Jul 3 2012 By Emma Smith
French bicycle Travel Feature Image 1
AFTER running the Paris Marathon in April the opportunity to return to France and cycle along the Midi-Pyrenees canal at a more relaxing pace sounded like something I couldn’t miss.
I have never cycled more than 15km but the itinerary seemed fairly moderate so I wasn’t alarmed that I was going to be cycling everyday for the next three days.
I arrived in Toulouse from a very dreich Glasgow to be greeted by the glorious sunshine and local guides, keen to show me and the group I was with what this region had to offer for those who love exploring, cycling, history and good food.
We were given a very extensive tour of ‘Toulouse along the water’ which opens the way to the Canal du Midi, Canal de Brienne, lock of Saint-Pierre and the Garonne River.
Toulouse, which is known as the ‘pink city’ because of the red brick on many of it’s buildings is a vibrant place and is full of great shops, fantastic French cuisine, bars and fascinating history.
On the day I arrived it was also Music Day so there was plenty of culture to soak up as musicians played on the streets for the community.
Later we visited the medieval fortified town of Revel. Founded in 1342, the idyllic place has an impressive covered market lined with XIV-XVIII century houses.
As well as seeing Toulouse, we also got to learn the fascinating history of the Midi Canal while cycling along it.
It was created because for centuries there was a need to join the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. Then in 1662 Pierre-Paul Riquets started to work on a solution to the problem by digging a canal to join the Thau lake to the garonne river near Toulouse. Riquets established a complex water supply system and put into place titanic works to ensure its navigation.
His system boosted the the region’s economy development and UNESCO listed the Canal du Midi as a world heritage site in 1996 to highlight the size of the endeavour and to honour all the artistic areas along the canal.
Our very picturesque journey along the Midi Canal began in Renneville and follows a flat, tree lined path that you don’t have to be a serious cyclist to enjoy it.
The route goes as far as Germany but thankfully we only cycled 16km, including a stop for lunch at the fantastic Restaurant I’Ecluce in the Castanet-Tolosan, right on the canal and overlloking the barges.
The next day we arrived at Valenve d’Agen to pick up our bikes before we made our way to my favourite place of the holiday - Moissac. We cycled 17km and we couldn’t have asked for a more picturesque route. Boats lined the barge and the fields were full of sunflowers.
The abbey has been a popular stop off for pilgrims on the road of Saint Jacques de Compostelle for over a thousand years and was just as impressive as the chocolate truffles we enjoyed at Le Florentin.
Be sure to also try the town’s famous chasselas grape juice which is both refreshing and sweet.
On the last day, I feel really sat to be leaving the stunning 18th Century Armateur Hotel, with it’s own swimming pool and courtyard in Moissac. But on the plus side I had another bike ride to enjoy and a new town to explore.
Our last stop Montauban was build in 1144 by the Count of Toulouse and like Revel has an market square to impressive it used to be known as the ‘place royale’.
The two-wheel Midi-Pyrenees trip is a must for anyone who loves French culture, history, exploring and cycling. I’m already planning my next escape.
Emma Smith was flown from Edinburgh to Toulouse by jet2.com. Prices start from as little as £38.99 one way.
She was a guest at the Hostellerie du Lac in St. Ferreol on the first night (www.hotellerie-du-lac.com). On the second night she stayed in the Hotel de France in Toulouse (www.hotel-france-tolouse.com) and on the last night she stayed at the Armateur Hotel in Moissac.
For more information on the touring the Midi-Pyrenees visit www.tourism-midi-pyrenees.co.uk.
For details on the best places to visit please go to www.tourisme.haute-garonne.fr and www.uk.toulouse-tourisme.com.