As some of you may know, I’ve been spending the last few years trying to convince the rest of the world that I should be the go-to man for cycling routes and information in Languedoc, where I live. Via my cleverly-named website, Cycling Languedoc, I’ve had some modest successes and people actually seem to be using the site, which is always nice.
Well I’m now breaking into new territory. After many months of waiting for good weather, I finally made my way out west to the department of Aude, more specifically, to the village of Pepieux, where lives an English couple, Val and Mike, who run a B&B – Le Vieux Relais.
Le Vieux Relais is one of a growing number of places on my Cycling-friendly Accommodation page of the site and Val, being an astute business person, thought it might be an idea to have me down for a weekend to see what her area has to offer the cyclist, then, if there is a demand, possibly offering guided tours out of their B&B, with yours truly as the guide. Anyhow, that’s what brought me to Aude for the weekend. And here’s what I did.
After being picked up by Mike at Narbonne station, Val and I poured over our maps of the area and decided that a little Montagne Noire (Black Mountain) route might be a good idea. The route started with a good warm-up climb of about 200 meters that crested then immediately dove down into this lovely gorge.
Down there and to the right is Minerve, a precariously perched Cathar village that also lends its name to the nice little red wine that comes from this region – Minervois. Minerve is also listed as one of the Plus Beaux Villages in France, which is – note to self – usually a good thing to have on a bike tour.
From Minerve, the road follows the contours of the Cesse Gorge, climbing gently, but constantly through sporadic vineyards till it plateaus onto a scrubby tableland.
By now it was getting a little chilly and I wondered if my ‘bottom light, top heavy’ decision (i.e. I was wearing shorts) wasn’t a bit ambitious. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. The climb was invigorating and a hell of a good workout, to boot. Also, I got to see some vegetation that looked almost familiar to this Canadian boy. Are these birch trees or just reasonable facsimiles?
After descending into a somewhat sunny valley it was uphill till it got unreasonably cold, cloudy an windy.
Actually, where I took the above photo it was sort of pleasant, but once I turned the corner I got blasted by a viscous wind. Here it is. You’ll have to just trust me, I guess…
That sign says 720 meters, but I climbed another 200 more and found myself in a ridiculous scene for a man in tight shorts.
It’s not often I hope for a climb to never end, but it was down to 6C and I knew that as soon as I started the long descent back to civilization it’d be a slow freeze. When the pros summit they get free newspapers to tuck inside their jerseys. I should have been a pro.
So, for the next 15 minutes or so, I watched as the thermometer on my bike computer and my body’s core temperature travelled in opposite directions, all the time hoping I’d have enough joint mobility to squeeze the brakes enough to get round one more turn. I even considered turning around and climbing for a few minutes to warm myself up, but I somehow felt that that would be going against a Velominati rule I might have overlooked, so I stuck in my tuck and kept my mind on what was at the end of all my suffering – a warm room and a hot bath.
And so it came to pass; both were waiting for me when I got back. Then it got better because Mike cooked us up some very nice chicken/mushroom mustard sauce pasta thing that I took 3 helpings of, plus a delicious homemade dessert of Val’s creation and a decent bottle of Chardonnay (my humble contribution) from my neighborhood. A little rugby on the TV (thanks you two for explaining the rules!) to help digest it all and I slept like a well-fed, liqoured-up log, dreaming of a warm, sunny ride through the lowlands for the following day.
Le Vieux Relais, 1 Rue de l’Etang, Pepieux 11700, Aude, France. +33 4 68 91 69 29