France,  Travel

Canal du Midi Day 6: Béziers to Sète

What a day!

It started with the sound of a guest being ‘ill’ at 3.30 in the morning. Not the best wake up call. But I managed to get back to sleep before taking a shower and having an early morning walk around Le Plateau des Poètes.

Created in 1867 by renowned landscape architects, the Bulher brothers, this vast, English-style park features curving pathways, an open-air theatre, water features, and more than 70 rare or exotic botanical species. It is also home to the busts of numerous poets, which I was keen to take a look at. The Fountain of Titan sculpture by Injalbert was particularly impressive, as was an adorable little kitten being taken on a walk by its owner.

The breakfast room was the highlight of the hotel, including the delicious home made yoghurt. The owner was also very nice, which more than made up for the tissue-thin walls, simple room, and courtyard view. He also insisted on bringing my suitcase down the spiral staircase from the third floor – that earned him extra brownie points.

I left Béziers and the hotel behind at 9.30 am and quickly found a route through the park, down to the station and on to the Canal du Midi. With hindsight, I should have taken this route to the hotel the day before, but it wasn’t an option on GPS. The sun was blazing and there were already plenty of cyclists on the tow path, including a party of what must have been 100 school children. Thankfully, I passed them just before they were about to start pedalling.

The route varied between smooth tarmac, compacted hardcore, loose gravel and hard earth. There was lots to see along the way including a marina, riding stables and an abandoned fun fair. The going was good and by lunch I had arrived on the outskirts of Agde, where I paused for a coffee and snack.

The afternoon took me through a beautiful nature reserve with a thin, winding path and plenty of tree cover, before the view opened up and I could smell salty sea air and knew that I was almost at the coast.

From the moment I booked the self-guided tour with Love Velo, I had dreamt about riding this final part of the route. A long, thin coastal strip forms the border between the Mediterranean Sea and Étang de Thau, a large lagoon that’s 21 km long and 8 km wide. This tranquil, internal sea provides habitat for a wide variety of wildlife from oysters, mussels, jellyfish and algae, to herons and pink flamingos.

It looked idyllic, and for some parts it was. The moment I caught my first glimpse of the sparkling water of the Mediterranean Sea was incredibly emotional. I pushed my bike onto the fine white sand, lent it against the sun-bleached trunk of a large piece of driftwood, and spent a few minutes contemplating just how far I had come.

Cycling solo for 265 km is no mean feat and I have to admit, I had a rather large lump in my throat.

But this was no time for patting myself of the back; I still had a few kilometres to go. I got back in the saddle and as soon as I turned right onto the coastal strip, I knew I was in trouble. A strong and relentless headwind made cycling extremely difficult. Almost impossible. That, and the free facial scrub I was getting from the salty Mediterranean air. My eyes were streaming and as the route stretched out endlessly into the distance, I thought I would never get to my final destination.

I was almost at the point of giving up and calling a taxi when a small café came into view. I stopped for yet another coffee and some Go Isotonic Energy Gel. That stuff really is fantastic. It tastes like warm, mushy jelly with a tonne of additives, but it puts some juice back in your tank. Fast. Revived and refreshed, I forgot my aching hands and feet and sand-blasted face, jumped straight back on the bike and cycled into Sète.

Along the bustling quay, over the first bridge and a sharp turn to the right over some serious cobbles, took me right to the front door of the L,Orque Bleu hôtel. The receptionist showed me round to the rear of the hotel where I parked my bike in the garage, emptied the contents of the panier and locked it up, ready for collection. She probably could have given me a fabulous room with a huge bath and a view of the boats on the quay. After all, I was booked in for two nights, and had been for quite some time. Instead she gave me a room at the back of the hotel with a shower and a view of a wall. It wasn’t perfect, but then real life never is.

After a long, hot shower, I thought about what an epic adventure I had been on.

I’d met some lovely people, eaten amazing food, and seen some truly inspirational scenery. I’d slogged through deep mud, torrential downpours, and what felt like a Force 9 gale. And through it all, my little ‘pony’ had never let me down.

Not once.

I would miss that bike. But tomorrow it would be ‘Shanks’s pony for me. Probably just a far as the beach to swim in the Mediterranean, lie down in the sunshine and dream of my next adventure.

My trusty bike, courtesy of Love Velo

Let’s go
Hôtel L’Orque Bleue
10 Quai Aspirant Herber
34200 Sète
+33 (0) 4 67 74 72 13

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