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!