Category Archives: France

Day 61 – to catch the ferryboat at Ouisterham

Our ride on the final day was very short, just 12 miles to reach the ferryport. And the ride was mostly on the cyclepaths that ran on both sides of the river.

Our route on a short stretch of road running from our campsite along the coast was marked by a poignant series of vertical banners hung on every lampost,  each of which featured a portrait of a soldier who had been killed during the fighting associated with the capture of the Pegasus Bridge. In fact, along many of  the roads within Ouisterham itself the lamposts were similarly decorated.

We crossed the river at the famous Pegasus Bridge, renamed after the war after the pegasus emblem of the regiment that managed to secure this strategic crossing across the river. This bridge, whose capture by parachutists arriving from gliders in the latter days of World War 2 in Europe, was an important part of the strategic preparation for the D Day landings.

The current bridge, however, is not the original wartime version but a more recent replacement whose design still allowed the passage of ships and barges to and from Caen, some 12km to the south in order to reach the English Channel.

And then, after a satisfying lunch of galettes accompanied by local cider in Ouisterham, we made our way to the ferry port’s waiting area in preparation for boarding our ferry back to Portsmouth.

And so our journey is almost over.

We have pedalled across Northern Spain from Bilbao into France. From the Atlantic coast in France to the Mediterranean and across to the Rhône estuary. Our return ride from Paris to the ferry port of Ouisterham took our mileage to over 800  miles (around 1300km) with lots of hills climbed and many memories generated.

Together with our rail, ship and bus journeys we must have travelled around 3,000 miles in all, not so different from our previous long distance tandem travel to Istanbul and back!

Distance travelled : 14 miles

Total distance travelled: 804 miles

Ascent: 105ft approx

Day 60 – Morainville Juveaux to the coast

After breakfast, whilst doing the pre ride checks before setting off, the gear cable decided to break off inside the changer. Being an indexed device I was unsure how to access the innards of the changer without having the whole piece of machinery completely disintegrate.

‘Professor YouTube’ came to the rescue, and it soon became clear how to do the necessary and open up the changer to fit the replacement cable. It was fortunate that the cable was amongst the various spares we carried. However a cross headed screwdriver was needed, and additionally a cable or wire cutter was also required, neither of which was in the tool kit (note to self – include these in future!).

Fortunately the neighbour to where we were stayingwas able to provide the necessary equipment and soon all was fixed for our onward journey to the coast.

Most of the day’s ride looked on the map to be fairly flat apart from a section which involved climbing up out of the river valley near Pont l’Éveque to reach the relatively flat countryside nearer the coast. We appeared to have the option of either having a long steady climb, at a reasonably graded rate on a not too busy “D” road, or an even longer more circuitous route along unclassified roads involving ups and downs some of which seemed to be quite steep according to our mapping app.

We chose the busier route! But before we braved the climb we decided to take advantage of a Creperie and have a quick treat. We discovered that ‘gallettes” are invariably made out of ‘ farine de sarassin’ (buckwheat flour) and therefore were naturally gluten free . Given that Crêpes are very much part of the cuisine of Normandy it was nice to be able to enjoy such offerings and we chose some sweet flavoured versions.

After our brief stop, it turned out that the climb was not nearly as fearsome as we thought it might have been, although it had started to rain.. We were soon bowling along to the coast and the campsite we had selected for the night that was within easy reach of Ouisterham and the ferry port to catch our ferry to the UK.

As we reached the coast the rain had stopped so it wasn’t a wet weather pitching experience!

Having pitched our tent we were soon easily able to find a suitable restaurant where we had galletes again, this time stuffed with flavoursome vegetarian fillings.

Our last night of our journey on the continent was rounded off by a beautiful sunset over the sandy beach that was right next to the campsite.

Distance travelled: 35 miles

Total distance travelled: 790 miles

Ascent: 200ft aporox

Day 59 – Evreux to Morainville Juveaux

Since we had no tent to pack up we were able to start our journey from Evreux bright and early, just as the market stalls were being set up in the central square.

After buying ingredients for our breakfast we pedalled up a steep route to where the ‘Voie Verte’ started heading north west. And what a lovely route it was, threading through woodland high above the town with a decent tarmac surface. A little way along we stopped at a convenient bench to have our picnic breakfast of (gluten free) sweet biscuits, yogurt, banana and fresh fruit. Not far away was a small viaduct that presented an attractive view over Evreux.

Our route for almost the whole morning was along the voie verte for almost 35km, mostly flat with small inclines, gentle curves, tree-lined vistas and a profusion of birdsong.

Stopping at around midday we reached a small town, Le Neubourg where it was market day. After refreshments at a busy cafe overlooking the market stalls, we walked our fully laden tandem through crowds looking at the various stalls, buying fresh ingredients for our picnic lunch as we went.

Our tandem provoked lots of interest and we had plenty of brief conversations about where we had been, where were from, where we were headed for etc.  and invariably ending with “bon courage” or “bonne route”!

Having booked airbnb accommodation with cooking facilities we also wanted to buy ingredients for our dinner later in the day. Our route out of town looked as though it would take us past a small supermarket where we thought we might be able to assemble a suitable collection of ingredients for our meal.

Not to be ! With a sign up in the window saying it was closed for the day we needed to find somewhere else . However, just a bit further along the street there appeared to be another food shop, so after looking inside it turned out that it was a specialist far eastern shop full of unfamiliar foods. Fortunately, and guided by the shopkeeper, I was able to purchase an interesting collection of gluten free and vegetarian ingredients for our dinner.

As we pedalled on,  we passed lots of typical Normandy style buildings once we had turned off the ‘voie verte’ onto small “D” roads that criss cross the countryside and connecting lots of lovely small villages.

Our lunch spot today was in the shade of a lofty railway arch which crossed a beautifully clear and fast flowing river – ‘La Riviere Risle’. Our picnic was made special by the brief appearance of the vivid blue flash of a kingfisher darting into the river to catch its meal.

The day’s ride continued along small lanes to reach our accommodation for the night which consisted of a nicely fitted out wooden cabin situated in a large garden of a house set deep in the countryside. We had a peaceful night!

Distance travelled : 43 miles

Total distance travelled: 755 miles

Total ascent: 1020ft approx

Day 58 – Mantes les Jolies to Evreux

A sculpture we passed in the grounds of a factory we passed made and installed to mark the Covid lockdown period.

Once we had climbed the long haul away from the River Seine we entered relatively flat farming country with fields of ripe wheat, flax and rapeseed all awaiting harvest over the next few days.

Having started out early from Pierre’s home, by 10am we had reached a pretty picnnic breakfast spot overlooking a village tucked into a fold in the hills amongst golden fields of wheat.

Our picnic spot amongst fields of wheat

After a breakfast, it wasn’t long before we joined what appeared to be a disused railway track that had been converted into shared use path. The decent surface and gentle gradients meant that we made good  progress towards Evreux our next overnight stop.

We reached Evreux in good time by late afternoon when we checked into our accommodation. This time we we had booked a room in a small family hotel that offered a good room price for our overnight stay through  the website.

Once showered, we started to explore the town and locate a place to have our dinner. A tapas restaurant fitted the bill nicely and we were easily able to assemble a suitable mixture to suit our dietary needs and preferances.

Sauntering back to the hotel we passed a suitable bridge to play poohsticks,  so of course,  we had to play a single challenge. A passer-by, out of curiosity,  asked us what we were doing. So we had to explain (in French) the principles of this funny little game before handing him a small sprig of rosemary to challenge Molly. He was rather pleased to be the ‘vanquer’ and walked away with a big smile in his face!

Distance travelled: 35 miles approx

Total distance travelled: 712 miles

Ascent: 1300ft approx


Day 57 – Paris to Mantes-les-Jolie

We were up and ready nice and early to start our ride and by 9.00 we were on the road heading west along the Seine to follow the potentially flatter and thus more enjoyable route towards Caen and the coast.

Initially we had a few stiff climbs to reach the select residential area of St Cloud in order to miss out a huge S of the River Seine.  On reaching the top at Parc St. Cloud we were able fo find a good spot to stop and have our picnic breakfast. The bench where we had chosen to stop was around 110mtrs up and had the most magnificent view across central Paris over to the well known landmarks of the Eiffel Tower and Montmartre.

Just as we finished our breakfast we noticed that three horses had come to view behind us,  together with their driver. They were harnessed to a piece of machinery, which, after it was unfurled revealed itself to be a mower!  They then proceeded to pull this mower behind them to begin mowing the long grass of the park. A bizarre sight in central Paris!

We followed the Seine for most of our ride, mostly on decent quality riverside shared use paths, but occasionally climbing over a few of the numerous meanders of the Seine as it flowed to the sea.

We passed a number of attractive small towns and villages as we made our way westwards until we reached the small town of Mantes-les-Jolie.

Our Warmshowers host, Pierre, lived here with his family and had agreed to host us for the night. Turning off the riverside path we turned off to climb up the short distance to his home. He had helpfully left a small flag propped by his gate to show us where he lived.

We were rather touched that Pierre and his wife had agreed to host us that night, since it was quite a busy time domestically for them. They were already temporarily hosting their daughter who had a baby and a 3 year old with her, which the following day, would be cared for by her grand dad. Pierre’s son was also temporarily staying there as well!

They kindly offered to share their dinner with us, and we were taught how best to eat and enjoy artichokes. A first for us two! Conversation round the table was in a mixture of French and English, with Pierre keen to practice his English language skills with us. Various travellers tales were told,  interspersed by exploration of our respective backgrounds and life experiences.

We had a good night’s sleep that night which set us up for the next day’s ride climbing out of the Seine valley and further towards the Normany Coast.

Distance pedalled : 41 miles

Total distance travelled: 677 miles

Ascent: 2805 ft. Approx.



Days 55 & 56 – into Switzerland and on to Paris

Having spent an enjoyable few  days with Abi & Guy in the Italian Lakes it was time to start our journey home together with our tandem currently packed away in its two bags plus our various additional panniers and bags.

Abi, Guy and Molly beside the motirhome in Martigny

Abi & Guy needed to get to work on the Monday so we decided that it was best we headed for Martigny in Switzerland, which was on their route to Morzine This small town had the benefit of swift and convenient direct train service to Lausanne  (also in Switzerland) from where we were able to take the TGV train to Paris, together with our packed up tandem and various bags. A total of 11 pieces to keep track of.

True to form, the Swiss train service to Lausanne arrived on time, and departed exactly three minutes later, arriving exactly on time in Lausanne.

The route to Lausanne was very pretty and skirted the northern bank of Lac Genéve where there were attractive views of the French Alps to the south behind Evians Les Bains which is the spa resort on the lakeside of what the French call Lac Leman.

We had a decent amount of time before our TGV direct train to Paris was due to leave, so we were able to move all of our bags to the correct platform and be in position ready to board.

We had booked seats on the upper deck of the double decker train, having been informed by the Man in Seat 61 website that this was the best way to make the journey and would give the best opportunity of a good view of the attractive countryside we passed through en route.

Arriving in Paris Gare de Lyon on time, we then had to re-assemble our tandem on the arrival platform in between train arrivals and departures with curious passengers looking on. About 75 minutes later we were all loaded up and we wheeled our steed out of the station to be on the road to head for our Warmshowers host Alexis who had offered to put us up for the night. He and his wife Valentine live with their baby in Meudon, a suburb of Paris situated around 15km to the west.

Riding in the centre of Paris was surprisingly easy and unstressful, apart from the odd occasion when a red light was missed or there wss a “déviation’! Like the Italians, French drivers are amazingly forgiving to pedal powered people, generally giving us a decent passing space as they overtook us.

Just before we reached our hosts for the night we had to climb a sharp hill for about 1km and we reached Alexis’s home rather puffed and hot and sweaty. Their flat was on 3rd floor, so by the time we eventually sat down and relaxed we’d had a real workout. Our warmshowers on offer were very welcome.

Bizarrely, we were invited to order an Indian takeaway which our hosts Alexis and Valentine were thinking of ordering for dinner, so we added our choices from the menu, recognising familiar names of dishes offered on the french language menu..

Having eaten and exchanged many travellers’ tales we settled down for a good night’s sleep to be ready for the ride out of the urban area of Paris situated on the Seine to the west.


Days 30 and 31- A weekend in Lyon

Staying the weekend at the campsite on the outskirts of Lyon meant we all could be tourists for a while, exploring France’s second city which straddles the Saône and Rhone rivers which meet at Le Confluence.

Lyon has an efficient and low cost public transport network of buses, trams, metro, funiculars and suburban rail network. For just €8 you get 48hour access to go wherever you please on whichever mide takes your fancy. It makes one green with envy when one has to endure the fragmented, inefficient and costly transport system in the UK that Government policy regards as a money making enterprise for business.

Our two days were packed with wanderings around many parts of the central area of this attractive city. A short walk to a local bus stop meant that we could be in the city centre in about 30 minutes in a ‘bendy bus’.

The weather was sunny and pleasantly warm for our stay and we were able to use a “hop on hop off” tour bus to help with our orientation.

An interesting feature of the city is the wonderful collection of tromp l’oeil murals scattered about – one utilising a blank wall to depict famous Lyonnaise residents through time, and another ‘Le Mur Canuts’, which particularly caught our fancy. It was created by a local arts cooperative that was commissioned to brighten up the area.

A huge blank end wall of an apartment block was transformed into a typical streetscape of the area. Not only that, but several iterations of the mural over time incorporated new characters and activities into the scene, even with some characters having been depicted as aging a few years!

Here are a few other murals we came across!

The Vieux Ville was very attractive with many buildings dating from the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries. Attractive courtyards could be explored via narrow entrance passages, and the narrow streets were full of historic frontages and curiosities.

We explored the interior of the Cathedral, which, at the time of our visit, had an exhibition of some very expressive modern artworks of Christ’s Passion which were exhibited in the knave . We also enjoyed the stained glass, transmitting the powerful morning light.

The Basilica, reached by a funicular was pretty impressive on the outside, but we didn’t venture in since there appeared to be long queues at the entrance. Instead, we enjoyed the views across the city from the high vantage point on the plaza beside the Basilica.

Lyon, over the last decade or so, has transformed itself into a bit of a cultural hub. Taking advantage of a large area of derelict docklands, an area known as Le Confluence, a bit of a mini eco neighbourhood has been created, together with Le Musée Confluence (a sort of humankind/cultural/eco museum) with much bold architecture in evidence.

With an early start the following day to catch our early train to Torino, we had packed down our tent earlier in the day so that it could be stored in the motorhome alongside our tandem, sleeping bags and cooking equipment that Abi & Guy were looking after temporarily, whilst we continued our travels into Italy and Albania.

We slept soundly in their vehicle in the secondary sleeping area and managed to catch the early bus and tram connection to catch our train from Part Dieu Station to Torino.


Day 29 – Away to Lyon

Today we are on our way to Lyon, to meet up with Abi (Molly’s daughter) and Guy, her husband, who are living in France in Morzine, Haute Savoie.

This time however, we swap modes of transport and start the second phase of our journey without our tandem.

We cycled on return visit to Arles with our tandem to get to the station in good time to dismantle it ready to board the train to Lyon.

Our plan is to spend the weekend in Lyon, sightseeing, camping on a campsite on the outskirts of the city beside Abi & Guy’s motorhome.

All packed up and ready to go. The tandem packs down into two large bags, which means travel by train is an option.


Day 28 – a day in Arles

We spent today in Arles, an attractive town south of Avignon. It was an easy level ride of around 10 miles from our campsite on our (temporarily) unladen tandem and, although it poured with rain just as we arrived (this time we had rain gear!), it soon cheered up to turn into a pleasantly warm day.

Arles is an historic town, with plenty of Roman structures and sites, and interesting medieval streets. It’s also a town very much associated with Van Goch, the Dutch painter who spent a few months here at around the turn of the 19th/20th century. He produced many works here but also, whilst here, suffered a breakdown, during which he notoriously cut off his ear.

Courtyard at the ancient L’Hotel Dieu where Van Coch spent a little time after his breakdown. The picture in the foreground is one of his works.

We visited the Hôpital de Dieu where Van Goch spent some days following his breakdown. The pretty courtyard inside was the subject of one of his more popular paintings.

We paid a visit to the 12th –  14th century Cloître de St. Trophime and marvelled at the expressive detail in the world renowned carvings and sculptures which decorated the cloisters.

There are reminders of Van Goch’s works scattered around the town, many of which are marked by visual displays of his painting(s) in the setting in which they were created…. mostly still quite recognisable..

We explored a few examples of Arles’ Roman heritage including a theatre, huge amphitheatre and remains of Roman baths.

We enjoyed wandering around the old streets with its interesting doorways and attractive vistas.

We even visited a little gin distilliery installed by Jamie Baxter one of Molly’s Clerical Error friends, set in an old house with a beautiful courtyard to the rear.

After a happy day, on our ride back we were fortunate to come across a hare at close quarters. It stopped to study us before scampering off into the undergrowth. It was the first time either of us had seen a hare at such close quarters!


Day 27 – A day with the Gypsy Pilgrimage

It has been a tradition since the 15th century that Gypsies from all parts of Europe and further afield come together, taking part in a pilgrimage to Les-Maries-de-la-Mer to celebrate their patron Saint Sara on 24th and 25th of May each year.

Originally, most came in their brightly painted traditional horse drawn carriages, but nowadays, caravans and motorhomes are used. There’s rather a nice piece of background to this occasion written by a blogger, Sara Aran, who lives in Gers and runs a company providing bespoke travel tours in southern France. You can find her article  by following this link to her website.

Vines growing in the Camargue

We pedalled the 23 miles to Les-Maries-de-la-Mer from our campsite in St. Gilles, following quiet backroads across typical Camargue scenery of rice paddies and shallow lakes, interspersed with  farms growing grapes for wine.

Stork’s nest

We passed an intriguing multi-storey stork’s nest that seemed to be shared with a range of different bird species, flitting in and out of crevices and holes.

Because we were following smaller roads we were able to take advantage of a free ferry service that crossed the “Petite Rhône” just before Saintes-Marie.

Cable Ferry on our way

We were glad we were arriving at our destination ‘á velo’ since the Gendemerie were preventing any motor vehicles from entering the town on the outskirts.

Gypsy Street Market and main Church which accommodates the reliquery of ‘Les Deux Saintes Maries.”

Once there, we were greeted by throngs of people – lots of tourists like us, but also plenty of gypsy-like people who were obviously speaking various languages other than French.

Impromptu performances of guitarists and singers all around the town ( think music like the “Gypsy Kings”!) often prompted dancing adding to the general festive atmosphere.. commentators on the festival describe the feeling that Gypsies have in taking part as coming home to be amongst like minded friends.

Music making in the streets

The main objective of our journey was to witness the procession from the Church with the effigy of the black Santa Sara headed up by Camargue horsemen “Le Guardiens”.

Dancing in the streets

There was a supposed schedule but inevitably, timing was a bit wayward;  eventually, after the reliquery was lowered from its niche high up in the church, and lots  prayers and blessings from the churchmen and congregation, the procession began…

It was quite a spectacle with crowds lining the streets and the horseman leading the effigy of Santa Sara, the patron Saint of travelling people.



As the afternoon drew to a close we saw ominous grey clouds on the horizon so we decided to start our journey back to the campsite by the most direct route we could identify. Sadly just a few miles in the rain started with a few heavy drops, then more persistently… and a significant headwind started to add to our discomfort. The weather forecast had predicted sunny weather with a low chance of rain late evening.. so we hadn’t taken our raingear with us…

Two drowned rats arrived at the campsite after an hour and a half of pedalling against driving rain which was not that warm.

Fortunately our campsite was close to the town centre, so after changing into warm and dry clothes, we were able to purchase a welcome eat-in meal in the warm at a Turkish takeaway with large greek style salads and two large portions of frites.

Distance travelled: 52 miles approx.

Total distance travelled: 636 miles

Ascent: 90ft. Approx