Having slipped into everyday life in the village, we acquired some bikes so that we could be active & check out more of the region. We had thought that the roads here would be too dangerous for road riding, so we opted for hybrids as they are a little more user-friendly off the bitumen. However, they have turned out to be not so user friendly, as all non-bitumen roads and paths are stony gravel here… ouch!

Paige with bikes, Cessenon sur Orb

Too many hills that way!

Our first outing was a trip along the Canal du Midi from Capestang to Beziers, a distance of about 15-20km each way. We knew there was a pathway along the canal suitable for riding & walking so we loaded the bikes on the back of the car & set off for Capestang. After making it to the outskirts of Beziers and to the locks that control the water flow into town, better known as the 7 Fonserranes Locks, we discovered that the pathways are almost all gravel or compacted mud, with many stones, rocks and sharp tree-roots, not very conducive to a comfortable day’s cycling. Never mind, we enjoyed the day but it was definitely hard  work. The scenery along the canal is gorgeous. It is completely tree lined and even though the trees are bare for the winter, it is still very picturesque.

Gorgeous winter scenery along the Canal du Midi

Our next venture on two wheels was taking to the back-roads around our village, exploring some routes between here and the next town along, Cessenon sur Orb. This is a pleasant looking small village tucked away in the shade of a hill, and sitting on the river Orb (of course). We very quickly learned that the “yellow roads” on our map are main roads (orange roads are motorways) and the white roads can be anything from new bitumen to old, bumpy, worn out bitumen & concrete, to two gravel tyre tracks, and every variation in between! Hmmm, clearly combining these roads with hills really required mountain bikes. Either that or stay on the roads, including some of the quieter main roads, and get ourselves some road bikes. We have chosen the latter!

When the new bikes arrive we will start the process of selling the existing bikes, but in the meantime we set out today to really experience a road trip & assess the road situation. Pleasingly yes, many of the “main” roads between the smaller towns and villages (and hamlets) are pretty quiet and the French drivers are very courteous and give riders plenty of room. So today we set off on bitumen roads, again to Cessenon sur Orb, but this time we went beyond to the next two villages, taking a loop back to Cessenon, and then returning back to St Chinian. That is the last time I listen to my husband, who likes to give me the impression he has studied the maps very carefully and knows the lie of the land. Ha! After suggesting the loop route for today, I peered at the looming hills on both sides of the valley we were in & suggested this loop might take us up & over said hills… after being assured that he thought the road went “down & through” the hills we set off. Nope, definitely not down and through!! The payoff for the three stages of long uphill labouring was the last long downhill roll – the wind froze our faces and feet (even through layers of thermal cycling gear and a winter sun on our backs) but we had some stunning views of Cessenon & the opposite side of the valley coming down that last (aforementioned) hill. Pity we left with no cameras, not even a mobile phone!


Very close to our downhill view coming back into Cessenon

And did I mention that part of our route today was also part of last year’s Tour De France route?…Yes, through our village of St Chinian, to Cessenon and the next village, Murviel.

Last year's TDF near Cesseson - part of our route today

The thermal cycling gear we picked up in our first week has come in very handy. Today I was thankful that I actually put on 3 layers which were a combination of regular lycra and the thermal variety. This thankfully happened to include 2 layers of cycling pants (shorts under, longs over) which meant 2 layers of padding, for which I was extremely grateful. Not only are these bikes heavy, but I think the much more upright riding position means extra weight-bearing on the backside… or then again that could be the baguettes and chocolate croissants involved.

Pain de chocolat

There are two advantages to heading out on clear chilly days – the first is arriving home around lunchtime, the perfect pick-me-up is a nice hot shower followed by a steaming bowl of soup & fresh crusty baguette, and the second is  that we are not too bothered by the lunchtime siesta times.

Lunch time in France means you go home and have lunch. Everyone does, this seems to be a must. Offices, banks, businesses of all kinds, even mechanics, all lock up their doors for a decent break anywhere between 12 and 4, before reopening until around 6 or 7. The only exceptions are some restaurants and bars. And “some” being the key word. On Sundays, virtually nothing is open and it is even hard to find a restaurant or bar if you want to eat out. However, it is winter so that may change as the year progresses. What this means though, is that if you come home hungry at lunch time, and you haven’t already bought your supplies – well tough luck baby, either go hungry or find a restaurant. And hope it isn’t Sunday!

Welcome home for a warm lunch

Rod in the kitchen window

Which means we have to start keeping track of the days. Challenging, I know, but someone has to do it. Au revoir mes amis, je reviendrai,  à bientôt

Paige xo