It was important to get off to a good start on my biking-Bordeaux adventure. OK, “important” might be a bit of an overstatement. It’s helpful, a good omen … and much better than the alternative.
“This bridge is shit,” said the guy from O2Cycles. “Don’t take it.”
We were at the designated meet-up spot in Bordeaux (the city), in front of one of the four Ibis hotels located within a couple hundred meters of the Gare St-Jean train station. And yes, that’s a lot of Ibis hotels. Several people try and check into the wrong Ibis, the lady at my Ibis told me with a chuckle.
Hey, what’s the plural for Ibis? Ibises? Ibiss? Ibi?
Anyway, I had just received my rented Cube, a beautiful, all-carbon, German-made bike that had a rack on the back for my panniers (which is rare on an all-carbon bike, but necessary if you’re packing panniers). The friendly O2Cycles guy asked where I was headed, and I told him across the river, south and around to the Roger Lapebie bike path, then on to Langon.
There are two Bordeaux bridges in or near the center of town that cross the wide Garonne River: the Pont St-Jean, right next to the train station and only a couple hundred meters away from where we were, and the Pont de Pierre, two kilometers north, along the water and in the middle of the city. I guess “along the water” isn’t necessary when describing the location of a bridge, right?
“The Pont de Pierre is beautiful,” the O2Cycles guy said. “You must take it.”
And so, I did, and he was right. No cars. Only trams … and bikes. The ride to Langon – along the Lapebie and then along quiet roads line with vineyards and farms – was scenic and quiet.
It’s an OK town. But, the location is an excellent base to see all the sights of the Sauternes, a sub-region of the Bordeaux region. You could also stay in St-Macaire, across the Gardonne.
Well, about 90 percent of the Bordeaux wine is red, the rest is white – the Sauternes. It’s a combination of Semillion, Sauvignon blanc and Muscadelle grapes, and these varieties, along the “noble rot,” combine to create a sweet wine often served with dessert.
The noble rot?
The climate here and a very specific fungus, the Botrytis cinera fungus, affect and infiltrate the grapes, concentrating and sweetening their flavor. The best-known and, therefore most expensive, Sauterne wine is from Chateau d’Yquem. A bottle can go for thousands of dollars.
So no, I didn’t have a Sauterne. But had plenty of red Bordeaux.
OK, time for my favorite Langon loop…
There’s so much to see, so let’s get started on this 45-mile ride …
At the train station, head SW on the D 116, up a hill, out of town and over to the Chateau d’Yquem. It’s not far. There’s a large gate, and a long driveway that leads to the exquisite tasting room. So, yes, on my bike, wearing my kit, and a little light in the wallet, I felt intimidated. I did, however, when nobody was looking, pretend to bend down to adjust something on my wheel – and pluck a few grapes off the vines closest to the driveway.
They were tart. Maybe the noble rot hadn’t fully taken hold. It was mid-September, so the fungus had better get a move on it.
Sauternes: the village
Another three kilometers gets you to Sauternes, a little village smack dab in the middle of the region for which it was named (or is it the other way around?). There’s a restaurant in town, and a café. The town is totally surrounded by vineyards. Then again, you could say this about every town and village around here.
I know this is wine country, very famous wine country, and I expected lots of vineyards. But still, it’s a bit overwhelming: They stretch on and on and on. And then on some more. Everything and everyone who lives around here is connected to the grape in some way.
My favorite sight
Head NW on quiet roads to the ruins of the castle of Budos.
I was immediately drawn to this place, which dates back to the early 14th Century. It was perfect: In ruins, but still majestically proud as it stood guard above the vineyards that surround it. About half a kilometer away, up a hill, is the village of Budos.
What the heck is this?
Head south on the quiet D 114 toward Villandraut. But wait, what’s that crazy statue, over there, on the left …
Why is Dad coughing? Is he sick, dying? Is this one-last family vacation before his demise? Maybe he swallowed a grape and a pit got a bit stuck in his throat. Either way, it’s quite an interesting sculpture … and did not entice me to stay here. Not one bit.
Anyway, on to …
The Villandraut castle
There’s another great castle in the town Villandraut. It has a real medieval feel to it, a drawbridge and a connection to a Pope.
This town is the birthplace of Bertrand de Goth, who was crowned as the first Pope in Avignon in 1305. He took the name Clement V and built the castle in Villandraut. You can walk into the courtyard and look around.
The Uzeste cathedral
There’s a nice bike path just south of Villandraut. Follow it east for about 4 Ks, and then take the D222 south into Uzeste, where’s there’s a massive and magnificent old cathedral that seems way too large for a town so small.
As you’ve noticed, there’s an interesting sight every few kilometers on this route. And, we’re just getting started.
The King’s castle
Head south on the D222 to Cazeneuve. You’re in the middle of nowhere (sort of), with nothing around, no towns, no nothing, and there it is … a gigantic castle. It dates back to the 13th Century and was once (in the 1500s) the home of Henri III de Navarre, who later became King Henri IV.
There is a tour, but the next one didn’t start for a couple of hours. So, I took a few photos, rode around, had a snack and off I went …
Head east to Bazas, a fairly big town that’s surrounded by the ruins of the ramparts that once guarded the city and the Cathedral St-Jean. There are restaurants and cafes in Bazas. This is another home-base option.
From Bazas, there’s a bike path that heads west and then north. Then head east on the D 125, down a hill, up a hill to …
OK, yet another big, old castle. I know, this is getting redundant!
This one was started by Cardinal Gaillard de la Mothe, the nephew of Pope Clement V. They say it’s the only fortress in France approved by England’s King Edward I.
Roquetaillade is the last stop/castle on our town, so head north and back to Langon. A long day of riding makes me hungry, so, time for dinner … and, there’s a couscous restaurant in town!
Here’s the link to my Biking Bordeaux book (only $2.50) that includes lots more rides and info, plus my four other Biking France books and Numbskull, my cycling-centric novel.