Route details: Barcelona – Viladamat – Leucate – Narbonne – Montpellier – Marseille – Cannes
Duration: 15 days (actual riding: 8 days)
Accommodation: Warmshower hosts/friends (13 nights); camping (2 nights)
After my short stay in Barcelona visiting some old friends, I started my journey along the coast of Mediterranean Sea towards France and Italy.
I took a train from Barcelona to Santa Susana, and pedaled up the hills to Girona and a bit east to Viladamat where my next host Steve lives. Thanks to him that I spend 3 days there, shared touring stories and had my bike fixed.
Steve suggested me not to take the coastal road as it is flooded with trucks and the climb is rough, but taking a nice route to cross the Pyrenees to France through Peralada, Espolla towards Col du Berger Mort. It was a gentle climb to 300m with very few traffic, the view is brilliant. At the top, there is no border at all, not even a sign saying I was in France. Just a winding downhill road brought me Banyuls-sur-Mer. Nice beaches again along the French Mediterranean coast.
Last November I visited my friend Jeremie’s family in Albi, they were super friendly and even invited me for a newspaper interview. This time on my way to the southern coast, they welcomed me again in their summer house in Leucate. Fabienne and Adele (they are my French’s mum and sister) made me feel like home and ensured that I eat more than enough for my journey ahead! Swimming in the warm shallow water was nice too, imagine my future home, that I can swim the sea in just walking distance, that would be awesome!
From Leucate, you can cycle along Canal de la Robine towards Narbonne, just like the west coast of France, the area around Narbonne is famous for its oyster farming because of the intersection of fresh river water and seawater. The canal is not as appealing as the ones of Garonne and Midi, but still there are no cars and totally flat! I am cycling in the middle of water!
As soon as I arrived my friend Helene’s place in Narbonne, she told me that we are going to a boat trip right now, and her son Leo is waiting for me at the harbor. Wow!! That was really a surprise! Leo and I met around 6 years ago when we were traveling in Xinjiang, the northwestern most part of China. Still remember the day we wandered in the desert and talked about our travel dreams!! We blinked our eyes and 6 years passed, both of us are still on the go (he and his girlfriend Laura will start another trip by the end of this year), and eager to see the world with our curious minds!
We sailed to Ile de l’Aute and on the way, the smell of sea water and the wind refresh my weary body and got ready for the picnic!
If you hike up to the top of the hill in Ile de l’Aute, you can get a glimpse of the whole island.
There is a famous game in south of France called Petanque, that each round each player rolls 3 heavy lead balls towards a small wooden ball, and the closest one get a point. The one who get 11 points first wins the game. Of course I did not win, but it is fun to play with Leo and Laura!
Thanks Helene for letting me use her summer house, imagine once you open the door and the blue ocean and sky welcome you every morning, and in the evening you can see the sky turning from blue to orange to purple, it was just perfect to spend a few days there on my own. I utilized the time for planning my winter, as I am going to stay at certain places for work. There were long times that I have not updated my CV and sending job applications, hopefully some of them will hire me as masseur or yoga instructor in ski resorts or hostels.
Helene is an inspiration for me, she raised up 2 kids on her own and let them choose the lives they want to live. Next year, both of them will travel and work away from home again, she never stopped them, but instead she decides to take a year off and travel on her own as well as visiting her kids!
I am proud of my mum as well, because she finally let go of her fear and worries, and confirms to fly to London and visit my brother and me in October!
Both Fabienne and Helene are supermum that I am really grateful to know them, and experience the Southern French hospitality staying with both families twice in my trip! One day our lives will cross again and until then I do wish their families healthy and happy always! 😀
From Narbonne towards Montpellier, I took the route through Adge and Sete where again there is a path along the canal.
Greeted by my next host Etienne and Arancha, I rested and regained my energy during my 2 days staying with them. They invited me to a picnic of a Spanish organization that they are helping, and we swam in a lake called Lac du Cres. I felt so relaxed immersing in the warm water, and thanks to all the people who shared a wonderful picnic together!
The University of Montpellier has the oldest medical school in Europe which was established in 1289, still in operation. And you can also find a Roman aqueduct in town.
Continued heading east, I knew it would take 2 days to reach Marseille so I was not in a hurry. Sometimes starting the ride at midday does not mean you are lazy, but a good way to utilize your time to finish some works while you can still use the wifi!
Etienne recommended me to stop in Arles to check out the Arles amphitheater in town. It is indeed very impressive and intact. Built in 90AD, the amphitheater served as a gladiator fighting ground, chariot races, and nowadays it still holds bullfighting events as well as concerts and cinemas! Whenever I come across something with thousands year history, It made me realize how tiny and insignificant I am. Empires rise; empires fall, the objects we build up in our lives, either stay or be destroyed, but human beings can never bring them with us when our times on Earth are fulfilled.
It is better to start looking for a place to camp before it gets totally dark, and that night I stopped at Saint-Chamas, which is next to a big lake Etang de Berre. I put up my tent next to a sailing school and had a good sleep!
The next day it was only a short ride to Marseilles. My host Guillaume really made me feel like home, and let me stay there on my own. We went to a street art festival where you can see so many artistic graffiti in the whole area.
Another tradition in Southern France that a music band move around the bars and perform life music to light up the atmosphere, I felt so alive to see people sing along or dance in the street in the middle of the day!
MuCEM, a modern designed building situated in the harbor, which is actually a history museum. You can just walk around and indulge yourself in the light and shadow of the walls, very impressive art-piece!
If you want to get a bird eye view of the whole Marseilles, walk up to Notre Dame de la Garde, a cathedral built on top of the hill.
Guillaume also invited me to go for a swim in the sea, which was cold but great! Next to the harbor, you can capture a lot of people looking up a mirror on the ceiling. There are art in every corners in Marseilles, which I found it surprising. It is transforming from a poor port into an artistic playground.
It is always better to listen to warmshower hosts’ advice on which route I am going to take to the next destination, because they always have a better idea of what I should not miss or which road is easier to ride. My last stop in France was Cannes, Guillaume suggested me to cycle along the coast through Toulon and Hyeres, the Calanque (a kind of cliff) is a unique landscape in that area, some tourists hire a kayak to go visit those spectacular sites! Although I did not have extra time to do that, I was still stunned by the absolute blue color of the sea!!
On the way, I found a tranquil beach at Cavaliere, did not think too much, I just set up my tent and start cooking dinner. It was an excellent choice, I could also swim a bit in the sea, and use the shower at the beach!
Thanks God that lead me to this beautiful place! In the morning, the French wake up quite early to go for a swim. Nobody say anything about camping in the beach, so I suppose it is not a big deal here, as long as you do not sleep here every night!
14th July is French National Day, I was honored to spend my last day there and made it memorable! My host Emmanuel drove me to witness a brilliant firework show in the harbor of Cannes. It was part of International Firework Competition, the show that night was from Azerbaijan, very exotic and special!
I can say that the people and the atmosphere of Southern France is more is warmer and more passionate than the West Coast, but in general, French people are much nicer than the world portrays. Now if you ask for help, they will answer you with their broken English, rather than ignoring you (a huge improvement comparing with a decade ago!) Besides, the French really respect bicycle, not to say the excellent bike lanes, and navigation through Google maps. The cars on the road give you a lot of space if you share the road with them!
I love cycling in France! And I will come back again!!