Summer is still in full swing in the south, yet the yearly season-end migration is underway. While tourists are packing and leaving the Côte Vermeille, locals along with hoards of seasonal workers from around the world, are getting ready for a much anticipated period: grape harvesting. The excitement is palpable in the village and rumors about the yields are already flying. With the exceptionally dry and sunny weather, this year promises sweeter wines but with a superior alcohol degree.
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Collioure is surrounded by vineyards that span from sea level, all the way up to the peaks. A network of fire roads and white paths connects these vineyards along with mountain passes and various peaks. Recently, we’ve been thinking about getting our own vineyard. I took advantage of the harvesting season to ride in the various valleys around the coast, scouting for small plots of land, suitable for wine-making.
As usual, I left early in the morning to avoid the heat, when the light gently wakes up the village and lights up the castle. With 80km and close to 2000m of elevation, there was no time to loose. I quickly made my way out of Collioure and Port-Vendres.
A few moments later, I entered the Paulilles bay and traversed the Clos de Paulilles. Picture a large vineyard domain, facing a protected bay, surrounded by small mountains. The landscape rewards you after just fifteen minutes of riding, with a superb descent that meanders through the rocky land, with constant views of the sea.
Leaving the bay, I headed towards Cosprons, a small village reputed for, you guessed it, its vineyards. While the latter were empty in the Paulilles bay, here, the whole village was up and already busy preparing the harvested grapes. I stopped for a quick water refill and chatted with winemakers and hunters.
The paved road transformed into a rocky path with numerous steep hairpins. I was now heading up the mountain, towards the Spanish border. Along the way, I stopped several times to eat wild blackberries, that were just begging to be enjoyed.
After a good half an hour of hard effort, I reached a transversal path that would take me to the border. Recently maintained, it stretches on the mountain’s flank over ten kilometers. Picture a balcony overlooking the sea and vineyards, slowly descending towards the col de Banyuls.
Luckily, the military guarding the closed border wasn’t there. I didn’t stop for long and immediately crossed the rocks separating us from our Spanish friends. Facing south, the Spanish slope is even dryer with very little vegetation. I descended on a paved road before turning left, and climbing through pastures on a rough path.
Once again, the view from the top never disappoints and I stopped under a tree to have a little snack. I spent the remainder of the descent trying to control my bike on the steep and rocky path. Scattered ruins added a little variety to this arid and sun-drenched landscape.
Soon the descent was replaced by a steep and narrow concrete road. An unexpected very close call with a motorbike on the wrong side of the road left me shaking with adrenaline for a few minutes. Luckily I had managed to avoid the accident but almost had fallen into the ravine flanking the path. I put so music on, got back into my climbing rhythm and continued my small journey. At the top, from the much needed shade of a parasol pine, I admired a series of ruins overlooking the sea.
Although I could have taken a short nap there, the air was getting noticeably hotter and I couldn’t waste any more time. Riding on a dry river bed, the descent too was quite an effort. My arms cramped as I tried to control my speed going down yet another rough path. I crossed a deserted village (the wildfire risk was at its maximum) and followed the river all the way to the see.
Relieved to find a paved road, a series of tunnels separated me from Portbou and the last long climb of the ride. Hidden from the sun, the fresh air of the tunnels was a real treat. I stopped in the village, in search of water before heading back into the mountains. Luckily, a kind soul offered to refill my bidons and wished me good luck on my last ascension.
It was now 38°C and the first steep turns were taking a toll on my legs. Then, wild goat roaming free, tried to charge me on a few occasions! I sprinted several times, which in turn, finished to empty my legs. Arriving at the border, I stopped for a quick picture and continued riding towards Banyuls.
A few kilometers later, from yet another peak, the views were absolutely stunning. Only one thing remained: a rough descent. With empty legs and cramping arms, I rushed downhill hoping I wouldn’t encounter another motorbike. Once at the bottom, I stretched my legs over a few kilometers of smooth tarmac.
“Une grande pinte fraiche, s’il vous plaît!” (A large fresh pint, please!) — were my first words at the end of the ride. It was the perfect conclusion to an effortful morning of gravel riding and scouting through vineyards. I spent the rest of the weekend, leisurely enjoying life…