From October 1st to the 18th of 2019, Jerry and Odette biked from Montpellier in France to Girona in Spain and back again.
TLDR: 625 miles of riding and 28,000 feet of climbing in 14 days on the tandem
We equivocated on a second trip for 2019. Part of the indecision was was a hope that we could coordinate things with Will, part of it was just procrastination. When we got serious I decided that if we were doing it in October I wanted to go to Majorca where it would be warm. Odette agreed, halfheartedly, and then couldn’t figure out how to structure a tour that would occupy us for two weeks. Truth be told, I think she was concerned about the hills. She decided that Croatia would work better, but couldn’t find a tour that made any more sense than the one in Majorca did. I gave her a list of places that advertised custom, self-guided, trips – but October isn’t their season and they mainly cater to a crowd that wants short rides between boats and not two-week long bike trips.
As a backup she asked our friends at Discover France if they could support us on a ride from Montpellier to Barcelona and back. They said “of course” and it didn’t take much convincing for Odette to switch to that destination. By then it was already September so there was a flurry of activity to establish dates and get a deposit in place. The Discover France staff was working Tour de France (and the seasonal staff was likely winding up) so the progress was halting. When they focused on it they decided that we didn’t have time to ride to Barcelona and recommended that we turn around in Girona. We got a hotel list (our first indication of the cities on the route) in the middle of the month and we didn’t get the GPX files until the night before we flew out.
I spent that evening manually converting 12 GPX files into FIT and Odette got the routes loaded into her Garmin and we were off. Will drove us to the airport. The flight to Paris was uneventful. Customs at Charles deGaul were a cluster, but no worse than usual. The flight to Montpellier departed from the same terminal as the one we’d taken to Corsica a few months earlier so the process of checking the tandem domestically was familiar. The cab took us to the same hotel we’d stayed in the last time we rode from Montpellier, back in 2016. The next day I assembled the bike and we rode to Palavas les Flots and back, mainly on bike trail. I forgot to turn on my GPS tracker until we got to the beach. The following day we met with a guy from Discover France who delivered the standard script and told us about the impressive square with big plane trees in St. Guilhem le Desert.
We left the hotel and rode out past the aqueduct and ended up in St. Guilhem le Desert for lunch (and to confirm that there wasn’t a plane tree infested square. ) We ate at the same hotel we’d stayed at in 2016. We continued on to Villeneuvette where we had a really difficult time figuring out how to get into the hotel. The village was originally a uniform factory before the French Republicans liberated it – living quarters downstairs and working lofts above. It still has that impressive classic French look and it’s set in a natural area not too far from Lake Salagou (which we had also visited in 2016). I still don’t think you can get to the hotel entrance from the interior of the village, though. The hotel restaurant was very good.
Day two was a straightforward ride to the tiny village of Siran. The hotel we stayed in there was 4-star and really a remarkable chateau. The restaurant ranked among the best we have ever found. Day three was kind of a long way around to get to Carcassonne. We climbed up the gorge out of Lagrasse on an incredibly scenic and gentle grade, but the highlight of the day was the medieval city at the end of the ride. Our hotel was very orange and rocked a 1960’s mod ethic and a pack of Rick Steeves tourists, but you couldn’t beat the location. (Unfortunately they didn’t have secure bike storage so the tandem spent the night outdoors chained to a tree with the assistance of someone else’s lock that we appropriated.) The fortifications were very interesting and we spent most of the afternoon walking them. Dinner was touristy but tasty.
The next day we rode a different route back to the gorge and then retraced our route to Lagrasse. A little more climbing got us to Cucugnan and a wonderful B&B. We didn’t visit but we passed several famous Cathar castles on the ride (and our room had a view of the one at Cucugnan.) As we were eating lunch and waiting to check in we met a group from Portland that recognized my Cascadia jersey and a blind guy from Norway who was drawn to our tandem, saying that he had five of his own at home. Day four we rode inland from Perpignan, mainly through vineyards, ending up at Amelie les Bains on the Tech river. Amelie was a small town with three large geothermal baths, evidently dating from Roman times. It had an impressive hiking trail up a gully, but that was closed and the suspended platforms didn’t seem like they were going to be suspended much longer. The hotel was a disappointment, overrun by a British tour group and struggling to accommodate them and not able to offer much to anybody else. We locked our bike in a desolate room in the basement (we couldn’t get the lights or the lock to work without help) and we walked out on their restaurant.
From Amelie les Bains we rode a long climb to Col Ares – just after admiring the fortifications at Prats de Mollo. Most of the climb was a gentle grade that we rode well and at the top it flattened out… the descent was fun, too. We had a wonderful hotel and a great dinner in Olot, marred only by the difficulty of navigating to the hotel from the end of the route in the Garmin.
The ride from Olot to Girona wasn’t supposed to be long, even though it was mainly routed on bikeways that weren’t quite as direct as the roads. To overcome the navigational issues from the previous day we used the “navigate to start of route” on the Garmin and kept the blue arrow on the purple line. After about 15 miles we both agreed that something was wrong – the fact that we started to recognize things we’d seen on the way into Olot was a clue. Odette still can’t explain what happened, but evidently we’d been following our previous day’s route in reverse, just sticking to trails instead of taking the roads as we had on the way in. We turned around, rode back to Olot, got a bystander to help us find the right direction on the right trail, and rode on to Girona. The highlight of the day was carrying the tandem up a block of stairs next to the cathedral.
We had a layover day in Girona which we spent walking the city. The medieval city walls were my favorite, but the jewish museum and the architectural museum were both worth the time we spent. The hotel was really good and there were a bunch of good restaurants to be visited. For our eighth day of riding we went to San Feliu by bikeway. These trails were unpaved and not nearly as well maintained as the ones between Olot and Girona. On our descent to the water to do an OAB on a small spit I got the front wheel caught in a rut and dropped the bike – escaping with only some road rash for me and a skinned knee for Odette. We ate lunch near that spit and then rode over a headland to another beach and our hotel. The hotel wasn’t special (except that it did have a bike locker with hooks high enough to get the tandem off the ground) but we sat on the sand for a couple of hours and I swam in the mediterranean.
The next day we rode almost all the way back to Girona on a different combination of roads and trail, and then cut over to Figures. Our hotel there was easy to find but located out on the edge of town. We walked in to the center, had lunch at a very good tapas place, and then visited the Salvador Dali museum. Unlike the place we’d visited in Paris a few months earlier, the museum was a parody of regular art museums (much like Dali was a parody of regular art, I guess.) We both enjoyed it a lot.
For the tenth day of riding we climbed over the col de banyuls and rode down into Le Barcares. The climb was gentle and the descent was fun even through it threatened to rain on us all morning. The hotel in Le Barcares was the least posh of all the places we stayed on this trip, but the staff was friendly and they had good storage for the bike. Not many choices for restaurants, however, and after we got there we saw a really strong windstorm and a little rain. The next morning we headed from Le Barcares to Valras-Plage. Much of the riding was on trail but it being France the trail was mainly paved and well signed. From Port La Nouvelle to Sainte Lucie we were supposed to ride a narrow causeway which we found to be closed to all traffic. We looked for a beach trail around the construction but ended up riding roads to Narbonne and then back out to the beach. We were using Google maps for navigation and spent a few hours riding in circles on unpaved roads in some guys’ vineyard. We had trouble finding the hotel when we got there but we had a great dinner in a little restaurant that made up for all of the difficulties.
From Valras we rode beach trails to Palavas Les Flots. We saw pelicans and flamingoes and birds we couldn’t identify. We crossed a bridge too tight for the tandem where I had to stand the bike up on the back wheel to get through the chicane. At the end we followed the route we’d ridden on our shakedown ride back into Montpellier. We got to the hotel at 4:20 and had the bike disassembled and packed up by 6:00 – a record possible only because Odette helped. We walked the town the next morning and after lunch caught a cab to the airport. The Air France flight was uneventful and our hotel (Ibis) was within walking distance from the train that runs between terminals at Charles deGaul. We stowed the bike cases in a locker and ate in a bad imitation of a French restaurant. Our flight was delayed a couple of hours so we had a leisurely breakfast and took the train back to terminal 2 where we negotiated security and baggage check before waiting a couple of hours to board. The flight home was long but nothing exciting. US customs in Seattle were about as good as I’ve ever seen them. We caught a yellow cab to get home and then ordered a pizza.
- I was surprised at how well we did on the climbs – makes me start thinking about Alps and Pyrenees. Of course 625 miles in 13 days with 28,000 ft. of climbing has to be compared to the 450 miles in 10 days with 35,000 ft. of climbing that we did in Corsica in May.
- The bike performed very well – no mechanical issues at all
- We were very lucky about weather – we didn’t get rained on at all during our rides
- It was interesting to be in Catalonia and Occitania while reading The Silk Roads. The standard narrative is really a linear “Western Europe as descended from Rome” story while the local versions are a lot richer.
- We saw separatist symbols and graffiti all over the Catalan towns and a couple of days after we left, the Catalan leaders were sentenced and protesters shut the airports and the highway crossings into France.
- We think that we do better if we work with a local travel agency, but Discover France is based in Montpellier and while our routes were in their backyard they still couldn’t get files to us until the 11th hour, couldn’t route us on open roads, couldn’t find great hotels every night, etc.
here are the maps:
10/16 – Day 12. Valras-Plage to Montpellier. here’s the map. 61 miles
10/15 – Day 11. Le Barcares to Valras-Plage. here’s the map. 68 miles
10/14 – Day 10. Figures to Le Barcares. here’s the map. 52 miles
10/13 – Day 9. San Feliu to Figueres. here’s the map. 43 miles
10/12 – Day 8. Girona to San Feliu. here’s the map. 30 miles
10/10 –Day 7. Olot to Girona. here’s the map. 61 miles
10/9 – Day 6. Amelie les Bains to Olot. here’s the map. 54 miles
10/8 – Day 5. Cucugnan to Amelie les Bains. here’s the map. 44 miles
10/7 – Day 4. Carcassonne tp Cucugnan. here’s the map. 45 miles
10/6 – Day 3. Siran to Carcassonne. here’s the map. 45 miles
10/5 – Day 2. Villeneuvette to Siran. here’s the map. 55 miles
10/4 – Day 1. Montpellier to Villeneuvette. here’s the map. 46 miles
10/3 – Montpellier to Palavas les Flots OAB. here’s the (partial) map. 20 miles
here are my photos; here are Odette’s
here is the itinerary