Archive for the ‘Europe 2016’ Category

On the pilgrim trail

3 June 2016

We breakfasted in the tiny parlour of the quaint but atmospheric Hotel d’Albans while the proprietor sat about two feet away reading the paper! There was nowhere else for her to go.

The pont canal (aquaduct) that crosses the Garonne at Agen is the second longest in France. It is strange to go to the highest part of town and there find boats on the canal high above river level.

We followed the canal again with a stop at Valence d’Agen, a lively town with an arcaded square, and at Moissac on the river Tarn. There were many pilgrims walking along the canal path. In Moissac we saw a couple walking through the town with two donkeys. At the same time we met a Dutch man, also on pilgrimage to Santiago, but on a red, heavily laden moped. He told us about his trip so far, dedicated to the memory his father, with some adventures on too narrow paths, his daily budget and his concern to keep the moped in a presentable state. At home he cleans it twice a week – that’s a bit too often in my opinion!

On the way out of Moissac there was another long aquaduct. A young woman was sitting on the edge, legs dangling over the side with a long drop down to the muddy swirling river. She was on the opposite side to us but caused us some concern about her intentions. Fortunately as a school group on excursion approached her, she stepped down and walked off.

We left the canal to reach Montauban, also on the Tarn, a city with a cathedral and several large churches. The rivers are all flowing at capacity but our weather continues to be fine.

Sitting in the correct place

2 June 2016

There are delineations and demarcations in French eating establishments that are invisible to us. Yesterday we entered a hotel cafe to order hot chocolate and seated ourselves in the restaurant area – WRONG! Today we sat at a just-opening-for-the-day canal-side cafe for coffee and sat at the lunch tables – WRONG! In both cases it was before 10am and there was nobody else there. The proprietors, however, considered it important that the rules of correct sitting were followed and quickly pointed out our error.

Today we found out that Marmande is the tomato capital of France. There is intensive fruit and vegetable cultivation everywhere, much of it inside hooped plastic greenhouses. The sun emerged mid-morning and the weather then remained fine all day – a relief after yesterday’s soaking. We have read about the serious floods elsewhere in France and can see the evidence of rain upstream as the Garonne is in full spate, flowing strongly with high muddy water.

We have been riding all day along the Canal des Deux Mers, a shady, flat, easy to navigate route with many locks and pleasure boats cruising up and down. We left the path for lunch at Aiguillon, near the confluence of the Lot and the Garonne, then continued on to Agen, known for the canal bridge across the Garonne. In the Saint Caprasius Cathedral we heard the organist at practice and admired the extraordinary interior where the walls and ceiling are completely covered with paintings of saints, biblical scenes and decorative patterns.

 

Rainy day to Marmande

1 June 2016

After weeks of dodging rain it finally caught up with us today. We left Bordeaux in drizzle and peak hour traffic. Our route took us up the Garonne River on a service road by a motorway to the Francois Mitterand Bridge.

As we crossed the bridge the rain stopped (for a while) and we found ourselves on a quiet back road with a cycle lane and no traffic. We bought some pastries and a salad baguette for later consumption in Latresne and ate the slightly salty ficelle straight away. The Piste Cyclable Roger Lapébie (named after the French cyclist who won the Tour de France in 1937) provided us with glorious riding conditions for about 40km through Creon to Sauveterre-de-Guyenne. It couldn’t help the rain though. There were several extended heavy showers that soaked us. This cycle track was an old railway line and had easy grades and smooth bitumen passing through farm and forest scenery. Despite the rain we were lucky to have tail winds (again) to speed us along.

After Sauveterre, Garmin found us some quiet roads through hillier country until we crossed the Garonne again at La Réole and joined the Canal latéral à la Garonne. The canal guaranteed us a flat ride under massive plane trees lining both sides at 10 metre intervals. What a sight and what a way to finish a soggy day’s ride to Marmande!

As always, our Ortlieb bags kept the water out. Now we’re in our hotel room, warm and well-fed and our shoes are stuffed with French newspapers.

Amazing city

31 May 2016

Bordeaux is a little overwhelming! The Esplanade des Quinquonces, the incredible Monument aux Girondins, Cathedrale Saint-Andre… We climbed the bell tower which was built separately to protect the church from the vibrations (good ones naturally). The Miroir d’Eau, a large shallow pool with special water effects including mist, is popular. We watched a class of primary school children doing expressive dance there.

Downstream along the waterfront we were prevented from inspecting the gleaming, about to be opened museum, La Cite du Vin, by a CTG (big worker’s union) demonstration. It was attended by flag and banner wavers as well as heavily protected riot police who had closed the area off.

Our visit to the SNCF office gave their staff member a good half hour of hard work after which she failed to find a way for us to travel by train with our bikes (unfolded and not in a bag) from Barcelona to Amsterdam.

Bordeaux has no overhead wires for street lighting or trams – impressive. But they have not solved the problem of dog poo, an unpleasant feature in many streets.

The premier cru vineyards and Bordeaux

30 May 2016

We left early without breakfast as the Hotel Neptune doesn’t serve le petit dejeuner until 9am – way too late for us. It was drizzly but we successfully dodged rain showers all day.

We started out on deserted roads through marshy farmlands. We stopped at Sophie’s cafe restaurant at about 8am but she wasn’t set up to sell breakfast. After we had ordered coffees she realised she could supply a baguette with butter and jam – better than nothing. It’s a mystery why she was open at that time without breakfast being part of her business plan.

We passed a number of small ports around muddy rivers leading to the Garonde estuary and could see the large Blayais nuclear power station on the far shore. The estuary is lined with many fishing huts on stilts with nets suspended over the water.

We soon arrived in the vineyards of the Medoc. Unlike our previous days in France, the villages had almost no commercial activity: no bakeries, not even a tabac. We noticed the same in the Champagne district in 2010. Perhaps the wine industry squeezes out normal rural life.

We finally got some lunch at a bakery in Pauillac and there noticed a small van fitted with a large and empty (except for breadcrumbs) wooden bread bin. It had just finished doing the run around the aforementioned villages. We rode on into the famous wine estates around Pauillac including Château Latour and Château Margaux.

The cycling conditions were not ideal as we approached Bordeaux – roads and traffic converged and we struggled to find alternative routes.

Bordeaux lays on quite an arrival experience. After battling the traffic and threading through the suburbs on a meandering cycle route we reached the river front with its stunning vista. To the left, another triumph of French engineers, the modern, opening Pont d’Aquitane; in front of us the broad expanse of the Garonde River; and to the right kilometres of grand, 4-5 story, 18th century, mansard-roofed buildings separated from the waterfront by a wide stone-paved concourse.

Trams run along the waterfront and through the historical area without overhead cables by drawing power from specially developed in-ground system.

We are currently sheltering from a cold afternoon shower in a cozy but noisy hipster cafe called Karl. The waiters are continually asking us whether we’re finished and trying to take away the remnants of our provencale platter. Grrrr!

From Charente Maritime to La Gironde

29 May 2016

Le chambre economique was good enough but came with disappointment when the proprietor claimed we hadn’t requested breakfast (we did) and then cheerily whacked us an extra 10 euros for storing the bikes inside overnight! In these situations we say Hoopla and move on.

The weather was cool and drizzly this morning. We arrived in Rochefort in time to observe a ceremony at the war memorial with flags, stylised saluting and a recording of La Marseillaise. It is the 350th anniversary of the city which was established by royal decree to teach the people in La Rochelle a lesson as they were not behaving properly.

Our next discovery was the fortified town of Brouage, the walls built to provide protection from the bad Protestants of La Rochelle. Now it is a tourist attraction with creperies and souvenir shops.

In Marennes we saw a most unusual method of human powered travel – a man on roller blades pushing a one wheeled rig carrying all of his gear.

We had two big bridges to cross today, one over the Charente just out of Rochefort and the other over La Seudre after Marennes. French engineers seem keen on making a statement with their bridges and take any opportunity to build one and make it as big as possible.

Today we have ridden through barley fields, more marshes, cow pastures, sand dunes, coastal forest paths and holiday resorts. We had to reach Royan to take a ferry across the Gironde estuary and timed our arrival perfectly.

We are now at Soulac-sur-Mer, have observed the grey windswept waters of the Atlantic and befriended a German caravanning couple who are transporting their bikes around without riding them at all!

A day of rest

28 May 2016

La Rochelle is a great place to spend a day. We said goodbye to Loic as he sped off on his unusual front wheel drive recumbent and found a chambre economique in a small hotel.

There is a large market here occupying a hall, market square and several surrounding streets. Everything there looked wonderful. Some unusual things I found were torteau fromager – a savoury cheesecake from La Rochelle and large trays of already roasted beetroot. The poissonieres label all their fish with the species name – good idea.

After this we headed off to La Pallice, the commercial port where German U-boat pens also remain from WW2. Luckily for La Rochelle they do not occupy the centre of town as they do in Saint-Nazaire.

There are thousands of ocean-going yachts in the huge moorings here. After a warm sunny morning storm clouds developed.

We took the electric ferry across the harbour to the mediatheque (as public libraries as now called in France) and made it just in time to shelter from a long heavy rainstorm. There were lots of people in there and keen competition for the comfortable chairs. Ian got gazumped out of his by an old bloke who apparently had priority!

There is a large car-free area in the old city. The streets are narrow and the shopfronts are often arcaded. After razing Brest to liberate it, the allies changed their approach and besieged the other Atlantic ports until VE day. As a result we can enjoy La Rochelle as an example of an old French city. Paris may have been similar before Baron Haussmann re-fashioned it.

The La Rochelle city bike scheme is run by Yelo the local public transport company that also runs the buses and solar-powered ferries. The bikes are shaft-driven.

 

More flatlands to La Rochelle

27 May 2016

We woke to a foggy morning in Les Sables d’Olonne and took the small ferry across the harbour so we could walk along La Grande Jetee. There were men fishing for crabs off the high stone jetty and lots of fishing boats going in and out. The little ferry was electric, carried pedestrians and cyclists only and continuously zipped across and back.

The day’s ride took us through beach holiday towns, forested paths, marshes, grassy and dirt tracks and sparsely populated farmland, low lying and probably subject to tidal inundation in the past. At Jard-sur-Mer there is the Jacques Tati Public School! Everything is pretty quiet as it’s not holiday season, but the tourist facilities are scaled up for the big crowds of July and August.

We encountered quite a few other cyclists including a Belgian pilgrim, clearly identifiable as such because of the scallop shell on his luggage and his flag. He was also wearing a high-viz jacket and had a horn mounted on his handlebars. I then remembered having seen him last week making a spectacle of himself in St Pol de Leon in Brittany by riding around the church square parping his horn. We decided to steer clear of him, but encountered him and his friend on the route later in the day and almost got chased down by them at one point.

We shook him off properly by taking a short cut and arrived in La Rochelle at 4.30. After a drink we watched a concert band that was playing beside the harbour before finding our Warmshowers host Loic at his tiny apartment in the old city. Loic works as a bicycle mechanic on the Île de Ré, joined by a bridge to La Rochelle. He is also a keen backgammon player and knitter, self taught via YouTube.

Marshlands

26 May 2016

Just after we posted last night the hotel owner’s goat jumped onto the window sill of our room. I think it would have come in had we opened the window.

DSCN6968

In still calm weather we followed several cycling routes simultaneously today including EuroVelo 1, Velodyssee and VelOcean. At other times we found our own way. Early in the morning we passed a decrepit dolmen (Monument Megalithique du Predaire) on a bluff overlooking an oily-smooth Atlantic Ocean.

Much of the day was spent riding through low, flat, marshy land marked with many canals, dykes and polders. These areas have lot of small-scale fishing activity including oysters farms and stilted net-fishing huts on the muddy beaches.

We passed an extended morning tea break in the church square in Isle de Bouin (no longer an island since a sea wall has been built and the land drained) while Rosalie tried, with limited success, to photograph old codgers on rusty bikes carrying baguettes.

We lunched on bread and cheese from breakfast and later shared a large (3-scoop) glace in Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie which energised us for the final 25 km along an unsealed path behind the coastal dunes to Les Sables d’Orlonne.

Les Sables d’Orlonne is a busy commercial, fishing and yachting harbour lined with restaurants, bars and cafes. The channels are narrow and winding with alarmingly large ships coming and going at high tide with no tugs helping them.

On the waterfront we ate a formule seafood dinner including fish soup, oysters and fresh fish (dorey and hake) with a carafe of vin blanc de maison. From our limited observations, vin de maison comes from wine casks (a South Australian technological contribution to the world thanks to Thomas Angove).

Two movies and a bridge over the River Loire

25 May 2016

We left Herbignac on a main road to Saint-Nazaire but there wasn’t much traffic. We turned off and wound through the strip developments of coastal resorts bound for Saint-Marc-sur-Mer, also known as M. Hulot’s beach. It was fun to see the location from the film. Although much has changed some landmarks are still identifiable and there are information boards explaining, amongst other things, the temporary changes that were made for the film. There is a larger-than-life-sized statue of M. Hulot overlooking the beach.

Another famous film of a different kind (Das Boot) came to mind when we arrived in Saint-Nazaire and spotted the German U-boat pens from WW2. They are massive and brutal. Having sustained no significant damage during the war despite the allies’ best efforts, since then they’ve been judged too expensive to demolish – no surprise when you see them. With almost all signs of the 20th century wars gone in Europe the pens are a grim reminder of recent history. While bombs couldn’t scratch them, concrete cancer is taking its toll but it looks like these bunkers could well last 1000 years.

Our researches had left us in some doubt as to whether we would be allowed to cycle across the spectacular 3 km long Saint-Nazaire bridge over the Loire estuary. We can now report that bicycles are allowed and we did cycle it. It’s quite a long haul up to the summit of the bridge and the wind was a bit gusty but the bicycle lane is sufficiently wide and the 70 km/h traffic was leaving reasonable clearance. However, if the wind had been much stronger we might have been walking.

As we approached the bridge we passed through the charred remains of a barrier that we think had been erected by bolshie dairy farmers protesting the low price they are getting for their milk. Sounds familiar.

The weather seems to have changed with our crossing of the Loire. It’s been quite summery this afternoon and we’re starting to contemplate Atlantic swims. We might break out lighter weight clothing tomorrow.

Most of the afternoon has been spent cycling by the coast with sandy beaches, resorts to the picturesque port at Pornic.

Annick’s cafe

24 May 2016

The brochure in our hotel said: In Carnac you will be able to live intensly (sic) boardsports in whatsoever forms. We chose to forego this and went to view the Neolithic alignments of menhirs on the edge of the town. They are an impressive sight especially in the early morning light.

After breakfast we had a 9.30am deadline in order to take the boat from Locmariaquer to Port Navalo to achieve a good short cut. We made it with only minutes to spare, thanks to one of the crew who keeps a lookout for cyclists. It was a tiny boat with a full load of passengers and 6 bikes.

The next section comprised some double strength kilometres – the sort where you do them but make little overall progress towards your daily goal. We dealt with this matter by drinking coffee in Sarzeau and changing the goalposts. Things also improved when we found alternatives to a busy main road.

Herbignac is where we stopped for the day, a small town with a huge church, patisserie, two boulangeries, and other essential ingredients. We sought a place in which to have a beer and had the good fortune to discover Annick’s Cafe, a tiny, understated establishment where the beer comes out of the fridge in small sized bottles, the half dozen small tables all have fresh flowers and the regular clients (old French codgers) greet everyone, us included, with a handshake. Annick proudly showed us a recently published book, Bistrot Breizh, celebrating the old-style cafes of the region and featuring hers. The whole crowd expressed their admiration for our expedition à vélo and wished us bon voyage.

Menhirs

23 May 2016

Despite the late night socialising we were up early as Padrig and Sarah had to go to work and Camille had to go to her nanny. The sun shone, the skies were blue, the hills tailed off and the wind has been at our backs most of the day.

We had an extended break at Pont-Aven, a small town straddling a stream that tumbles though a mill-race into a tidal river. Yachts were propped on their keels in the mud as the tide was out. Pont-Aven was a favourite of Paul Gaugin and there are many art galleries filled with the works of latter-day artists inspired by his example. It is certainly picturesque.

We have entered an area of intense neolythic activity. We haven’t seen any dolmens yet (or big, fat men in striped pants) but there are many standing stones (menhirs) – 10,000 in the immediate vicinity of Carnac where we are staying the night. We saw quite a few as we arrived and will venture out before breakfast tomorrow to see them without our fellow tourists and in the early morning light.

It’s Monday so most restaurants are closed. We ventured into one that seemed to be open but were redirected by the proprietor. We took her advice and went to another nearby restaurant which proved excellent. She followed her own advice and arrived there later for her own dinner.

A long day with dawdling

22 May 2016

The weather improved and the sun was shining as we left Brest. After 25km we arrived in the small town of Daoulas where there was a market – excellent reason for a longish dawdle to inspect and sample things. The crepe complete and gallette with sausage made a good breakfast. We were impressed by the huge vertical chicken rotisseries, the enormous pans of paella, potatoes dauphinoise, roasted meats and vegetables – ready cooked food to take home. The bread stall was running low but backup supplies arrived including several massive dark crusty rye loaves over 1 metre long.

We had many views of the sea as we progressed, up and down many hills. Rain showers necessitated more stopping. As it was Sunday many places were closed, but in France there’s always a bar tabac. These are like a bar combined with newsagent and SmokeMart and are relatively congenial, especially now that there is no smoking inside. So in Pont de Buis we had cider, then in Pont Launay made lunch in the bus shelter beside the Nantes-Brest canal.

In Quimper there was a big Turkish festival in the square beside the cathedral, so more dawdling occurred while we watched young costumed dancers, an oud (or something similar) player and some young dervishes whirling with white skirts and tall felt hats. We had gozleme, kebab and ayran just in case we missed dinner later.

It was around 7.30pm when we reached Concarneau (Konk Kerne in Breton), a charming seaside town where we stayed with WarmShowers hosts Padrig, Sarah and their little daughter Camille. They cycled from Bangkok to France a few years ago. We were not too late for dinner and were treated to a song (Nantes by Beirut) from Padrig who has a lovely voice and plays ukulele!

Today’s route

 

Aujourd’hui il pleut!

21 May 2016

Today it is raining! So we have remained in Brest to rest the legs, explore the city and do some planning.

Last night we were treated to an hilarious evening during which Marie-anick, Erick and friends rehearsed in the living room for a performance that is being presented today at the wedding of friends. It’s a gay wedding, now legal in France, and Marie-anick had adapted the words of several Abba songs to be incorporated into a short dramatic play. We were highly entertained and wished them ‘merde’ for the occasion – sounds rude but it’s the French equivalent of ‘break a leg’!

This morning we ventured out with raincoats on to visit a couple of local produce markets. Both had a wide range of fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats, fish and crepes, as well as tasting opportunities. We learnt about the problem of the strawberries from Spain that are threatening the viability of local growers, and about an unusual product – Breton pesto made from seaweed.

Much of Brest was destroyed in WW2, so most buildings date from the mid-20th century. We visited the churches of Saint-Martin and Saint-Louis, the latter a modern construction with concrete tower, striking stained-glass windows and an informative display about its history – the original church, its destruction and re-building.

Brest has smart green trams that roll quietly through the town. We rode down the famous Rue de Jean Jaurès and Rue de Siam, then around to the commercial port area before returning to our home for route planning and decision making.

We bade farewell to Marie-anick and Erick who departed for the wedding at Le Conquet. They have been the most generous and hospitable hosts possible and we thank them for their wonderful company, delicious meals, local guidance and French language assistance.

 

Day trip to Le Conquet

20 May 2016

The Famille Jacq recommended a short excursion via Pointe Saint-Mathieu to Le Conquet, a small town about 25km to the west of Brest. We rode through the centre of Brest, along the Rue de Jean Jaure with trams and many shops and across the Pont de Recouvrance.

The kilometres were longer than usual and it took ages to get there. In fact, for some time I ceased to believe that Pointe Saint-Mathieu existed at all. I eventually had to concede that it did as we reached the lighthouse, ruined abbey and memorial to sailors lost at sea. From this spot there is a wide view out to sea, towards the island of Ushant (Ouessant in French, and part of Brittany) and many other small rocky islands, some with lighthouses. It is only a short distance away that the Amoco Cadiz oil tanker disaster occurred in 1978.

In Le Conquet we bought Kouign-amann from the boulangerie – another Breton cake that we were obliged to sample for research purposes. It is only 30% butter, the rest being sugar and flour, making it both delicious and healthy.

The Church of St Croix in Le Conquet has beautiful contemporary stained glass windows depicting various saints including Joan of Arc and St Christopher.

On returning to Brest, further assistance was sought from the customer-unfriendly orange.fr because Ian’s data card was still not delivering the promised service. We struggled to explain the technical problem with our limited language skills but our assistant was worse. At one point, while examining Ian’s drivers licence (photo ID is important), she pointed to ‘Organ Donor’ and asked if that was his name. Ha ha. We think (hope) it’s fixed (properly) now – same as we thought yesterday.

The house of our hosts is filled with the art works of Marie-anick who does printmaking and drypoint.

Brest

19 May 2016

We cycled along the Riviere de Morlaix and then the estuary towards Carantec. The ebb tide had left vast expanses of mud flats exposed and many fishing boats aground at their moorings. Our path then wound amongst market gardens (artichokes, cabbages and onions) to Saint-Pol-de-Leon, a small town with a large church AND an impressive cathedral in close proximity.

We passed an Onion Johnny stall. Since the 19th century onion farmers from this area have sailed small boats loaded with brown onions, a striped shirt and a bicycle to find more profitable and accessible markets in southern England. Improved land transport in the past 60 years has seen that practice fall away but they’re still growing lots of onions.

The countryside near the coast is heavily populated with many small villages and separate farm dwellings. The small houses have slate roofs and cream-painted walls. They look very nice against the lush green fields.

It started raining lightly about an hour before we arrived in Brest – just long enough to get wet but we received a warm welcome from our hosts Marie-Anick, Erick and their daughter Julie, the family of our Couchsurfer, Morgane. Erick and Julie accompanied me to an Orange retailer to get help with my mobile phone card and then we ate a delicious meal prepared by Marie-Anick and passed an evening plus agreeable.

Today’s route

Morlaix

18 May 2016

Max and Claudie, our Airbnb hosts in Penvenan, were kind and helpful. Despite their inability to speak any English and our poor French, we communicated well on various topics. They provided tea and more crepes for breakfast and wrapped some up for the road (avec Grand Marnier!).

Today we have had some rain showers, the first while we were cosily ensconced in a cafe in Lannion, and several others, all brief but cold. The Red Riding Hood cape has proven its worth in these conditions as it converts my rig into a 2 wheeled mobile home that keeps my legs dry, hands warm and makes a visual impact as well. My bike has an intermittent problem with the freewheel which seizes up while I’m coasting downhill –  the solution is to keep pedalling; no rest for my legs!

We stopped for lunch at Saint-Michel-en-Greve and sheltered inside the church which is situated right beside the beach. At low tide the wide flat sand stretched way out to the white-capped sea.

In Morlaix, our destination for the day, we had time for more cafe sitting. There is a huge viaduct here, built in the late 1800s, spanning two sides of a narrow steep valley. We had to ride up to the top to reach our accommodation. We had expected to stay with a Warmshowers host but, on arrival, found that he had outsourced this task to his elderly mother, Marie, who was delighted to welcome us. She speaks no English and we think she said that her son is in Scotland. He did not mention this to us – but all is well and we are glad to have a roof over our heads!

Today’s route (approx)

Penvenan

17 May 2016

The challenge when touring by bicycle is to strike a good balance between mooching and covering the kilometres required to reach your daily destination. Getting at least halfway by lunchtime helps, over halfway is better.

Today we started out with a longish descent on the way out of Saint-Brieuc. It can be disconcerting to begin by losing all of your altitude! A few ups and downs brought us to a small town where we stopped for coffee and finished off yesterday’s Far Breton. Lunch was at Plouha where the church has a fine set of gargoyles. Plouha claims to be on the linguistic dividing line between Gallic and Breton – road signs are now displaying place names in both French and Breton.

At Paimpol we stocked up with food supplies for dinner at a small supermarket that had a good selection of Breton cheeses, ciders and tarts.

We are taking small quiet roads passing through dairy farms, forests and fields of barley, potatoes, artichokes and cauliflowers. Many towns have prominent memorials to the two World Wars. There was much WW2 action around here and significant bombing damage done to some towns.

Our Airbnb hosts in Penvenan heated our soupe de poisson (colour and consistency of thick mud but rich and tasty), chilled our cider and served us freshly made crepes with homemade jam and Grand Marnier!

Today’s route (approx)

 

Far Breton

16 May 2016

It’s not about the distance – it’s about food! Far Breton is a traditional dessert of this region (like thick baked custard with prunes) which we bought for second breakfast from a small patisserie in Le Guildo, along with a baguette, pain aux raisins and pain au chocolat. We started in on eating it at Quatre Vaux, overlooking a small beach. It is pretty rich – a small piece is enough to keep you going. We still have some left!

Today we have explored two small peninsulas, including the town of Saint-Cast-le-Guildo, Fort La Latte and Cap Frehel. There are several popular sandy beaches although today was quite cool and our host of last night, Karine, said that the water temperature is 12 degrees, so not much swimming is taking place. This area is full of les fruits de mer, les moules (mussels) and les huitres (oysters). It is also a holiday area for the well-heeled and for RV tourists who congregate in various locations in their enormous road hogging vehicles.

Cap Frehel is an area frequented by hikers. We encountered a walking group of mature aged French people resting and eating their lunch. Traffic conditions today were much improved from yesterday, but the terrain was hillier with a number of shortish climbs, some quite steep. We took a cider break in Hillion before arriving in Saint-Brieuc, a somewhat less chic town than St-Malo. Our hotel is called Ker Izel, Breton for house on the street.

Today’s route (approx)

Beating the crowds

15 May 2016

We got up early, put on several layers of clothing and cycled 10 km through the frosty morning to Mont St Michel. Our plan paid off as we beat all the coachloads of tourists and saw that spectacular island/peninsular in the early morning light and almost totally deserted. The views of it and from it are equally stunning.

We returned to Pontorson for breakfast and set off heading west into Bretagne. We found some greenway cycling routes and rode along the coastal dykes. The tide was way out over vast mud flats and the country side was beautifully green on this cold sunny day.

We ate oysters for lunch (Rosalie ate an oyster for lunch) and drank Bretagne cider (brut) – a delectable combination.

Cancales was over-run with tourists (and cars) that had come for the spectacular scenery, glorious weather and the Cancales Carnevale. We watched an entertaining community pageant despite it having become seriously grid-locked.

We had heavy traffic and rude drivers from Cancales to Saint Malo where our accommodation (non-)plans came apart. We’d assumed we’d have no problem finding a room as it was Sunday but we hadn’t allowed for the fact that it was a bank holiday weekend and St Malo was fully-booked due to a book festival. So, the crowds evened up the score by the end of the day.

We finally found some WiFi at the tourist information office (I must get a SIM card) and an Airbnb room over the La Rance estuary (short ferry ride) and a few kilometres out of town. St Malo is scenic, especially the harbour, and the vast old city within the citadel walls. Dinard on the western side of the estuary is an attractive and popular resort town.

Today’s route