interlude – canal du midi and languedoc

a few nights ago over dinner we had a wine from languedoc, an area in the south of france alongside the pyrenees. this brought back some pretty strong memories of an autumn cycling trip i took a few years back – how beautiful the countryside and the people were, and what a serene experience it was to have nothing but your bike and a map. a bit of a change of pace (especially given the prior rant), but what i hope to be a sweet and recurring interlude…

canal du midi, languedoc

autumn 2004, canal du midi, languedoc. from my journal…
The ride was incredibly wonderful, this region is beautiful. The first 45k were along the Canal du Midi, built in 1681 in order to link the Atlantic to the Med (240k). The canal still functions, though not for trade; there are over 300 bridges and 90 écluses (locks), little stations and villages at each écluse. The cycle path, well-maintained and semi-paved (no cars!), that hugs the canal in the fairly flat section I travelled. A double row of huge maple trees lined the canal the whole way, sheltering you in a gorgeous and secluded green nest. Animal count: herons, ducks, and a turtle. I ate my lunch, which included some cured Basque sausage and cheese and figs from the area, on the banks – completely in awe of the beauty of this country. I forgot how quiet and peaceful it is to ride like this, after a week of cities and people and trains.

Eventually the bikepath finished and I moved onto the road, although it was smooth sailing and little traffic. The landscape is something else… I rode in a rolling valley, with huge foothills rising up on either side of me, blue and smudgy with rain. This is Pays de Cathar, and their ruins are everywhere- churches, castles, houses, windmills, all made with gold stone that jumps out of the landscape in overcast light.

Languedoc translates into “Language of Oc”, from the Occitans, a culture whose roots reach back to the Romans. A woman I met in Toulouse whose family had been in the region for generation upon generation shared a little history over a pain au chocolat and espresso before I headed south. France is a country full of wonderful storytellers. (And a bit more history of the region here.)

About 25k outside of Carcassonne the Armagnac vineyards appeared, giving off a redolent, musty smell. I had a bite to eat in a little farmer’s lane between a vineyard and a small patch of tiny sunflowers, probably seasonal seconds which won’t make it past another month. I arrived in Carcassonne with about an hour of sunlight left, tired and stinky and good. It was my longest ride since I’ve been here- 120k! – though when I arrived I was not exhausted… satiated and at peace.

Leave a comment

Filed under adventure, ideas, Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s