Cycling to Lac de l’Essourou

I still craved a ride northwest of my homebase of Lauzun, but I found the huge ridge climb west of Eymet daunting.

The next Sunday, Ian and Sue were back from their holiday and game to cycle with me as far as Eymet. Okay, I told myself, this would be the day.

I would cycle with them westwards to the village of Eymet, leave them at the Carrefour Market, climb up to the village of Rouquette, explore the plateau, check out Lac de l’Essourou, and then drop back down into Eymet to follow the Dropt river east and back into Lauzun village…


Cycling the Canal de Garonne

According to, “The Canal de Garonne, formerly known as Canal latéral à la Garonne, is a French canal dating from the 19th century.” It is the continuation of the Canal du Midi which flows between the Mediterranean Sea and the city of Toulouse. Together, the two canals form the Canal des Deux Mers which connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.

Sue told me that she and Ian had cycled the Canal du Midi two years ago, when they arrived in Europe. West of Marseilles, they discovered the flat, former tow-paths of the canal which carried them westwards into the small city of Marmande. Sue suggested we could cycle a “sampler section” of its sister route, the Canal de Garonne, after Christmas.

On Boxing Day, three of us loaded our bikes on the back of the Renault, drove to Marmande, parked next to a shuttered boat rental facility next to the canal, and set out.

We would pedal 10 kilometres westwards along the canal’s flat, paved former tow paths to the village of Meilhan-sur-Garonne, pause for a picnic snack at a canal lock house, and then pedal back to Marmande.

Map of the Canal du Midi and Canal de Garonne.
The location of the Canal de Garonne and Canal du Midi in southwestern France. The city of Bordeaux (not shown) is northwest of Castets-en-Dorthe, and Marseilles (not shown) is east of Sete.

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Cycling to Villebramar village

It was tough packing a decent ride into a busy weekend here in the village of Lauzun, but I pulled it off.

Friday: Bang drums with the Lauzun Morris dancing troupe at the monthly First Friday Folk. Saturday: shop at farmers’ market, then join fund-raising dinner and quiz with the Lauzun cricket club. Sunday: drop by the vide grenier market in the morning, and then cycle as far south as I can before it gets dark.

Saturday performance in Lauzun, France
Local children dance the zumba and then pass the chapeau for a fund-raising event at the weekend market in Lauzun, France.

My goal for this half-day ride is the delicious-sounding town of Tombeboeuf, a mere 15 kilometres south of Lauzun, one-way.  In the village of Montignac-de-Lauzun, I roll up to a fork in the road and choose the road less-travelled.

Crossroads at Montignac-de-Lauzun

The day is mild, sight lines are good, and traffic is non-existent.

Pastures north of at Montignac-de-Lauzun
Pastures north of Montignac-de-Lauzun, France.

When I intersect road D227, I navigate a zig-zag to stay on barely-there minor roads. I discover that I am on a ridge, and vistas of orchards and valleys roll out below me for kilometers.

Orchards north of Montignac-de-Lazun
Orchards north of Montignac-de-Lazun.

A short, steep climb rewards me with a beautiful hill-top village called Villebramar. The village draws travellers with a funky bistro called Les Ganivelles with an outdoor deck. Unfortunately it’s closed, but I make a mental note to ask my hosts Ian and Sue if we could return there for a nice, sunset dinner.

Les Ganivelles bistro in Villbramar, France
Les Ganivelles bistro in Villebramar, France.

I lean the bike against a pole and take a look around. There’s a water feature with big, healthy-looking gold fish. It really looks like a nice place. I have to laugh when I see the chickens looking very relaxed at the bistro’s kitchen door.

Chickens at kitchen door in Villbramar, France
Chickens at the kitchen door to Les Ganivelles in Villbramar, France.

I follow increasingly-obscure side roads until I pedal what looks like a farm’s drive way. But once again, what looks like a private lane is a through-route. This one drops into a lovely valley surrounding Loubet lake. The climb back out of the valley is steep and loose, but my cyclocross bike has a triple chain ring up front, plus I’ve climbed a few logging roads—fully loaded with touring gear—back home in Canada.

Rough road west of Lac du Loubet, France
Rough road west of Lac du Loubet, France.

The shadows are getting cold and the sun looks lower, so I pass on Tombreboeuf and instead make a beeline back towards the village of Laperche. I’m worried about running out of light on these tiny roads.

Out of Laperche it’s another fantastic ridge ride, and it feels downhill most of the way back into Lauzun (even though I know it’s not).

Treeline near Laperche, France
Treeline near Laperche, France.

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St-Maurice, an 11th-century sod village

I’ve discovered Lauzun’s thousand-year-old grassy knoll.

Just a kilometre or two north of the village, I walk along a plowed field and see a hand-painted wooden sign with a yellow footprint on it. I follow the sign to a flat-topped hillock that seems at odds with the rolling, agricultural terrain around it.

The foot path continues around the base of the knoll and a faded sign tells me it’s the former site of a feudal sod village called Saint-Maurice.

France Lauzun st-maurice le motte feodale
A feudal sod village called Saint-Maurice, circa 11th century, near Lauzun, France.

In the 11th century (between the years 1000 and 1100 AD) villagers, farmers, and artisans protected this hilltop home with a security system that included a timber wall and a watch tower.

I walk the leafy, soggy path up to the hill’s flat clearing. I pass a pile of stacked wood and walk in a circle around the hilltop. It feels private and primeval up here.

France Lauzun st-maurice le motte feodale trees
The tiny village of Saint-Maurice thrived on this hilltop in the Middle Ages. Lauzun, France.

I’m reminded of the 1,300-year-old city of Caracol in Belize, Central America.

At the beginning of the eighth century, Caracol was a bustling Mayan civilization of about 150,000 people, 30,000 structures and 88 square kilometres. But when I wrote about cycling to Caracol for a newspaper in 2006, it was mostly covered by tropical forest. All that was left was howler monkeys and ghosts.

I admire the ancient timbers and structures in villages such as Lauzun, but what I truly admire is the living land. On every walk and cycle ride I take, the fields and orchards and woods continue to nourish and warm the people. And in sites such as St-Maurice and Caracol, it lives beyond the people.

I linger in this odd, raised clearing and—as I did in Caracol—I imagine a busy settlement banging and clanking around me. Then the Lauzun village church bells ring twelve, signaling that it’s time to walk back for a coffee and piece of apple tarte.


Cycling to St-Sauvetat-du-Dropt village

This Sunday morning when I look at a map of all the rides I’ve done so far, I notice my routes have been mostly to the east of my home base of Lauzun village. Today I would remedy that: I’d loop into the unknown territories west of Eymet and Miramont.

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Cycling to Daniel’s farm

Some days, you just crave a perfect 10-kilometre loop ride in the morning.

The thermometer reads 3 degrees at 10am but when I look out of the window, I  see shreds of fog double-daring the sun and sky—and me.

Friday is when M. Daniel opens his Laulenet farm store. He’s only open until noon, so if you want to catch his fresh-from-the-ground rocket lettuce, carrots, turnips, or spinach, you gotta jump on your bike and go!

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The killer trees of Bournel

(Silly tree, it thinks it can camouflage itself as a wall.)

Last night on the way to Morris Dance practice with Les Tartes de Pomme, one of the dancers told me that the stately trees that line the road to Bournel village were planted by Napoleon’s troops. The government wants to cut the 200-year-old trees down because too many drunk drivers hit them.

French campaigners up in arms over plan to chop down Napoleon’s roadside trees — Independent, March 2015

The killer trees: A wrong-headed campaign against roadside trees — The Economist, February 2004