Well rested, we set off early doors from our cheapy cheap campsite, heading south along the route of the La Garonne river which flows through Bordeaux and Toulouse, where we were aiming for. We were fairly sure you could follow the river as there seemed to be various self-guided cycling package holiday type things where someone takes your bags from stop to stop as you pootle along a path following the river. After searching the internet the night before our departure for routes, maps or information on where you could get onto the river, information was pretty scarce. We did a bit more investigation and discovered we actually needed to be following the Canal de Garonne which runs adjacent to the river until Toulouse where it becomes the Canal du Midi all the way to the Mediterranean sea. And it has a cyclable path its entire length. And it’s (nearly) all flat. Score.
We had to take normal roads to where the canal started in Castettes-en-Dorthe and it was pretty much the same as the way into Bordeaux: long, flat, straight roads mostly lined with trees or vineyards.
We’d done about 20 miles before deciding enough was enough and stopping at a Super-U for breakfast. When you’re cycling all day, you need a hearty breakfast to get you going through until lunch. It’s a pain in the arse/takes too long cooking something in the morning then having to wash everything up before setting off and cereal is a bit of a no-no unless you want warm, sour milk on it. France is full of patisseries however I’d have to eat a lot of croissants before feeling satisfied. After wandering around the shop for far too long we decided to get the cheapest crepes and jam we could find which turned out to be even cheaper when we discovered the checkout lady didn’t scan the jam. Score #2.
I think my favourite cycling breakfast so far has been a bottle of Yop yogurt drink, it’s both satisfying, cold, tasty and even fits perfectly into a drinks holder on the bike, although I’m not sure of its nutritional value. My favourite overall breakfast was definitely coffee, orange juice and omelette pinchos we had in Haro.
Whilst researching our route the previous evening, we saw plenty of mentions of the tiny medieval town of Saint-Macaire which was on our route. It was very beautiful, although it didn’t appear to have any shops or places to buy food which was a bit disappointing.
We cracked on and it wasn’t long before we reached the start of the canal which branches off from the Garonne and takes a much less wiggly route south east. It wasn’t at all like we had imagined it, the canal was at least 3 times wider than a normal English canal, completely lined with trees and very clean indeed.
In England, Canals go from one town to another and they were a means of transporting goods, which meant that the towns they passed through often prospered from the increased traffic. Usually, that means you can cycle down a tow path without being more than 500 meters from a pub or shop. In France, however, it seems they didn’t want to be bothered stopping along the way so for a fair while we didn’t see any towns of note, only tiny villages with not a lot in them. They were very beautiful, mind.
After eating more crepes and jam and deciding it was a diet that wouldn’t sustain us forever we headed away from the canal towards the town of Marmande, which looked a fair size and would definitely have food. It was about 10km away and as we crossed the bridge into the town, we got stuck behind the world’s slowest cyclist. Check out the rolled up jeans, hat and clipped cycling shoes.
When we arrived in the town we heard some music that we thought must be playing from a shop somewhere but really loud. After a while though, we figured out that it wasn’t coming from just one place, it was everywhere! Music was being pumped out via speakers through the entire town centre. Strange as it was it had something for everyone: Flo-Rider (rida?? Ryder???), The Kinks and even what sounded like lift music.
We stopped by the tourist office to see if there was camping nearby (there wasn’t) and to get a map of the route which Neola immediately lost. Then we got some food for the evening and headed off back to the canal. Marmande wasn’t a particularly cycling friendly town but they did have this cycle lane tunnel which passed under a big roundabout.
A bit further after we re-joined the canal we found a campsite. We’d covered 65 miles from our starting point so we figured it was a good overnight rest-stop. After a bit of looking around, the campsite turned out to be free! Score #3.
We ate our tea of omelette sandwiches, had a shower and laughed at the fact that we’d spent less than 10 euros all day, making it our cheapest day yet. Unfortunately we paid the price for free camping as, right next to our pitch was a house with a million howling and barking dogs that didn’t shut up all night. Crawling, bleary eyed, out of our tent the next morning, it seemed we weren’t the only ones kept up all night as the German family in the tent next to us started making the universally understandable gun gesture in the direction of the dogs. We nodded in agreement and made our way back onto the canal, next destination: Agen.