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The bike path in France cycle tourists should avoid

Alia Parker's picture
The Canal Lateral in the South of France is a good option for cyclists.

Our ride today follows the Canal Lateral and then the Canal du Midi – an 83km stretch between the towns of Grisolles and Avigninet-Lauragais in the south of France. The canals separate when we reach Toulouse where, as usual, we manage to find ourselves lost in a big city. We find our way through eventually, so no harm done, although it is frustrating. Cycle touring rule number one: you will get lost!

Toulouse is way too big to see in one day on a bike so we don't see much; perhaps another time.

We rejoin the canal. This is our second day of canal riding and although not our favourite type of riding, it's clearly a great option for families – at least on this particular section. Canal riding can become a little monotonous, but today we have some quite nice scenery. We see many touring cyclists along here, so it's certainly popular.

We are surprised at the amount of homeless people living by the canal on the way into and out of the city; very sad that so many people call the streets their home although the few we see seem to have set up reasonably substantial 'homes'.

The weather is overcast and cool as we stop short of Castelnaudry, which was our original destination. But we're tired. We're finding cycling this path quite draining as there is no roll – you pedal all the time with no real ups or downs apart from the pinches at the canal locks. This makes the kilometres seem much longer.

A good section of the Canal du Midi, France.

A tale of two canals

After stopping the night, we start back on the canal path. Our aim today is to get to Carcassonne via the Canal du Midi bike path.

The canal path soon leads us to a quiet back road that turns into a goat track! This is no exaggeration; it's like single track in Australia – only suitable for mountain bikes. We had heard that it had improved in places, but we find it hard to see where.

We eventually make Castelnaudry where decide to ditch the 'bike path' for the road, which looks like it should be quiet. Castelnaudry is a pretty town where the canal drains into a lake. There are many tourist boats and pretty houses lining the edges. Making it even better, a fabulous tail wind is behind us. But the road soon starts to get extremely busy and, although it's quite wide, we have a few close passes by stupid French drivers. Yes, stupid because some of them drive like complete lunatics!

Traffic aside, we continue on, only to be attacked by a swarm of bees. Incredible! We had seen beehives in the paddocks and hadn't thought anything of them until the next thing we know we have bees swarming in our faces and cars to deal with. Unfortunately, Evan is stung for the third time this trip, this time on his hand. We are very lucky it isn't worse.

We give up on our so called 'quiet road' for a while and head back to the canal path. Bad move – it's absolutely appalling. Despite what they say, the Canal du Midi is NOT for loaded touring cyclists. It is a great mountain bike track for day rides, but it should not be promoted as a bicycle touring route. The path from Avignonet through to Carcassonne is nothing short of goat track!

Back for more

So we take the road again for a time to get a few more kilometres done and then try the path again between the towns of Bram to Carcassonne. Unfortunately this is some of the worst part of the Canal du Midi track. Between dodging the thorns of the blackberry vines, the tree roots, rocks and tight turns, it takes all of Evan's strength just to keep our tandem bike out of the canal! Apart from all of this, the signage is terrible and you can easily get confused.

It's so bad that we're in no mood to stop to take photos of the worst places because it's just way to narrow and difficult to hold the bike. We've gone from such great infrastructure on the Canal Lateral to such terrible infrastructure on the Canal du Midi, you have to wonder why.

The tandem touring bike set-up.Anyway, we eventually make it safely to Carcassonne where the campground is a short walk to the medieval city. All up, it's been a 71km day. We will have a rest day tomorrow before continuing on toward Montpelier, although it's likely we will change plans and head straight to Narbonne from here.

And we will be staying well away from the canal tracks! 

About Sue and Evan

Sue and Evan are from Petrie, Queensland. They've cycle toured through France on numerous occasions as well as Spain, Germany and The Netherlands. You can read more about their their adventures on their Cannondale tandem touring bicycle on their blog: Le tour en Tandem

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