From the Velo Odyssey with Love

This year I got to have an two-week adventure in France with my daughter and it was every bit as fabulous as I had hoped. We started in Bordeaux on one of the hottest days of July. This tour is categorised as family-friendly and suitable for beginners. You can either choose to go with a tour company who will give you a map and book accommodation or you can go self-guided. We went self-guided which has the added bonus of extra flexibility. We had no problem finding accommodation, even in August. Quite the contrary in fact. A couple of days were cut short due to the excessive heat and all we had to do was stop, go to the Tourist Information office and voila! We would find somewhere to flop!

Getting out of the city is often the most tricky part so we rolled the bikes on the Arcachon train and stayed there for a few days to mooch about and soak in the atmosphere. This deviated from the plan but made sense in the heat of the day and gave us time to explore the area at our leisure. We had our first night at the Ibis hotel just opposite the concourse at the station. There was no problem with lifting bikes or removing items because the platform had flat access points. This was something I’d been worried about but we scoped it out the night before we left which put my mind at rest. There’s a real bustle and vibe around this station plus a whole complex of food shops, tabacs, cafes and restaurants. We bought some little cakes called Canelés Bordelais which look like golden-honey thimbles… We found them strangely tasteless, chewy and gluey in texture. Try them by all means and let me know what you think!

We spent a few days in Gujan-Mestras and the Bay of Arcachon. The main reason for this was a freak heat-wave. This gave us a chance to find our biking legs and check out Aqualand Parc Bassin where my daughter met some French friends and I hid in the shade. We also spent some time practising basic bike handling skills, loading and unloading our panniers and leaning them on trees. I nearly had a tumble when my daughter slammed her brakes on because a grass snake slithered over the path. The advice to beginners in short is: don’t get too close to the person in front!

After a couple of days we were blessed with an early morning mist and headed south over undulating terrain for Biscarosse Plage. The route gets exciting here as you climb through pine forests adjacent to the great Dunes de Pyla. It feels very safe, there are places to stop at designated picnic areas and a smattering of facilities along the way.

Biscarosse Plage and Biscarosse Lac are two completely different places. The route between the two swirls up and down the massive dunes. It was quite busy with families and novices on the route looking like they were having fun! Again, allow everyone the distance they might need to do something erratic!

My daughter couldn’t resist a dip when we saw the lake, an Oasis of calm on a hot day. We stopped next to the oh-so-on-trend Slow Village and she splashed about for a while on the white sands. I cooled my heels in the fresh water. It was kind of dreamy.

I was pretty hungry all day. Having had enough of the bikes we fell in to a hotel with a bar and a swimming pool called Cote du Lac. It had just been renovated and re-opened. The owners were very attentive 🙂 Nice work. http://www.cote-et-lac.com/

After a swim we took a Canadian canoe out on to the lake and I showed my daughter how to paddle (after we capsized!). She was a bit over-zealous with the steering… Note to self: must make more time to go canoeing (but how)?

That night and the following day a storm raged (no photos). We felt pretty smug from the comfort of the hotel and very reluctant to leave. We set out regardless. It was one of those days where everything went wrong. Drenched from the start, it was tough going. Then I got pains in my stomach (probably from eating too much rich food) and I had to be saved on the roadside by some helpful gypsy women. They gave me some medication and let me rest for a while by their caravan. It was an embarrassing but incredible experience. Needless to say that my daughter loved playing with the gypsy children. It was the highlight of her holiday! She didn’t really know much about gypsies before that point and was really curious about them and the way they live. She wanted to go back and visit them with a gift on our return to Bordeaux.

Following my miraculous recovery we got lost in Parentis because we couldn’t find the turn near the enormous supermarket. This meant we had gone kms out of of way and ended up in Ychoux instead of Mimizan. As we found ourselves in Ychoux, we picked up the train and ended up in Dax, a very sophisticated spa town crammed with shops, markets, hotels and restaurants.

We loved Dax so much we stayed two nights… There were several reasons for this:

  • There was a dance festival on in Bayonne (our next destination) and people from all over the region were going to take part. Some people were staying in Dax, so I guessed that Bayonne would be full. It was obviously a mass participation event. We kept seeing dancers of all ages around the area wearing the all white uniform or cream jeans, a white shirt and a jaunty red neck scarf.
  • We didn’t want to wake up for an early train on the Sunday. It’s always a bit harder to get trains, access to tourist information and food on a Sunday.
  • We heard that President Macron and his cronies were in Biarritz, another of our possible destinations so that there would be a heavily armed Police presence.
  • The hotel we stayed in for our first night in Dax was so comfortable that we didn’t want to leave. It was spectacularly carpeted, clean and cocooning with one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept on.

Dax was a real gem and I thoroughly recommend it. With expensive spa treatments available at the all the top hotels it oozes wealth and health. It’s the top spa town in France so I guess aspects of it are like Bath, York or Harrogate. The clientele are definitely on the older side but the place has got class and it is gentille. There’s this strange thing about cycle touring where large cities can just be an obstacle: surrounded by D roads with busy traffic and too full of hazards to negotiate on a loaded bike. We found Dax just the right size. Our second night there was back under canvas, on the edge of town, at a campsite with a swimming pool and lots of children for my daughter to play with.

Using the train we rejoined the route in the south at La Benne and made our way north to Capbreton. You can’t see here but the central square has got plenty of benches and misting sprinklers provide a wave of cool relief from the heat of the day.

Capbreton and Soorts Hoosegor are trendy party places where the yachty, surfy cool young hang out. Soorts Hoosegor is crammed with surf-wear shops selling very expensive holiday wear. My daughter looked at the stuff longingly but she knew that anything we picked up would have to be stuffed in a dusty bag and carried.

If you’re in to watersports or sailing there are loads of places where you can hire boats of all kinds and do whatever watersports you’re in to. The campsite just north of Hoosegor had a young, fun vibe. It was mostly families with a few young couples or groups of young people. A bit noisier and busier but not crazy.

We came across a street food market in Leon so we bought a flan and a very gooey chocolate cake. Two miles later we became very tired so we found a very cheap campsite surrounded by pines just 5 minutes from the lake. The lady who ran it had a family, very friendly kids and a brown spaniel. I wish I remembered the name of the place because she took a photo of my daughter with her dog and was going to put it on Facebook.

Just north of Mimizan Plage we found a campsite with a big Caribbean party – fun until 12 then just too loud for this slow-cyclist! This part of the coast is where young people and the masses go camping. After Mimizan we went inland to Gastes, back towards Parentis. We stayed at Gastes for 2 nights at a very reasonable campsite.

The picture above shows the southern lake where we stayed for two days before going back to Bordeaux from the station at Ychoux.

The cycling part of the holiday took us 7 or 8 days of slow cycling covering the Velo Odyssey route from Archacon to La Benne, so we did 180-200km in total. Local maps are available from tourist information offices along the way and you can buy the cycling map for a couple of euros.

Budget wise, I probably spent 50-100 euros a day for the both of us together so that would be 25-50E each. Municipal campsites were about 24-26E per night (for one pitch).

Useful information:

http://www.freewheelingfrance.com/where-to-go/cycling-the-atlantic

3 Comments

  1. Thanks Susan – she took to it like a duck to water. She could out-pedal me by the end! She also got stuck in with the French, playing with French kids and the camping. Really pleased that it all went so well. It was a dream!

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