I had arrived in Montpellier in the middle of the day before. As sometimes happen, the baggage never arrived with the plane (courtesy of British Airways this time). The hotel, or rather B&B hotel, I had booked a room at was located far from the city centre in a very, very boring place and was not open during a couple of hours in the middle of the day (one could get keys from a machine outside). I decided it would be both difficult to get back and forth to the city and also to have the bicycle delievered to this closed hotel the next day, so I managed to find someone and cancelled my booking and went to the city in search of a better place to stay at. A black man in an shabby looking car stopped by the road and picked me up for a ride into town without that I made a sign for wishing to get with him to town and somehow I decided he was probably just nice – and he was indeed very nice (not that I could communicate many words with him (my french is not very good)).
After walking around for a while, without an idea of where I was, I found a hotel that looked right and stayed there for the night – it was actually a very good hotel for the relative low cost (Hôtel du Parc). I took a look around the town and took a photo of this spectacular bridge located in the centre of the town. Perhaps Montpellier does not offer so very much for the tourist – it is after all a somewhat big, modern, busy town with not many important historical and cultural sights (as far as what I gathered from the tourist folder I had a look at). I had no special interest in Montpellier apart from that it seemed like a reasonable place to start a tour of the Pyrenées. (It would have been more expensive to fly to Perpignan, Carcassonne or Biarritz, but in hindsight it might had been better to perhaps take a train to a location closer to the mountains.)
I had a rather demanding original plan for the first day, where I was supposed to go a rather difficult way all the way to Carcassonne (approximately 216 km and over something like 5 smaller cols (mountain passes)). Now I had to walk around outside the hotel in Montpellier half day long being increasingly unhappy with the neglience of British Airways to try and deliver the baggage within a reasonable time. (When I called and asked them at the airport where my bag was a last time the BA personell had gone home for the day.) Well, very tired of waiting I finally got my bicycle and got on my way, only to discover that I had forgotten my water bottle and I had to go back 20 minutes and start out again. I finally left the hotel (where I stored the bike bag with travelling clothes) around 4.30 pm and had no longer any chance to complete over 200 km that day. So the plan was already of no great use, even though I followed it to some extent. It is usually a good thing to get some good maps and try and make precise plans for the first couple of days and to have an outline of a plan for the total of a long trip like this. The best is in a scale of 1:200,000. Michelin yellow series was best for the Pyrenées, but I also had a good (but hard to find) Firestone map that actually covers the whole of the Pyrenées – using the Michelin maps only one has to have at least three maps if one plans to get over on the spanish side also. I had to have three yellow Michelin maps anyway because I needed one to cover the area from Montpellier to Carcassone.
I bought a new bicycle this year (my old Cannondale was bought back in 1994) and since I have also participated in a few races this year for the first time in life (no great success though), I thought I needed a new bicycle. After subscribing to the german bicycle magazine Tour where bicycles called Canyon (guess who they try to imitate? …) was heavily advertised and also got very good reviews, I decided that I could get a decent bicycle that way without having to pay a lot extra for a new Cannondale equipped similarly. So far I am happy with the Canyon one – the biggest advantages to my old bicycle was to get a carbon fork, Dura Ace STI levers and a bicycle that weighed less. The nice-looking (somewhat similar to Mavic Ksyrium) Citec wheels are still all right but keeps making some noise (under load, stress [the back wheel rim broke up shortly after writing this]) and I was a bit afraid they might break during tough rides down mountain passes. In fact, what turned out to make me more nervous was some occasional sounds made by the carbon fork when I had to brake very hard on very steep roads, but all went well happily. I also got a hard shell bicycle bag from this company and got the bicycle undamaged to the destination this time (also I did not have to pay any extra for the bicycle on British Airways). Packaging: I was recommended to try out Carradice bags by Jobst Brandt (who has travelled for the better part of his life every summer up in the alps – read about some of his trips at Trento Bike Pages). I bought a new Carradice saddle bag that is fastened at the saddle post and looks (and probably works) much better that solutions from Topeak (for example). It worked really good, but I do not agree with Jobst’s reasons for preferring a saddle bag over my crossover backpack that I had the year before up in the dolomites. You certainly can have much better control over the bicycle with a backpack than with a saddle bag, but a saddle bag is of course much more comfortable. If you should decide to go on a trip like mine on your own and use a backpack, I must warn you that you have to keep it very light (put heavy things in the bicycle shirt) and fasten it properly – otherwise it is plain stupidity to use a backpack on a trip like this. If you use a saddle bag – take care while driving down (and even up) mountain pass roads! Now on to the cycling! (Maybe I put up a special packing tips section here eventually.)
Finally I was on my way and the weather was fine. I felt really good at finally getting on my bicycle. I had to look a couple of times at the map before getting out of Montpellier the right way and I had to look frequently later on as well and even then made some mistakes (one better be prepared for that such things can happen). The roads looked good until I came on a smaller road after Montarnaud, I think. The road was very coarse for a long time after that and I discovered later that almost all roads in southern France are really very bad, although almost all roads have some good stretches also. They have some coarse coating that looks like nice smooth asphalt in the distance, but which is terrible to ride on with small and hard tires. I just had to accept this though and hoped it would be better (which it did not really do on the whole). The surfacing of the roads in southern France is perhaps the biggest reason to stay away from going there, since it is otherwise a wonderful place to go bicycling.
After travelling obscure, desolate roads in a billowing landscape, I came by a small place called St André-de-Sangonis, where I for the first time made a mistake in the choice of road. I went north instead of south and ended up on the motorway going to Clermont-Ferrand. I turned of the motorway at the first place I could find and took a very small road back down south (in hindsight it would had been smarter if I had continued north for some time more and taken the other way around Lac du Salagou). On this small way south, that passed a small place called Lacoste, I travelled across the small bridge you can see here. Then I was heading down to Clermont l’Herault. I went out on the main road to Bédarieux.
I took a small detour to Mourèze (and the Cirque de Mourèze) because the road looked inviting (and I had originally planned to take that way). Here I took one of the very few photos of the landscape I passed by. These almost dolomite-looking smaller mountain ridges are probably a bit typical of this Haut Langedoc area. Out on the main road again I discovered that road was pretty tough at times and very hilly. I did not see any pass roads on the map and had thought it would be a smooth ride here, but I had to climb a couple of hundred meters and had a little wind against me.
Bédarieux seemed to be a very sad, dark, industrial village, so I quickly proceeded, even though the twilight started its appearance. I continued as long as I could before it got really dark and that was when I reached another little village called Olargues. Apparently it was a medieval town and looked like it was placed as a fortress on a small hill. I went in there and stayed at the hotel/café in the little centre. It was one of the cheapest places I stayed at during the trip, but it was okay. I found a very nice restaurant that was closing down for the evening, but managed to talk my way into having them serving me dinner anyway, even though I had to pick among only two dishes. I really needed to eat so I accepted whatever they could offer me and it was delightful – it was clams with some fine rice served in a delcious way with very good bread and a glass of wine. It was very much worth the price (which was not high). For a photo of the village, see the next day page!