The not-so-flat South of France


 

I struggle to find food in the morning. Even though I am in Saint-Izaire, the main area of life in the surrounding 10 or 15 km, there are no bakery shops in the village. I finally get a sandwich at the only restaurant and start my way south. I see almost no one on the roads. The villages are deserted and the whole area seems like it had been inhabited in the past. I see a few inhabitants, but more hunters getting ready by the road. And gunshots coming from the forest …

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Near Saint-Izaire

 

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Castle of Saint-Izaire

 

The temperatures are much colder than the previous days. The weather forecast had warned me of this, and of the snow too, and it’s unfortunately accurate. The wind is also in the game, an eastern wind. Things go not too bad until Beaumont-sur-Rance when I realize what’s next: the Massif Central has returned! It’s actually the Haut-Languedoc, and it takes me from 200 m to 1000 m, at the border between the Aveyron and the Tarn.

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Beaumont-sur-Rance

 

It gets cold during the ascent, and the other side of the hill is misty and even colder. Unfortunately, there are no signs for the pass at 1000 m and I miss the picture. On the other side of the pass, the town of Lacaune, high at 800 m between those middle-range mountains, displays 3°C. At 2pm, the Tourist Information lady tells me the snow, expected for today, is really coming in the evening. I must hurry to get out and reach Brassac, lower in elevation, 20 km further. I meet Cyril there who is joining me for the next days and the crossing of the Pyrénées until Barcelona. It’s still cold but much better than in Lacaune.

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Col de la Bassine, 885 m

 

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Stop! Payroll!

 

Brassac old bridge
Brassac old bridge

 

We make a few kilometers further until Cambounès, downhill, as a light rain finally hit us. It’s not too bad but we ask for a shelter in the entrance of the village of Cambounès and end up actually hosted.

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Barbarian pass

 

 


 

In the morning, we are lucky to cycle down to Mazamet without rain. Our way is from now on quite simple, we just ride south. We can make an exception on a 5 km stretch to visit the Routes des Usines, a section of a road between Mazamet and Carcassonne that used to host tanning industry. This is now a road segment of abandoned factories. There is no more leather work here except for this one employee we meet, alone handling a dozen of machines.

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Mazamet – Routes des Usines

 

In order to change roads and head towards Castelnaudary instead of Carcassonne, we are taking a dead-end road that exists (and exits) only on Google Maps. This one takes us through the medieval village of  Hautpoul, perched on a rock formation over the town of Mazamet. It is very nice and we get splendid views, aside from a very strong wind. Deserted and quiet, as no cars are allowed. Its narrow and steep roads are indeed forbidden to cars but we are successful with a bike. Well .. with a bit of pushing too.

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Hautpoul over Mazamet

 

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Hautpoul over Mazamet

 

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Mazamet

 

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One last factory visit

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The road takes us up into the Montagne Noire, up to 800 m, under just light rain. We didn’t expect to have to go as high as this, but it goes fine. However, once on the “summit”, marking the border between the Tarn and the Aude, the snow starts to hit us, and does so all the way down. It’s painful on the lips and cheeks as we go downhill. Cyril has a ski mask and I have sunglasses to pass through.

 

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Barcelona! We’re at least on the “Bis” route

 

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Les Martyrs

 

We mark a brief stop in Cuxac-Cabardès before making our way down to the valley. The blue sky magically reappears as if it never existed, the road is dry again, and we feel a thousand times better than under the rain. Every simple thing just looks good. We cross (over) the highway, (under) the train line and over the Canal du Midi, that mark the lowest point of our route until the Pyrénées. I notice I keep the orange sunglasses no more as a protection against the rain, but instead, like a drug, to see the landscape with much better tones than the blue-cold reality.

 

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Vineyards near Alzonne

 

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Canal du Midi

 

While asking for a wall sheltering us from the wind for our tents, we get offered an old cold storage room by a farmer just before (one of) the town of Montréal. We make a feast from local food items, even bananas with chocolate, and sleep warmly on the floor.

 


 

As soon as we (want to) get up, we are offered eggs from the lady hosting us in “the frigo”. After a nice chat we finally mount the luggage on our bikes and depart a bit late around 10:30.

 

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Montréal, part of the  Association of the Montréal de France with 6 other cities, and twinned with a Monreal in Germany

 

We visit the collégiale in Montréal, have some (more) food and go.

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The collégiale of Montréal

 

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We’re on the light side of the Force

 

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The Force taking us to the Pyrénées Ariégeoises (it was surely not the wind who did), the last French department before Andorra

 

The road until Mirepoix is hard. With wind mostly in the face, at best from the west. There is no rain and it’s actually a nice day, but the wind does his duty of not making it a good day. I manage to go over a dead tree branch on the side of the road, that gets stuck inside my front wheel and kicks my fender pole out of its socket. More fear than harm, and we start again for more cycling (just slightly more because of the wind) to Mirepoix, and we visit the beautiful central place.

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Mirepoix

 

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Mireupoix

 

We then head south to Lavelanet, not by the main road, but by the “green path”, a cycling path on an old refurbished railway track. It’s nice, especially the sunset, when we spot ruins of a castle over a hill. It’s Lagarde.

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Green path

 

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Lagarde and its castle

The castle was built starting in the XIth century. It is now in ruins. We head there and find to sleep in a clean basement of one of the towers, sheltered from the wind, and from the donkeys that are roaming around.

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Castle entrance

 

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Lagarde castle

 

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Unpacking more food than necessary (but our stomachs didn’t care)