Day five and the schedule for Team Tandem Ecosse was for a another 60 plus km ride exploring the scenic beaches of Lac d’Hourtin-Carcans, the largest natural lake in France. After a deep sleep the “old git” and the “old gal” were fully refreshed and actually looking forward to getting back on the flat cycle paths.
The self-guide “bible” had an ominous warning at the start of today’s directions: “There are a lot of cycling lanes going through the pine forest. We use the names and numbers you will find at the crossings in order to guide the way.” Surely that means we couldn’t get lost today? Surely!
First off on today’s itinerary was a stop off at a traditional French restaurant in the town of Hourtin, recommended by our hotel, to book a table for tonight’s meal. More about that later – but it was a great call.
Next a stop at the local supermarket to stock up on supplies for another beach picnic – including some more wonderfully fresh grapes. These have been a real treat and because they go straight into my new super cool bag – complete with freezer blocks – the grapes are chilled and are extremely refreshing. More cheese, ham and bread – and of course a bottle of local vino – completed the shopping.
We passed the sign for the port at Hourtin, but decided we would visit tomorrow morning – and set off. The town of Hourtin is situated in the very heart of the Medoc area of Bordeaux – between the forest and the lake. It is wonderfully placed as it not only offers the lake, but is fairly near to the Atlantic ocean so at many crossroads you can make a choice of going to the lake or the sea – making it ideal for tourists and water sport enthusiasts.
The way out was the same as the final 12 km in from last night, back through the pine forest. And yes the couple of hills were still there! And no we still didn’t get to see the lake!
Because we were fresher we covered the distance in much less time and were soon heading south on the wonderfully surfaced wide forest road. As the bible said: “This road is car free and you can cover the next 17 km peacefully and quickly.”
And we did. The sun was bright in the sky again, and with little wind, it was ideal conditions for tandeming and the three of us were sailing along in high spirits.
In less than an hour we were at the next crossing point, taking the lane towards our lunch destination – the lakeside resort of Maubuisson. This was clearly a highly popular peak summer destination for the French and we cycled through what looked like a Center Parcs-style holiday complex before arriving at the beautiful beach.
Waiting such a long time for our first real view of the lake did not disappoint. It was serenely beautiful – with flat calm clear waters and miles of beach – and even the “old git”, who always talks up Scotland, was heard to say: “Who needs Loch Lomond?!”
We had reached half way in today’s distance, and with the sun being so warm we had to find a shady spot to be comfortable for lunch. The “old gal” found a nice tree to park me under, before setting out the picnic.
As always the picnic went down a storm – and the “old git” announced he would give the “old gal” a 5-star Picnic Advisor report – if such a website existed! The dynamic duo certainly had been enjoying themselves and indulging their taste buds with loads of local produce (and wine!)
After a coffee stop in a lakeside cafe, it was time to start the return journey with a cycle through another fantastic beach side location at Bombannes – which is set up as a summer sport camp, including lots of sailing activities.
The directions then told us to follow various signed tracks to try to get to the next stop off point – the beach resort of Piqueyrot – some 13 km away. But it also said we would be cycling inland as they didn’t recommend the lakeside path as it was very narrow and in bad condition.
Well we set off and ended up going round in circles for the best part of an hour – and each time we thought we had found the correct way we ended up at the start of the path we were told not to take. And it certainly didn’t look good – crumbled concrete and not much less than a metre wide. Certainly not good for an “old lady” like me!
There were lots of maps of the cycle path network, but frustratingly all lacked a “you are here” arrow, which effectively rendered them fairly useless.
After another couple of false starts we finally stumbled across the route the “bible” indicated and made good time towards Piqueyrot. When you are on the correct way, the directions and the cycle paths and the signage at the crossroads is wonderful – but clearly not when you are lost!
At one crossroads we bumped into a local French guy who was doing the route we had just covered – but on roller blades and carrying his own supplies and camping gear in his backpack. Both the “old git” and the “old gal” were suitably impressed at his fitness!
On to Piqueyrot and we were all stunned by the beauty of the beach here. Again there was a small sailing school, but the crystal clear water was what caught the eye – so tranquil there was barely a ripple.
There was a wonderful jetty which lent itself to one of those lake infinity shots you see in gift shops. So the “old git” had to practice his camera technique with the “old gal” standing patiently on the jetty to get “the shot.”
The water was so enticing that the “old git” and the “old gal” just had to have another paddle. Had it just been a couple of degrees warmer, the “old git” said he would have had a swim – but he decided to content himself with a paddle. Perhaps that decision was a blessing for everyone else on the wonderful beach. Mind you the “old gal” thinks the fact that he was even contemplating a swim was down to the fact that there was a rather eye-catching topless lady having a swim!
It really was a magical lakeside spot – and another image to be etched into the memory bank.
It was at this point that all three of us decided it would be nice just to stop here for a good while longer – rather than have to move on. But move on we did, and had an easy cycle for the last 10 km or so back to the hotel.
Not surprisingly the “old gal” and the “old git” were a tad tired, having covered 66 km in today’s heat. And that meant some four and a half hours in the saddle, returning an average speed of over 14 km / hr. Amazingly today we clocked the top highest speed of the tour so far – a staggering 43.9 km / hr. Yes it was on a steep downhill – but I have to say this “old girl” classic tandem is most impressed with herself for reaching such a dizzy speed!
The sun was still beating down, and the “old git” rewarded the “old gal” with one of his strong gins for her efforts!
It was perhaps no surprise that the “old gal” admitted: “I’m spangled” before she closed her eyes for a few moments in the evening sunshine and had a few quick zzzs!
The hotel had a very fancy bike shed for all the visiting bikes, and I was very proud to be the only tandem there.
Meanwhile the dynamic duo revived themselves with a shower and headed out for dinner. Sensibly after an arduous day, they decided to walk into the town for their reservation at Restaurant La Gare.
And what a treat it was – a real French restaurant, with local French people making up most of the bookings. It was a gastronomic delight, even if we did turn down the prospect of a traditional French dish involving a pig’s head!
The “old gal” started with her first taste this trip of the local delicacy of foie gras, before having a massive bowl of moule with chorizo, all washed down with some very drinkable crisp and perfectly chilled dry white Bordeaux wine.
The “old git” spotted scampi on the menu and of course had to inquire if this was indeed the Scottish bar supper favourite of deep-fried prawn! Fortunately the answer was no – although the owner did know what he was talking about and dismissed it with a laugh! Scampi here meant an amazing plate of half a dozen huge langoustine, cooked in garlic sauce! To say they were tasty would be a massive understatement.
After all that, they decided they didn’t have room for the magical looking cheeseboard, but instead polished off the meal with some cassis flavoured sorbet.
They just about managed to stay awake for the walk back to the accommodation to enjoy deep zzzs before the last leg of the tour tomorrow.