With both of us still battling a cold, we were fortunate to grab one of the last remaining sleeper cabins on the overnight ferry ride from Rosslare, Ireland to Cherbourg, France. Unlike our previous ferry trip over to Ireland, which felt like a mini cruise ship, this ferry was much more modestly equipped with many passengers sleeping in the common areas. We were happy to land in France well rested as we still had a day of train travel before starting straight into our next bike ride.
Having enjoyed our previous ride on the western section of the EuroVelo 6 (EV6) along the Loire River from Orleans to Nantes last May, we were keen on the idea of biking the eastern section of the trail to the German boarder, completing a full traverse of France. A little short on time we were forced to start a little east of Orlean in Nevers. We had ten days to cycle 700+ km to our next host farm in Alsace.
Nevers is a pleasant little town with enough architectural history and culinary bounty to provide a stark contrast to Ireland.
It was Heide's birthday, but having celebrated in earnest a little early in Dublin we treated ourselves to a modest meal, a stroll around town, and an early night's sleep.
Although architecturally interesting and beautiful in a classical way the rural landscapes of France are not nearly as stunning as the rugged Atlantic Coast of Ireland. The first few days the photo opportunities felt much less apparent and we had to force ourselves to pull out the camera to capture the subtle beauty of our surroundings.
Even though we were marveling less than we had been at the grand vistas of Ireland, we were very pleased to be back on the dedicated bicycles trails available in France. The EV6 follows several rivers and canals with short diversions into small towns and onto lightly traveled country roads, with the full route continuing east through 9 more countries, ending at the Black Sea.
The EuroVelo 6 is incredibly well signed and comprised primarily of dedicated lanes that keep the cyclists separated from traffic.
As we moved further east the network of local bicycle routes became even more impressive, and although we had to leave the EV6 for the last leg of the trip to the farm we were able to stitch together several regional ‘voie verts’ to get us there with very little time spent alongside automobile traffic.
There are even bike stations with a stands and tools for any necessary maintenance on the trail.
We did not find ourselves alone on these trails. Many day trippers and light travelers, some in large groups, populated the path and we even saw several loaded distance travels.
Two young Welsh men at the beginning of a world tour stopped to chat with us as we were finishing up our lunch. Although light on clothing (which is our primary luggage) they were loaded down with gear to film their trip for a local TV station back home. Check them out on facebook.
Although the parts of the trail that follow along rivers and canals are lovely and flat it is a nice change of scenery to head off-trail onto the country roads.
Greeted by the usual suspects, we get a better feel of what life in these rural areas must be like.
One diversion early in the trip took us into the hills west of Givry, one of many regions in Bourgone (Burgundy) famous for it 's wine. Particularly well known for its pinot noir and chardonnay, some small scale Bourgogne wines rank amongst the most expensive in the world. Just weeks away from harvest the vines are laden with fruit.
Although the grapes are off-limits, Heide has enjoyed the bounty of other roadside fruits and nuts available for foraging this time of year: apples, pears, blackberries, plums, hazelnuts, etc.
Just east of Bourgogne lies the department of Franche-Comté, famous for its fruitières (traditional cheese dairies), producing 40 million tonnes of cheese each year, including Comté, one of our favorites. The EV6 took us into Besançon the capital and largest city of Franche-Comté with its UNESCO World Heritage Site Vauban citadel.
Rather than entering the city by road we biked the cobblestone promenade around the ramparts and passed through a pedestrian walkway smack into the middle of the old town square.
Grand old stone buildings, lively café culture, and modern public transportation collide.
The day following Besançon, heading further east into this Swiss influenced region, was the most picturesque day of the ride. The river valley narrowed with rugged hills on either side.
Althought not as stunning as Ireland, the campsites along the way are numerous and pleasant, often right on the water. Camping in France is also much cheaper than Ireland. We often paid less then €10 a night total, warm shower included, where in Ireland we rarely paid less than €20, with a 5 minute shower costing a euro or two extra each.
Readily available inexpensive fresh food is also a welcome treat to being back in France.
Bread, cheese, wine, yogurt, produce, honey, canned fish: our diet doesn’t suffer on the rides.
Our last night before arriving at the farm was possibly our most unique camping experience yet. Vauban Camping, just outside of Neuf-Brisach, should not be missed if you are bike camping in this area. They have constructed several minimalist elevated sleeping tents specifically targeted toward bike travelers. Under the sleeping loft is a personal table (the most coveted item possessed by our fellow automobile campers) and a covered area for the bikes, both very desireable things especially if it is rains, which it did.
Aside from these cool velo tents there is also a teepee and several little wooden cottages one can stay in, as well as the usual space for caravans and tents.
The site is very well maintained with colorful flowers and exceptionally clean facilities.
This Sunday it had slipped our minds that most supermarkets closed by noon if they are open at all and we were left foodless for dinner. Fortunately the campground had canned ravioli available for sale for such occasions and a small garden that supplied us with beans to accompany. Not the best camp meal but at least we didn’t go hungry.
Adjacent to this campground is Neuf-Brisach, a fortified town designed by Vauban, built in 1698.
Most impressive from above, from the inside it is difficult to tell one is in such a highly designed symmetrical space.
The perimeter walls completely contain the town.
Only one of the four original gated entrance facades remains, the others having been removed to allow easier transportation of goods in and out.
Original entrance and vacant soldiers barracks.
Amazing wood doors, big and small, dot the little town.
The last leg of the trip headed north, following the Rhine River which delineates the French-German border. For the novelty of it we crossed over into Germany for a bit before heading up into the foothills of Haut-Rhin, just past the tiny town of Heiligenstein to Ferme de Truttenhausen, which we will call home for the month of September.
Having left our last farm in Ireland early we have been on the move now for over a month. We are looking forward to unpacking for more than a few days and chipping in at this diverse biodynamic farm.