Gorging on gorges!

Well our next move was back into France looking for places we have never been before. We followed the coast past Monaco, Nice and Cannes and ended up on a campsite a couple of miles outside St Tropez.

Quaint street in St Tropez

We found St Tropez very different from anywhere we have been on the trip so far. The town itself was much smaller than expected and was more of a village. It was easy to imagine how it used to be back in its heyday of the 50’s and 60’s, to some extent it is still clinging on to that image with photographs, paintings posters and all sorts of memorabilia relating to the stars who frequented the town back then. Now St Tropez, like many other places, has burst out of its original boundaries and spread across miles and miles of the Mediterranean coast line. The area now caters for everyone with fast food places water parks and even a circus available for the tourists.

The beach in St Tropez.

We did venture out on our bikes into the hills and around the town. Some of it was quite scenic with a couple of hill top villages and several vineyards to explore (if you could avoid the Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches etc flying around). The town itself is set around a harbour and is full of narrow, pretty streets full of expensive looking shops (window shopping only for Sarah!) Steve nearly had a heart attack when we stopped for coffee and paid 10 € for 2 small weak coffees!

The harbour in St Tropez.

While we were in town there was a sailing reggatta taking place with the highlight being a race of over 250 miles to Genoa. The harbour and bay area were full of fantastic looking racing yachts which was a spectacle to see. We also had an afternoon on the beach, which was nice but nothing special but it was a good feeling to be back on the coast by the sea. We spent the last 18 months before finishing work living right on the coast, only 20 metres from the sea, and sometimes we miss the open feeling you get from being by the coast.

Preparing to race.

So, St Tropez what did we think? Sarah didn’t mind it and enjoyed the time spent on the coast. For Steve, to be honest he didn’t enjoy it, the camping was poor and it was all too busy and frantic for him.

Next we decided to head into the middle of France. We made a short couple of days stop in The Ardeche. We stopped here on the way through 6 weeks ago and had an amazing time. The weather was so good as we passed through we couldn’t resist another short stop and it was just as good second time around.

Relaxing by the Ardechè.

We then decided on a couple of days stop in the Languedoc-Rousillon area before moving on to The Dordogne. We pulled into a town called Millau and a week later we are still here!! This place is totally brilliant for us. There are four gorges in the area, two of them meet in the town and the scenary is pretty immense. It is an outdoor enthusiasts paradise. Paragliding, kayaking, walking etc etc, the cycling routes are endless with flat roads that twist and wind next to the rivers. At this time of year the roads are almost free of traffic (other than the occasional huge jet from the French Air Force which obviously use the area for training every couple of days). When they fly over they are so loud it feels and sounds like they are tearing holes in the sky. On one occasion we were out cycling deep in the gorge and heard one coming. We looked up and were treated to an aerobatics display as it came corkscrewing down the canyon. It was like being in a scene from the movie “Top Gun”.

It might look warm but it’s freezing in here!

Then there are the hills and more hills as the gorges are linked by 3000 foot climbs that snake their way up the sides of the gorge and then scream back down to the next river. Steve has been like a child in a sweet shop and he is now thoroughly worn out and ready for a bit of a rest.

Another beautiful scene.

There is even a 50 metre outdoor swimming pool and athletics track here in Millau. Add to that a lovely town with a medieval centre containing some great bars and a superb campsite 200 metres from the town, we might never leave!!! Oh we nearly forgot to mention just outside of town, one of the gorges is spanned by the ultra modern Millau Viaduct built in 2004, it lays claim to be the worlds tallest bridge. It is extremely impressive and everytime we see it, whether from a distance or while cycling or running underneath it, it never fails to impress.

Come on Sarah nearly at the top.

We must leave Millau and head to The Dordogne as time on this trip is running out. We both feel we are reasonably prepared now for our impending cycle from Canada to Mexico so we will back off from training now and try and do a little more sightseeing.

Just one last run before we leave!

A day in the life….

For those who did not know already the main reason for doing this particular trip was to get cycling fit for our next trip which involves cycling from Canada to Mexico down the west coast of the USA. We start that particular trip at the beginning of August, so 3 months of cycling around France, Italy and Belgium in the spring and early summer sounded perfect. Obviously it has its advantages of generally good weather, some great places to visit and lots of quiet roads with big hills (Sarah doesn’t always see that last one as an advantage!)

Under the Tuscan Sun !

The last month has been particularly cycling intensive and as there is a difference in our level of cycling fitness, and Steve is also aiming to do a triathlon in July, we have done a fair amount of our cycling separately, however a couple of times a week we do go out together. This is generally on days when Sarah is doing a long ride and company and motivation is always welcome (as well as having someone to carry the sandwiches!). So we thought for this post we would write about a typical day in the saddle together.

A 6:45 alarm starts the day and Sarah does a few stretches, Steve always thinks about it but usually decides an extra few minutes in bed is more beneficial. How wrong he is! Next it’s coffee and breakfast, anything from granola, yogurt, fruit, croissants, Nutella sandwiches! (Other chocolate spreads are available).

Sarah’s breakfast.

By 7.30 we’re on the road, the first 30 minutes are usually filled with Sarah complaining she has too many or too few clothes on for the weather, followed by a discussion about where the first coffee stop will be. You will probably notice a theme around coffee stops as the day progresses, to Sarah it is an integral part of the day and Steve who is not used to stopping all day is slowly warming to the idea no matter how hard he fights it! In fact when Steve plans a route the night before an internet search for the best coffee and cakes has become part of the routine.

By about 9.30 we are generally at the first stop and tucking into that coffee and cake, discussing how we are feeling and how bad the coffee in Italy is! Maybe wine and cake might be a better combination. Sometimes we combine a long cycle with some specific sightseeing and on a recent cycle we made our first stop the town of Siena. This is one of our favourite places to visit in Italy and holds some great memories. It has a fabulous central piazza surrounded by buildings that date back to the 12th century. A few years ago we found a great, tiny cafe. It’s just off the piazza, but when you go inside you can take a small staircase to the first floor where you can then go through a narrow door, up some small stone steps and finally through a door (so small even Steve has to bend down to get through) and you emerge onto a balcony overlooking the piazza. This is where you have an incredible view where we have spent a few hours over the years.

Steve sat at his favourite balcony.

On this particular occasion we finished in the cafe and returned to our bikes to continue our cycle. It was still quite early and not too busy and we noticed a film crew running about the piazza. “I wonder if he is famous” said Sarah as she pointed to the subject of the filming. “That’s Gino de Campo” shouted Steve. Off Sarah went camera in hand running across the piazza leaving Steve holding the bikes and thinking “Oh no, here we go again! Poor Gino”. Steve saw her catch up with him, a few words exchanged, then a bit of maneuvering around the piazza, followed by some arms around each other selfies. “How does she do it?”

Lucky Gino grabs a selfie with Sarah!!

Back on the bike and we tend to do a fairly long spell of about a couple of hours before looking for somewhere to sit down for some lunch. Always somewhere with a bit of a view and mostly close to a coffee shop for after lunch drinks.

“All gone”

Setting off after lunch is always a highlight for Steve as Sarah has normally eaten most of her food and his load for the return journey is usually considerably lighter. We always try to plan a route where the scenery is pretty good as this can sometimes take Sarah’s mind off the ever increasing tiredness in her legs. To be fair when you are cycling in Tuscany it is fairly easy to do, in fact you would have to try hard to find a bad route.

Going down hill is always fun!

The Chianti area has possibly been our favourite although we did venture into the Crete Senesi area (where scenes from the movie “Gladiator” were filmed) and this was pretty spectacular too.

One more stop mid afternoon is usually time for a cold drink and an opportunity to restock on water. The weather has been quite hot recently and by 2pm it’s generally pushing 30 degrees centigrade. We tend to stop in places off the beaten track so English is not generally spoken and our Italian is pretty minimal, but we have always found the locals extremely friendly and helpful.

With tired legs and empty stomachs, usually about 3.30pm, we come to the end of the ride. Eight hours out and about, over 6 hours actually in the saddle, usually around 80 miles covered and always over 7,000 feet climbed …. some sort of treat usually awaits. While we have been in Italy, the coffee may not be the best we have tasted, but the gelato certainly is!

Sarah annoying the locals.
Italian gelato is the best!

Then while Sarah relaxes in the sun with her book, Steve heads out for his evening run. He has been enjoying his running as much as the cycling, going off road in the gorges and forests …. he is sometimes gone for over 2 hours!

Steve arriving back from his evening run.

When he gets back it is time for bowls of pasta, rice and chicken, and anything else we can find edible. Finally it’s a game of scrabble or a movie (cheers Ben 🙂 before heading off to bed. Another brilliant day……well for us anyway.


We have now packed up the car again and headed back North towards France. We have driven 500 kms and have got as far as a little Italian Riviera town called Sam Remo about 20 miles from the French border. We have no firm plans, we are sat out at a bar overlooking the bay, the buildings of San Remo cling perilously to the hills as the sun is setting behind them, the Mediterranean is a deep blue and flat calm, Sarah is drinking an Aperol spritz and Steve has a cold beer. We are planning our next move…. Life is good!