Our final day of cycling, and the final hot day. A storm is forecast tomorrow.
It could not have worked out better.
This was stunning scenery beside the Lot, often under limestone cliffs.
A highlight was Saint Cirq Lapopie, a cliff top honeypot village. But stunningly beautiful and well worth a final steep climb. We wondered round taking photos with the crowds, and then had a final big cycling lunch.
The last few miles took us to a final campsite on the edge of Cahors and the end of the cycling. Tomorrow we take the train to Toulouse for a day, and then Paris and home.
Villefranche, upstream on the Aveyron, was our lunchtime destination. But the Aveyron is in a deep gorge with no road. Helen persuaded me to retrace our steps from yesterday for a bit, since we were more than half way up one side, rather than my intended route on the other side of the river. And it proved much easier that way. We returned for coffee to the cafe that saved our lives yesterday, much to the surprise of the locals!
All in all this was an attractive morning’s ride, with a lovely descent to Villefranche, another Bastide town. Though actually the riverside was better than the centre – which was being repaved. We had yet another duck and chips in a delightful courtyard restaurant.
It was red hot as we left town for one final climb up and over to rejoin the river Lot, about 20 miles down from where we had left it. From the top we could see Puy de Dome in the Auvergne away to the north. I wanted to cycle back that way to Paris.
We finished at a tiny campsite beside the Lot next to a beautiful old suspension bridge. We picnicked and did very little as the sun set.
This turned out to be just about the hardest day of the trip. The first target was Rieupeyroux, another Bastide town . It wasn’t quite on route and involved climbing back up to the top of the massif, but St Sauveterre had been so good that we wanted to see it. First there were two huge wooded ravines to cross – each about 300ft down before starting the climb back up. And then more climbing across open fields. So we were annoyed and disappointed to find that Rieupeyroux had nothing much to offer and, worse, that we had cycled past the only coffee stop just before flying down the very steep hill into town! So back up we had to go.
And the climbing just kept coming as we crossed valley after valley. The last one was steepest of all. I saw 17% on my GPS for a long time. But perhaps that was because I was cycling so slowly. Relief came at a restaurant at Savensa where we joined a bigger road for the final run, mainly down to Najac.
This is a famous village and castle on a narrow neck of land in a huge bend in the deep Aveyron gorge. It is a long way above the river, and the campsite. We were tired and didn’t fancy having to climb back up after pitching, so we booked into the village hotel. This turned out to be an inspired move, because although 2 star and quite cheap it had a fantastic restaurant that the locals travelled miles for. We had a gourmet meal on the terrace. Another change of gear after last nights bread and cheese beside the road with the hippies of freecamp.
The village was in a spectacular spot, with the castle on the end of the ridge commanding the loop of the river. I climbed to the top of the keep for the view back.
Back to cycling today. First a descent from this hilltop town to cross the infant Aveyron. (We had passed the source a couple of days earlier). Then steeply back up the other side, heading SW into rolling countryside with long views back to Rodez.
This was hard work, constantly up and down across the grain of the land. And so we decided to slow down, lose the final rest day in Cahors and turn 3 days riding into 4. By coffee time we had reached our highest point for the day and relaxed in a pavement cafe in Baraqueville. Then it was mostly one long swoop down to the day’s new terminus at Sauveterre de Rouergue.
This is a Bastide town, built as new in the 12th century on a grid design around a central square. It has not really changed since. We had a meal under one of the arches and then did nothing all afternoon!
The ‘campsite’ was a tiny triangle of land in a junction between lanes. It was free and had attracted a motley collection of semi permanent residents – who welcomed us by lending the communal peg hammer. So from a nice hotel in Rodez to squatting beside the road for free – all in 24 hours. Our trips Sauveterre de Rouergue. certainly varied!
We took a break from cycling today. There can’t be many people who need to take a holiday from their holiday – but we do! We have a really nice hotel beside the Cathedral for two nights.
Rodez is a great place for a day off. The highlight is undoubtedly the Menhir Museum. This has a whole load of ancient standing stones, carved into the likeness of real people , male and female, wearing contemporary clothes. Fantastic.
After breakfast in town we crossed the Truyere (the wrong way on a narrow old stone bridge) and carried on down the Lot gorge. This became steadily more remote until we reached the tiny hamlet of Decoursavy. Here we turned left, back south, and began to ascend a side valley. First stop after coffee was Conques. This is a top tourist spot, famous for its mediaeval golden icons.
The golden artefacts were indeed beautiful, and the church had some interesting carvings, particularly over the door. But it was a busy place and we decided to find somewhere quieter to eat. So we were delighted to find a roman bridge and sat down on the roadway. Only to find that it was still open to cars (just fitted with wing mirrors folded in) so we had to move mid picnic!
From Conques it was a serious climb back up to Rodez on the plateau. Half way up we stopped at Salles la Source to see a waterfall, not unlike those closer to home.
These big climbs are becoming routine now. But entering large towns is not. This is our first since Girona. I had plotted a cunning route on back roads. But it turned out that the main road in to town had a good bike track, so we followed it – only to find that it ended in a rubbish dump. We ended up having to ride the main roads, and climbing steeply to the old, hilltop centre. Here we booked into a nice hotel near the cathedral and we’ll have our first day off the bikes tomorrow.
Another easy day today, running down the Lot valley through a series of picture villages. But it started with a climb past a section of gorge too narrow for a riverside road. Lovely views before a descent back to the river.
Espalion was a nice place for lunch in a tiny restaurant near the bridge.
After Espalion the river reentered a section of narrow gorge with only a small road. This was kayak and raft territory – though nothing too challenging. Estaing was about half way through this section.
After Estaing the gorge became even narrower. Entraygues was fantastic, on a major confluence and with a lovely municipal campsite across the river. We did a town walk (always a hit with Helen) and found an English tearoom. We had camped right next to a football pitch, and when we came back in the dark after our evening meal we found that the floodlights were on for a training session. So we lay in the tent in broad daylight listening to football shouts. Even so, I was asleep before they finished and turned out the lights.
We woke up to fog again, but this time it was clear that the sun was going to burn it off and a good day beckoned. After breakfast we headed off into the mist, over a low pass shared with a railway line in gorgeous countryside.
By coffee time we had reached St Saturnin where we found a house for sale and fantasised about buying it and opening a cycle touring hotel.
The village also had the remains of a roman villa, which was a good chance to photograph my loaded bike.
A short hop over a second pass as the sun came through
led to a very long descent to St Geniez in the Lot gorge. This was probably the best place yet- lovely honeyed stone set beside the river in this beautifully wooded gorge. After wandering round for a while we found a fantastic hotel for lunch in their posh courtyard restaurant. This lasted several hours, and we had no problem whiling away the afternoon! Living slowly is starting to come easily.
Another modification to the route. Rather than two long and very hilly days going high up the Tarn gorge before turning west to the Lot at St Geniez we have decided to leave the gorge earlier and head more directly to St Geniez. Still 2 days cycling, but easier and the chance to visit St Severac as a consolation for missing out the upper Tarn gorge.
So we carried on up the valley on the back road, with great views north. After coffee in Riviere sur Tarn we turned left into a side valley and began the long climb out of the gorge. This was on a tiny road in lovely scenery. The climb was quite steep in places and we stopped for lunch part way up.
Near the top there were good views back to the Tarn gorge.
On the plateau at the top we crossed both railway and autoroute before descending a deserted main road to St Severac le Chateau. This was a lovely village and, despite a heavy shower as we arrived, we enjoyed the view from the castle.
The campsite is first rate. A lovely pitch with covered pool and a good restaurant.
Well it might be only half a day, but it started with an 800m climb up and over to the Tarn valley. (There was a lower route over by the main road, but we both preferred the extra ascent, and were rewarded with a quiet road and great views.) The weather was warmer and sunnier, and coffee after the descent to St Rome de Tarn was outside in the sun.
After crossing the river Tarn
there was a stunning riverside road along the Tarn gorge. This twisted and turned for miles until we began to see the tops of the Millau motorway viaduct in the distance. Cycling under the 1000m tall structure designed by Norman Foster was a real highlight.
We had lunch on Millau, looking back at the bridge.
We admit that there were campsites on the edge of town, but we needed a hotel and so booked in for a night in a comfortable modern place. The creperie in the town centre gave us an excellent evening meal.