Sunflower fields forever

October 26, 2019 0 By Viktor

Four days through rural France between two generous host families

The dry facts:
Route: Lerné – Vouillé (70 km), Vouillé – Villefagnan (81 km), Villefagnan – Baignes-Sainte Radegonde (96 km), Baignes – Gauriaguet (43 km)
Mostly secondary roads + dedicated cycling route (around 40 km)
Challenges: 2 (see below)
Detailed map at the end of the post

The morning couldn’t have started better. Our hosts offered breakfast to us and we had time to discuss our plans for the next few days. They were really helpful and enthusiastic, showing all sorts of cycling maps and recommending routes. We couldn’t thank them enough for their kindness.

Which way to take?

If we wanted to enter Spain at the feet of the Pyrenees (and avoid any high passes), we had to go through Bordeaux. One option was to go further west and visit La Rochelle taking the excellent cycling route Vélodyssée. But Porto was still so far away that I was afraid to make long detours. So we decided to take a more direct route south even if it meant we would only see the ocean a week later.

One thing I’ll always remember from these days is the endless sunflower fields.

We found that cycling 80 km a day was the ideal distance for us. This way we could travel fast enough to keep our schedule but it didn’t feel like rushing through places. We had enough time to stop and look around wherever we wanted and we always found some shade in the middle of the day to escape the strong sunshine. This part of France may lack the awe-inspiring major sights of the Loire Valley but the villages and small towns hide beautiful old churches and there are some medieval bridges still in use. You just have to leave the highways and motorways to find them.

Church in Jazeneuil. One of the small towns where we stopped for a cold drink and a few minutes’ rest.

The challenges

The first day went really smoothly and we only had one puncture. Learning from the Balkan trip in 2017, we now had half a dozen inner tubes and loads of patches for such little accidents. The first real challenge was when we wanted to end the third day in the campsite in Barbezieur. We had already cycled more than 80 km and it was around 6. We chose to go to the supermarket first to buy things for dinner and then we had to find out that the campsite was temporarily closed. At that moment I was so mad I could have destroyed the sign on the highway that led us there and that they hadn’t cared to remove or cover. This meant another 15 km along an otherwise attractive cycling route but at least the campground in Baignes-Sainte Radegonde was open.

The second blow came right the next morning. We were just about to leave when I heard a strange click from my rear wheel. I checked it while we stopped for a coffee and saw that the rear plates got loose. Real loose. There was no bicycle mechanic in the town and they could only suggest returning to Barbezieur. No way! Google Maps showed another repair shop in Cavignac, which only meant a short detour so I opted for that.

For the next 50 km I tried to pedal as gently as possible but I could still enjoy the ride. The Green Route (Voie Verte) is around 40 km long and it was converted from an old railway line. A great idea that could be followed in many more places!

This fourth day was short but we lost a lot of time waiting for the siesta to end in Cavignac. But the mechanic finally arrived and he was very helpful: he fixed my bike in 10 minutes and he wouldn’t accept any money for it. I asked how long I could use it and he said maybe 500 km. Well, it never needed to be fixed again, so thanks again, mate! In the meantime I managed to find another WS host in a small village only one stop from Bordeaux.

Guests in an old caravan

Our arrival at our hosts’ house was memorable. Back in Cavignac, I phoned Antoine, who said they’d be at home by around 5 pm. We were only a few miles away, pedalling under the hot midday sun and wondering how we could kill the remaining 3 hours. A woman from a passing car asked us something in French that we didn’t understand. She stopped and I went there although I thought I probably couldn’t help. She turned out to be Marine, Antoine’s wife. With their two young children, she was on her way to the supermarket in Cavignac but she saw us and thought we might be the guests… She didn’t think twice; we all went back to the house, where she showed us around and offered us a drink before she got back into her car to do the shopping. Her trustfulness was so heart-warming I can’t describe.

We collected everybody for this photo: Marine, Antoine, their two children and niece, the three of us and even the cat.

Not much later Antoine arrived and then Marine with the kids. We had a nice chat about cycling experiences and much more. Then they showed us our “bedroom”: an old-fashioned caravan her father had made himself and used as the home of the family for years in the 1980s. The most unique place we’ve ever stayed! Aron had to sleep in his tent on the lawn, which he later said was the most comfortable camping place of the whole trip.

We had lots of fun with the little boy, Natan, and talked endlessly with the parents. Then at one point they offered us to stay one more day and discover Bordeaux on foot – we were in the middle of a hot spell anyway. They even arranged our next accommodation in Marine’s parents’ house, some 50 km away.

Walking around Bordeaux

Our rest day in Bordeaux was superb. Antoine’s mother took us in her car as she went to work in the morning. The ticket machine didn’t work so we dodged a few stops on the tram but, luckily, no controllers turned up. Then we spent hours walking up and down the streets of downtown Bordeaux, marvelling at the architectural feats of the centuries. It was market day in the small square by Saint Michael’s Basilica with a wide range of goods and a multicultural crowd. Around 4, when the sellers were about to leave, we could buy excellent fruits for 1 euro per kilo, something to remember if you are on a tight budget.

We took the train back to the town nearest Antoine and Marine’s house, walked an hour in the lovely countryside and spent another evening of friendly conversation before we set off to meet the man who built the caravan…

The map

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