Belgian Friend
Belgian Friend
📍 Collioure, France
🚲 Ride
🖋 Charles Aubert
⏱️ 6 min read

This year, May and June didn’t provide a lot of bank holidays but there were still a few occasions for long weekend getaways. We planned a reunion in Collioure, a small village on the Mediterranean coast, just a stone’s throw away from the Spanish border. While Antoine and Mathis had chosen the motorway, I seized the occasion to ride from Carcassonne to Collioure on a hot summer day.

Don't hesitate to follow me on Strava! As always, you can find the route on my profile:

Standing on the platform in Toulouse, waiting for the train to arrive, I quickly ate my breakfast and had an ultimate look at the route for the day. A few minutes later, I hopped on the regional train heading for Carcassonne. As stations and landscapes passed by, I sat next to my bike, making sure others were carefully laying their bikes against mine.

Though sometimes stressful, I’m thankful for regional trains and the new horizons they unlock. The ride is often a calm moment before the storm of the adventure. This time, it was also an opportunity to switch my mind off after a busy week traveling for work, around Europe. As the train approached Carcassonne, I packed my stuff and loaded the route on my watch. The route was split in half, the first one going uphill and the rest almost only downhill.

Once off the train, I headed south towards the Pyrenees, borrowing quiet roads through large vineyards. While the sun was already beating down on me, trees were keeping me cool with their shadow, at least for now. After crossing a few villages, I stopped for water and a croissant in Limoux.

Limoux marked the end of the rather flat grounds and a headwind was now accompanying the steepening gradients. I continued my trip, heading for Bugarach, a village known for its “upside down” mountain (its top rock layers are older than the lower ones). But the village’s fame doesn’t stop there, in 2011, more than 20 000 members of a cult gathered there hoping to meet aliens. There are several cues of that fame in the climb leading to the village. Once up there, I chatted with a few locals who kindly offered me fresh water.

I was halfway through the climb leading towards the highest point of my route and decided to ride before stopping at a restaurant. A few kilometers later, I reached a beautiful agricultural plateau, with golden wheat fields, cows napping in the shadow and butterflies coloring the sky. I descended until Cubières-sur-Cinoble and stopped at a small restaurant.

As I enter the small guinguette, a man sitting in the corner shouts: “Un Ricard pour le cycliste s’il te plait !” (“A Ricard for the cyclist, please”). Although I had just ordered a pint, I enjoyed “un petit jaune”. As I ate my salad, I chatted with Stéphane, a retired Belgian who has been living in the small village for more than fifteen years. He used to work in telecommunications so we talked about work for a little while. Half an hour later, he leaves the bar and invites me for a beer tasting session at his place. At first, I kindly declined his offer because I still had 80km left but he insisted. Actually, he had brought a full collection from Belgium for the summer but had to go back home for family reasons.

With only “the house with flowers after the turn” as indications, I struggle for a little while to find his place. After several wrong tries, I finally ride down an alley and find him waiting for me with a table under a tree. He had laid around ten different bottles on the table and we started our testing session. Little did I know, I was going to spend two hours chatting about beers and Stéphane’s inventions! Amongst which is a Sudoku-Mot (Sudoku-Word), a mix between crossed-words and  sudoku. Luckily the next 30 kilometers were almost exclusively downhill.

Shortly after waving goodbye to Stéphane, I crossed one of the most beautiful part of France, Les Gorges de Galamus. The carved cliffs, the steep drops and bright blue waters, this road never ceases to amaze me. Turn after turn, I enjoyed the scenic landscape, descending towards the bottom of the valley. Losing altitude also meant the temperature was rising quickly, and soon I was under 35°C heat. On the final stretch towards Collioure, the wind started to pickup and to be honest, the beer wasn’t helping me either.

With Collioure in sight, I put my headphones on and pedaled through the endless vineyards. Going up the final climbs, exhausted, I reminded myself of the amazing route and encounters I had made on a single-day adventure. I ended the day with a short swim in the sea and diner with friends, no better way to start the week-end!

Have you ever visited the south of France? Let me know in the comments!