10 Questions: Cycling In Languedoc
Gerry Patterson is a bike-loving Canadian who’s taken up residence in Languedoc, southern France.
In this installment of 10 Questions, Gerry tackles questions about bike touring in Languedoc, including the main sights, his favourite ride and getting your bike on public transport in the region.
1. How would you describe cycle touring in Languedoc?
Like the rest of France except with a hot, dry, Mediterranean feel to it. That’s not really true actually, since the northern part of Languedoc is a lush, wild and mountainous area filled with raging rivers and dense forest. But the part most people ride through will be vines and olive groves. History is always in your face as well. Seems like every village has an 800 yr old church, and you can find Roman ruins (from bridges and roads, to aqueducts) all over the southern part of the region. Distances are short between cities, and the terrain is really varied, so never a dull moment if you plan well. Oh, and if it all gets too hot, beaches basically stretch from Provence in the east all the way to Spain in the west!
2. When is the best time of year to go cycling in Languedoc?
One nice thing about southern France is that it rarely snows, so if you can put up with the cold you can cycle here any time of the year. I ride (when it’s sunny!) all year round. Having said that, the days are short in the winter, many campsites are closed (but a fair number remain open), and things feel a little dead in some parts of the region. Spring, summer and fall are ideal, with the usual warning about summer, i.e. everybody wants to take their vacation in August.
3. Are there any dedicated long-distance cycle paths worth checking out?
Not really. There are greenways here and there (see a clickable map) throughout Languedoc, but nothing long and contiguous. However, the Canal du Midi might fall into that category if you have a mountain bike, or you like tree roots on your rides. You can travel the whole distance of the canal (over 200 km from Toulouse to the Mediterranean) by bike, but you’ll have to take some roads off and on, if you want to avoid a rough ride.
4. What’s a typical Languedoc experience that no bike tourist should miss?
A hard question to answer. Nearly everything I want to say could also be experienced elsewhere, I imagine. Ruined castles, check. Amazing scenery, check. Endless vineyards, check. But if I think about times I really know I’m ‘here’ they are usually when coming from someplace else and I can feel the contrast. If you come to Languedoc from the north there is a certain point where you exit the rest of France and ride into Languedoc. You know this because the world becomes sun-drenched and the indescribable light of the Mediterranean floods everything around you. So, I guess I’m saying…don’t come by plane!
5. Is it relatively easy to get your bike on public transport, if you want to link up rides in different parts of the region?
It really depends on the train. I put together a blog article a while back that answers this question in detail. For short trips you will have no problem getting your bikes on the train for free. If you choose a longer journey (or a long-distance train) then you’ll need to plan ahead. The situation is improving every year.
6. Can you describe one of your favourite rides in Languedoc?
No problem. Starting in the most important Roman city in Languedoc – Nîmes – you travel north on the D979, crossing over the barren hills north of the city. The descent takes you winding down into a different world, filled with tiny villages and farmland. You cross a very cool medieval bridge at the bottom, then meander your way east, taking the tiny departemental roads that take you towards the Pont du Gard, a 2000 yr old aqueduct, and one of the most astounding sites I’m sure I’ve ever seen. This ride could be done as a long return trip. You could stay in one of the campsites near the Pont du Gard, or you could head up to Uzes and have some decidedly more up market digs.
7. Are there any downsides or challenges to cycling in Languedoc?
I can’t think of many, especially if you are comparing to other parts of Europe. The Cévennes mountains (the northern part of the region) are pretty steep, so you’d need to be aware of what you’re getting into. It’s sunny and hot from May to September and the sun is really intense. Hydration could be an issue, but again, a little forethought and it’ll all be good. One thing that is true for all of France is to avoid at all costs the ‘red’ roads (national routes) on your Michelin map. France (and Languedoc is not exception) has an immense network of tiny, back roads that will take you just about everywhere you want to go. They aren’t as straight, but might have goats instead of semi-trailers as company on the road!
8. Are all types of accommodation easy to find or do you need to book and plan ahead?
That’s tough. One part of me wants to recommend booking ahead in August, or in touristy areas, but the other part tells me that this is often impractical. With campsites just show up (earlier the better in summer). With hotels it certainly wouldn’t hurt to call ahead if you know you’re going there. I’ve had trouble in the past, but I’ve never had to sleep rough either.
9. How much of a daily budget should bike tourists plan for when cycling in Languedoc?
In my experience costs are similar to other Western European countries. You can expect anywhere from €10-20 for a campsite and €2-5 for a coffee. The good news is that wine is cheap, and you can buy it anywhere! A decent bottle costs as little as €4. Budgets are always difficult for me to estimate for others, since we all have different levels of comfort, but it’s possible to go cheap if you really want to.
10. What’s one thing everyone coming to cycle in Languedoc should bring with them?
Need more information? Check out these helpful resources for cycling in France:
- Bikely – This bicycle mapping site offers dozens of routes for cycling in Languedoc