We had glorious sunshine as we left Colmar. Stocked up with food thanks to Jorge and Manu, we didn’t need to worry about stopping in supermarkets and cycled close to 100 kilometres despite quite a late start.
Well rested and well fed, it felt good to get back on the bikes.
We thought of the remaining journey in two stages. Stage one was to get to Limoux where we had another friend who had offered to put us up. That would be our next rest day. From there, it was only a short distance to Spain and our final leg.
As we left Colmar, we saw the mountains ahead and prepared to climb. However, there still wasn’t much climbing in France as for the most of our time there, we could follow waterways. The real climbing waited for us when we left Limoux and reached Spain.
Before we started our journey, I read a blog by a bicycle tourer who had cycled from Bristol to Istanbul. In her blog she was full of praise for cycling in France and how courteous the drivers were.
I think she felt like that because she had just arrived there from the UK. We, on the other hand, got there from Germany. As you already know if you are a regular reader, we found Germany to be a cyclists’ paradise and France could not quite compete.
First, there were the cycle routes.
When we could follow the waterways, it was great. And mostly straight forward. However, when we were not following the waterways, the cycle routes took us round the houses where it was easy to miss the signposts.
To save our batteries, we tried to follow the signposted cycle routes as much as possible instead of using the map on the phone. Sometimes this worked, but other times, when signposts were missing, we ended up adding extra mileage to our journey and relying on the navigator to get us back on track.
Then, there were the roads.
A few times, to save time, we cycled short distances on the bigger, more direct roads. Short distances because they were not safe. Many of them were winding and narrow and cars would zoom past you at a hundred miles per hour. Often not giving you a lot of space.
That’s why we can’t agree that French drivers are courteous towards cyclists.
I realise that I’m sounding a little negative about cycling in France. I don’t mean to as we loved France, too. It’s just that compared to Germany, well… France wasn’t quite on the same level as Germany when it comes to looking after cyclists.
One thing we discovered soon after entering France was that many campsites closed after the last weekend in September. Lucky then, that we actually managed to stay with a few people from Warmshowers on route to Limoux.
Our first Warmshowers top was in Besançon, but before that we spent a night in Belfort. With bodies, bellies and batteries happy after our Colmar weekend, there was no need for charging any equipment and no need for shopping, either.
On Sunday, Jorge cooked us a delicious meal and when we left Colmar, he gave the leftovers for us. All we had to do in the evening was to heat it up and enjoy. After dark.
In Belfort, we found a lovely park with a little lake where we set up camp. We could see no camping prohibited signs, but just to make sure, we waited until the park emptied and the night fell to set up.
Even though it had been another hot day, the night was cold. And so was the morning. I got used to packing up the tent with freezing hands. A note for next time: bring some waterproof warm gloves. I had gloves, but I used them for riding, so it was not ideal to get them wet first thing in the morning.
To say it was our first bike tour, we were quite well equipped. Especially considering that we hadn’t even done a weekend away on our bikes. We were complete bicycle travel virgins! But following our first trip, we now have a few of things added to our must-take list. Warm, waterproof gloves are definitely on it.
There were also things that were surplus to requirement. I think you can watch and read as much as you like about bicycle touring, or anything really, but you won’t really know what YOU need until you do it yourself.
We will publish a post of all the things we found out for anyone who wants to learn from what we learnt. But first, let’s get to the end of the ride and for that purpose back to Belfort.
Our recent encounters with caretakers and gardens still fresh in our minds, we set up our alarm extra early. We wanted to take our tent down before anyone could come and tell us camping was “interdite”.
It meant wrapping up the tent again before the dew that had gathered on it had dried. In fact, the tent only dried properly when we got to Limoux and then again in Spain.
It would have had a better chance to dry if we’d set up camp while the sun was still up once in a while. But because of the long distances we were covering each day, most evenings the sun was setting by the time we set up camp. The shortening days didn’t help either.
It was like we were chasing the summer, the warmth and lighter days.
We needn’t to have worried about packing the tent up so quickly as while we breakfasted and packed, we only saw a few nosy dogs with their walkers and some early morning runners.
But it felt good to get an early start. Especially as we didn’t want to be late for our Warmshowers hosts, Sylvain and Cléa.
It was one of the rare times when things went perfectly to plan. Our route was straightforward, and the weather was again on our side. We arrived in Belfort a couple of hours before we were due at Cléa and Sylvain’s.
They lived in a block near a park and a river. We picked up a couple of beers and enjoyed the park and the sunshine (and finishing before dark) before meeting Cléa and Sylvain.
Maybe we needed a little “Dutch courage”. After all, this was our first time staying with Warmshowers hosts. Well, the first that worked out as planned.
We couldn’t have wished for better hosts for our first Warmshowers experience. Cléa and Sylvain were such a lovely couple who made us feel so welcome. They cooked us a wonderful dinner and time flew by as we talked about bicycle touring.
And in the morning, breakfast was all set out for us when we woke up.
A huge thanks to Cléa and Sylvain for being such wonderful hosts!
Until next time, and as always, thank you for being here.