Self-guided: Coast, Canals and Cathars

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  • Cathar monument in Minerve, Languedoc

Self-guided: Coast, Canals and Cathars

925.001,375.00

Self-guided cycling tour through the vineyards and rolling countryside of Languedoc. Pedal at your own pace as you explore the amazingly varied terrain and history of this area.


The Languedoc is well known as the largest wine-growing area in the world, but it is also one of the most historically interesting regions in Europe. Of 37 “Grand sites de France” areas protected for their natural beauty or historical significance, 10 are located in Languedoc. In particular, the story of the Cathar dynasty that was wiped out by the Christian crusades in the 12th century is intrinsically linked to Languedoc and the remains of Cathar fortified settlements and castles dot the landscape.

A landscape of contrasts, Languedoc offers relatively flat pedalling along the Mediterranean coastline and canals to rolling hills in the Montagnes Noires as well as quiet historical villages and lively contemporary market towns full of gastronomic delights and culture.


On this trip you will:

  • Explore the Roman town of Narbonne where the well preserved historical centre bustles with modern life
  • Cycle off the beaten path amongst the olive groves and vineyards
  • Feel the salt wind in your hair while pedalling on bikepaths through the sand dunes of the Mediterranean coast
  • Discover the narrow cobbled streets of Minerve, the ancient Cathar stronghold which is now designated as one of the most beautiful villages in France
  • Enjoy the tranquility of a leisurely pedal along the Canal de Robine and the Canal de Midi
  • Stop as often as you wish for a wine tasting at one of the local vineyards or for a snack at the numerous cafes that dot the route

6 days

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Product Description

Level: medium, some hill climbs, designed for active riders (can be adjusted for recreational or more avid riders)

Tour includes:

  • 6 nights accommodation in 3 star hotels or chambre d’hôtes
  • Transfer for you and your bike from Montpellier or Beziers airport or Narbonne rail station
  • Luggage transfer to next destinationy
  • 3 days self-guided cycling. We will provide route directions and GPX files for a Garmin device or similar.
  • 3 rest days with optional rides and suggestions for non-cycling activities
  • Breakfast each day
  • 2 evening meals in table d’hôtes format

Accommodation

All our accommodation is bike-friendly, rated 3 stars (or equivalent) and includes breakfast each day.

Standard pricing is based on double occupancy, but single occupancy is available for a supplement.

Sample itinerary

Arrival
We will pick you up at your arrival airport or train station and transport you and your bike to Narbonne, the starting point of your tour. We will hold a welcome meeting to go over the daily routes and itineraries and answer any questions you may have.

After this meeting, you are free to explore the roman town of Narbonne – there are many interesting sites to see including the Cathedral de Saint Just and the renowned foodie market “Les Halles” where you may want to indulge in the local charcuterie and wine. Near the cathedral, the grand Archbishop’s Palace houses archaeology and art museums. There are numerous quaint shops, cafes and private galleries to discover. The spectacular Fontfroide Abbey, a former Cistercian monastery, is situated 15 kms south-west of Narbonne towards the Spanish border. Day trips can be arranged at the tourist office.

No formal cycling today.
Canals & Coastline
Your first day of cycling will start by following the canal de Robine out of the bustling centre of Narbonne. Tranquil and easy pedalling. The route then crosses through part of the “Massif de la Clape” a region famous for its fine wine production and along the Mediterranean coast to the pretty fishing villages of St Pierre la Mer and Gruissan.

Stop for a leisurely lunch at one of the many seafood cafes along the waterfront in St Pierre la Mer. Later, take the time to explore the medieval centre of Gruissan and climb to the view point to look out over the Etang and the sea. Your route finishes in back in Narbonne where you will stay for a second night.

  • Day 3: Leaving Gruissan with the Etang on our left side
Distance: 60km, Climbing 250m
Narbonne to Minerve
The route today meanders through the vines of the famous Minervois wine region, passing through the sleepy golden-stoned village of Bize-Minervois on the Cesse river. There is a romantic feel to Bize-Minervoise, with old stone houses covered in ivy with bright shutters and decorative iron balconies, old fashioned little shops, narrow cobbled alleys and gingham table cloths. Visit the nearby co-operative of L’Oubilo for fantastic olive tasting and the Chateau de Cabezac to sample the local red wine.

Your destination for the day, Minerve, is an ancient Cathar village and stronghold. A designated “Grand Site de France”, the walled fortifications are still mostly intact. Strategically placed on a plateau in order to be more easily defended from marauding crusaders, the approach to Minerve by a single narrow winding road is nothing less than spectacular.

  • Switchback in the road entering Minerve, Languedoc
Distance: 68km, Climbing 680m
Rest Day: Explore Minerve
The tiny village of Minerve was once the historical capital of the ancient Minervois region as well as a fortified Cathar village. It is now designated as one of the “Plus Beaux Villages de France”. Resting on a rocky ridge above the deep gorges of Cesse and Brian rivers, where water has shaped amazing natural bridges make it also an exceptional geological site.

Minerve is best known for the siege she suffered in 1210 during the crusade against the Cathars. Explore the historic centre where many the Cathar fortifications are still intact. You will want to keep a camera handy. The small but interesting Hurepel museum recounts this history. Another museum is devoted to the important paleontological discoveries made in the nearby Aldène cave.

Minerve’s medieval town centre is thriving in the summer months with a variety of artisan boutiques and cafes. Finish your day with a complimentary 4 course table d’hotes at the hotel restaurant which is renowned in the region.

OPTIONS:
Cycle: For those who want to explore on two wheels, an optional route through the nearby Montagnes Noire of approximately 35km will be provided.

Guided Wine Tour: Wine lovers can add an optional guided wine tour which includes pick up and drop off from your hotel, lunch and two comprehensive wine tastings with an expert English speaking guide.

  • Distant View of Minerve, Languedoc: from my bike
  • View of Cathar Bridge in Minerve, Languedoc
Rest day: relax and explore the historic town of Minerve
Minerve to Capestang
he route on Day 5 winds through the surrounding countryside, passing through the picturesque village of Olonzac which sits in the vines, a short distance from the Canal du Midi. Its lively weekly market makes it the economic heart throb of Minervois.

Constructed in the 1600’s, the Canal du Midi is a feat of early engineering. It formed a vital transport link for taking the regional wine to far horizons and thus greatly influenced growth in the region. It is now a popular greenway for boaters, hikers and cyclists.

Your route finishes in Capestang, which is a bustling centre full of cozy bars and restaurants. Capestang spans the Canal du Midi and it is possible to eat dinner right on the canal.

  • Canal du midi, Capestang, Languedoc
  • Capestang, Languedoc on the Canal de Midi
Distance: 58km, Climbing 780m
Explore Capestang
Capestang is a charming village nestled on the Canal du Midi. It was an important centre for commerce in the middle ages and as the secondary residence of the archbishops of Narbonne. The historic centre of the village has retained its character from this era and the Cathedral of Saint-Étienne dominates the skyline from all directions as you approach the town. The cathedral in Southern Gothic style is a designated historic monument.

Markets on Wednesday and Sunday mornings on the Place Jean Jaurès provide an opportunity to sample the local produce and specialities. Enjoy the final evening meal of your tour – freshly prepared by your host based on traditional recipes and local produce.

OPTIONS:
Cycle: For those who want to explore on two wheels, an optional route meandering through the vineyards of the well known wine appellation of St. Chinian and the market town of the same name (approximately 35km) will be provided.

Canal Cruise: Add an optional boat tour with lunch on the Canal de Midi.

Olive Oil and Wine Tasting Cruise: Add an optional guided tasting experience which includes pick up and drop off from your hotel, a visit to a local olive producer, followed by a guided wine tasting with lunch on a canal cruise an expert English speaking guide.

  • Cafe in Capestang, Languedoc medieval centre
  • Stone Bridge at Le Somail on the Canal du Midi
Rest day: relax and explore the Canal de Midi
Departure
After a hearty breakfast at your chambre d’hotes, we will pick up your bikes and transport you on to your next local destination or the nearby airport/train station for your onward journey.

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