Our last stop! Béziers feels different from the other towns with lots of people and shops from North Africa and the Middle East – and again fruits-de-mer for sale in the streets.
Béziers is situated along the river Orb and is also near the very end of Canal du Midi. The Cathédrale de Saint Nazaire commands a grand view over the Languedoc landscape and the famous Pont Vieux.
Béziers is the birth place for Pierre-Paul Riquet (1609-1680) to whom we owe the existence of the entire Canal du Midi. Thanks to M. Riquet for designing and creating the astonishing piece of 250 km engineering with its 91 still working locks.

Tomorrow morning we will board the train to Paris-CDG airport and be back in cool and wet Copenhagen in the evening.

Merci pour nous. Il a été un plaisir!



Because the dirt path along the canal is still of mediocre quality (at its best) we reduced today's stage of 45 km to a mere 10 km because we opted for a train ride with the bikes. All regional trains in France accommodate bicycles for free and, besides, the train fare is quite low, so it is an excellent alternative to get from A to B. However, in the early morning hours we biked along vineyards where the expensive grapes were being picked by local hands. Here's a grape picker unloading a full back basket of future red wine.
Narbonne seems to be a quiet and lovely town with a distinct southern flavour and lots of ancient history and art.
Today's Sunday market was colourful and teeming with all kinds of necessities and, especially, unnecessaries.
We also paid a visit to the magnificent cathedral Saint-Just & Saint-Pasteur and admired the grand work of the master builders in the Gothic era.
The town also hosts the beautiful archbishop's palace with an art museum. We went, of course, inside and checked the exhibits .
We are now along the Canal de la Robine, which is a "tributary" to the Canal du Midi, connecting Narbonne with the Mediterranean Sea just 10 km to the south. In the Roman era, Narbonne used to be a costal town with an important. harbour.
Tomorrow will be our last whole day on this tour-de-canal. We will be heading northeast from here to follow the last stretches of Canal du Midi before it flows into the sea.


Lying low in Homps

Low pressure, low energy, low pace. We're spending a low level day in the sleepy village of Homps.
Presumably, Homps survives because of three local factors: the local super marché, the local canal harbour, and the local wine producers' cooperative. The latter is now processing the harvested red grapes and the strong smell of fermenting grape juice covers the entire village.
We had planned to bike to the fortified Cathar town Minerve (20 km north of here) today, but a thunderstorm with strong winds made the option not-so-tempting. We will make the trip (by car) to the last Cathar stronghold when we will be staying in Perpignan next month.
This is about how much action there is in downtown Homps
Another night at the Auberge and we will be off to Narbonne, the ancient town that was the capital in the Roman province of Gallia.
Dining in the Auberge is good.



Today was a different travel day as we spent most of it on small backcountry roads. We came through tiny villages around huge vineyards where at least the Merlot grapes were being harvested using big machinery. Often we had very aromatic smells in our noses from the local wild flora.
The machine-picked grapes are being produced to vin de table and similar wines of ordinary quality. The hand-picked grapes are obviously more expensive to harvest and those will be used for the appellation wines.
During the midday hours we biked through a huge flat region that hosted very big vineyards and apple orchards – and it was +28°C and a brisk dry wind against us, so we suffered somewhat.
The town of Azille and a tractor with grapes approaching.
We reached our destination mid afternoon and are now relaxing in Auberge d'Arbousier right on the canal in the outskirts of Homps. The warm wind is caressing the leaves of the plane tree outside our windows and the lazy late afternoon is drawing to an end.

It will soon be aperitif time on the terrasse – and later on a real French dinner and real French wine ...



Last night I did eat a big load of cassoulet – and today I have had strange gut feelings ;-)
... but it was surprisingly tasty
The fields of millet, onion and sunflower are now gone and we are again in a wine producing terroir.
Our route continued to be a very bad dirt track along the canal so we didn't arrive in the world famous town of Carcassonne until early afternoon. Here is much to see, but there are too many tourists!
The fortified Carcassonne is the largest of its kind in Europe and is also a UNESCO world heritage. However, it is also a tourist trap !
From other bike tourists we were told that tomorrow's stage will be a lot of detours because of extensive cutting down of trees along the canal, so we have decided to cycle on backcountry roads and find our way to Homps (our next stop) on our own.
Every night, the Carcassonne castle (which is near our hotel) is illuminated  – and it is quite a sight !!



We hurried along the Canal du Midi in the morning rush hour on the broad two-lane cycleway to get out of Toulouse and soon got into more quiet surroundings with lots of moored riverboats. They have grown from Medium to X-Large as compared to Canal de Garonne, because the locks here accommodate bigger boats.
During the 1830s, about 45,000 plane trees were planted to strengthen the canal sides and to provide shade along the 250 km of Canal du Midi. All these trees have recently been given individual numbers! At exactly 13:03 CET, we passed plane tree  # P33,000.  – But why the numbers ?
The French have a special "plane plan". During WW2, US ammo boxes [made of US plane tree boards] for the allied troops happened to also bring over from America the feared plane killer: the fungus Ceratocystis platani. The fungus spread from the boxes to the French plane trees and now, seven decades later, 15,000 planes along the canal are so infested and weak inside that they need to be cut down and burned. That's a big job and that's why the workers need individually numbered trees to keep track of the healthy and fell only those that are sick.
As soon as we passed from Haut-Garonne county into Aude county, the signs of the cycleway disappeared and the asphalted route turned into a narrow dirt track with lots of holes. The last 15 km before our Hôtel du Canal in Castenaudary took a long time to cover – but we made it in fairly good shape although it has been a very warm day with a clear blue sky above, quite a Mediterranean weather.
Tonight we will be eating the speciality of this town and region: Cassoulet. A mixed pot of beans, pork, sausage, duck and a few other undisclosed ingrediens in a brown gravy-ish fluid. A rather heavy meal, but apparently worth a try. It goes well with good beer, so that helps ... :-)
Bon appétit !



A fairly slow day in Toulouse before we hit the road again. Change of bikes and some re-organising of our stuff. Strolling in downtown took us to a wonderful museum with lots of renaissance art and lots of impressionist paintings. Oh la la!
Pierre Bonnard: Paysage du Midi
Otherwise, we have been people-watching
and checked out splendid medieval architecture in the basilicas and convents, notable Basilique Saint-Sernin and Convent des Jacobins. 
Lots of beautiful French culture ! – The only Danish input we saw in town were Carlsberg ads and posters announcing the Danish dogma movie "The idiots"; – not too encouraging.
Well, we said goodbye to the river Garonne 
and settled in for the last night in our Grand Hôtel d'Orleans.


Toulouse – or not to loose

Last night the Pont de Napoleon (Bonaparte himself had the bridge built) next to our hotel became illuminated and was quite pictoresque.
Next to it was France's most boring camping ground for RVs.
On today's 70+ km stage we passed a special tech treat at Montech where five ordinary water locks have been replaced by a rather unique moving lock (called a water slope). The huge machinery takes in on river boat floating in water and moves 600 m horizontal and 14 m vertical with the whole deal, just to release the boat at the other end. Pretty neat, but we did not see it in action.
At a point around noon we thought that we may not make it to Toulouse today. A savage thunderstorm in this region last week had uprooted a lot of trees and they were still lying in great numbers across the canal and across the cycleway along the canal over a 20-25 km stretch. Big plane, oak and acacia trees that were very hard to crawl under or crawl over, especially with two bikes.
After several km with these kind of obstacles we opted to take a detour into the countryside along normal roads to circumnavigate the troubled region.
Finally we came back on track again in the town of Grisolles (the home town of breadsticks ??)
Tired and warm we pedaled along still more locks and typical SW French settings and mid afternoon we reached the end of Canal de Garonne.
The last few km of this part of the trip we cycled along Canal du Midi that will be our companion during the next six days.
But first, we relax in Toulouse and take a day off tomorrow !



Another 60+ km demanded our resources today, but the beautiful weather and the flat landscape helped quite a bit. We have biked along very extensive kiwi plantations; poor those who will be fruit pickers in that wilderness, it must be a TOUGH job – and in the heat of the day.
Stopped in the town Agen for a cultural injection at the Musée des Beaux-Arts with a very impressive collection for a provincial museum.
Enjoyed lunch in the shade of the plane trees along the canal and then spent a long, warm but splendid afternoon pedaling past a number of locks and much beautiful landscape.
Arrived at our hotel Le Moulin à Moissac which is right on the river Tarn (that joins Garonne river in this town). Our room has a magnificent view and literary excerpts painted on the walls.

This blog entry is being written on the terrace (in the shade) with a Gin & Tonic at hand and the river at foot. Looking forward to having a full plate served tonight in the restaurant ...  :-)
Tomorrow, Toulouse will be the destination.