Midi-Pyrenees & Tour de France Trip Report – 15th-26th July 2010 (Part 1/3)

Part 1: The ride down from Bewdley to Arreau via Rocamadour

Total mileage: 2,603 miles (47.9 mpg)

Report by: Kyle

Some people say you can’t tour on a sportsbike so raise your hand if you think you can … alright, alright, calm down all of you that say of course you can, it’s easy, they don’t build ’em like they used to, and I remember the good old days when a sportsbike was fully focussed and damn uncomfortable with it.

Ok then, scratch that. Raise your hand if you think you can tour two up on a GSX-R1000 … now that’s more like it, not so many hands in the air this time. Well I’m here to tell you that you can. Although I wouldn’t want to be the pillion. That position is reserved for Kay – “the wife”.

Now then, I would just like to make it clear from the very beginning that this trip was not my idea, although I was a more than willing partner. No, the trip was entirely Kay’s idea. Sure, she did it for me. She did it for me because she knows how much I love the Tour de France. She also did it because she knew that I felt short changed after this year’s BBOT tour to Chamonix – not because I didn’t enjoy it, because I did. It was because the weather we encountered could at best be described as dreadful. It was wet and I’ll leave it at that.

So less than a month since my last overseas trip I found myself heading back to France, this time for 12 days and with Kay. The plan was to spend 4 days riding down to Arreau – in the Midi-Pyrenees – travelling via Rocamadour. We would spend 5 nights in Arreau and while there we would watch 3 mountain stages of this years Tour de France. We would then spend 4 days riding back home travelling via Carcassonne.

We wanted to avoid toll roads but knew we had to make progress because whichever way you cut it, it’s a long way down to the Pyrenees and ultimately that was our objective. We decided that we would use the motorways to break the back of each days ride and with 100 or so miles remaining we’d pick up the more scenic A and B roads. To save time we decided to use the Channel Tunnel and to make things easy for ourselves we booked all our accommodation in advance. So with luggage packed, intercom tested and hotels programmed into the TomTom we were good to go.

Thur 15th July: Bewdley to Rouen – 377 miles

The weather forecast for today was a mixed bag, ok until midday and then heavy showers and high winds. With this in mind we aimed to get to Folkestone around midday. Despite the constant threat of rain we arrived at the Channel Tunnel relatively dry, but wind blasted. We’d made such good time we even managed to catch an earlier train.

Kay suited and booted, and ready for the off

By the time we were on the road French side it was coming up to 3pm and with 155 miles still to go we decided that for today only we would take the motorway – A16 to Boulogne and Abbeville and A28 to Rouen – all the way to our first nights stopover on the southern side of Rouen.

Our hotel wasn’t flash. We’d booked into a Premiere Classe at €39 a night but it was clean and tidy. On the way into Rouen – while I was arguing with TomTom about where the hotel was – Kay had spotted signs for a Buffalo Grill so dinner was sorted. All that remained was for me and TomTom to sort out our differences and find the hotel. In all fairness I think the problem we had finding the hotel was due to the address details being wrong on the website we used to book it rather than me or TomTom getting lost.

Fri 16th July: Rouen to Chateauroux – 238 miles

Once again the weather this morning wasn’t too clever, dark clouds, drizzle and no sign of it improving, so after a damn fine Premiere Classe breakfast we set off in search of the better weather promised further south in Chateauxroux. After a dreary run down through Evreux, Dreux, Chartres and Chateaudun the weather brightened up and we picked up the D924 to Blois and the D956 that runs into Chateauroux.

Both of these roads are good, they’re flat, arrow straight and very fast with very little traffic to hinder progress, not that overtaking is a problem because you can see for miles and miles. Be warned though, I spotted a couple of rear facing speed cameras along the way. Mind you they are cleary marked and you’d have to be blind to miss them.

About half way down the D956, 26 miles from Chateauroux, we came across a small town called Valencay, home to Chateau de Valencay. It’s sited at the edge of a plateau that overlooks the little Nahon river and is stunning.

Chateau de Valencay, near Chateauroux

The chateau dates back to 1540 but came to prominence during the 18th century. By 1803 the chateau had come to the attention of Napoleon when he ordered (not asked) his foreign minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand to acquire the property as a place to accommodate foreign dignitaries. The formal French gardens date from the early 20th century and cover about 40 hectares, not counting the area of Talleyrand’s vineyards. Llamas, peacocks, and other exotic animals kept in the park provide amusement for tourists.

It turns out that I’m a natural horse whisperer, adopting a sympathetic view of the motives, needs, and desires of the horse

Meanwhile Kay was seriously considering this horse and carriage as an alternative to the bike

Once again our hotel wasn’t flash. We’d booked another into another Premiere Classe, at €42 a night, and again it was clean and tidy and good value for money. There was a restaurant similar to Buffalo Grill right next door to it and this time TomTom directed us straight to the door.

Sat 17th July: Chateauroux to Rocamadour – 205 miles

This morning, for the first time this trip, we woke to a clear blue sky, and with more than 600 miles behind us we had broken the back of the journey down. We were relaxed and for the first time actually felt like we were on holiday. In fact the task of packing, unpacking and loading, unloading our luggage on the bike was becoming routine and from this point on we were really pleased we’d decided to travel down on the bike.

Our destination today was Rocamadour – about 160 miles away if we used the motorway – and because we wanted to have good look around once we got there we were up and out by 8am. We immediately picked up the A20 and by 9.30am we’d knocked off well over 100 miles so decided to get off of J44 where we picked up the D920 and stumbled across a beautiful hill town called Uzerche.

Rider and bike with model village in background – actually it’s the hill town of Uzerche

From Uzerche we picked up the N120 to Tulle – quite a large town with a very busy market – and from Tulle we picked up the D940 towards Gramat, where we were booked into Hotel Le Lion d’Or for the night. The D940 was by far and away the best road of the trip so far. The road initially climbs out of Tulle and then twists and turns its way along a plateau for the next 40 or so miles, virtually all the way to Gramat. The road is well surfaced and the bends flow nicely providing good visibility. And the scenery is fantastic.

Hotel Le Lion d’Or in Gramat, near Rocamadour

Gramat is a pleasant enough town and our hotel was good value at €60 a night, and because we’d arrived early in the afternoon we were glad we’d booked somewhere nice to stay. After a quick shower and change of clothes we dumped our leathers for the short ride from Gramat to Rocamadour.

Perched high above the town there are some monastic buildings and pilgrimage churches so we decided to take a look around there first. From here you get the best views of Rocamadour and the gorge below.


Views of the approach road that runs down the valley to the town (L) and then up and out the other side (R)

The steep hillside above the town supports no less than seven churches but for €3 return you can use a lift that’s been dug into the rockface to get down to the town below. Alternatively you can use the 223 steps of the Via Sancta.

More views of the gorge floor taken from the buildings and churches above the town

And as usual there’s only one photo from the whole trip where Kay and I are together

Before we rolled down into the town we decided to try and get a few shots of the bike with Rocamadour as a backdrop.

After more than a dozen attempts this is the best we could come up with – not bad though

At this point Kay offered to swap seats but I politely declined and equilibrium was soon restored

It’s a short ride down the gorge to the town and once there you’ll see that Rocamadour is easy enough to find your way around. There’s just one street, Rue de la Couronnerie, strung out between two medieval gateways. There’s no doubt that it’s a spectacular place but we were glad we didn’t book a hotel there. As you’d expect, everything there is quite expensive and Gramat was quieter and better value.

Down in the town (L) and a shot from the town looking up to the monastic buildings and pilgrimage churches above (R)

Rather than heading back up the road we’d come in, we dropped down to the bottom of the gorge and took the road that runs out the other side. A nice 20 mile loop that eventually took us back to Gramat.

Sun 18th July: Rocamadour to Arreau – 257 miles

The weather this morning was glorious and the gamble I took in leaving my waterproofs at home was beginning to look like a good call. Besides, Kay didn’t have any and I figured that I’d never get away with being the only dry one.

We skipped breakfast at the hotel – €10 each for coffee and a croisant seemed a bit steep – and instead decided to grab something when we stopped for fuel, I calculated somewhere near Toulouse.

With only a couple of hundred miles to go today until we reached Arreau our plan was to take the D807 out from Gramat and pick up the A20 at J56. We’d then drop down to Montauban where the A20 joins the A62 and then run down to the Toulouse Peripherique from where we’d pick up the A64. At some point around Muret we’d get off the motorway and try and make our way across country to Castelnau-Magnoac where we could join the D929.

As it turned out it was the D632 that we picked up to get across to Castelnau-Magnoac. The D632 sort of follows the motorway and was very relaxing to ride with virtually no traffic. Once we reached Castelnau-Magnoac and picked up the D929 we could see the finish line as the Pyrenees came into view. The final run down the D929 into Arreau was a lot of fun.

For our 5 nights in Arreau we’d booked into Résidence Balcons De La Neste, a furnished apartment that sleeps up to 8 people and includes everything you’d need for a self catering holiday. There’s also a swimming pool, a Jacuzzi and a sauna. And it’s not bad value at €73 a night.

Unfortunately when we arrived reception was closed and it wasn’t due to re-open until 4pm. Not being one to wait around kicking my heels I suggested to Kay that we should take a gentle run up the Col de Peyresourde.

Approaching the start of the Peyresourde a few miles outside Arreau (L) and rider and bike at the top of the Peyresourde (R)

The last time I rode this pass was in 2007 and to be honest I don’t remember too much about it. Looking back I’m not surprised because we rode half a dozen passes that day. Incidentally we also passed through Arreau that day and I don’t remember that either. I certainly won’t forget the Peyresourde this time though, it’s a cracking ride up from Arreau. I would also hazard a guess that the western ramp up from Arreau has been resurfaced since my last visit.

Top of the Peyresourde looking west towards Arreau (L) and looking east towards Bagneres-de-Luchon (R)

After seeing the signs at the top Kay was in desperate need of a crepe so we stopped off and had half a dozen each

After stopping off for a coffee and a crepe we dropped down the other side to Bagneres-de-Luchon. The 15th stage of the TDF (Tour de France) was due to finish in Bagneres-de-Luchon tomorrow and we wanted to check out the finish.

On the Peyresourde Kay’s looking relaxed and comfortable (L) however this is the pass road from her POV (R)

On the way down the Peyresourde I stopped to take some photos and for the first time I realised what it might be like perched on the back of a GSX-R. I was glad I was in control and not riding shotgun on the back.

More easterly views on the Peyresourde looking towards Bagneres-de-Luchon

The eastern ramp of the Peyresourde is, at about 10 miles, slightly longer than the climb up the western ramp. It’s equally well surfaced and just as much fun to ride although today there was quite a bit of traffic on the pass, as you would expect. After a quick stop in Bagneres-de-Luchon we still found ourselves with an hour until reception re-opened so we rode through the town and out the other side towards St. Beat – somewhere I’d stayed in 2007 – on the D125.

After a few miles I peeled off to what looked like an interesting pass road. Unfortunately after 10 minutes of climbing we found it took us nowhere, although it did offer a nice view looking south back down to the town.

Another view of Bagneres-de-Luchon – this time from a pass road that we shouldn’t have taken that went nowhere

After a spirited ride back over the Peyresourde we arrived back in Arreau and checked into our apartment. The apartment block looked brand new and as you’d expect was clean and tidy. It was fully equipped and had a kitchenette with microwave, hot plates, fridge and even a coffee maker – much to Kay’s delight. Laundry facilities were available and there was free Wi-Fi in the public areas and also a free underground car park. If you need bed and bath linen – which we did – it’s available at an additional cost and we were responsible for cleaning the apartment at the end of our stay. If this isn’t done a cleaning charge is deducted from your deposit. Our apartment overlooked the swimming pool and as soon as we’d unpacked that’s where we headed.

The view from our balcony at Residence Les Balcons De La Neste, Arreau

Part 2 >>

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