FIVE GO MASSIF IN FRANCE
A brief account of an MSL Tour in August 2016 with David Shanks, Ian Hartley, George and Ruth Tarasewicz from the Oxford Section of the BMW Club.
Despite an early start on a cool dark morning and obstruction on the M40 caused by a car/caravan smash we met at Clacket Lane Services for refreshment before tackling the last leg to the Channel Tunnel. It was high season and delays were to be expected but eventually le Shuttle decanted us in France only 15 minutes behind schedule. The weather was warm and we ventured south using the peage to Bapaume thence to Café le Tommy in Pozieres. This café has much memorabilia re WW1 and in particular the Australians. It also has a museum with reproduction trenches for those with time to spare on their journey. George and Ruth met us there and joined us for the remaining journey by D roads south to Chateau Thierry for our first stopover. I can’t claim to have lost anyone this time as I was persuaded not to lead!
An early start was required as the next day would be just over 300 miles on D roads. It was pleasantly cool initially, but as progress was made along the scenic highways of rural France, the sun came out and temperatures soared. Troyes, Auxerre and Clamency passed by. After a delightful lunch stop, we headed due south along the D34 which was more rural still. There was very little traffic along the way, but the villages we passed through were charming. From Moulins the road became much busier and at last we arrived in Clermont-Ferrand. The Best Western Hotel du Puys was modern with a stunning rooftop breakfast room and views over the city.
Clermont-Ferrand from the rooftop of our hotel
After two long and tiring days in the saddle we decided to have a day on foot exploring the delights of Clermont-Ferrand. We settled on a visit to the Michelin museum (C-F being their headquarters) which proved a revelation. Who would have thought that Michelin manufactured aeroplanes for the French military in WW1? Or that a niece of Robert MacIntosh would have provided the inspiration for vulcanization of rubber to provide the first tyres? After the museum the tram system was ridden from end to end. C-F was neither particularly picturesque nor (apart from the Michelin Museum) a tourist destination. It is a major industrial city that happens to be the capital of the Massif Central area of France.
For the next leg of our journey, we are indebted to Alan and Gill Mossman who visited the area and published a fabulous route in TVAM’s Slipstream magazine. We visited the hotel Le Lac des Moines on the outskirts of Condat for coffee before following the route to Aurillac over the Col de Peyrol and past Puy Mary (at 1783m probably the highest point in the area). After lunch we followed the N122 to Figeac. The Hotel Le Pont d’Or was superb. Located on the riverbank with a swimming pool on the roof and only a short walk into the historic town, this was an outstanding place to visit. The rideout involved several stops for refreshment, tremendous scenery, busy roads (the nearer we got to the Dordogne) and some navigational challenges.
Riverside Hotel in Figeac
Our most southerly destination was Millau (locally pronounced mee oh not mill ow!). We duly road over the stunning Norman Foster designed viaduct before parking in the services to ponder the spectacle. With 3 nights in Millau there were many opportunities to view the Viaduct. We rode out under it twice and I also travelled under it on a motorized punt. The information centre underneath the viaduct was free to enter and had an excellent film and display of the design and construction process.
Millau Viaduct viewed from the River Tarn
The Tarn Gorge upstream from Millau was well worth the ride. As it was main holiday season, the road was liberally cluttered with campervans and minibuses towing canoe trailers as well as tourists slowly meandering whist viewing the scenery. Having taken an adventurous turn (ie not followed the gps route) we found some stunning roads, a herd of goats (or long eared sheep?) a leisurely lunch in a shaded garden and eventually the road back to Millau. Beaucoup de Twisties! After the rigors of the river adventure on the following day, a short excursion was required. We visited the Caves at Roquefort-sur-Soulzon from where the famous cheese comes.
The penultimate hotel at La Garde was a revelation. It boasts a gourmet restaurant as well as a swimming pool. The food was superlative. We stuck to beer as the wine list pricing unfortunately matched the reputation of the restaurant. The temperature having been in the low to mid 20s°C had now reached in excess of 30°C. The hotel had no air conditioning but with open windows proved to be OK. Some of the rooms were themed. One was a stable which seemed to consist of pallet wood everywhere. Another was a metalworking studio.
Viaduct at Garabit
A visit to the railway viaduct at Garabit was a must. This remarkable construction was one of the earliest designs of Gustave Eiffel who later designed the tower in Paris. We then investigated the Lac du Bge de Grandval with its large dam and EDF hydro scheme. Unfortunately, there was a cycle event taking place in the area and we kept coming across marshals and gendarmes who gave the cyclists priority over all other road users. We eventually escaped from St Flour stopping for a late petit dejeuner at the A75 services overlooking the viaduct at Garabit. We had a brief trip south along the A75 to marvel at this scenic autoroute (non Peage south of Clermont-Ferrand except for the Viaduct at Millau). I noticed the altitude climb to well over 1100m before we left to return north on D roads to the hotel.
Our last night at La Garde was somewhat interrupted by the noise from the local festival until well into the early hours. Despite this, we managed to leave before 8.00 for our long ride to Chartres. We took advantage of the free section of the A75 up to Clermont-Ferrand. This was spectacular but as the road twisted so much there were speed limits as low as 90kph in some stretches. The rest of the journey was very hot. We wondered why most places were shut and the traffic seemed fairly light. When we eventually found a tabac that was open and supplied us with 3 cool soft drinks we discovered that 15 August was a national holiday (The Assumption of Mary). The final hotel welcomed us with aircon, secure parking comfortable beds and a final communal meal before we all departed individually for the UK In Peter’s absence we were let off the obligatory Balloon joke, but a good time was had by all.
Our last day involved a relatively short ride from Chartres to Ouistreham to catch the late afternoon ferry to Portsmouth. Again good roads, lots of twisties but more traffic including tractors and lorries. We had time for a quick lunch at Pegasus Bridge and a look around the museum. Sadly, there wasn’t sufficient time to watch the English version of the film about the museum and the bridges historical part in the D Day landings before we had to leave for the ferry.
Pegasus Bridge down
A great trip with stupendous roads and scenery, great friends and comfortable hotels. We were very lucky with the weather which remained dry and mostly hot and sunny throughout our stay.