Back to the Beginning in Langon

I’ve just about completed my giant Bordeaux loop … 998 miles in 19 days, with one to go: Back to Bordeaux (the city), another 45 or so miles tomorrow.

I’m in Langon tonight, which was my first stop after Bordeaux way back when. It’s kind of cool to come back to a town I’ve already visited. I know how to find the hotel, the staff at the hotel recognized me (the crazy bike guy), I know where to eat, and where to do a load of laundry.

Plus, the couscous place I thought was closed for good: Is open! Just got back from a delicious – and very filling dinner.

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One thing about couscous: It tends to continue to expand in your stomach for an hour or two after you’ve finished eating. So, be careful. Another thing: It’s one of those perfect-combination meals that incorporates a grain, veggies, meat and sauce, plus raisins and chick peas. And some hot sauce if you’re up for the challenge (the little dish to the upper left).

Because I’ve been here before and ridden in this region (the Sauternes sector of Bordeaux), I was able to go on a Best Of Ride today, incorporating all my favorite sights and routes, villages and castles.

Here it is, in photos: 50 great miles, even with some rain the last 10K.

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Yes, the Route des Vines … I’ve created my own. A few minutes – and hills – after you head out of Langon, the Sauternes and Graves grapes begin to appear. To say they’re everywhere is a bit of an understatement. And, grapes seem to love growing on hills, which means lots of ups and downs.

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The cathedral in Uzeste is our first official stop. It’s one of the larger and more ornate churches in the region, and yet another example of a tiny, tiny village with a huge, giant church.

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Then it’s on to the remains of the castle in Villandraut, which dates back to Pope Clement V and the 1300s. This time, the gate just past the drawbridge was open and I could walk into the large “courtyard.” There’s something about the ruins of an ancient castle that stirs the imagination.

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Headed out of Villandraut and saw this…

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I know, it’s almost as cool as the Pope’s castle ruins.

It’s the roadside advertisement for Le Roi Kysmar … and I have one question: What the heck is the dad doing? Is he in the middle of a cough? Does he have some sort of breathing or lung disorder? Is he hiding something in his hand? Is he about to blow a poisonous dart at me?

I have no idea what the heck was the giant-plastic advertising artist was thinking. Maybe he had a little too much Sauternes and things got out of hand.

After another few Ks … Couldn’t help but notice the name of this mini-village…

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Perhaps this is a warning to all cyclists: Drink up and stay hydrated.

The setting of the ruins of the castle just outside Budos are perfect…

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The old castle is below the town, surrounded by vineyards. I came at it from three or four different directions and each time the view of the castle as you approached was pretty darn amazing.

FYI: The harvesting of the grapes has begun.

OK, we’re nearing the end of our perfect ride. This is about the time it started raining. I was heading back, but instead of turning left, toward Langon, kept going straight so I could see…

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The castle at Roquetaillade. It’s set a little ways back from the road, so it’s hard to tell from this picture how big it is. Trust me: It’s huge.

There was a guy just a little bit to the left of where I shot this from, sitting in a chair in front of his camper … sleeping.

Why not? It’s a pretty awesome view. Maybe he too had a little too much wine. I’m working on this situation right now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enough Tourist Stuff … It’s Time For a Totally Fun Ride

Today was all about the love of cycling.

That’s something you can forget sometimes about with all the hustle, bustle and to-do lists of bike-touring in the Bordeaux region.

Enough already with all the tourist stuff: The famous vineyards, villages and chateaux and collecting information for my eBook on Biking Bordeaux. Enough with all the tourists who come to see these famous tourist attractions … and the buses and cars they use to see them.

Today was all about me, my bike and the ride: From Pauillac on the Gironde River all the way across the Bordeaux Peninsula to the Atlantic Ocean and back: 71 miles. I imagine this would be a route the members of the local velo clubs do.

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My route is the orange part

Text from a member of the local bike club (the Medoc Cycling Club, perhaps?): “Bonjour everyone, let’s meet at 9AM in Pauillac, in front of the Logis, and do that really nice ocean loop to Hourtin-Plage, down the path to Carcans-Place and back. It’s one of my favorite rides. Then drinks at the café.”

It was a great ride, 71 miles, almost entirely on either small, rural roads with minimal traffic, or on the amazing network of bike paths that crisscross this area. The only tourists I saw were on bikes, and I saw several. Along the Atlantic is prime bike-touring territory.

But first, before I describe today’s ride: Today marked a few biking milestones. I went over the 1,000-kilometer mark on this trip and the 5,000-mile mark for the year. And, according to my best estimate, hitting the 5,000-mile mark this year puts me over the 100,000-mile mark since 1990.

That’s a lot of miles. And memories. And amazing rides with great people.

Appropriately, my 100,000-mile-mark ride came in France, as all this cycling started as part of a Paris-to-Nice trip back in 1990. That’s what got me hooked on cycling, bike touring and bike touring in France. The adventure, the challenge, the freedom, the thrill of flying down a hill and the sense of accomplishment from climbing a mountain. All the people I met and have ridden with, all the lessons I’ve learned along the way about myself and the world around me.

Here’s the bottom line: Cycling is fun.

I’m not sure if I have another 100,000 miles left in my legs … but I’m gonna try. And I’m not sure if I can afford enough trips to France to get it done.

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As you can see from the map way up above, I headed due west from Pauillacon on the D205, a very rural road. For the first 7 or 8 kilometers: vineyards. Lots of famous Medoc vineyards. Then they stopped. I guess the soil and climate are no longer conducive to making Medoc wine.

Don’t think I stopped for 30 kilometers (18.6 miles), rolling along at about 28 or 29 kilometers an hour. It was nice to just ride and not have to think too much about what I was seeing, take photos and notes. I’ve never ridden these roads before, but they felt familiar.

Outside the city of Hourtin, I had some problems finding the start of the bike path to the beach.

“This looks like it,” I said to myself. “But there’s no sign. Should I just go?”

A gentleman walking his dog saw me studying my map … and, in pretty-good English, told me that yes, this was the path. His dog agreed.

Whew, that’s a relief … and one of the only sections of the extensive bike-path system along the coast that isn’t well marked with signage.

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Followed the path to the beach, where there’s a sweeping view of the dunes, the sand and the water. This is supposedly great surfing territory, and there were several surfers out in the water. And several cyclists gathered at the edge of the beach, taking photos and chatting. Lots of people ride up and down the coast on the paths, and a lot of them were on bike trips. You can tell because they have panniers.

Then, due south along a really great bike path (well paved and wide through a forest), all the way – 18.6 kilometers – to Carcans-Plage, which is another beach and popular surfing spot.

BTW: Plage means beach.

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Then it was back to Pauillac.

I don’t think I saw a single tourist attraction the whole day (other than the first and last few Ks), unless, of course, you count the Atlantic Ocean. I guess it’s kind of famous.

There you go, my great day on a bike. Now it’s your turn: Go on a ride and have a great time … even if you’re not in France.

 

 

2 Days and 9 Photos From Bordeaux

When I checked out of my hotel in Langon, and told the desk guy I was headed north to Libourne, he went like this: Up and down motions with his hand. Like waves. Or a rollercoaster.

“It is all hills,” he said. “It is all up and then down.”

He was right … and then some more ups and downs.

But it was worth it. I’m seven days and 352 miles into my Bordeaux extravaganza. Here are the last two days in photos.

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The climb started immediately, up and up to Ste Croix du-Mont where there’s a great view down from whence I came (I’ve always wanted to use the word “whence.”). And a WWI memorial with quite the intimidating figure on top…

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I mean, come on: This is one angry, muscular and intimidating fighting rooster. The “Coq Sportif” is the national symbol and you may remember seeing one on the jerseys of the French team that won the most recent World Cup.

Then it was up and down a few more hills on the way to Cadillac. And, every time I saw a sign for Cadillac … I started singing Springsteen’s “Cadillac Ranch.” I like to sing when I ride. Sometimes in my head, out loud every once in a while. Especially going up hills. It helps. Cadillac is an old, walled city and here’s the view through one of the medieval entrances. And yes, it was market day.

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These guys were hanging out at the cathedral in the town of Castelviel … which is a million years old!

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Here’s my reward for a long, hard and beautiful day of riding…

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Today was all about the red wines of the St-Emilion, such as…

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Everything here is all about the wine … it’s one vineyard and chateau after another. Endless vineyards. Miles and miles of vineyards of red grapes. And when they say chateau, they don’t exactly mean castle, although some are quite castle-like. The chateaux here refer to the maisons of each individual winery. And, because there are so many, and I imagine it’s quite competitive, you need to have quite the fancy and ornate chateau/tasting center in order to create your brand and sell your wine for exorbitant prices. Here’s the entrance to one of the more elaborate chateau…

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Here’s the view from the little town of Montagne.

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And the view a few kilometers later and back and up to Montagne.

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Tomorrow it’s back to St-Emilion, the epicenter for tourism in this area. I was able to get a hotel, for one night, maybe two, and am determined to do some wine tasting. I’ll let you know how it goes if I’m able to write/blog.

 

The Noble Rot Effect in Bordeaux!

Got rained on today during my ride … which means more fungus on the grapes, which in turn makes them sweeter, more valuable and a perfect match for a chocolatey dessert.

It’s all due to the Botrytis cinereal, a fungus they call the “noble rot.” Ah, the noble rot … sort of sounds like a movie title or what’s going in in Washington, D.C.

I know what you’re thinking: “Steve, you’re such a wine expert!”

grapes1Well, not exactly … but I am here in Bordeaux and you do pick up a few things. For example: about 90 percent of the wine produced in Bordeaux is red.

The white stuff?

They do a big chunk of the 10 percent in the Sauternes region, which is where I rode today … in the rain, surrounded by plump white grapes and lots and lots of fungus. Somehow this particular fungus makes the grapes sweeter. Don’t worry, I took a really good shower when I got back to the hotel. And, I do feel a little sweeter than I did this morning.

My first stop was Chateau Yquem, which is probably the most famous producer of Sauterne. Wow, this place is impressive … and a little intimidating. Some of their wines sell for more than $1,000 a bottle.

I bought two (only kidding … I got a case!).

While I would have loved to sample a few Yquems, drinking wine while I ride makes me groggy and sleepy. Instead I took a few photos … and may have plucked a couple grapes off a vine and eaten them. They may not have been as sweet as I expected.

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Then it was on to the town/village of Sauternes … where I think you need some sort of documentations to get a glass of wine at the official Office of Degustation.

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On to Budos … where there are the ruins of a medieval castle surrounded by vineyards. The Chateau Budos dates back to the 1300s … and looks it. As you may have noticed if you’re a regular reader of this blog: I love ruins. I think it’s because you get to use your imagination to “see” what they looked like in their prime. Do you think there were vineyards – and fungus – here in the 1300s?

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And then it began to rain … a mist at first, and then a steady drizzle. I found some cover in Illats … and waited it out. Unfortunately, the sky was dark and formidable in every direction for as far as the eye could see through my fogged-up sunglasses.

What to do?

I don’t mind riding in the rain. Once you’re wet, you’re wet and you can’t really get any wetter … and it’s not so bad. Decided to cut short my planned route and head back to Langon. And then, after about 5 Ks … the rain slowed and stopped. Was it enough moisture to make the fungus happy? I’m hoping 2018 is the best vintage ever.

Decided to keep riding and explore Sauternes. Rode back to Budos to stare at the old castle, then back to Sauternes to have a snack in the park, then over to the village of Bommes then back to Sauternes and … round and round.

Wound up riding 51 miles within the relatively small Sauternes region and now know this area as well as any American ever. If only I could find and afford a bottle of Chateau Yquem … it would be the perfect ending to a great day of riding.

 

The Path Less Traveled … Is Worth the Trip

Today was a fairly scenic, pretty interesting and mostly relaxing ride that included lots of chateaux, cathedrals and villages/towns.

The relaxing part is key, as I’m working diligently (with help from Susan) on being in the moment. Enjoy the now and don’t think about and plan what’s next. That’s not so easy to do in general, and especially hard on a bike trip. A bike trip is pretty much all about where am I going next … right?

Anyway,  today’s ride was a little different. It was more about the destinations than the scenery. The scenery  was nice not enough, but not exactly the spectacular I’ve been seeing the past couple of days. I think I’m in the part of Bordeaux, the southern section, that’s a little less touristy … and has fewer famous vineyards, which is probably why it’s less touristy. And scenic. There were fewer cyclists on the paths and roads.

Here are today’s destinations in photos…

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This is the Roquetaillade Castle, about 10 Ks south of Langon (where I’m staying) and in the middle of nowhere. It’s immense, and only open from 3PM to 4PM according to the sign, so I couldn’t go in since it was 11AM. Oh well, maybe next time.
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Every village, town and city in France has a cathedral … and it seems the smaller the town, the bigger the cathedral. This is the one in Uzeste, a little town of maybe a couple hundred people. How small is it? There isn’t even a pastry shop. Was Uzeste much bigger when they built this cathedral hundreds of years ago? And, if so, where did all the people and their dwellings go? Was there some sort of plague? 
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Another 10K … and another chateaux. This is Cazeneuve Castle and it was built by Henry IV, the king of France from 1589 to 1610. 
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Bazas is a great town/city with a giant cathedral and a very medieval feel, with lots of stone buildings, winding streets and big squares. This might have been a better city to stay in and use as a base to explore this section of Bordeaux.
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Today was about one-third bike paths and the rest on small, country roads. I like the bike paths, they help me with the whole “in the moment thing.” In fact, a few times, I’d close my eyes for a few seconds and shut off my brain. It was kind of cool. The paths went mostly through wooded areas that looked like this…
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This was my favorite destination today: the old fortress-like castle in Villandraut. It dates back to 1300 and was built by Pope Clement. And, it has…
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… moats, drawbridges, dungeons, turrets and narrow slots so they could shoot out their arrows and maybe toss boiling oil on their enemies down below. The town of Villandraut is tiny, but of course has a large cathedral … and a hotel. So this could also be a place to stay. It would be cool to sit in front of the castle as the sun was going down.