Breakfast at the La Fayette was abundant and varied. I felt full of energy and almost regretted not being able to jump on the bike and begin the day’s journey. As it was I had to wait for the planned train journey to Bordeaux; and anyway, the continuing rain made me aware that at least I wasn’t in for another soaking.
I’d chosen to go from Rochefort to Bordeaux because the cycle-tracks between the two cities are either non-existent in one direction (the most direct) or excellent but far too long in another. I had originally planned to take the cycle-routes from Rochefort to Royan and from there to Lacanau-Océan, from where there is a first-rate track to Bordeaux. But time constraints obliged me to abandon this plan and I didn’t fancy cycling on the road for such a long distance through Charente Maritime. So I’d booked my train ticket from Rochefort to Bordeaux in London. Before leaving to catch my train I had a long drink on the Place Colbert
and then located the station.
Once in Bordeaux, where I arrived at around 2.00 pm under still threatening skies,
I wasted no time at all in finding the cycle-track that led, in the first instance to Latresne and then from there joined the famous Piste Roger Lapebie (named after the celebrated racing cyclist and Tour de France winner) to Sauveterre-de-Guyenne. My aim was to follow this cycle-track to Sauveterre and from there find a suitable route on back lanes to the Canal de Garonne. The track turned out to be excellent and this was to continue for much of the remaining journey.
My destination this evening was the village of Frontenac where I’d booked a room at the chambres d’hôte of Madame Michèle Duranteau [see: http://micheleduranteau.free.fr/]. This turned out to be a good choice.
I followed the piste to Créon,
Where I had a late lunch on the main square.
It’s a pleasant enough little place, with both English connections (from the English occupation of Aquitaine) and connections with cycling in the famous station vélo which I didn’t feel sufficiently motivated to visit. The cycle-track is, however, a joy to use. It follows a disused rail-line and still has the feeling of a slow country train-journey. Gradients are gentle to non-existent and the countryside is a continuous pleasure. It’s a bit like taking a little tortillard many years ago. It goes through cuttings, across embankments, through tunnels
over bridges, past former stations and generally provides the sort of experience one would have had travelling by local country rail, minus, of course, the train. There was little need to leave the cycle-track, except to buy food and drink. The track is well signposted, the villages are marked and the surface is good solid tarmacadam. You just keep pedalling without too much effort and the kilometres slip by.
I did, however, take quite a lengthy detour to see the dolmen near Bellefond. The site was a bit dilapidated and had suffered the attentions of local builders in the nineteenth century. But there was still enough left for it to feel like a very ancient monument.
After the detour to Bellefond, which set me back an hour or so, I set off for Frontenac and arrived there at around 6.30. Unfortunately, the road to the village went up a fairly steep incline, for which I was mentally and physically unprepared. As a result, in my determination not to get off my bike, I rode right past the chambres d’hôte and had gone a mile or so before I realised that I’d missed my way.
Madame Duranteau turned out to be a very pleasant, lively retired lady who directed me to the washing machine and drier for my sweat-soaked gear and invited me to an apéritif or two in the garden at seven thirty. I drank a couple of glasses of Floc de Gascogne – which resembles Pinot des Charentes but is made with Armagnac – and then a couple of glasses of Lillet, a fortifed wine from the immediate area. By the time they had disappeared, I was feeling at one with the world and ready for dinner.
Dinner turned out to be an excellent confit de canard with fried potatoes and vegetables preceded by a generous plate of magnificent crudités and accompanied by a large decanter of Bordeaux Supérieur from a local producer. I managed to do justice to these, but was nearly defeated by the three cheeses followed by an abundant fruit salad. I finished the decanter of wine on the encouragement of Madame Duranteau and was then pressed to try the local Armagnac. But I had to refuse, and after a tisane and a few minutes of TV, I went to bed in my vast room.
I have no hesitation in thoroughly recommending this establishment. The food was first-rate, the room excellent and Madame Duranteau herself charming and entertaining, proud of her terroir and its products, proud of her French heritage and of her garage full of vintage cars.