17th February 2016
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Adventures Abroad, Part Four
En vacances in France, Stuart Urquhart discovers a chateau owner with an interest in Triumph Bonnevilles and Scottish castles...
Day 5: Biescas, Spain to Luchon, France
Leaving Spain behind we headed for the French border and ‘haud yer wheesht’ we were still basking in warm sunshine – a totally alien concept to the average Scotsman. The plan was to spend the next few days working up through France for a reunion with Graham (who’d been separated from the travelling band back at the start of the journey). However we still had much of the French Pyrenees to explore. Our next overnight would be at the fairytale Hotel la Petite Auberge in the spa town of Luchon, a perfect launch-pad for the long haul to Bordeaux.
The stunning scenery once again provided much chat over coffees, but by the early afternoon the last snow-capped peaks were behind us and the terrain began to remind me more of Scotland than France. We had planned a sight-seeing day and exploited our leisurely pace, stopping to explore as well as taking time for pictures. We stomped through the longest tunnel of the trip (22km) and again we studied Ray’s maps for back roads that hinted of picturesque scenery.
We stopped to explore villages. We indulged in coffee breaks and wandered off to take pics of any interesting architecture. In the early afternoon we arrived at our hotel in Luchon and downed a few beers before a light meal in the town centre. The temperature was an agreeable 28C. We noticed French beer and food were appreciably more expensive than Spain, so we walked around the town sampling different bars. Luchon was typical of many French towns with its splendid esplanades, decorative buildings with hanging flower baskets and avenues of majestic trees casting pools of welcome shade over the buzzing pavement cafes. If I’d spotted Toulouse-Lautrec sitting sipping beers or picking his way through some of the street merchandise I wouldn’t have been surprised and the delightful practice of shop’s spilling their merchandise across the pavements is so cosmopolitan France. I liked Luchon; it was a very pretty town.
Day 6: Luchon to Agen to Villeveuve, 310 miles
This involved a long motorway sprint in order to reach Agen some 300 miles to the north. The weather continued to be extremely warm and we found the drive tiring, having had little time to explore – it was heads down and hard riding!
We reached Agen late in the afternoon (5.30pm), extremely tired and desperate to dismount and cool down. Agen was a large, metropolitan city and while following Richard we were separated in a one-way system at traffic lights. Richard had failed to see us stop and we lost our navigator. We had no idea where our hotel was located or in which direction. I caught a fleeting glimpse of Richard’s bright orange jacket crossing a junction at least three blocks distant and I knew he was searching for us. We decided the best policy was to stay put and wait for Richard to return to the separation point – of course he may not know where we separated, in which case we relied on our mobile phones.
It was a long wait for his call and when back together again we were all desperate to clear the city and just move on. So we trudged wearily on, until we found an outlying motel. This was full. It only happens when you’re tired! It was the low-point of our holiday. We were redirected to another village and to a well-hidden hotel in the back-and-beyond. This hotel was anything but luxurious, but the showers were refreshing and, contrary to our concerns, we enjoyed a delicious evening meal and French beers at a nearby restaurant.
Day 7: Villeveuve to Bergerac, 60 miles
After the previous day’s mile-cruncher we were all looking forward to the short 60 mile hop to Bergerac on the river Dordogne. Named after the famous French character, the town is blessed with many 12th century monuments, and of course is a world-renowned region for connoisseur wines. I was looking forward to our visit, but before reaching Bergerac we stopped for coffees and cream scones in the grounds of a beautiful French chateau – what a treat!
To our surprise the chateau’s owner introduced himself and expressed a very keen interest in our bikes – especially the Bonneville. Then he joined us for lunch (free wine!) and chatted in perfect English about Royal Deeside, a favourite holiday destination for ‘The Count’ and his family. But we all had a great laugh when he confided with us that his life ambition was to buy a Scottish castle and design his own tartan - he even listed all his favourite Scottish castles, many I’d never heard of…small world indeed!
When we arrived in Bergerac we swapped our leathers for shorts and tees and enjoyed a leisurely saunter around the city centre. Eating outside was the order of the day and we sampled a few local beers followed by a light lunch and ice-creams under the very nose of the statuesque Mr Bergerac himself.
After lunch I wandered down to the river and spotted shoals of lazy fat trout playing follow the leader under the shade of some old quayside boats. The town was bustling with shoppers and tourists, all enjoying ice creams or drinking wine or ice-cold beers in the many riverside cafés. I wandered into Bergerac’s old sector and was impressed with the many beautifully preserved 12th Century buildings I discovered. I felt as if I’d stepped off a Tardis into ancient France. Many preserved buildings had been converted into modern shops and others provided living accommodation, but all were sympathetically preserved with their ancient facades intact. The town planners of Bergerac should be highly commended.
In the old sector we also discovered an ancient winery complete with a subterranean auditorium and museum where I enjoyed a relaxing hour, learning about and sampling a few of Bergerac’s famous wines. In the evening we relaxed with the usual customary beers and enjoyed some local French cuisine down by the riverside. We discussed our route for the next day and our planned reunion with Graham. I was looking forward to our reunion and a welcome blast on Graham’s Sportster...
Part Five: finally, the gang meet up with Graham again...
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