France Part 16
Wed 8th June Estaing to Meyreuis 100km
We spent a comfortable night in the annexe at the Aux Armes D' Estaing being afforded a high room standard with en-suite facilities. Our 7am breakfast was waiter served in the dining room within the main hotel in the adjacent building and pretty good considering our early rise request. It would be 100km today over the cols so hence the early start required.
After paying our bill we collected our bikes from the garage remembering to return the key to reception before setting off. This simple task if overlooked can cause a lot of disruption for the hotel so paying attention to such an essential detail was paramount to deliver our best Scottish sensibility.
We cycled across the bridge from Quai du Lot over to the southern side of the river to stop and take some pictures. The scene from there across to the town was magnificent. The weather had turned overcast but this only added to the atmosphere emanating from the sheer romanticism of the place with the old chateau and spires.
Soon we were off again, pedalling along the side of the river on the D556. I had a feeling of trepidation today, thinking of the cols that lay ahead on the day's 100km ride down to Meyrueis.
After clearing Estaing the road wound around the side of a wooded slope on our right, till eventually after a kilometre, we came upon a junction where we took the D556 through a hamlet called Fabregues then on to the town of Espalion at 9km from Estaing. Here we crossed over the river Lot again into the town proper and sat down at a corner café for a refreshment. Espalion is a busy little market town with a broad main street running from west to east. It gave the impression of a smart commercial little hive and looked quite active with lots of business vehicles parked along the main street. We did not wait too long in Espalion and left the way we had entered it, back across the bridge toward the south bank to exit the town by the D664.
We were now in very rural surroundings. Alwyn had to check his sat-nav frequently here as we bobbed up and down the short steep hills, weaving one way and then the other, holding our course through the mid-way of dead end side roads leading to farmsteads. We were caught out a couple of times as we tried to remain on our course and had to double back a short distance on each of several occasions. Alwyn, however did a good job of navigating here as our corrections were swift. We passed through a small place called Roquelaure and then on to a small hamlet called Lassouts after pedalling some 15km from Espalion.
It was indeed a zig-zag route and it had been a steady but gradual climb all the way up to Roquelaure where we had reached an elevation of 700m. The weather had brightened up a bit since Espalion but not uncomfortably warm and better than that, there was no wind. In the next 60km of our cycling today we would reach a summit of 882m. From Lassouts at 600m we headed through Malescombes and at Pierrifiche we joined the D45 going past the villages of St-Martin-de-Lenne, St-Saturnin-de-Lenne, all very small places. At the latter we turned right in a southerly direction on to the D2. We were now some 37 km from our start in Estaing and we climbed from here 210m in a 6km distance then we went back down to 689m then a further 7km up to the summit of the Col de Lagarde.
We stopped on this summit at 835m to take some group pictures. It wasn't a very picturesque place, in fact rather bleak, a bit like a Scottish moor. I spotted a peculiar hoop shaped overhead railway catenary projecting in a dip to the east which turned out to be a line emerging from a tunnel. From here on there was a good 100m descent for 6km followed by another climb from 690 to 874m in18km. It had clouded over from leaving the Lagarde and the cold air had cut through my clothing. I stuffed a newspaper into my front for a short descent until we reached the small town of Severac Le Chateau at an elevation of 700m. All the roads so far today had been rural but with a good smooth surface and hardly a pothole to be seen. This made the riding reasonably pleasant and with such little traffic it had been relaxing, apart from the climbs. We were now on the northerly outskirts of Severac-le-Chateau. Our exit road from the D2 took us under a motorway bypass and we skirted the town on the easterly side to a junction with the D995. We headed along this road, climbing 100m for 7.5km, to reach a small place called Le Massegros and just upon entering here we turned directly south on the D32. The terrain turned somewhat barren at this point seeming to suit the Spanish sounding name of the village we had just passed. We headed down this route for about 5km until we came upon a junction with the D9. We forked to the left here to take us on a narrow minor mountain road with a good surface. We began to descend again from a height of 880m. The views on this road on the way down were spectacular and I noticed the volcanic craggy summits to the east. The terrain just above us on both sides was now a mixture of gnarled thicket amongst jagged lava rocks, especially so on the higher ground on our left side.
We stopped at a large 'Celtic style' stone cross standing by the roadside to take some pictures. Our viewpoint now looked way down over the village of Liaucous many metres below us to the south-east. At first the descent was gradual, allowing us to stop for photos but now it had become a fast ripping dash down to the river valley below. The road wound downward until we encountered some nasty S-bends near the bottom at a place called Mostuejouls and it caused a little bit of panic with an oncoming vehicle, our fingers and necks were aching as we squeezed on our brake levers. However we made it down without incident and discovered an exit at a small insignificant T junction with the D907. We were now just 400m above sea level. After five kilometres we came upon a bridge crossing the river on our right. I think the location was called Beauregard. The view from the middle of the bridge was impressive, a photo opportunity with an old partly demolished stone arch providing a locus for a scene in the distance. This was a place near Le Rozier a small town to the south of the bridge. We stopped at a ramshackle snack bar on the north side of the bridge before we crossed over on our route south. Here we sat down for 20 minutes to enjoy a coffee and a shaded seat and table out of the sun. The owner passed us some free gratis bowls of cherries to enjoy with our coffee. They tasted absolutely delicious and was to become a lasting memory for me of this place.
We crossed over the river and out of Le Rozier to head east again along an excellently surfaced road. The sun was out and it definitely had changed to typical south of France weather, a complete contrast to what we had experienced on the higher slopes above. You could not miss the difference in the climate at this point. We kept straight on the D996 at Peyreleau to follow the road along the Gorges de la Jonte. Any mistakes here would have us on steep s-bend climbs in the wrong direction but as the road was well signposted there was little chance of making such a dire error. The D996 is a spectacular route, today the fine weather showed off every detail in the rugged scenery, rising upward on both sides of us. The river, la Jonte flowed down in the middle of the gorge as we cycled along the wide roadway with an azure blue sky above. There were a bit more traffic on this road but it was fairly light. Our destination of Mayrueis lay a further 20 km further down this road. The journey was a fast one as we pedalled along on the smooth tarmac but despite this there seemed to be several long drags to negotiate, which at this point in the day's cycling made it hard going for me on the BJ with its spongy 32mm touring tyres. Later on I began to to wish for the white Meyrueis road sign with its red border. When I later examined the profile of the route I saw that this particular road steadily climbed all the way back up to 750m again all the way through the Jonte gorges. If we had gone in the other direction from the point where we reached Mostuejouls on the D907 road, it would have taken us down to the famous gorges of the river Tarn; perhaps some other time in the future? France has a lot of scope for exploration.
We arrived at Meyrueis about 5.30pm, a welcome sight of rustic buildings, trees, shops, restaurants and intricate cobbled streets. Everywhere around here had evolved over time and had interwoven itself around the river, a typical French tourist spot if ever there was. We then had to locate our hotel, the Mont Aigoual but its riverside locus made it easy to find as it lay at the top of the main street on the river bank. It can be recognized by its vertical signage and green painted lattice-work frontage. The staff at this family owned hotel were all very friendly. The lady at reception was very efficient and she arranged for our laundry to be done for us at a small cost and showed us down the street a short distance to a lockup storage area to let us stow our bikes. The hotel had an excellent restaurant and we availed ourselves of this comfortable facility after getting showered and changed in our en-suite rooms. The waiter was smartly dressed in his striped waistcoat livery and cheerfully conversed with us at the dining table. We would be here for the rest day tomorrow so we had plenty of time to relax in the hotel, enjoy our wine and dinner for the evening and to explore the town the next day. This is the kind of cycling you need to treat yourself to at least once in your life. Give it a try, reader!