Mediterranean Coast and Canal du Midi

Price

£2,275.00 per person*

($3,094.00 USD or $3,867.50 AUD)

£200.00 deposit

£425.00 single room supplement

Dates

6th May to 12th May 2018

27th May to 2nd Jun 2018

15th Jul to 21st Jul 2018

16th Sep to 22nd Sep 2018

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I love French Cycling Holidays -I've ridden with several of their guides and they are always capable problem solvers. There wasn't a hiccup on this trip that I saw - and it's due the great guides.

-- Teresa, London UK

Highlights

  • Flamingos on the Sète lagoon
  • Café lunches in bustling fishing ports
  • Fantastic sea views around the Etang de Thau
  • Easy cycling along the tree shaded Canal du Midi
  • The astonishing medieval fortress of Carcassonne
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Join us for a cycling adventure. All you have to do is pedal


Joining the tour

Start

Sète railway station; Montpellier airport.

Finish

Return from Carcassonne railway station and airport (Ryanair)

Collection is from Sète railway station and from Montpellier airport. Departures are from Carcassonne train station and Carcassonne airport. 

Cycling level

3 out of 10

View Gallery

The Mediterranean Sea washes upon many different shores, and the influences of the seafaring nations throughout the centuries can be seen along the southern French coast. From the Phoenicians to the Moors, traders and invaders have all left their mark.

At the start of our tour, the town of Sète was founded in the 17th C to be a trading port at the end of the new project to link the Mediterranean and Atlantic by canal, and has been the focus of trade with Africa and the Middle East. Further West, Béziers still bears a large Spanish influence that can be seen it its Férias and thriving bullfighting culture.

The west of the region was in the early middle ages the historic home to the Cathars, a religious sect who rejected the pomp of the Catholic church, and who were persecuted to extinction as a result. A massacre occurred at Béziers and one of the last strongholds of the Cathars was Minerve where hundreds of Cathars committed mass suicide rather than submit to their Catholic oppressors.

A man-made feature of the Languedoc, and a highlight of the tour, is the engineering feat of the Canal du Midi, built in the eighteenth century to carry goods from the Mediterranean at Sète to the river Garonne at Toulouse, from where they would be transported to the Atlantic coast at Bordeaux. Tranquil and tree-lined, it meanders across the Languedoc plain and into the hills.

The canal passes by the amazing Citadelle of Carcassonne, which marks the end of our tour. Delapidated and plundered for building materials, it was restored to glory in the early nineteenth century and is now one of the most visited sites in France.

Fish and shellfish feature strongly in the cuisine of the coastal region, especially in the fishing ports of Sète and Marseillan, and around the shellfish centre of the Etang (lake) of Thau. Spanish influences come from the proximity of the border, and rice dishes and pimentos are often included in menus. Further inland the food is somewhat heartier, with specialities such as cassoulet and game dishes featuring in Carcassonne.

There are vineyards for just about the whole of the length of the tour: in Aigues Mortes, the speciality is a Rosé called Vin de Sable reflecting the sandy terrain on which the vines are grown; in the hinterland behind Sète the speciality is the crisp white of Picpoul de Pinet which, as is often the case of local wines matching local cuisine, provides a perfect accompaniment to shellfish dishes. Round Pézénas there are prestigious vinyards making superb full bodied reds, as there are in the hills round Minerve. Just south of Carcassonne can be found and the sparkling wines of Limoux, which are perfect to celebrate the end of the tour!

The cycling on this tour is easy, as we keep mainly to flat coastal roads and canalside cycleways – and much of the route is free of motorised traffic (if you don’t count the cruisers and barges chugging along the Canal du Midi!) Our latest bike tour will show you all of the diverse aspects of the coast, and of course its varied and delicious food and drink!

To view a map of the Mediterranean Coast tour route click here

Day 1

The town of Sète is built on the slopes of a hill jutting out into the Mediterranean. The home of poet and songwriter Georges Brassens, who is buried in the sailors’ cemetery at the top of the hill, Sète is a bustling town with a busy port, with canals and quais lined with restaurants and bars. Our hotel is a grand old building on one of the main quaysides.

After fitting bikes at the hotel, we will ride a warm-up circuit of the ‘island’ taking in the oyster beds and fishing boats on the inner (lake) side. The Etang de Thau, the inland lake, is one of the biggest producers of shellfish in france, specialising in oysters (huîtres), mussels (moules) and whelks (bulots). The second part of the ride takes in the corniche overlooking the Mediterranean before coming back to the canalside and the hotel. 

Back in Sète there will be time to explore the town, with its cobbled streets and canals; if you feel like stretching your legs, the sailor’s cemetery at the top of the hill is fascinating and offers wonderful views over the Mediterranean.

Our first evening will be spent in a superb local restaurant, with a menu taking advantage of the freshest seafood from the Etang that you rode by earlier in the day or taking inspiration from the game found in the hinterland.

Day 2

Leaving Sète , we have water on both sides as we travel along the spit of land that divides the Mediterranean from the Etang de Thau. The Etang is the largest producer of shellfish in the south of France, moules (mussels), huîtres (oysters) and bulots (whelks) being the specialities. At the end of the spit is the fishing and pleasure port of Marseillan. Marseillan is home to Noilly Prat vermouth, which chefs love because included in sauces it goes very well with fish.

The destination tonight is the fascinating medieval town of Pézénas. The home of the playwright Molière, Pézénas has charmingly preserved old quarters which feature a Jewish ghetto dating from the 14th Century. All around the town you will see the intricately carved doorways and courtyards of the hôtels (mansion houses) of which the town is proud. You might want to try out the petites pâtes de Pézénas which are the local delicacy – small pies of sweetened spiced lamb, reputedly introduced by Clive of India when he retired here. They sound disgusting but are actually delicious!

Daily Distance 42km / 26 miles , vertical elevation 210m / 700ft

Day 3

We stay in Pézénas tonight, so no packing! Our circular ride takes us out to seaside town of Agde, a major fishing port as well as a tourist destination.

On the way we stop off to visit the ancient flour mill and Roman Bridge over the river Herault at Saint-Thibéry.

Agde boasts the longest nudist beach in Europe!  The  Cathedral dating from the 12th Century is constructed in black basalt, and was built with defensive fortification in mind, so resembles a fortress as much as a church. The ride takes us out to the mouth of the herault as it empties into the Mediterranean, and it’s the perfect spot for a morning coffee

From Agde we head inland into the vinyards that produce the Picpoul de Pinet dry white wines that accompany seafood so beautifully. In the village of Pinet itself, we come across the traces of the Roman Via Domitia which ran from Spain to Italy.  Another degustation visit might be in order!

Back in Pézénas , there should be plenty of time to visit the old town if you missed it the day before, or to simply take advantage of the hotel’s spa and swimming pool.

Daily Distance 46km / 29 miles , vertical elevation 180m / 570ft

Day 4

Our route today takes us through vineyards via a series of typical Languedocian villages. In the first, Tourbes, the Wednesday morning market will be in full swing in the village square, and we will have plenty of time to stop for an exploration. In Pouzolles and Magalas there are wonderful wine producers of the Languedoc appellation and we can stop to taste the beautiful full bodied red wines.

We then head to Béziers, and its magnificent cathedral perched on a bluff above the River Orb. The town has a darker past – during the 12th and 13th century crusades to suppress the Cathar sect in south-west France, 30,000 men women and children were massacred by the Catholic armies. These days however the busy town is a great stop for shopping, or strolling the old town for a café or an ice cream.

The last, short, ride of the day is to our Château hotel in Lignan-sur-Orb, where you can stroll in the shady gardens or swim in the newly installed pool.

Total distance: 48km / 30 miles , vertical elevation 300m / 1,000ft

Day 5

Cycling south from Béziers we are heading towards the Canal du Midi which we reach after a few miles. Turning westwards on the tree-lined towpath, we soon reach the village of Colombiers the bars by the canal are perfect for a coffee stop. Shortly after turning back on to the canal we turn off again for the only climb of the whole tour. A 2km switchback takes us up to the Oppidum d’Enserune, the remains of a Gaulish and Roman hilltop town dating from the 6th century BC; in addition to the artifacts in the museum at the summit, there are also amazing views of the Lac de Montady, a now dried up lake which was cultivated in the 13th C in an experimental irrigation pattern, leaving a wonderful dartboard shaped field system which can be seen from the hill.

Back on the canal for the rest of the day, with opportunity to stop for refreshment at canalside villages like Capestang and Argelliers, we soon arrive at our hotel in the hamlet of Cabezac. With a well respected winery next door, you can choose to cool off in the swimming pool or walk a few yards for a degustation – or both!

Total distance: 49km / 31 miles , vertical elevation 260m / 800 ft

Day 6

Our last day of riding takes us into the heart of Cathar Country. A short ride brings us to the scenic village of Minerve, perched above the gorge of the River Briant. It was into this gorge that 300 Cathar villagers through themselves rather than submit to Catholic conversion. After a coffee in Minerve we descend through vine- and yellow broom- covered hills to reach the canal again at the pretty port of Trèbes.

Back on the canal it’s plain sailing into our final destination of the tour, the magical fortress of Carcassonne. The French government, was, astonishingly, on the point of demolishing the medieval fortified town until public outcry forced a rethink. The architect Eugène Violet-le-Duc was charged with restoring the citadelle, a process which continued after his death. The result is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a magnificent spectacle, especially with the walls illuminated after dark. The interior is a maze of cobbled lanes and squares with myriad cafés, bars and boutiques. 

Our hotel is right at the gates of the cité, with marvellous views of the fortifications and a stones throw from the entrance. We dine within the city walls for our last dinner, when we can reflect on a fabulous week of cycling and sightseeing. 

Daily Distance 64km / 40 miles (49km 30 miles with Minerve transfer), vertical elevation 450m / 1,480ft (100m /330ft) 

Day 7 

After breakfast we might like to take a dip in the pool or wander the in the old town. Onward transfers are to the town railway station which has connections to Paris (via Narbonne) and Toulouse. There are also flights from the local airport to London Stansted.

Not all cycle vacations are the same. Compare what is included in a French Cycling Holidays bike tour:

  • Flexible collection from local airport or train station
  • Quality Trek bicycles
  • Quality helmets (if required)
  • Water bottles (to take home as souvenirs)
  • Detailed riding instructions and colour route maps
  • Charming 3* and 4* auberges, inns and hotels
  • Buffet style breakfasts with croissants, pastries, meats, cheeses and cereals
  • Gourmet dinners for all 6 nights of your holiday
  • Fine wine (or soft drink alternative) with all evening meals and coffee to follow
  • 2 experienced bilingual guides with each tour
  • Delivery of your luggage to your hotel room each day
  • Entry fees to attractions and historical sites
  • Morning onward transfers
  • An unforgettable experience!

We try to include as much as we can within the price, while keeping things as flexible as possible. With the explosion of low cost airlines and the easy access to the TGV rail system from the UK, we believe that it is more economical and convenient for customers to arrange their own travel to the region. Links to the airlines and railway companies can be found in frequently asked questions.

Transfers

We provide the transfers to and from the local airports and the nearest TGV stations, and other locations by arrangement. If you have driven down, we arrange secure parking for your car and return you to it after the tour.

Hotels

We stay in very comfortable hotels, mostly 3*, occasionally 4*, and very occasionally superior 2* hotels which we choose if they have charm and comfort above their rating. All rooms have en-suite shower or bath facilities.

We select our hotels for their character as well as their facilities, and avoid chains in favour of independent privately run hotels.

Prices are based on two sharing in twin or double rooms. Singles are available on request. Where possible, we choose hotels with swimming pools as there is nothing quite like a dip after a day in the saddle!

It is sometimes necessary to change accommodation for reasons of room availability, minor adjustments to the route or upgrading the hotels. We will always endeavour to use hotels of an equal or higher level of comfort/facilities to those shown – please contact us to check for the most up-to-date information regarding your particular tour.

Meals

All evening meals are included, and we carefully select the restaurants for cuisine and ambience, and favour those with a strong regional flavour.

All meals include a starter, main course and dessert, some will have an additional cheese course. We are happy to arrange for our restaurants to cater for specific dietary requirements and allergies etc.

We do not include lunch, as the costing of these is beyond our control, but where route and weather allow we organise picnics; these feature copious salads, cold meats, cheeses, crusty bread, fruits, etc, and a choice of drinks; we ask for a contribution for the costs of the consumables, which usually works out at 8 or 9 euros per person per picnic. Where route or weather does not allow a picnic, we recommend suitable cafés and bistros.

Bikes & Equipment

We provide lightweight alloy framed Trek ‘hybrid’ touring bicycles with 27 indexed gears, fully equipped with lock, pump and toolkit (although our guides will generally be on hand to fix punctures and minor mechanical problems).

For carrying the items you might need during the day (camera, wallet, windbreaker etc.) we fit a capacious handlebar bag which also features a large map pocket. These clip on and off the bike in a flash so that you can always take your valuables with you when off the bike.

The bikes are meticulously maintained and we keep a wide range of sizes; female specific saddles are also available. We do not provide helmets automatically, as we find people prefer their own if they want to wear one, and sizing and fit is quite personal; however we always have helmets available for use. We also carry rain-capes should they be required (but hopefully not!). For certain tours we also have available 27 speed drop-handlebar race-style bikes, and tandems may also be available on certain tours by special request. We hire these locally, and charge on the additional cost. 

E Bikes

For nearly all of our tours an e-bike - electrically assisted bicycle - is an extra-cost option. These bikes apply a 'multiplier' to the level of input provided by the rider, the level of assistance can be adjusted for the terrain. This can be useful if there are members of your party have very different levels of bike-fitness and experience, as hills that look daunting suddenly become easy with an e-bike.

Please contact us for details.

 

Guides and Backup

There will be two guides on every tour; one cycling with the group and one in the minibus which will follow the group. The bus carries all luggage not required for the day's ride and will always be available for anyone at any point during the day. If for instance you want to take a day off the bike, or if a particular day seems a little hard, the bus will take you for as long or as little as you wish it to.

Everybody is provided with detailed route maps for each day, and both guides are easily contactable by mobile phone. The guides are enthusiastic experts on the local area and will be able to sort out any problems or special requests that you might have.

Le Grand Hotel, Sète

With a spectacular location on the canal, the hotel occupies a magnificent 19th century mansion house with an internal glass covered courtyard reaching the height of the 4 storey building. The elegant restaurant specialises in seafood fresh from the fishing port, but there are always delicious alternatives for the confirmed carnivore!

Grand Hotel

Hotel la Distillerie, Pézénas

This former brandy distillery has been transformed into a luxury hotel with a contemporary design and is set a stone’s throw from Pézénas’old quarter. The hotel’s restaurant serves modern French cuisine with a Spanish flavour, befitting the culinary influences of the area.

Distillerie

Château de Lignan, Lignan-sur-Orb

A 16th century fortress overlooking the River Orb, the 4* Château de Lignan sits in extensive landscaped grounds with a sumptuous newly installed swimming pool. The hotel’s elegant restaurant serves imaginative contemporary French cooking, served on the terrace in fine weather or in the impressive dining hall with original exposed stonework.

Bastide de Cabézac, Bize-Minervois

The Bastide, a converted fortified farmhouse dating in parts from the 15th Century, and its blue-shuttered ochre walls evoke the southern sunny climate. A stone’s throw from the Canal du Midi, it is perfectly positioned to be a stopping point on the Canal. The swimming pool is ideal for a dip to wash off the dust of the days ride, and suitably refreshed, you can visit the on-site winery for a tasting before dinner! The restaurant uses the fresh produce from the surrounding hills and nearby Mediterranean to full advantage, often with a surprising twist!

Cabezac

Hotel du Château, Carcassonne

Perfectly placed at the foot of the fortress of Carcassonne with spectacular views of the city walls, the 4* Hotel du Château features luxurious and individually decorated rooms and as an added reward for arriving in Carcassonne, there is a swimming pool with spa, sauna and hammam!

Chateau Carcassonne

It is sometimes necessary to change accommodation for reasons of room availability, minor adjustments to the route or upgrading the hotels. We will always endeavour to use hotels of an equal or higher level of comfort/facilities to those shown – please contact us to check for the most up-to-date information regarding your particular tour.

Below we answer all the most common questions that you might ask before choosing a French Cycling Holidays tour. If you have any further questions then please get in touch. We look forward to hearing from you.

How fit do I need to be?

Anybody who is reasonably active should be able to take part and enjoy our tours.

The tours have different levels of physical exertion — whilst the Loire Valley tours and Bordeaux tour are easy going; the Normandy, Provence Roman Heritage, and Burgundy tours are a little more strenuous, whilst and the Provence Lubéron, Dordogne and Languedoc tours require a reasonable level of fitness.

For nearly all of our tours an e-bike - electrically assisted bicycle - is an extra-cost option. These bikes apply a 'multiplier' to the level of input provided by the rider, the level of assistance can be adjusted for the terrain. This can be useful if there are members of your party have very different levels of bike-fitness and experience, as hills that look daunting suddenly become easy with an e-bike. Contact us via the contact page if you would like more details.   

The Sports tours are aimed at enthusiast cyclists who might want to bring their own road bikes. However, the rides are not races and there is no time limit - and there is always the minibus if things get too tough!

We would nevertheless recommend that anyone who has not taken any regular exercise for some time to consult their doctor before considering any activity based holiday. Bear in mind that a little regular riding before coming on a cycling vacation will always be a benefit to the experience.

How do I get there?

We pick up and drop off from the nearest international airports and TGV/railway stations to the start of each tour. (We can drop at a nearer airport or station by arrangement if more convenient for you and logistically possible). This gives everyone the option of making their way by the most economical or convenient means. The major options are:

Flying from the UK

Ryanair flies into following airports:

Nimes (for the Provence tours and Languedoc tours; Ryanair also fly out of Beziers and Montpellier for the Languedoc tour); Bergerac (for the Bordeaux tour), Dinard for the Normandy tour, Grenoble for Alpine trips and Pau (for the Classic Cols tour)

Ryanair operates out of Liverpool, London Stansted and London Luton Airports amongst others.

Easyjet flies into Montpellier (for the Provence tours) and out of Bordeaux (for the Bordeaux tour); it flys into Geneva and Lyon for Alpine tours and also out of Nice for the Alpine Raid.

British Airways prices can be reasonable if booked in advance — BA fly into Bordeaux for train transfers to Bergerac (Bordeaux tour), and Marseilles (Provence tours).

If we do not pick up from the airport itself, we will advise on rail connections from the airport to our pick-up points.

Rail for visitors from outside Europe / those already in France

The TGV can be an exceptionally quick way of reaching many French destinations from the UK and from Paris for those flying from overseas or UK regions.

The Eurostar SNCF (French National Railways) TGV websites may be useful. As a guide, London St Pancras to Avignon via TGV takes approximately 6½ hours; Tours takes 4 hours. From Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, the point of arrival for most intercontinental flights, Tours is 1½ hours by TGV, Avignon (for Provence) just over 3 hours.

Brive-la-Gaillarde is 4 hours from Paris by rail for the Dordogne tour. We are more than happy to advise on rail options — please contact us. Internet sales from the French SNCF site ( www.voyages-sncf.com sites are possible but are in French; the approved agency for the US and Canada is RailEurope ; however we are happy to advise and help with the French website.

Driving

This may be a good choice if your French Cycling Holiday is part of a longer stay. We will arrange secure parking for your car at or near our first hotel, and return you to your car at the end of the trip. (Note - this service may not be available on certain long distance sports tours - please check with us). The major ferry and crossing companies from the UK are Eurotunnel, P&O, Brittany Ferries, LD Lines, Speedferries and SeaFrance.

If it is more convenient for you to hire a car Europcar in our experience have the best rates for rentals where the drop-off is at a different location to the pickup.

However you choose to travel, we are very happy to help you sort out your itinerary.

What kind of pedals do you use?

Pedals are obviously fairly important on a cycling tour! We stock the following kinds:

Flat – i.e. no special cleats or grips, these pedals can be used with any kind of footwear. If you do not regularly use special pedals or cycling shoes, we recommend standard trainers/sneakers to wear while riding.

SPD/flat – we also have pedals with one side flat and one side an SPD cleat. This is the standard Shimano SPD compatible system; two bolts and the small cleat pictured on the shoe with the yellow sole. These cleats are ideal for cycling tours as the cleat is usually recessed into the bottom of the shoe. The pedals are visible to the right of the picture.

SPD/flat style pedals

Flats with cages – we have a small number of flat pedals with cages & straps – again if you are not used to this, we wouldn’t recommend starting a tour with them!

Other – we do NOT stock any other pedal systems. If you use any other kind of pedal, you are very welcome to bring your own and our guides can fit them to your bike for the week. However, we would advise against racing-style pedals such as the Look Keo, Shimano SPD-SL or similar, as these tend to have a large, protruding cleat on the sole of the shoe which makes walking around visits or lunch stops (or even nipping into a public toilet!) quite uncomfortable and dangerous. Sports tours are a little different as there are much longer days and less off-the-bike walking – a choice is ultimately up to you though!

Can I use my own bike?

We are happy for anyone to bring their own bikes. However, the budget airlines charge around £50 each way and packing and carriage can be a hassle. Our Trek bikes are of a high standard, and our customers usually express pleasant surprise at the quality of the machines, so it might be a better option to bring your saddle and/or pedals which we will be very happy to fit. In any case there will always be a backup bike should you have a mechanical problem. Please feel free to call us for advice on bike transportation.

What should I wear?

The main thing that people who are not regular distance cyclists worry about is a sore behind. This is not as is popularly thought due to too-hard saddles, but friction between skin and garments. This is why professional cyclists wear skin-tight lycra shorts with padded inserts. Many people feel a bit self-conscious in this sort of gear and your local cycle shop will have a range of padded undershorts which can be worn under normal clothing, or regularly styled shorts with sewn-in padded liners. Otherwise, lightweight comfortable clothing (tee-shirts, shorts, trainers) is ideal, with something warmer like a fleece just in case. As we will be dining well, you might like to take something presentable (but not formal — no-one on a French Cycling Holiday stands on ceremony!) for the evening meal.

How many people on each tour?

As well as being an active holiday, sampling the best that France has to offer, we believe that our trips should be an opportunity to meet people and make new friends. Our groups are limited to a maximum of 16, which is the largest number that we can give a personal service to, and a minimum of 6 people, which we feel is the number needed to achieve a group spirit. If we cannot achieve this number, we may cancel the tour giving a minimum of five weeks notice.

What weather are we likely to encounter?

We time our tours so that the weather should be ideal for cycling for each tour. For that reason we have our Provence and Languedoc tours in the late spring and early autumn, rather than in high summer when it can be too hot to cycle comfortably after 10 a.m. The Loire Valley, Dordogne, Bordeaux and Burgundy tours are more temperate, which is why we concentrate these tours in July and August. We cannot guarantee the weather, but it would be very unlucky to have more than one wet day on any of the tours.

Are there any age limits?

There is no specific upper age limit — the only constraint is a reasonable level of fitness. Children between 10 and 16 are welcome as part of family groups. We do not recommend these tours for children under 10.

Do I need travel insurance?

We require all participants to have travel insurance with full medical cover. It is part of the conditions of our tours that participant should provide evidence of suitable cover. If you have any questions about the cover required please contact us for advice.

What financial protection is in place for my booking?

In accordance with “The Package Travel, Package Tours Regulations 1992” customers of French Cycling Holidays Limited will be indemnified in respect of their net ascertained financial loss sustained arising from the cancellation or curtailment of the declared trip travel arrangements arising solely from the event of the financial failure of French Cycling Holidays Limited.

This insurance has been arranged by Towergate Chapman Stevens through Hiscox Insurance Company Limited.

"Just fabulous - will highly recommend!"

Laura and Gail, Ontario, Canada


"Fantastic holiday! The guides make it - don't lose them!"

Julie & Richard, Chievely, UK


"The trip was a great way to combine French food, culture and countryside in a fun and active way. This tour suited our fitness and skill level and was a highlight of our 6 week trip to Europe."

Jenny & Bruce, Lindfield, New South Wales, Australia


“Very enjoyable – the second tour I have been on & both times the tour exceeded expectations. Guides went out of their way to make the trip exciting.”

Cris, Alberta, Canada

 

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