Cycling a piece of the French Mediterranean

Previous post: Cycling the Canal du Midi

Without warning Summer arrived.  A few days prior we had been wearing our jackets and long pants while cycling – suddenly we couldn’t take off enough clothes.

We had found the sun!

The beautiful Mediterranean sea was the focal point of this leg, but otherwise the area left us a little underwhelmed and we chose to turn our bikes in the direction of Provence, where we had been wanting to go all along…

Day One | Balaruc-les-Bains to Palavas-les-Flots – 43km

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We left our campsite early and set out along the coast.  The weather was blissfully warm and we knew it was going to be a good day.  Flanked by ocean and salt water lakes and we stopped to breathe in the beautiful morning a few times.  It was one of those days where the sunshine and beach scenery combined to create a certain lethargy, and lazing around on a beach seemed a far better alternative to cycling on.

A Sunday market was in full swing in one of the villages we rode through,  so we parked our bikes and went for a stroll through the stalls.  We then joined the locals in enjoying a coffee and croissant (or three) as we watched the market-scene in front of us.  We bought the usual baguettes, cheese, salami and fruit from the various stalls before continuing on our journey.

Being a Sunday, many families were headed for the beach – and we too stopped for a break to watch the ocean.  The beach was completely covered in soft, smooth pebbles and I couldn’t help collecting a few as a keep-sake.  Carl can never get over my crazy addiction to stones – this time he just looked and shook his head, knowing that it was me that had to carry them.

We found a campsite early, after only cycling for just over 40km’s but the area seemed festive and fun and it was already well over 30 degrees.  After having a dip in the swimming pool, we chilled at the bar over beers and burgers and watched the Grand Prix – a recommended way to spend an afternoon.

CAMPSITE: Camping les Rocquilles
  • Large campsite
  • Facilities only cleaned once a day, so not good at all
  • Laundry facilities
  • Restaurant & Bar
  • Supermarket
  • Swimming pool
  • Directly over the road from the beach

Day Two | Palavas-les-Flots

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The weather was so good we decided to take a day off from cycling and have a little rest time.  We rode into the local town to post back some more clothes to Sydney (and possibly a few pebbles…) and our winter gear to a friend in Munich to pick up when the weather cooled again.   Carl had tried on his surf shorts the previous day and they just fell right off him – we knew that he had lost a bit of weight but it was quite crazy just how much!

We spent a few hours cycling around the sea-side village, it was very touristy and tacky, but interesting and a little different to the other parts of France we had travelled through.

As the afternoon came, a thick sea-mist rolled in.  It was remarkable to watch, especially in the middle of the day – quite unlike anything we had seen before.  It completely covered the ocean and beaches – we managed to take a few photos of an old fisherman on the rocks before the mist completely hid everyone from view.   The mist was pleasantly cool after the new-found heat we were experiencing.

Day Three | Palavas-les-Flots to Aigue Mortes – 44km

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Cycling was easy again today the path was flat as we headed out along the coast on a cycle path slowing from time to time to gaze out at the sea.  We stopped to do a little food shopping in the town of La Grande Motte and despite having eaten breakfast just an hour before we decided to eat half of what we had just bought (no time like the present!)

We bumped into a group of British cycle tourists who had ridden down the Canal du Midi too – they said we had done the right thing by leaving the canal when we did, as the path was almost unrideable in places.

The towns all seemed to join on this section of the coast.  Everywhere people were out enjoying the sunshine – walking, cycling, playing with the dogs, taking pictures and eating ice-creams (Europeans love ice-cream).  Before we knew it we had stopped again for lunch…

Our final stretch of cycling for the day was beside the salt lakes at the beginning of the Petite Camargue, forming part of the Rhone delta.  As we cycled we saw many flamingoes and other birds, heads tucked under their wings – resting in the cooler marshlands in the heat of the day.

Our destination was the medieval city of Aigues Morte.  Although little early documentation is found, the city is thought to have been founded around 102BC and its history, as with so many French towns, includes wars and crusades, imprisonment of the Templars, haven to the Protestants, mercenaries and massacres.  The ancient walled town was an impressive site as we cycled towards it, its towering stone walls rising steeply out of the salty wetlands.

We found a small campsite on a farm about 3km’s out of town, set up camp and relaxed over a beer.  As the sun was sinking in the sky we cycled back to Aigues Morte to explore…

CAMPSITE: CAMPING a la Ferme – Mas de Plaisance
  • Quiet, rustic campsite
  • Clean facilities

Day Four | Aigue Mortes to Arles – 50km

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The route to Arles was pleasant enough…  We rode for long stretches on quiet country roads, quite often alongside irrigation canals. We played hide and seek with the Rhone river from time to time and before we knew it we had crossed the border into Provence – or Provence-Alpes Cote D’Azur as it is officially termed.

From there, we rode through vast floooded rice paddies and past farmhouses with cropping fields adjoining.  The air smelled of flowers, the sky seemed bluer here.  We stopped on a wide open field to watch the french fighter jets flying over, time and again, low and high, the noise of their engines roaring seconds after they had passed overhead.

As we rode into the city of Arles, we crossed the Rhone river and the large motorway in a pedestrian and bicycle tunnel covered in graffiti.  It was quite strange to hear the roar of the cars above us, and know that the river was below – all the while in this crazy tunnel of art.

After navigating some very busy roads and enormous traffic roundabouts, we found a campsite a few km’s out of the city.  It was incredibly hot and we set up our tent as quickly as possible and then dived into the pool for the afternoon!

A few hours later, the same british cycle tourists we had met in La Grande Motte arrived for the night…

  • Well-maintained campsite
  • Clean facilities, although too few showers
  • Swimming pool
  • Restaurant and bar
  • Free wi-fi
  • Laundry facilities

Following post: Cycling in Provence – From Arles to St Remy de Provence

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