Tuesday, October 4, 2016

September cycling round-up

French Village Diaries cycling Charente Vienne Haute Vienne
September cycling challenges

Wow, September, we had a blast. Thank you for so many great memories to take with me into the cooler, darker days of autumn and winter.

This year has unquestionably been cycle-crazy for us, with adventures in the Sarthe and Ardeche to list just the big ones, but this summer has probably been one of my laziest in years. A few weeks off the bike following my operation in July, followed by the exhausting heat wave of August left me unhappy with the bathroom scales as I approached my 45th birthday. By contrast, Adrian has cycled further and faster than ever before and as a result is fitter and slimmer than he has been for years. Thankfully our September action on the bikes took things up a gear for me.

French Village Diaries cycling Charente Vienne Haute Vienne Cognac
The Cognac vineyards

The few days we spent at the end of August cycling in the Vienne, followed by a morning ride to a local market and then an afternoon pedalling around the Cognac vineyards, meant I’d been out on my bike for six days in a row. This was enough to ensure I found time for a ride on day seven, even if it was just a 30km local ride squeezed in at the end of a busy day. This was a first for me, cycling every day for a week and it felt good, in fact good enough to go out again on day eight. The scales still weren’t cooperating, but my legs felt strong so I had the foolish idea to cycle another 64km in the next two days to complete a ten day, 400km challenge. On 7th September, I did it and it was the perfect training for my next challenge, 100km-in-a-day.
 
French Village Diaries cycling Charente Vienne Haute Vienne
La Post des Gardes, Availles-Limouzine
Wearing our ‘cycling accommodation reviewing’ caps once more, thanks Freewheeling France, we packed our bikes, pasta and the all-important Garmin navigation device and set off for the pretty town of Availles-Limouzine. Here we spent two nights on the bank of the Vienne River, staying in the historic town house La Post des Gardes.
 
French Village Diaries cycling Charente Vienne Haute Vienne Mortemart
Mortemart

After a comfortable night and a quick walk to the boulangerie for fresh croissants, we set off for our 100km-in-a-day on the bikes that would take us through the Vienne, Charente and Haute Vienne departments. Our morning took us along quiet roads, past shady forests where the first autumnal colours were starting to show and from one pretty village to another, from Availles-Limouzine to St Germain-de-Confolens to Esse and then Brillac, where we stopped for morning coffee. We passed sheep in fields; sensibly sheltering in the shade and with every kilometre the temperature rose so a stop for a quick drink from our water bottles left our arms and legs glistening with sweat within seconds. Fully caffeinated once more we cycled through the delightfully named Bussiere-Boffy, on to Nouic and then Mortemart, one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France before arriving in Blond for a lunch of tuna pasta salad.
 
French Village Diaries cycling Charente Vienne Haute Vienne Bellac
Bellac
We were now 45km into our route to Bellac and with the temperature in the mid 30’s we left the main road and set off to explore the hills, chateaux and more hills of the 'pretty route' Adrian thought would be a good idea. I thought it left my legs achy, my energy levels depleted and I may have moaned a little. Bellac was a welcome sight and we stopped for a beer and nuts by the old stone bridge with the town  peering down on us. Adrian bravely cycled up to town, whereas I walked, but was still rewarded with a raspberry flaky pastry delight when I reached the top. This sugary hit was probably the only thing (along with the threat of an approaching storm) that gave me the strength to complete the final 35km back to Availles-Limouzine.
 
French Village Diaries cycling Charente Vienne Haute Vienne
My 100km-in-a-day route
It was a hard-going 35km, although not too hilly or challenging, mainly on pretty lanes with lots of shade and no traffic, but it was oh, so hot. I can’t even remember the names of the villages we cycled through. The final few kilometres were downhill to the River Vienne and once on the bridge I could see the house and balcony, which was a truly welcoming sight. It was certainly more of a challenge than last year’s 100km to La Rochelle, which was mostly flat, cool and overcast, but I did it, three days before my 45th birthday and I was very happy with that.
 
French Village Diaries cycling Charente Vienne Haute Vienne
Refuelling aperos on the balcony
Back at the house we had a lazy early evening apero of fizzy water, nuts and chicken rillettes on baguette, to rehydrate and refuel before putting the finishing touches to a spicy pork and rice dish I’d prepared in advance. Eaten on the balcony overlooking the Vienne it was a lovely end to a special day. Then the wind blew in, fast and furious and like nothing we had ever experienced before. We had to move quickly to bring in the cycle jerseys and wine glasses before we lost them. Half a shutter flew off the house next door, leaving the remaining bit banging sorrowfully in the wind, while we sat and waited for the end of the world. However, after a bit of rain it all calmed down and the forecast storm seemed to have missed us. It was certainly a spectacular end to an exciting day.

French Village Diaries cycling Charente Vienne Haute Vienne
The balcony overlooking the Vienne at La Poste des Gardes

If you are looking for a self-catering property with river views I can recommend La Post des Gardes. You can read my review of the property here.

While these challenges focussed more on distance, our other September cycling adventures were far more concerned with hills. I'll post more about those very soon.