Last Friday was May 1st which meant all us poor workers had the day off to celebrate the Fête du Travail. My TWDB and I were more concerned about celebrating a fête de free time so put our mountain bikes in my boot and drove to the Hôtel de Région on the banks of the Lez in Montpellier.
From there, you can cycle all the way to the beach at Carnon, a mere 10km along the flat.
It was a lovely sunny day, with a slight wind which warmed rather than chilled - perfect for cycling. I parked the car - free on a jour férié - and took to our bikes. I had thought we'd be able to cycle along the Lez all the way to the beach, but work is being done to shore up the banks of the river to protect against flooding. It started in March and won't be finished until some time next year. Damn, missed it by peu!
Instead there is a cycle path which follows the main road for most of the way. It starts off going through the new quarter of the Hôtel de Région with its impressive architecture designed by Ricardo Bofill.
Just after is Montpellier's very own bidonville made up of half a dozen shacks. As bidonvilles go, it's not very big - more of a bidon-hamlet really, but it does come as quite a shock if you're not expecting it. I have no idea who lives there as there was no sign of life, just the odd shopping trolley and broken toys.
We then had to leave the river bank and take a sharp turn to join the path next to the road. It's not too bad as it follows the road peacefully but is not part of it. You can see the fields south of the city become part of one of the commercial zones of Perols. At Alinéa, we stopped to have a look at garden furniture on display outside and through the windows.
Once we'd got passed all that, we finally reached the étangs - Méjean on one side, l'Or on the other. Herons and seagulls were the main performance, with the odd duck. I didn't see any flamingoes however. The view opened out over the expanses of water with oyster and mussel beds in the distance, the little fishermens' cottages set prettily in the middle of it all, and the Canal du Rhone à Sète severely straight from east to west. At Carnon, it was all activity with boat yards, boats and boat suppliers.
We cycled to le Lézard, a private beach and restaurant where my TWDB and I went to on our first date. We sat in the sun, I sipped on a Marguerita and had a mighty salad for lunch, halos of exercise smugness hanging brightly over us.
As drowsiness overcame us, we went and had a snooze on the beach, or tried to. We seemed to have found the place a team of Auvergnate sportsmen had chosen to gather to make matey masculine war cries and flirt with chicks. Their tee-shirts gave no clue as to what sport they played but they were throwing a rugby ball about...
In the end we gave up and went to chat to a guy who rents out jet skis.
The return ride was remarkable for the number of people who were also cycling to and from the sea. It's a very popular route, unsurprisingly. It's easy, not far, and pleasant.
Next time I'd like to cycle along the Canal du Midi from Béziers to Portiragnes with 9 locks and a lovely shadey ride. Fun!