This May, I found myself with a few days to kill in between my Hen Do in Toulouse and a wedding I was invited to in Montpellier. Wanting to make the most of my newfound freedom, I decided to rent a bike and cycle along the Canal du Midi from Toulouse to Beziers, where Leo was flying to ahead of the wedding.
This was to be my first long distance bike ride. Given what had happened to me a year earlier, and considering my own wedding was fast approaching, I was keen to avoid any injuries, and decided to take it slow, sleep in AirBnBs, and travel light. I was also glad to learnt the path is often busy with other cyclists: I never went more than an hour without meeting anyone.
Tuesday morning, I picked up the hybrid bike I had booked from Avelo31, one of the few bike rental shops from which you can rent bikes in Toulouse and drop off later in the trip without having to come back on the train. It was a rainy morning, and the path was still wet from the night’s thunderstorm. This did not help with the knot I felt in my stomach whilst I was considering what lay ahead. The memory of last year’s fall was still too vivid, and I suddenly felt foolish for planning a solo trip on a bike. Nevertheless, the thought of a cool blog post motivated me to push on, and get on that bike!
The first day was easy. My aim was to ride 60 kilometres to Castelnaudary, a sleepy French town on the Canal. The first 50 kilometres were on a well paved, slick bike path, which allowed me to gain speed and arrived at there just after 2pm. My AirBnB was a 20 minutes ride outside of the city, and I had to kill time until dinnertime. This was one crucial thing I forgot about France: most restaurants will close in between lunch and dinner… I locked my bike, and went walking around the town.
It had stopped raining, but it was still grey outside, and the town was empty. It very much had the feeling of an old, dark ages town where time stood still. A few new buildings made tourists realise that this was indeed the 21st century. After walking around for a while, I sat in a nice wine shop with my book, and started talking to the owner, who complained about the lack of business in these small towns in France.
He then managed to fix me up with the town’s most famous Cassoulet, Castelnaudaray’s signature dish, to have for dinner, from restaurant Le Tirou, washed down with a glass of wine. For those who are not familiar with Cassoulet, it is one of the heaviest things you could ever eat: it is a slow cooked casserole with meat, pork skin, and butter beans. Despite my day of labour, I couldn’t even finish a quarter of the dish that was served to me – although everyone swore this was one portion ! I then cycled to my AirBnB in Saint Martin Lalande.
I got on my bike fairly early the next day to get ahead – but not before stopping at the local bakery for two pains au chocolat. After Castelnaudary, I would have to cycle on towpaths or dirt roads which, given the recent rains, were certain to be muddy. I didn’t have a mountain bike, and drifted a few times. I even pushed my bike for a few minutes. The path got a bit better as we got close to Carcassonne, where I stopped for lunch, and for a bit of sightseeing. I was very cold, and went in an amazing and cozy restaurant on the edge of the old town. It was full, but two old men suggested I sit with them – and I ended up having the funniest lunch with two locals that had never left their home town!
The cité de Carcassonne is definitely worth a visit, at least for a couple of hours. It gives an amazing insight into the life in the Middle Ages in France. Carcassonne was also a good place to take out some cash, as most other villages on the road did not have a cash point, and shops did not always accept cards !
I then cycled all the way to Badens, a sleepy town just a few miles north of the Canal. I had great views on the Montagne Noire, a mountain range that marks the extremity of the Parc Naturel Régional du Haut Languedoc.
As soon as I left the towpath, I encountered picturesque houses and vineyards. The town of Badens was quiet, but very quaint, and definitely out of a postcard. The lady hosting me was lovely, and gave me a few good tips on the area.
The next day, I left Badens at around 9, and cycled along roads to Marseillette, where I found the Canal du Midi path once more. The towpath was very varied that day – but a lot drier, and I managed to sometimes take an alternative path that still followed the Canal.
Thursday was a bank holiday in France, and I bumped into a few more fellow cyclists. This made pee breaks a lot harder. I first stopped for a pain au chocolat in La Redorte, and cycled all the way to Sommail, where I had lunch.
The ride was pleasant, although the path became very narrow at certain point. The sun was also finally out, which made for a good cycling day. I lingered around in the town there, visiting a few book shops. I also called Avelo31 to check whether I could extend my trip and drop the bike in Agde instead – they were more than welcome for me to do that.
In the afternoon, I cycled to Capestang, which is renowned for its imposing cathedral, that you can see a while before arriving to the town. This was one of my favourite sections of the ride – although the path was still narrow, it was beaming with life and color. After eating out in Capestang, I went to sleep in an AirBnB conveniently located a few minutes from the path.
Friday was my last day cycling, and I was keen to arrive in Agde early enough to make the most out of the sea there, before heading to Montpellier with the boys for the wedding. And so, at 6am, I got on my bike, and started cycling on the canal. The morning mist hadn’t lifted yet, which made for a magical morning ride.
By 9am, I was going through the Ecluse of Bezier, and got on a smooth cycle path, which last for about 10 kilometres. The last stretch of my journey was on a mix of mountain bike terrain – I even got on a mountain biking track for a while! I finally made it to the sea in Agde, and ran into the sea for a well-deserved cold swim with vistas on the Snowy peaks of the Pyrenees.
Those four days left with a great sense of price and relief. I had overcome my fear of bikes, and managed a solo trip without a scratch! With every lock I passed through – and there are a lot on the Canal – I felt a greater sense of victory as I got closer to the goal. I also was very grateful for everyone I met on the road, and felt I got a great insight into life in one of the most rural areas of France. I definitely recommend it as a bike ride, especially for those novice cyclists – the amount of information, tips, and advice online, as well as the maps you can get on the ground, make it a very easy, but enjoyable adventure !