October 02, 2007 GMT
The Atlantic Coast

The Atlantic Coast

25 Sep to 1 Nov 07

Rolling towards the hinterland on the crisp cool morning of 25 Sep we felt refreshed after our short break in Sète. We had under dressed for the morning believing that the sun would burn off the cloud cover and warm the day as it had each morning over the last few weeks, but as we climbed into the mountains the temperature plummeted. By the late morning coffee stop at Mazemet we were ready for more clothing and a neck warmer to keep out the chill. The Indian summer was over (or, at least, gone back to India for the weekend).

Restricting ourselves to a 320 km ride through the back roads, the journey to Argen through the mountains was a delight; endless sweeping corners, with an excellent hard dry surface. Even the car drivers seemed determined to make it enjoyable for the tourists, moving over to allow us to slide past. I had the feeling that we were moving smoothly and gracefully through the turns until I looked across to see our shadow against the cutting and realised that in profile the Beemer looked like a praying mantis, all legs and bulbous bits.


A nice overnight stop with an interesting old city and an elevated canal that is worth seeing.

Canal bridge at Argen.jpg

The canal bridge at Agen. How to take a river over a river

The Canal Bridge at Argen.jpg

The river in the bridge. Impressive 19th century engineeering. Unfortunately, it was completed at the same time as the railway from Bordeaux to Sete and was never used for much commerce. These days it is a tourist holiday trip.

We met Nick late morning on 26 Sep at Arcachon, a coastal tourist town located an hour west of Bordeaux on the Atlantic coast. It has plenty of accommodation in late September and we had no problem finding an apartment for a week at a fair, if not reasonable, price. This allowed Nick to stay until the 30th after the Wallabies game, while we would stay on into the next week.

he pier at Atcachon.jpg

Jo and Nick on the water front at Arcachon

Like many seaside tourist towns, Arcachon has a genteel seediness about it. The Casino viewed from our apartment typifies the look. The boardwalks, jetties and sidewalk cafes are almost empty. You don’t have to wait for a table anywhere, but many places are starting to close for the winter.

The view of the casino fron the apt.jpg

The Arcachon casino from our apartment. Tacky? The French? Never!

Street scene Arcachon from apt.jpg

Street scene from our apartment window. Holiday places start to look down at heal after the season, but the accommodation is cheap.

Taking advantage of Nick’s rental car we had a quick tour of the vineyards north of Bordeaux. This is the home of the famous Margaux and Médoc wines. It is very pretty in that ordered vineyard way that is now very familiar to our Australian friends. It also very touristy in a way that is also familiar. There are over 5000 châteaux and 57 “appellations” in this area. This is all you need to have a good time provided you don’t get run over by a tourist bus. Wines with the good housekeeping seal of approval have “AOC” on the label indicating the tick of the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée.

The village of Carcans deserted after the season.jpg

The closed up beach front at Carcans. This place would have been buzzing with tourists a month ago. This time of the year we have it all to ourselves.

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Late season surf school at Carcans. 7mm wet suits for the Atlantic!

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Mike and Nick dressed for the beach!

These Bordeaux wines include some excellent full bodied reds that appeal to Australian palates. Despite the temptation, however, we settle for €5.00 cheapies at the equivalent of a liquor barn and find them quite drinkable with our cheap meals. The budget thanks us for the effort.

The train up to Bordeaux arrived and departed on time on game day, with typical French railway efficiency, and got us up to the village in time for a good walk around the old city and a light lunch before the game. By kick-off it was raining and cold and many of the 33K crowd were not equipped for wet running. The Canadians were gallant but were outclassed by an Australian 2nd XV. The rain was heavy throughout the game and we were lucky to have our rain jackets with us. Jo and I had not brought our cold weather jackets, however, so while we were comfortable enough, we walked briskly back to town after the game just to warm up a little.

Bordeaux game national anthems.jpg

Bordeaux has a very old stadium of crumbling 1960s concrete. Not much shelter for those of us with the cheap seats.

Bordeaux fans in the rain.jpg

The Bordeaux crowd gets wet!

Bras band at Bordeaux game.jpg

The locals love their Rugby. This band was sitting just behind us in the stand and added a little atmosphere to a damp experience.

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We have loved Middle Eastern sweets since our time in Damascus years ago. Finding a shop like this was a treat.

On Sunday Nick packed up the little rental car and headed north to Paris to return it before lunch on Monday. He will have a few days in Paris, including a French cooking course, before heading to the UK. We will see him again in late October in Oxford.

More of Nick packing.jpg

"I ended up with too much stuff......" Nick tries to pack for Paris and the end of his rental car. Of course it is under 20kg!!
It has been wonderful to have this time with Nick in Sète and Arcachon. We will miss his company and good advice over the next weeks.

After Nick made a break for the hills, Jo and I settled in for a few more days. Amazingly, after we fitted cold weather liners to our riding jackets, Sunday was brilliantly warm and we caught up on some exercise with a 10 km walk along the shoreline. Monday was back to rain while we did some repairs to our equipment and we knew without doubt that the weather would just get more cantankerous from here forward.

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Getting onto the beach can be less than straight forward.
We left the liners in our jackets and spent some time working out how we could pack more warm clothing on the bike. From here we go north again into colder weather in the Loire, Champagne, Belgium, Paris and then England. This seems like the wrong time of year to be going in this direction but we reckon we will get used to the conditions and work out how to carry more cold weather gear as we go; good theory!!

Arcachon from Parc Mauresque.jpg

Arcachon has been a great place for a week off. All the better for the lack of tourists.

Posted by Mike Hannan at October 02, 2007 02:06 PM GMT

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