Saturday, July 5, 2014

Bordeaux Wine Country Bike Trip

Sunday June 29th arrives and we gear up for our first day of our bike trip in the Bordeaux wine country.

You will note in the picture above that Billie and I are wearing helmets and the boys are not. I said I would visit them in the hospital while they were recovering from the head injuries they received while bike touring. I will add that the first part of this section was on the City of Bordeaux bike path which runs along the Gironde river, then continues for several kilometres through the countryside. Must say that the bike path was well used by cyclists, rollerbladers and people walking. Great to see these small municipalities make the commitment for a path like this.

Day One - 64 kilometres, classified as Moderate to Challenging - supposed to take 4:30 hours

- As I mentioned above, we cycled on the bike path for the first 29 kilometres. This was mainly in the countryside cycling alongside vineyards, farmland and parkland.

Picture above is Billie and Terry taking a break along the bike path. Yes, he looks like Robin....they are twins in case some readers don't know. Started off wearing a jacket, which soon came off, weather being quite mild, but quite overcast. We stop in the small town of Creon for coffee.

Continuing on, we leave the bike path and stop at The Abbaye de la Sauve Majeur. There is a butcher shop and bakery, so Robin and I buy some bread and meat for our lunch. As we are now on country roads, both Robin and Terry have put on their helmets..... Good boys! As we are about to head out, thunder and lightning make an appearance and the rain begins.....we take shelter under the overhang of an old building. It subsides a little, so we decide we need to head out again. Cycle 20 yards and more lightning, so we take shelter once again under the eaves of a building in the church parking lot. Normally, we would have liked to visit the church, but with the inclement weather we decided to pass. Picture below shows quite beautiful skies, but let me assure you, it changed within a matter of minutes.

So, after about 15 minutes, we once again head out. Billie says " I think Terry's tire is flat". We stop, check out the tire and inflate it, hoping it's only a slow leak. We push on as we are only at about 31 kms. and we need to cycle 64kms. The rolling hills start and one has to be careful as the roads are wet. Billie and Terry have done most of their cycling on the flatlands so they are finding it a bit challenging. We take a lot of stops so they can catch their breath and continue to pump up Terry's tire. Finally Terry realizes that the tire is no longer holding air, so the decision is made to stop and change his tire. Unfortunately it is the back tire, which is always a little harder. Robin pitches in and changes the tire. Picture below is the group pulling over to change the tire.


While Robin is changing the tire, more lightning, thunder and rain, so we take shelter on the side of the field below some trees. I know, I shouldn't stand under trees, but really no other shelter available. Although the picture below may not be the most flattering, one has to do everything possible to try to keep dry, hence Robin's hood under the helmet. Believe me, at one point, we all looked like drowned rats.

For the next 15 kms. to 20 kms. we are going up and down hills and the skies are overcast and threatening. Have to stop numerous times and on one occasion we even take out our rain ponchos taking shelter by an old stone wall below a medieval abandoned castle due to more thunder, lightning and POURING rain. We are now at 46 kms......just 18 kms. left to reach our destination of Saint Macaire.

Looks like the skies finally clear up and we push on.......literally some times! We reach the small town of Verdelais.....did I say that the towns are always at the top of a hill!.....and see some local gentleman playing pétanque/boule. A beautiful church in the town square. Look at the beautiful skies...where were you earlier in the day?

One last, o.k. a couple more pushes up the hills and we finally reach our destination ......64 kms.......and oh yeah........8 hours.....yikes, what a day! Must say that we were pleased to see the charming small hotel we were staying in. Very comfortable and food was very good. After supper we took a short walk in the ancient walled part of the town of Saint Macaire. In the picture below, our hotel is in the top left hand corner.

Day Two - 34 kms. classified as easy -supposed to take 2 1/2 hours

O.K. We look at the map and route today classified as easy.....not sure they are using the same dictionary as we are accustomed to! We head out about 9 a.m. leave Saint Macaire, cross the highway, cross the railway tracks and start cycling through a vineyard. Turn a corner and our first hill of the day.

Get to the top of the hill and turn onto a country road. Come across a group of French cyclists, probably around thirty men in their 60's and 70's out for their daily ride. They stop at a pullout where we have stopped and a great deal of them turn their backs to us for a "pee" break. A few of them engage us and find out where we are heading. They basically tell us, it's a piece of cake....such a small distance and easy. Well.....they live in the area and cycle these roads....sorry.....hills....every day. They are in great shape and they head off, leaving us "in their dust" as they say.

We continue on our way and for the first time, the instructions are a bit confusing. We confer, check the GPS as our odometer seems to be off. We decide on a route, continue......a few minutes down the road we stop again to re-evaluate our situation. A quote from our guide book......(did I mention we are on a self guided bike trip!) red letters (every other instruction in black) ....."Turn left on the road that passes in front of the house. The road makes a curve and goes behind the house." O.K. Considering we aren't sure exactly where we are, is this the house they are talking about, since our odometers are out of sync with the guide book? Both Billie and I walk a little ways and I also cycle (I am afraid of farm dogs) and yes, we decide, after also referencing Robin's GPS that this must be the place.....o.k. another half hour has gone by trying to make sure we are on the right track. By the way, the GPS has been pre-set with the route and you cannot override it. Let me say, this is a good thing.

The countryside is very beautiful, rolling hills, ancient homes and churches that are well kept and charming small towns. Must say that different to North America, the French take pride in keeping up their small villages. It seems that in our travels, we have met young people who are moving back into the countryside and small towns to enjoy a better way of life. Also many dogs in the country, but fortunately the majority of them are behind fences. They still like to run up and down their property and bark at you, just to let you know that you are "nearly" trespassing on their property. A lot of stops along the way to catch one's breath and to snack to ensure we have the energy to continue our journey. We stop and have lunch along the roadside and then continue onto Saint Gemme, our destination for the next two nights. Love the scenery along the way, beautiful rolling hills (even though one has to cycle up them), fields of sunflowers, crosses at country roads, memorials to fallen soldiers of the resistance, beautiful hydrangeas and the picturesque villages. Pictures of Robin and I below taking a break while waiting for Billie and Terry.

We have cycled 34 kms. and it has taken a little over 5 1/2 to 6 hours. Overcast all day but fortunately no rain, actually good weather for cycling. We arrive at Manoir La Gaboria our bed and breakfast for the next two nights. A young French couple, Emilie and Florian purchased this property a year ago and were the perfect hosts. The B&B is located in the countryside on .....oh yes.....the top of a hill looking over the local vineyards. An absolutely gorgeous old manor with lots of character. The property has many different types of fruit trees and Emilie makes her own jams, but she is now also making home made wines and liqueurs to simply use up the fruit....after all she says, you can only make so much jam! When we arrive, Robin has a well deserved beer and I indulge in a glass of white wine. The rooms in the B&B are huge and the beds are very comfortable. Everyone in our party had to be careful not to hit their heads on the wooden beams in the bedrooms as they were huge and very low......except me of course, due to my small stature! Emilie and Florian cooked our two dinners and two breakfasts for us and oh my gosh.....very good. Both nights we were served a homemade "aperitif " before dinner and must say both were very tasty and very different. One was made from "quince" (same family as apples and pears) and the other from oranges with added rum. In the mornings home made jams (prune, apricot, fig and quince) with bread and croissant and homemade pannacotta. I told Emilie that she should write a cookbook. In addition to being a great cook and hostess, she is also very handy/artistic. In the guest living room, she made a desk/table using wine boxes as drawers and a coffee table made out of wooden flats and metal. Not only well made, both were on wheels and very practical. They also have a collection of old phones, radios and phonographs throughout the house.

Billie and Terry have made the decision not to continue on with the bike trip as it is more challenging than anticipated. They will spend the next day relaxing at the B&B and they have made arrangements to be transported to Saint Emillion where they will spend two days (accommodation already paid for with bike trip) then they will be shuttled back to Bordeaux.

Day 3- scheduled to be a circuit around the area with return to Saint Gemme, but Robin and I head off in the morning and cycle out to the small town of Rimons and back to the B&B, a total of 24kms. Forgot to mention that Robin had to deal with a flat tire on his bike before we even left the B&B. We stop in Monsegur for coffee on our way out and then return to Monsegur for lunch before returning to Saint Gemme. Once again great countryside and a great day of cycling, not too hot. One of the pictures I took is of a breadbox.....not your normal type, it's a bread box that sits at the side of a farmers yard and the local bakery delivers baguettes into the! The farmers are busy in the vineyards cutting off the extra foliage from the vines. Their tractors are small enough to maneuver between the rows and they are equipped with vertical blades on either side of the tractor that cut the excess foliage. In some vineyards this is done manually. This process takes place to ensure nutrients go to the fruit and not the foliage.

Day 4 - 51 kms. -classified as moderate -Saint Gemme to Saint Emillion -supposed to 3 1/2hours

We had checked the weather the night before and we were somewhat concerned as they were forecasting several thunder storms throughout the day. We called the bike company to see if they could shuttle us to Saint Emillion with Billie and Terry. They were great to deal with and said that was possible. When we woke up we checked the weather again and the forecast had improved with a thunder storm predicted in late afternoon and some showers forecast throughout the day. We checked the route once again, and although classified as moderate, we decided to go for it; after all, that is why we are here.

Robin and I head off a little after 9 a.m. We start with long sleeve shirts over our short sleeve cycling shirts, but within the first ten minutes we peel these off as of course, we are climbing hills once again! Weather co-operates, no rain. We stop once or twice along the way for snacks and sit along the side of road for our lunch, leftover cold pizza from lunch the day before.....really good. Part of our route today was on a bike trail (same one out of Bordeaux, but just a different section) so we were able to make good time. In this area we encountered more corn, sunflower and grain fields. Cycle through some forested areas as well. Once we leave the bike paths, we start climbing the rolling hills again through wine country.

We arrive in Saint Emillion about 1:30 p.m. (About 41/2hour ride with stops) and yes....the town is on top of a hill! We cycle to our hotel which is located in this walled town and after locking up our bikes, we see Billie and Terry heading back to the hotel after their lunch. We arrange to meet later for drinks and dinner. Robin and I shower and take a siesta and head out to see some of the town prior to meeting Billie and Terry. We stop for a celebratory glass of wine, then take a walk through part of the town.

Saint Emillion is located in the Aquitaine region of France and is a Unesco World a Heritage site. O.K....when I get home I am going to start looking at how many Unesco sites we have been to over the years! Saint-Émilion is one of the principal red wine areas of Bordeaux the primary grape varieties used are the Merlot, Cabernet Franc, with small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon also being used by some chateaux. It really is a very small town. It is geared towards the wine tourists and the town is filled with wine merchants, wine tasting bars, cafés, restaurants, artisans, art galleries and hotels. We were told by one artisan that only a few people actually live in the town, mainly the elderly patriarchs/matriarchs of this area.

We meet Billie and Terry, have drinks on an outdoor terrace and go to dinner at a restaurant that was recommended to them which was very good.

Day 5 -scheduled to be a circuit around Saint Emillion or a rest day. Robin and I decide to stay in town and make it a rest day after our last 4 days of cycling. We will cycle back to Bordeaux on Friday. We join Billie and Terry for breakfast then head out for a short walk. Almost impossible to walk any distances as just as you leave the town border you are in the vineyards and the roads have no shoulders to walk on. We walk back into town and decide to take a tourist train......hey, don't laugh....we said this is a rest day. The tourist train takes a route around the Sainte Emillion area through the small roads that surround the vineyards. We stop at a local winery for a tour of their caves and a wine tasting (only one very small glass, but again, it is only 11a.m.). A very warm day today and somewhat humid, so it was very nice to be in the cave. The young man leading the tour said that the caves were dug to provide limestone to build the cities of Bordeaux, Libourne and Saint Emillion. As the fields were already planted with vines, a hole was dug, probably ten feet by ten feet, to get at the limestone so as not to disrupt the vines; so it would appear to have been a very labour intensive process. Saint Emillion's soil, climate and location make for excellent growing conditions. As it is located on a hill which provides excellent drainage due to the limestone, they are able to delay the picking of their grapes some two weeks after the vineyards in the lower valley. This allows greater sweetness in the grapes thereby, it is said, making better wines. We stopped by the wine museum which showed a pictorial process of growing vines and the process of making wine, very well done. Also a "smelling station" which Billie and I participated in. You have to smell various vats filled with corks soaked with different wines. You then have to guess the predominant aroma such as strawberry, coffee, truffles, orange. etc. Billie did very well and might take up a career as a sommelier.

After this short tour, we visited a few art galleries, stopped for coffee/tea, walked around the town and had a light lunch in one of the squares. Lots of historic buildings in the town...The King's Tower built in the 13th century but they don't know by whom or it's purpose, The Market Hall mainly used for grain storage but now houses artisan shops, The Great Wall (no not the Chinese one) the remains of a Dominican convent, numerous gates into the city, The Cordellier Cloister, The Wash Houses and several very steep streets. A nice town to visit with lots of wine history. Quiet afternoon followed by dinner with Billie and Terry.

Day 6 - 51 kms - classified as moderate -St. Emillion to Bordeaux - supposed to take 3 1/2 hours

We checked the weather forecast and it is calling for rain in both the Saint Emillion area as well as Bordeaux. We leave the hotel about 9 a.m. with our jackets on. Within minutes of leaving, it starts to rain but we cycle on. Once again cycling through lovely countryside, even with the rain. Farmers and workers out in the fields tending to the vines. Up a few hills and need to be careful, hard to read the map with the rain causing spots on my glasses and water running down the roads. Well, it continues to rain for the first 15 kilometres of our ride. We stop at one point as it is raining so hard, Robin puts on his rain poncho over his jacket. I don't bother, I am just soaked! We continue along and spot a small town bar. We pull over and have a cup of tea to warm up. The couple running this place must have been in their 80's.....she seemed to be in a bad mood, or maybe that's just her normal demeanour and he had no teeth, but smiled..... Oh well, the tea was hot and green tea here folks, just strong black tea.....don't ask for anything foo-foo. Some locals come in to buy their baguettes ( seems that this place, in the middle of nowhere, is the delivery point for baguettes and newspapers for the surrounding area). Any time the locals came in, they always acknowledged us "Bonjour Messier/Dame". We must have been quite a sight....soaked to the skin, hair plastered on our heads.

The rain finally stops so we get back on our bikes and head off. We finally make it to the bike path and the sign says 32 kms. to Bordeaux. We make excellent time on the bike path, stopping a few times to snack to keep up our energy. This area of the bike path is surrounded by farms and forested areas. Along the way, I spot a man up ahead in the forest next to the path, picking what I think are mushrooms. We stop, say hello and confirm that indeed he is picking "chanterelles". He tells us that he has picked mushrooms all his life and knows the good from the bad. He said that in a months time the "portobello" mushrooms will ge ready to be picked. He shows us his lovely basket of the "fruits of his labour". Even cycle through a tunnel.....heading in it's dark.....oh great!.....well the French certainly know how to conserve electricity....motion sensor lights go on as we cycle through the tunnel.

Dark skies building up in the distance and we really want to get to Bordeaux before it rains again. We push on and finally make it to the hotel about 12:40. We ask a man passing to take our final "bike trip" picture and haul our bikes into the hotel. Seriously the skies open about 2 minutes after we get in the hotel, and the rain comes pouring down. People in the streets running for shelter. I think "The Gods" took pity on us and knew we worked hard this week, so we were saved from further rain. Robin and I cycled a total of 240 "hard" kilometres. Got settled in our room, had a glass of wine, a nap and finally a shower. Meeting Billie and Terry tonight for a final dinner as they are leaving tomorrow morning for Paris for three days before heading back to Sarasota, U.S.A. We are spending tomorrow in Bordeaux and hope to get some clothes cleaned, especially the stinky cycling stuff. Off to Morocco for eight days on Sunday morning.

Picture below taken at the end of our bike trip just as we arrived at our hotel in Bordeaux. A great sense of accomplishment!


Final thoughts on our bike trip.....

- A beautiful way to see the countryside

- A lot of fun to do this type of tour with other people

- Although we found it hard going at the beginning, we eventually got into our stride and had no problem dealing with the undulating terrain

- Based on our cycling experiences in Holland and the Bordeaux region, we still prefer to do self -guided trips

- It certainly pays to bring the proper gear for all conditions.

- Met some wonderful people along the way and stayed in some charming hotels in great locations.

Planning the next bike trip......really!



































No comments:

Post a Comment