An old gentleman greeted us on the street. “You called”, he said, as he shook our hands and invited us in through a large wooden door on the wall. We walked through the diverse garden, past the swimming pool and Jaguar in the driveway, and into the mansion house quietly overlooking the area. We sat outside drinking unlabelled wine with him and the few other guests staying at the hotel, and told some stories. Now those that know me well, know that this isn’t my type of thing (tents are).
I ended up in this situation because the previous day, whilst overlooking the rolling hills about 100km south of Lyon, and drying off from a recent thunderstorm, I met Greg cycling up the hill behind me. He’s on a cycle tour from Lille to Barcelona, over two weeks. We swapped a mini-version of our trips before deciding to have dinner together in the next town (we both ordered “steak”, and both received a sad little burger without a bun for €10). Greg was staying in hotels for his whole trip and so invited me to stay in his room at no extra cost. And after mentioning his ex-girlfriend, so I didn’t get the wrong idea, I agreed and we both cycled towards the small city of Montèlimar in the dark.
He had no intentions of staying in such a place. However we had called every single hotel in the city, and the only one left with a room free was this one, at €200 a night.
So after a great night sleep, we woke up and left our rather posh room in favour of the equally posh dining area at the back of the mansion for breakfast – adorning a grand fireplace and with “exquisitely” framed portraits decorating the walls. In the middle sat one long dining table. On it, lay baskets of various French breads, silver trays ornamented with little glass pots of home-made jam and wine glasses with freshly squeezed watermelon. Jesus, yesterday I was sweating my ass off in a field inside my tent, eating muesli for breakfast out of a tin pot with a spork. We were asked our desired coffee and were each brought a mini-omelette in a decorated dish that looked designed for just that purpose. Such comments as “Well, I was only in St. Tropez for business that day…” and “What a lovely spoon” were uttered. I felt exactly how Jack from Titanic felt when he was invited to the posh dinner party with the royals. Naturally, I took advantage of the situation and ate breakfast, lunch and dinner in about half an hour.
At midday, we left, and followed the GPS on Greg’s phone to get us out of the city and onto the cycle path next to the Rhône, now much wider and grander than the small glacial river I left in Switzerland. We chatted about life and cycling and before long we were traversing the hills amongst vineyards in the south of France, munching the grapes. Later that night we parted ways because our routes diverged a little, and wished each other well.
A couple of days later, and back into my usual camping routine, I finally approached the sea at the south of France, something I’ve not seen for 3 months, since I left the north of the Netherlands. A sign on the beach read the water temperature at 21ºC, so I wasted no time and jumped right in amongst the few holiday makers paddling around in the skin searing sunshine. I was so happy I was almost laughing. The best things in life are free.
I passed through the small seaside town of Sète, with it’s live music and seemingly endless variety of restaurants (decent prices too) and then continued along the cycle path to the next town on the coast. Now dark, I climbed over the dunes next to the path, and slept to the soft sound of the Mediterranean waves.
The following day I woke at around 6.30am when the sun began to creep over the horizon and into the clear blue skies above. There was absolutely nobody around. Not a soul until about 9am. And even then it was just the odd jogger plodding along the wet sand next to the sea. I had the whole beach to myself. It was warm too, and I went for a swim.
Later, I realised that I had lost my “cycling shorts”. I’m not sure where, but now I only had my swim shorts and they aren’t very comfy to cycle in, so I boosted into the next city, Beziers, to try and find some. On the way there I met a rather interesting character, Lucas, who is cycling to Spain from the Czech Republic. He’s Polish, and a few years ago, cycled all the way from Poland to South Africa. Pretty amazing. We chatted for a while, cycled along the coast and got some food, and vouched to meet again in Barcelona.
In the rather boring, and crowded city, I found a massive shopping center on my mission for shorts. Sadly, according to “fashion” summer is over, and so there are no shorts anywhere in the whole place, apart from one pair stashed in a dark corner of a massive chain store. They look like a cross between pyjamas and over-sized boxer shorts, and their only redeeming factor is that they are a blue “fake tartan” style, and if anyone speaks of how ridiculous they are, I’ll tell them I’m Scottish. Keep an eye out for my “awesome” shorts in future posts.