After an incredible night’s sleep in what is surely the world’s best B&B, Le Jardin d’Homps, I made my way down the impressive staircase to breakfast. Sixty three kilometres of canal lay ahead, so I said yes to the yogurt scrambled egg and toast, charcuterie and coffee. Then finished off with croissant and jam with an espresso. Delicious. I was ready for whatever lay ahead.
With so many trees lost to disease on this stretch of the Canal du Midi, there was little shade for the first few hours of cycling. It was hot. Almost too hot, with blazing sunshine that necessitated regular stops to apply more sunscreen and take on more fluids. But I was keen to reach Le Somail before 12.30 pm as the hotelier had recommended I stop at the ancient book shop there, before it closed for lunch.
It was magnificent. Like no bookshop I have ever seen before and I’m sure I will never see again.
Had I not been cycling, I would have stayed in that book shop for hours. As it was, I limited myself to just thirty minutes. Enough time to browse the endless shelves of old books and pick up a well-thumbed copy about Jean-Paul Satre and a volume of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind (both in French, obviously). Both were chosen for their content and compact size and, with the expert help of the book shop assistant, were carefully wrapped in heavy brown paper and stored safely in my panier.
As the clock struck 12, I crossed the old bridge to the other side of the canal to have a bite to eat and bumped into Micki and Bob, sharing a pizza. I opted for mussels, served on a huge metal platter with parsley, oil and toasted Parmesan cheese. It was five star – and so were the toilettes!
Over a leisurely lunch we recounted our adventures and said our goodbyes as Micki and Bob were heading for Narbonne via the Canal de la Robine, a side branch of the Canal du Midi, on route to Barcelona. I cycled on ahead, bearing left at the fork in the water way where my American acquaintances would inevitably be turning right.
Shorty afterwards, the route deteriorated into a singe track with a sign showing a wobbly cyclist falling into the canal. Not completely happy with this vision of my fifth day in the saddle, I checked my GPS and hit the road, adjacent to the canal. It was a very good decision, eating up the miles with more speed and comfort as I rode through Capestang on the D11. Then onto the D37 to Poilhes, where I navigated my way back to the Canal du Midi with the help of a friendly old lady who saw me checking my GPS.
Go straight ahead then turn right at the house with the red flowers.Continuez tout droit. Puis tournez à droite à la maison avec les fleurs rouges.
The wind picked up in the afternoon which made the cycling more difficult and sapped me of energy. A mosquito bite picked up the day before was also starting to aggravate me. Still, I made steady progress and reached the Nine Locks of Fonseranes by about 4.30 pm.
Billed as the highlight of the day’s cycling, the staircase of nine locks and eight oval-shaped lock chambers allows boats to be raised 21.5 metres over a distance of 300 metres. This enables them to navigate the sudden drop in terrain on the way down to Béziers, cross the Orb river, and re-join the canal further downstream. Unlike my photo, it was very, very impressive – the most spectacular structure on the whole of the Canal du Midi – and well worth a visit.
I decided to have a coffee and an energy bar while I appreciated the technical engineering prowess, along with the beautiful view of Béziers cathedral, high on the hill opposite. My weary legs would thank me later. When I got back in the saddle, I hit Béziers during rush hour, which made the cycling difficult from a safety point of view. But there was worse to come – something I really should have realised when gawping at the cascade of locks along with the other tourists: what goes down, must go up (and up and up and up). The final stretch of my journey to the hotel was a 1 km climb. Using every ounce of energy from that snack bar, I ended up pushing my trusty bike (quads and glutes screaming for forgiveness), up an impossibly steep hill, all the way to the Hôtel Des Poètes.
My room was on the third floor. Thankfully, so was my suitcase.
Follow my adventures on Day 6 here.
Hôtel Des Poètes
80, Allées Paul Riquet
+33 (0) 4 67 76 38 66
Go-Solo Star Rating
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