A quick inspection of the Michelin road atlas revealed that the most southerly through road was the road over the Col d'Ares, south of Prats-de-Mollo ski resort in the French Pyrenees. The most northerly point was the Belgian border, near the coast. I then started planning a route for Jon, my husband, and me to ride.
The time of year was easy to decide. I do not like hot weather, which ruled out the south of France from May to September. Before May snow would be blocking the passes in the Massif Central. So, October was the month.
We decided to do the route from south to north, as we could then get a ferry back to England, which would give us flexibility if we were delayed or early. It also allowed us to dump most of the bike packing needed for the flight , though we kept the plastic bike bags as emergency bivvy bags.
To get to the southerly end, we decided to fly to Barcelona. From previous experience the roads into and out of Barcelona airport are a nightmare for cyclists, so we took a suburban train to Ripoll, a Spanish town north of Barcelona, and started our ride there.
We came back using the Norfolkline ferry from Dunkirk, which was the nearest ferry to the Belgian border. The web-site of this ferry line gives the impression it is just for motorists as pedestrians and coach parties are not allowed. However, the ferry accepts cyclists!
The scenery through the Pyrenees, southern France and the Massif Central was magnificent, through spectacular rock formations and gorges. October seemed the perfect time to visit and once we left the climbs of the Massif Central we expected life to be easy, but progress was a lot harder.
|Flat fields of northern France|
We were unlucky to be caught in a strong cold northerly head wind and we struggled across open countryside wearing all our clothes. The landscape was mostly flat and boring, the lanes covered in bumpy dried mud from freshly ploughed fields, but the monotony was relieved by visits to a number of interesting chateaux.
|Chateau de Chambord|
|Foret de Lyons|
We used pages from a Michelin road atlas (1:200,000) to navigate, with additional Google maps printouts for complicated bits (large towns and tracks). The entire trip from Ripoll to home in Barnet took us 3 weeks and was 2052 km (1275 miles), of which the distance from the south of France to the north was 1769 km (1099 miles).
A holiday would not be a holiday, without a few problems.
In Chatres the hotels in the centre of town were all full. (We were told the town attracted a lot of conferences as it was close to Paris.) We cycled around the busy ring road in the dark checking the many budget (and not so budget) hotels on the periphery, but all were full. After finding the tenth hotel full, we headed back into the inner suburbs and found two beds – and a superb breakfast – at the youth hostel.
In conclusion, I can recommend this ride as a challenge. There are more minor roads and small towns than in some of the trans Alpine/Pyrenean routes we have done. The route was very scenic until we left the Massif Central and at least the ride through the flat lands of northern France took us to an area I would not normally consider for a cycle tour - thereby allowing us to visit a number of châteaux for the first time.
Total distance 2051.91 km (1274.48m)
End to end in France 1768.72 km (1098.58m)
Duration 3 weeks.
|1 Sat||47.17 km||Cycle to Mill Hill Broadway; train to Hackbridge; cycle to Gatwick and check in.||Gatwick Travelodge|
|2 Sun||2.90 km||Fly to Barcelona; train to centre and to Ripoll. Visit cathedral and old town.||Ripoll|
|3 Mon||86.18 km||St Joan de les Abadesses monastery (Benedictine monastery, founded in 885). Col d’Ares (French border 93 km from start); Gorges de La Fou, 1500m walking tour; Arles.||Amelie les-Bains|
|4 Tue||86.48 km||Col Xatard Bouleternere; Ile sur Tet; spectacular rock formations “Orgues”; "La Clue de la Fou" (beauty spot).||Saint-Paul-de-Fenouillet|
|5 Wed||91.30 km||Gorges de Galamus (very scenic); Col de Redoulde; Col d’homme morte.||Carcassone|
|6 Thu||99.46 km||Col de Serieres; Col du Fauredon.||Brassac (rooms in cafe on D622 2 km outside town)|
|7 Fri||86.01 km||St Jean-de-jeannes, D172 along Tarn; steep minor road to Cambradet.||Requista|
|8 Sat||66.36 km||Minor roads to||Laissac|
|9 Sun||84.52 km||Crejouls; St Come; Aubrac; St Urcize.||Chaudes-Aigues|
|10 Mon||93.84 km||Pont de Treboul; col du Prat de Bouc (1392m); Col d’entremont (1210m).||Condat|
|11 Tue||87.94 km||Col de la Chaumoune (1155m); Lac de Bourdouze; Cascade de Vaucoux.||Clermont Ferrand (old town and cathedral)|
|12 Wed||99.90 km||Under railway viaduct (highest in Europe) Chateauneuf-les-bains (intended stopping place – hotel open but no food).||Gorges de Chouvigny|
|13 Thu||89.65 km||Chouvigny castle, Montmarault; leaving mountainous area. Le Brethon (famous oak forest planted by Colbert C18 for the navy).||St Bonnet Troncais|
|14 Fri||100.04 km||Charenton du Cher; le Chamay; Chateauneuf sur Cher; Civray; St Pierre de Jards.||Massay|
|15 Sat||93.52 km||Maison Fort; Selles St Dennis; Montrieux-en-Sologne; Visit Chateau de Chambord (largest chateau in Loire Valley).||Vineuil|
|16 Sun||86.71 km||Visit Chateau de Blois. North side of Loire; Brevainville; St Hilaire.||Chateaudun|
|17 Mon||73.84 km||Visit Chateau and Old town (signed route); Collommiers.||Chartres (visit cathedral and old town)|
|18 Tue||102.24 km||la Chaussee d’Ivry; Boisset les Prevanches.||Evreux|
|19 Wed||102.78 km||Tosny; Abbaye de Mortemer; through Foret de Lyons (largest beech forest in Europe).||Forges les Eaux|
|20 Thu||80.48 km||Ste Beuve en Riviere; cross river Somne.||Abbeville|
|21 Fri||97.86 km||Quoeux; Bergureuse; Laires||Arques/St Omer|
|22 Sat||128.43 km||Bray Dunes to border; L to coast. North point Belgian border apprx. 57 km. Dunkerque; N1 to port but bridge closed and diverted onto autoroute; after crossing river, minor roads to port. Norfolk line ferry to Dover. Woolage Green.||Canterbury|
|23 Sun||118.76 km||Faversham; across Medway bridge; Rochester; Dartford Crossing (free bike transport). Hornchurch; Chigwell Row; Enfield||Barnet|
Judy Allfrey Oct 2007