling.

We ventured off the canal for a while in Ventenac and in Homps.

We stayed the night in Les Trois Couronnes at the Aude in Carcassonne . €118 with breakfast (“Low Season” Rate).

Day 13: Carcassonne to Port Lauragais: 83 km

This time we explored a bit and found our way better around Le Seuil de Narouze.  Next time we certainly do “Les Rigoles”!

Out of necessity as nothing else was open we slept in Fastotel in Port Lauragais (formerly “La Couchée); It is an Ibis-like concrete thing, but comfortable.

Day 14: Port Lauragais to Montauban: 108 km

Again we enjoyed very much the landscape and the splendid quality of the canal path to Toulouse! But again, drove directly through the city even though the railway station quarter gave us a better impression than on the way to!

In Montech we chose the direction of Montauban.  The road is now completely hardened, of good quality and beautiful!

Just before Montauban, at L’Ecluse de Bordebasse, cross the canal and look for a small tunnel under the railroad (is indeed again not signposted……). Do not cycle in the tunnel because the ceiling gets even lower!

Book in advance Hotel du Commerce or Hotel Mercure on Place Roosevelt! There is little else in Montauban except for Hotel Villenouvelle (Ibis Budget).  The Ingrès museum was unfortunately closed for renovation.  Montauban has a nice market with all red brick buildings. But the city as such is not really worth a detour.

Day 15: Montauban to BON ENCONTRE (just before Agen): 82 km

The road after Montech is hardened but of the dangerous kind! You often long for the unpaved path along the Canal du Midi…

We stayed in LdF “La Table d’Antan”. A lovely elderly couple runs the guesthouse.  But “Bon Encontre” is more like a euphemism to describe the village….

Dag 16: From Bon Encontre to CASTETS en DORTHE (Mazerac): 96 km

Before La Réole, at the Pont de Tartifume we turned left in the direction of Fontet (Meilhan sur Garonne just before the fork is worth exploring!). We continued to follow the Canal de Garonne to Castets where the canal flows into the Garonne just in front of another bridge designed by G. Eiffel.

We stayed in Mazerac (this hamlet belongs to Castets and requires a snappy climb!) in Gites “L’Espritcanal” for €80, breakfast included.  The owners turned an old barn into 3 beautifully decorated, 50’s style rooms with communal breakfast and cooking space.

Go and see the Church of Mazerac which dates from the 12th Century, and cannot be more Romanesque in style. “Où Dieu a planté sa tente “.

We had dinner in “l’Ecluse 52”, nice because it was the only restaurant open, despite the nearby Pizzeria on the boat (advertising “open 7/7” …) Good but quite expensive…!

Day 17: Castets en Dorthe to SALLES : 85 km

We cycled through Langon  (which has a pretty old part) up to Roaillan via the D125E3. The beginning in Langon is not that obvious to find! Look for  “Le péage de Langon “, and head south just before it on the avenue Leo Lagrange = D125E3. (When you see the Lidl you are right!).

The road to Roaillan climbs now and then firmly. On that road you can also make a detour to Chateau D’Yquem to add something else in your drinking bottle than the usual Orangina for some extra energy or to obscure the taste of chlorine in the tap water…!

In Roaillan we needed also some time to find the  Bazas – Mios  Piste Cyclable or Voie Verte (or at some point the D806! ).  Look for “La Gare”, indeed where the piste begins.

The road is a surfaced old railroad now marvelously running through the Landes de Gascogne.  Over more than 100 km you cycle through forest with plenty of deer sightings.  Make sure you have enough water when it’s hot because amenities are sparse even if you leave the piste.

In Salles we left the piste and stayed in “Domaine de Pont de l’Eyre”, a LdF run by a Dutch couple.  Nice rooms and food but service and management are rather sloppy!  Too “laid back”!

Day 18: Salles to ARCACHON: 48, 5 km

The D806 continues until Biganos (after Mios) but at the papermill Smurfit Kappa all signs suddenly disappear.   Then it becomes somewhat difficult to find the road to Arcachon! Go under the Station/Railway and cycle westward… (Do not follow “sentier cotier” or “Itinéraire cotier”). The road was extra difficult to find as the “Office de Tourisme” was closed on Saturday morning. It later turned out that they have an excellent map of the cycling pistes around Archacon-Cap Ferret.  Look for Le Teich-La Teste = D804, but not indicated like that on the Guide Michelin map! In La Teste, go north for Arcachon, straight ahead for Pyla Sur Mer…  (It rained cats and dogs when we entered Arcachon , so  it was “le bordel ” as they say more colorfully in French ).

We stayed in the NE of Arcachon, Hotel le Nautic , Boulevard de la Plage 20, at 100 m from the beach. €118 Breakfast included (city view; Sea view is €158). Ok, Ibis-like.  (Next time we will look for something in Pyla Sur Mer, but could be a lot more expensive…)

Arcachon has become a charming city redone very tastefully! And the whole seaside of Arcachon is brilliantly laid out for walkers and cyclists with the sea figuring as main character; one can go all the way to  Dune de Pilat in a very pleasant way.

What a Difference with the Belgian coast! No high-rises, no Luna Parks, no fast food tents in garish colors…..

We dined in “Chez Pierre” as an experience! (an institute like “Chez Leon” in Paris), pricey but very good! Note that the oysters here are better than those of Bouzigues on the Mediterranean Sea!

Day 19: Arcachon via Cap Ferret back to LANGON: 125, 5 km

We took the ferry to Cap Ferret (keep an eye on your bikes on the ferry as they are not handled with much care ).  Definitely explore “La Pointe” = the cape! Actually, the whole peninsula of Cap Ferret deserves a thorough exploration, ideally by bike! Cycling is just great here: on car free paths through dunes and forests with occasional great views of the ocean!

We headed then north,  direction of Lacanau, at the crossing “Dune de l’amour” to the right, direction of Arès -Lège.

Then follow Biganos (D802).  In Biganos, the signs suddenly stop again… as happens often! “Fortunately” you can see the chimneys of Smurfit Kappa where the Bazas-Mios route passes by – actually ends.

In Roaillan at end of D 806 search for D123 which turns into D125E3 to Langon.

We had this time the wind from behind and cruised through the Landes.

We stopped a few times – Hostens, Villandraut and Roaillan – looking for a place to sleep but nothing appealing enough to stay the night.

We stayed in Hotel Aliénor (LdF) for €80, breakfast included. Hotel has no restaurant! Ok.

Day 20: Langon to MONBAZILLAC: 112 km

We first cycled along a beautiful section of Le Canal de Garonne to La Réole, then direction Sauveterre and Monbazillac (see Day 2).

What is striking in France is that you see graveyards in the most beautiful and serene places! Too bad that most people only then get a wonderful view. But good to know that under the ground we are all equal.

In Monbazillac, we stayed  again in “Rouge et Noire “, so called because the landlady loves these colours.  (steep climb to get there!). (The restaurant of la Grappe d’or was closed)

Day 21: Monbazillac to St Cirq: 65 km

See Day 1.  From Mauzac again the sturdy but beautiful climb to Les Cingles de Trémolat.  We stopped for a great lunch in “Le Bistro de la Place” in Trémolat.

We took then an alternative to go to Limeuil: in Trémolat, take the D31 to  “Le Port de Trémolat”, direction of Lalinde. Cross the Dordogne direction of Calès. Take the D29E2 (before Calès) which is a beautiful little road through meadows along a forest. At the D29 take a left after a few 100 meters, climbing up the D2 . The beautiful descent takes you through Alles- Sur-Dordogne; cross then the Dordogne and the Vézère and take right. direction Le Bugue.

In Le Bugue, take the D703 through the town and then direction “Aquarium du Perigord Noir” and “La Campagne/ Coux” . Just before the railroad left direction St CIRQ/Les Eyzies…… to be pampered again in “Le Raysse”!

From ST CIRQ to SAUVETERRE Day 1: St Cirq – Le Bugue – Limeuil (D31) – Tremolat D31) – Cingles de Tremolat D31) – Mauzac (Via D703)– Lalinde (Via D37) – Port de Couze (Crossing the Dordogne) – Varennes (Via D37E1) – St Agne D37) – Peroquet (Straight on Route du Chateau de pile)- Cours de pile, cycle through the village (up) and by doing so you avoid the airport of Bergerac, take direction Bazet – St Nexans (via D19) – Labadie (Direction Bouniagues, cross the N 21) end at Monbazillac.

Day 2: Monbazillac – St Philippe de Pineulh (via D14, last part changes into D18) – traverse Pineulh via D18 and at the market place of St Foy la Grande go Left (west) – look for the D672 to Pont de la Beauze – then Eynesse (via D130E7, along the Dordogne! You can bike where road is barred for traffic! ) – Pessac sur Dordogne (via D130) – through Gensac (via D16) (has a nice old part where the monastery is!) – direction Pujols (D18) but after about 1 km take the idyllic D15E1 then D128E6, then D126E1 to Soussac, -Cazaugitat (via D21) – Caumont (D21) – Gautier (D21 direction Castelmoron D’Albret ) – Melon (D230 direction West) – In Melon take D139 and then D672 to Sauveterre.