We arrived in La Rochelle in a pretty upbeat mood. We’d left the chillier weather of Brittany behind and we were now on the Atlantic coastline where the sun was shining. La Rochelle is a lovely little port town steeped in history and has, over various time periods, been a strategic port city.
We found a campsite for the night, cooked some food and cracked open a bottle of wine; the holiday had begun. We still had quite a distance to cycle and we didn’t want to get away from the fact that this was a cycling holiday. However, we did want to stop, take in the sites and not be too tied to the clock. So we’d given ourselves some nice breathing room for the remaining two and a half weeks.
The next day’s cycling was delightful. We cycled out of the port and along the coast, towards Rochefort. The sun was out, the scenery was beautiful and the air was fresh. The cycle to Rochefort was about 40km and we decided it was a nice enough town to stop for the night. After a BBQ and a couple of beers we settled down for the night and set off again early the next morning towards Marennes Plage. We would have only cycled through this seaside town had it not been for the amazing muscle farms showcased along the seafront. We stopped and we stayed overnight, enjoying our leisurely trip along the coastline.
We were starting to get into the swing of things and we’d given ourselves an aim for the day to reach Soulac-sur-Mer. To get here we first had to cycle to the town of Royan, a town which is quite distinct in its appearance. Having be bombed heavily in the second world war the town now showcases architecture from the 1950’s, which is quite different from the architecture I’d become accustomed to on the cycle so far. The day’s cycling was around 55km in total with a short ferry journey between Royan and Le-Verdon-sur-Mer. The ferry is a regular and pain-free service and doesn’t require any pre booking; just turn up, buy your ticket and you can jump on the next available crossing. In winter the regularity of the crossings reduce, but that’s to be expected. Once across the water the cycle was a fairly short one to our destination, Soulac-Sur-Mer. We were luckily enough to have arrived on a festival day and the town was booming. We found a great campsite, pitched up and went into the centre to enjoy the festivities.
The rest of the route towards Spain was relatively simple; pretty much heading south for the entirety with a few detours inland for reasons varying from military training camps to small peninsulas we had to navigate around.
The next few days cycling was rather ‘samey’, but, by no means, monotonous. As we entered the Landes forest, which follows the coast all the way to Bayonne, we were sandwiched in-between stunning sand dunes, golden beaches and hectares of maritime pine. The forest is the largest man-made woodland in Western Europe and was created in the 18th century primarily to halt erosion and to cleanse the soil. To this day the forest is still having new trees planted as part of the conservation scheme. It really is one of the most peaceful places i’ve ever been to, and it was this part of my trip in particular which has made France my number one holiday destination.
Pulling up at new campsites each night, swimming on different beaches and enjoying the small coastal towns was a joy to behold, and one which I reflect upon regularly.
This part of the cycle route is very family friendly too, i’ve seen families cycling with children, tour cyclists pulling along trailers and and owners cycling along with their pets in tow. The terrain is great for anyone new to cycling or for those who don’t want to exert themselves too much.
I previously wrote about my top beaches in the northern hemisphere and one of the beaches mentioned in on this part of the cycle, a little further south. Vieux-Boucau-les-Bains is a tremendous little resort, thoroughly worth visiting if you get the chance to cycle this route.
The family cycling starts to end the closer you get to Biarritz as the mountainous terrain starts to become more prominent. We arrived into Biarritz knowing we only had one final day of cycling left. Looking back to the first day when my legs were tiring and every pedal had seemed so tough, I now felt like I could go on for another month. By the time we arrived in Hendaye in France (which is essentially the same town as Irun in Spain, but just separated via a bridge) we had one final chance for a swim and then we crossed the bridge to Spain. Considering how attached these two towns are, it’s amazing how different they are. An interesting fact about these two connected areas, and countries, is that every six months a piece of land known as Pheasant Island, which is nearly 7000 sq metres in size, is handed over to each other as part of a long standing agreement dating back to the end of a conflict between the two countries in 1659. There is nothing to see of the island, apart from trees, and no way onto the island, but still, an odd fact in itself.
The journey was over and we celebrated that night before getting up early the next day to start the next phase of our non-cycling holiday, in Madrid.