We’d met a lovely French-Canadian guy in Zaragoza. His name was Manu and he had taken a few months off to cycle France and Spain. He had some great advice for crossing the border into France. “Take the Velodyssee through Bayonné up to Leon, it’s beautiful” he said. So we took his advice, crossed the French border and headed up the west coast.
But finding the start of the trail was another thing. We meandered through the industrial backwaters of Bayonné hoping to catch a glimpse of a sign that would confirm our second guessing. With the sound of waves on our left we cycled through tall pines along what we suspected was the correct route but towards the end of the day the trail began to break up and become very sandy. We knew there was a camp ground not far up ahead but getting there was another story. For an hour at least we pushed through the soft sand, stopping occasionally to catch our breath and wonder how much sand was accumulating in our shoes. Eventually, sweating and tired, we made it to the camp ground only to find that it was closed. We went in to double check. It looked pretty deserted and we considered camping there as it was getting late and our options were running out. Deciding it was probably not a good idea we filled up our water bottles and headed for the beach to make camp for the night. Mosquitos lingered outside the tent as the last of the day’s light faded. What would tomorrow hold for us? Much of the same? We were too tired to think about it.
The next morning we found the trail and happily followed it through green, flat fields and rolling forest. The French certainly know how to build cycleways. Camping along the trail didn’t seem to be frowned upon so we took the opportunity whenever we could. We love free-camping, even when the only suitable spot looks a little like a set from the Blair Witch Project.
In Bordeaux we stopped for a few days of well earned rest. The Mirror Pool amused us for a while. Tourists splashed in the shallow water, lost in their thoughts and oblivious to Trace, who danced around trying to get a few photos.
As we meandered our way across the country, in the general direction of Switzerland, the scenery continued to surprise with tree-lined paths, stunning canals and lazy villages perched on river banks.
Most days we would search out a village bakery and ogle at the various pastries through the window before deciding they had what we wanted – sugary goodness. We would usually walk out with a couple of croissants and a baguette or two.
People were so friendly and helpful in France. We met so many people who wanted to know where we were from and where we were going and some invited us to have breakfast or lunch or to meet their family – such hospitality from total strangers – it always left us with a deep sense of joy. The world is not what you see on TV or read in newspapers. You need to met people in their country to see the true nature of things.