French Postcards 9

It was hard to leave Narbonne. We had formed a very special bond with the place; but, we had another 50 km ride in front of us, one that would see us arriving at our penultimate destination – Bezier. 

First, we had to retrace our steps back up the Canal Robine to rejoin the land of the Midi. 


The few kilometres up to Cuxac D’Aude passed quickly. We are discovering a whole new set of muscles that endure much longer than the ones we had when we set out from Bram, so long ago!


Cuxac is not a pretty place, but we’d had to race through it the first time.  Now, it was the perfect coffee stop for us to consult the map, as something rather special lay ahead…


Four kilometres later, we caught our first sight of the ruined abbey of Fontcalvy. 


Established as a Cistercian religious ‘hub’ for a number of ‘etangs’ -local districts of agricultural value, it had flourished until the nineteenth century, when it was finally abandoned. It was given historical monument status in 1983 and is now a protected building. 

Despite being a ruin, it has one of the most ‘alive’ feelings I have ever experienced. It touched me in a way I can only express in poetry, so I hope to do it justice in the near future…

Beyond the ruin lay a couple of small villages linked by some of the most delightful country roads you can imagine. There is just the sound of the tires on the hot tarmac, the breeze in the trees, and the colours of green, blue and the Sun’s gold. 


Eventually, we reached the suggested lunch stop of Capustang. 


This lovely and vibrant little town was, sadly, spoiled for us by an adjacent table of cyclists who were wining so loudly that we gave up after a hasty Croque Monsieur, called it a day and left…


But fate moves in mysterious ways and we were to make good use of our extra time at an unexpected engineering marvel a few miles along our route…


The Butte du Malpas is a small hill, barely fifty metres high, but it has a singular place in the history of civil engineering in the Languedoc region. The picture shows one of the larger cruiser boats entering the tunnel of the Canal du Midi.


What it doesn’t show is that, fifteen metres below that and at an angle of about sixty degrees, runs the main rail link from Bordeaux to Sète – our final destination. 

And that’s not the end of the story…


Beneath the rail tunnel there is an even deeper one, the original, which is the drainage outlet for the nearby lake. 


Poor Malpas hill has had more drilling than my teeth… But it is a worthy engineering masterpiece. 


Just offset to the south of the crest of the hill is a lovely visitor centre which houses the model shown above. It was staffed by two of the most hospitable ladies we could have wished for, and soon, two hot and dusty cyclists were parked in the shade, drinking fruit juice, and sharing a litre of iced water… heaven!


The downhill run from Malpas saw us swiftly arriving in the canal pleasure-port of Colombièr, one of the few such modern sites on the whole of our route. The very air was starting to feel like the ‘seaside’; not surprisingly, as we were a mere few miles from a Mediterranean we were yet to glimpse…


Thursday’s final ride will fix that, as we end our pedalling with a glorious run along a fifteen km stretch of ‘spit’ that separates Sète from its huge tidal lake. 


For now, the beautiful, Roman city of Bezier had come into view, and, after navigating some tricky construction work that had closed the canal path, we began a one kilometre ascent of one of its hottest streets to find our lovely hotel…

More tomorrow on Bezier. 


©Copyright Stephen Tanham, 2016. 

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Mary Smith says:

    Wow, that engineering must have been something to see.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. stevetanham says:

    It was, Mary. From a distance it just looks like a mid-sized hill, but when you get into the detail it’s amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

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