Canal des Deux Mers

Our second WWOOF host, La Bergerie, is located in Provence, approximately 45k north of Avignon in southern France.  A direct bike trip from Le Verger to La Bergerie would have only been about 500k, but it would have been quite mountainous, cutting directly through the Massif Central. Instead we chose to bike along the Canal of Two Seas which links the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea starting in Bordeaux, with a short train ride on either end of the ride to make it feasible in the time we had.

Bordeaux is super bike friendly and we enjoyed riding around sans bags for a few days exploring what felt like a big city. 

The Place de la Bourse reflected in the miroir d'eau is especially stunning at night.

The Canal des Deux Mers consists of two canals, the Canal de Garonne and the Canal du Midi, which intersect in Toulouse.  A twenty minute train ride to Langon got us out of Bordeaux and near the point where the Canal de Garonne connects with the Garonne River. The entire Canal de Garonne is paved and much of it is lined with the iconic plane trees.

Construction of the Canal de Garonne was completed in 1856 and includes several impressive aqueducts that carry the canal over the Garonne river and its tributaries, the Agen aqueduct, pictured here, being the largest.

There are a few beautiful residences and lock houses set along the canal.  We stopped for a beer at a cute lock house turned restaurant, Poulet a Velo, one especially hot afternoon.

Fortunately we had unseasonably warm weather for the entire week of our ride.  It allowed us to take it fairly easy biking about 60k per day.

Our primary diversion from the canal was a 26k trip to visit the medieval town of Montauban, where Heide's ancestry has roots back in the 1600's when the town was a Huguenot stronghold.

Apart from enjoying the scenery of this red brick town, we had an amazing lunch at a small bistro gastronomic, Faubourg 73. The chef/owner, who was also our server, won us over with a complimentary glass of white wine as we deciphered and translated the menu and then blew us away with an all around delicious and interesting meal at a affordable price. Patrick had lapin a la moutarde and Heide had bœuf avec pesto de masion, which melted in your mouth.  Thanks Pierre for our best meal in France yet.

The next day was another lunch on the go, this time in the town square of Tolousse.  Here we left the Canal de Garonne and started the Canal du Midi.

The Canal du Midi is primarily unpaved, with some parts that are very rutted single tracks covered in tree roots, or dotted with enormous pot holes.  With the change in route conditions we left the spandex wearing carbon fiber speed bikers and were joined by the spandex wearing knobby tire suspension bikers. We found our Rivendell country bikes to be well suited for all conditions. 

The Canal du Midi was built two hundred years earlier than the Canal de Garonne as the Garonne river was essentially navigable for the remainder of the trip to the Atlantic.  It was built primarily to traffic wheat and wine without going through the Gibraltar Straits controlled by the Spanish.  Today it is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Despite the rougher trail conditions we found the Midi-Pyrénées region to be quite a bit more beautiful than the landscape of Aquitaine.

The Pyrénées mountains emerged to the south with rolling hills to the north.

Just a few kilometers from our final destination, Heide's back panniers snagged on a tree trunk lying across the path and her bike was tipped over sending her head first into the canal!  But just as quick as she went in she hopped out with a huge smile on her face.

It was a good excuse to stop for lunch and dry out some clothes.

On our first bike ride we had such great luck with our wild camping spots, but along this well used canal our options were limited.  One night we ended up bedding down right along the canal outside a boat harbor, but the rest of the time we ended up staying at official camp grounds.  It turns out the camping grounds that are open this time of year are the year round "camping grounds", which are actually more like a trailer park, with full time residents in homes of varying degrees of mobility.

Although not bad, they were often not very picturesque, and not cheap at an average of 13 Euros ($18 USD) a night.

Our final destination was the town of Carcassonne, with its fortified medieval Cité, another UNESCO world heritage site. This town has a long and colorful history that dates all the way back to 3500 BC. We arrived Saturday evening and checked into our hotel just hours before the skies let loose for several consecutive nights of rain.

We enjoyed an Easter Mass at the Basilica of Saint Nazaire and joined the tourists who packed the streets of this old town that is now overrun with souvenir shops and mediocre restaurants. 

We escaped the crowds by walking around the fortified city between the dual ramparts.

From here we are off to Avignon by train for a few days before heading to our second WWOOF host.