Feeling Lucky in the Lot
It has now been two weeks since we returned from our five-night break in the Lot, where, if you read on, you’ll discover I was lucky not to break any bones. The last fortnight seems to have passed in a flurry of storms, rain and household chores, with the lack of sunshine seriously affecting my energy levels. It is just as well we were able to squeeze in two holidays, almost back to back, as with less than a week until I start work, I’m beginning to feel cheated out of a proper summer.
|The interior of the quirky cottage in St Vincent Rive d'Olt|
Within a week of returning home from the Corréze, the car was packed once more, creaking under the weight of food and cycling gear as we headed south towards Angouleme and Bergerac, and then on to the Lot. It is unusual for us to return to the same location for a holiday but having enjoyed everything from the accommodation to the cycling last October, we were keen to see how the landscape would look in its spring greens, under sunny skies, rather than in its autumn golds.
The day before we left, I was up at six o’clock and had ticked off six things on my to-do list before the eight o’clock morning angelus had rung. The day then ended with a thirty-three-kilometre apéro-picnic bike ride with friends and an evening yoga class. Knowing the effort Adrian had put into the route planning for the week, I hoped I wouldn’t be too tired to keep up.
I could quite easily have snoozed in the car on the journey down and my sleepy brain managed to text the owner of the holiday home saying we’d arrived (nous sommes arrivés) rather than we will be arriving (nous arriverons) at 16h45. It was only her reply of j’arrive tout de suite (I’ll be there soon) that I realised my error. At least she laughed at my grammatical mess-up and didn’t mind the wait.
Once we’d moved in and unpacked, we set off on our prologue ride; a sixteen-kilometre loop that started straight up a serious hill. Adrian had wanted to do this ride when we were here in October, but I wasn’t so keen. For just over a kilometre, it was quite a climb, but the view down to an almost full circle loop in the River Lot, with vineyards tucked into the flat, and steep forested hills off to the distance, was stunning. We agreed we’d be back with the coffee pot and croissants for breakfast in the morning.
We first started cycling a holiday prologue route a year ago when we arrived at Lou Messugo in the south of France and set out to explore the gorges of the Loup river. After a day in the car, it left me with a huge grin on my face and ready to get out on adventures the following morning. Today was the same feeling. It woke me up, warmed up my legs and gave my senses a real taste of what is to come. It also confirmed we were right to come back here as there is so much more for us to see and explore on the bikes.
We'd promised ourselves breakfast with a view and it didn’t disappoint. The climb back up to the viewpoint didn’t take too long and once we were sat on our rock, watching the morning sun on the vineyards, it took even less time to brew a coffee and warm up the pain aux chocolats. It was the perfect start to a seventy-five-kilometre day ahead.
We left Luzech and began a steady climb through oak woods and vineyards, with nothing more than a woodpecker to disturb the peace and every ascent was rewarded with a fast descent, where the view changed once more. We lunched in Floressas, a village at the top of our third climb, on a bench by the church, in the shade of a red sycamore tree. It was the perfect location as we also found a tap to top up the water bottles. The climbs were long enough to challenge without ever being too difficult and I certainly felt I’d earned my fish pasta salad and piece of flapjack.
We then descended back down to the River Lot and picked up the Véloroute Vallée du Lot cycle path. This snaked through vineyards following the meandering Lot and was easy on the legs as it’s fast and flat. With the river, the vineyards and the scenery, it’s easy on the eye too, but we both agreed we’d preferred the challenging undulations of the morning route. We were treated to the sight of two young deer in the vineyards, one who was happy to stand still and watch us arrive and get the camera out. However, as soon as Adrian focussed it, he twitched his ears, turned and ran for cover. I smelt my first tillou tree blossom and saw my first flowering hollyhocks too. It was another superb day on the bikes, although our route barée call my bluff game didn’t work out so well today. The tiny old suspension bridge crossing the mighty Lot at Albas was closed for painting. We asked if we could walk the bikes over, but they had resurfaced the road and this time closed, meant closed, leaving us no option but to return to Luzech on the main road. The day ended on a high though, as a quick tour of the Luzech loop took us through the vineyards we’d looked down on at breakfast this morning.
We left the pretty village of St Vincent Rive d’Olt early on day two, and made our way through the vineyards to St Géry, the other side of Cahors. The morning sun appeared to make the fresh green vine leaves sparkle and it looked like we were set for another hot, sunny day.
We crossed the Lot and climbed up to St Cirq-Lapopie, and the rocky banks at the side of the road were covered in wildflowers in whites, pinks and purples, alive with butterflies in almost as many colours. Once again, we viewed the pretty village of St Cirq-Lapopie from afar, as steep, narrow, cobbled paths, whilst wearing metal-cleated cycling shoes and pushing a bike was asking for trouble. The views we saw may have been the same as last October, but the colours couldn’t have been more different.
Making our way from the Lot department to the Aveyron, we climbed, we descended, and we crossed the river on narrow metal suspension bridges as we cycled from village to village. There were more people out and about than last October, but it was still quiet and peaceful and on one climb I was joined by a cornflower blue butterfly who circled the bike frame and kept pace with me until we reached the top.
In the Aveyron the house style changed, with stone tiles hanging low on square roofs. The temperature climbed to over thirty degrees, so we made good use of the drinking water points we found, although it felt blissfully cool on the roads sandwiched between rock and river. We also indulged in two afternoon patisseries, a flan each as we returned through Cajarc and then a lemon meringue tarte for Adrian and a Jesuite for me (an almond and crème patissière filled flaky pastry triangle), just a few kilometres from the carpark in St Géry. After a day of ninety-eight kilometres, at an average speed of 20km/hr, I think we deserved it.
We finished the day with a celebratory wine at sunset, from the viewpoint above the village, just to ensure we completed a full 100km day. It had been cloudy down in the village, but as we reached the top of the hill the sun was a magnificent glowing ball, sitting just above the hills on the other side of the river that we’d cycled over yesterday. Our timing was perfect as it seemed to have been waiting for us to arrive before gracefully sinking behind the hill. It was a dramatic end to great day; my first 2021 100km-in-a-day.
Unusually for us we didn’t set an alarm and equally unusually, we didn’t wake up until gone eight thirty the following morning. I guess after yesterday’s epic day in the saddle, we needed the rest. Our local loop today started off with coffee and a croissant on a bar terrace in Luzech. Service was painfully slow, but the coffee was good and it was a great location for people-watching, including seeing quite a few fully loaded touring cyclists, off on big long-distance adventures, I’m sure.
Our ride today turned out to be quite an adventure and at seventy-four-kilometres, taking us out of the Lot and into the departments of Lot et Garonne and Tarn et Garonne, wasn’t too bad in terms of distance either.
We set off along the other bank of the River Lot, to ensure we got to see Albas, where the bridge was still being painted, as it’s a pretty little village whose narrow streets lead down to the river. We then climbed up into the rocky vineyards, descended down through forests and then climbed back up again. The Garmin route planner thought sending us down rough, stony white tracks would be fun, while we thought sticking to tarmac would be preferable. When we saw signs for Floressas, where we had lunch two days ago, we decided it was worth the climb up to picnic there again. A shady bench and a cold-water tap were too good an opportunity to miss as it was a hot day and sweat was already glistening all over me.
If we’d thought the Garmin was having a laugh in the morning, the route in the afternoon was even more bizarre, thanks to my idea to cycle out of the Lot department and into two neighbouring ones. As we left the vineyards behind and headed into the Quercy, where cereal crops and walnut trees took over, the climbing got steeper, the descending more perilous and then we lost roads all together. What started as a stone path, soon became a grass track with overhanging young oak trees that needed careful ducking under. It was a slow crawl, totally off the beaten track, with no signs of life or habitation anywhere around that left me feeling like a real adventurer. At the edge of a field we had nothing but a narrow trail of stones to follow through the long grass, until we found ourselves back on a lane beside some houses.
It was a relief to make our way back to the vineyards and rocky valleys of the Lot department and our final climb into Sauzet. We knew from there it was just an eight-kilometre downhill breeze back to St Vincent Rive d’Olt, on what had turned out to be a bonkers day in places, but another excellent ride.
|Our shady apéro terrace|
What happened next was so close to being a disaster, I wish we had we just stayed at the little bistro table on the shady terrace, instead of thinking a quick explore of the riverbank would fill the time between pre-apéros (a chilled drink) and our apéros with nibbles. While Adrian got the bikes out, I picked up my phone and purse, locked the door and headed down the steps where I soon discovered cycling shoes with metal cleats and smooth, stone steps are not a good combination. One minute I was walking, then my feet slid out from underneath me and the next minute I was sitting, having slid down about four steps, mainly using my right elbow and right back ribs as my contact points with the steps. After a moment to gather my composure and have a good feel for aches and pains, miraculously all seemed to be fine.
I had no scuff marks to my skin, no rips in my favourite cycling shorts and thanks to the application of the arnica we always travel with, much less bruising than I deserved (although a week later and things were rather colourful in places). We avidly watch all the ambulance and hospital documentaries and know it could have been so much worse; with broken bones, bleeding, or concussion.
My right elbow seemed to take the worst of the impact, but I got on my bike and we set off as planned, following the mill stream and then the river. The road gave way to a cool, shady track through the trees, where the rocks rose sharply to our left, up to our sunset point on the hill. To the right was the curve in the river that we could have followed all the way into Luzech. The thick tree cover was eery and jungle-like, dripping in hairy lichen; the sun barely penetrating through the thick canopy. We explored for a kilometre or so, before retracing our steps and enjoying our apéro nibbles back on the terrace.
I slept more comfortably than I thought I would and my elbow and back only felt tender when I lay on them or sat against something hard. I definitely believe in guardian angels, as someone must have gently cushioned my fall and stopped me bouncing all the way to the bottom and doing some real damage.
We parked once again in St Géry and made use of the boulangerie for pastries to have with a coffee at the bar next door, which set us up nicely for the day on the bikes. We began by retracing our steps along the Lot until the Eiffel railway bridge at the confluence of the Célé with the Lot. Here we took the D41 Célé gorge road.
What a hidden gem of a road this was, with hardly any traffic, a very easy, gentle gradient and a nice smooth road surface. We seemed to glide gracefully for kilometre after kilometre enjoying the views of the steep, rocky gorges, canoeists on the river and pretty villages (some on the Compostela pilgrimage route). We lunched in Marcillac sur Célé, on a shady bench by the river where dragonflies dipped, and frogs sang.
The afternoon gave us houses cut into rocks, herds of cows and the smell of freshly cut hay in the fields at the side of the road. It was so quiet and beautiful that when we got to the village Adrian had planned for us to turn back at, we carried on, only starting our return when we reached the end of the road. A boulangerie stop about ten kilometres from the car sugared us up nicely with a local delicacy of a walnut and raisin briochette.
It had been a cloudy start to the day, but the sun came out just before lunch and stayed with us for the rest of the day. We got back to the car having cycled 111km at 22.3km/hr – the furthest I have ever cycled in one day and not a bad effort following my acrobatics last night. It was a superb end to another great holiday and if you are ever in the Lot, by all means climb up to St Cirq Lapopie, but don’t miss the less well known Célé gorge road either.
Despite it being a Sunday, the alarm went off at 7h and we were up and out, cycling back up the hill for a breakfast overlooking the Lot valley and vineyards. After breakfast, we carried on up the hill and in Sauzet felt a fitting end to a lovely break would be a couple of croissants for another breakfast back at the cottage. It was just what we needed to fuel a busy morning making lunch, packing and cleaning up, before locking the door and leaving at 10h45. Our 17km breakfast run had taken us to a whopping 400km cycled between Tuesday to Sunday and I was feeling very lucky to be alive.