Europe Bicycle Touring
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Last ridden June-July, 2002
This page last updated on: May 15, 2007
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By David May

Bicycle Itinerary for Way of Saint James of Compostella in France

Camino de Santiago in France by Bicycle from Le Puy

A cycling itinerary for road :  Printable version for use on your trip.

From Le Puy-en-Velay, France, to Roncesvalles (Roncevaux), Spain

Time: 2 Weeks            Difficulty: Mainly Hard                  Rating: Excellent

Text in black is directions.
Text in italics is for alternative routes.
Text in brown is for comments.
Text in blue is for detours that are off the Way of Saint James.
Text in green is for "Author's Tips".

Please read the "General Information" page, including details on how to organize the trip yourself and use this itinerary.

The Itinerary:

Day 0: Arrival in Le Puy: Arrive at Le Puy-en-Velay***(elevation 625 meters), as per the discussion of transportation in Part I of this article, bringing your bicycle with you. Traffic in the new town can be moderate to heavy, but you can walk your bike for the short distances on the sidewalks. In the old city, traffic is usually light. If arriving in the afternoon or evening, allow an extra day to visit the many interesting sites in Le Puy, and to climb to its viewpoints. You may stay in hotels, gites, or a campground, and select from a wide variety of restaurants. Pilgrims may obtain their passports at the welcome center behind the Cathedral between 5 and 7 PM.

Leave your bike at your hotel or lodging, and be sure to visit the Cathedral*** and its treasury** displayed in the Sacristy, and the Cathedral's cloister** and treasury** of the cloister. Also be sure and visit the Chapel Saint Michel d'Aiguilhe**, built on a volcanic needle in either the year 951 or 962 (and rebuilt in the late 11th century). This is located in an attractive neighborhood, which after walking up a hill requires climbing 267 (or 268) steps; the stained-glass windows are new but very attractive. The feeling of the chapel is wonderful, and so is the view from its entry. If you have time, you might climb up to the towering statue of Notre Dame de France for an even better view*.

Explore the old town, and while you are at it, you might reconnoiter the street by which you will be departing the next morning. The gardens in the new town and the Museum Crozatier (with its examples of old lace) are pleasant. Beware of the lace sold in the town. Much of it is imported from China and is available back home for a better price; but after some inquiries and practice you will be able to spot some of the handmade pieces local to Le Puy. If you are interested in this art form, you might wish to visit the National Conservatory of Le Puy lace, located in the old town.

Author's Tip: If you want to splurge, for less than € 30 gourmet quality meals (including sautéed fois gras) are available at the restaurant of the Hotel Regina, 34 bd. Marechal Fayolle.

Day 1: A daunting day to commence your journey—with two climbs of 500 meters (1,650 feet)—and more if you follow the author's recommendations. But worth it.

If you are a pilgrim, or perhaps even if not, you may wish to attend the daily 7:00 am Mass at the Cathedral, followed by the pilgrims' blessing. You could take your bicycle up by the Cathedral, or leave it in front of city hall, or leave it at your hotel or gite.

The walking route traditionally begins at the Cathedral, descends westward to the fountain on Rue des Tables, then southward on Rue Raphael to the Place in front of City Hall (Mairie), and then westward again on Rue St. Jacques, which becomes Rue du Capucins. (If starting from a hotel on boulevard Fayolle, you may follow this around to the intersection with Rue du Capucins, or for less traffic and one last look at old Le Puy, cut through the old town to City Hall, and start from there.

You should probably follow the historical and modern walking route descrkbed below to leave the city—because you will quickly understand what it meant and means to be a walking pilgrim, and because you have one last excellent view back over the city. If you do, you will climb very steeply, and surely have to walk your loaded bike.

Alternative Route: The easier (less steep and less hilly), less interesting alternative route is to follow D589 out of Le Puy.From the intersection of Rue St-Jacques and boulevard St-Louis, head north bearing left, still on the boulevard St-Louis. The road angles left and becomes boulevard Gambetta, and you will see signs for D589, which again angles to the left. Follow D589 uphill. The two routings rejoin.

Your bicycle journey towards St. Jacques de Compostelle begins:

From the intersection of boulevard St. Louis (the extension of bd. Fayolle) and rue Des Capucins, follow rue Des Capucins steeply uphill.

After crossing under the rail line, and at the top of the hill, you will note the painted marks of the GR65—and other GRs, i.e., long distance routes—a white rectangle over a red rectangle. Turns are indicated by arrows, and an "X" means you are going the wrong way. The route is additionally marked here with the pictogram of a scallop shell.

Turn right and then left onto Rue de Compostelle, continuing to climb. When the road makes a U-turn next to a building, you have an excellent, final view of Le Puy. When the GR bears left onto a stony road near a factory, you should bear right and coast down a hill back to the main highway, D589 (D means departmental—you are in the department, i.e., state, of Haute-Loire).

Continue climbing fairly steeply uphill on D589. Your total climb will be roughly 1,600 feet (500 meters) over 15 to 18 kilometers. After crossing the major road D906, you have a choice of routes:

To pass through quaint villages and by attractive stone houses (which you will see nowhere else along the route), turn left as soon as possible (after Cordes) onto a minor road, and keep left to Augeac (where a GR65 variant comes in) and les Bineyers. (Do not turn left at les Bineyers with the GR, as this is impassible for a road bike). Do pass through Ramourouscle and by the Capelle St. Roch to reach Montbonnet. Rejoin D589. (Chapels with the name Saint Roch abound along the Chemin de St. Jacques de Compostelle, because Saint Roch is the patron saint of pilgrims and other travelers).

The alternative is to stay on D589, straight to and through Montbonnet, a straighter, slightly shorter , and smoother, ride.

At Montbonnet, the scenery changes from farmland to forest. The pass after the town has an elevation of 1127 meters. Be prepared: In the next 25 kilometers you are going to descend and climb back up some 1,600 feet. The descent begins: Your unchecked bicycle attains speeds of 50 kilometers (30 miles) or more per hour, but you have the smooth highway almost to yourself. Halfway down, just after the picturesque village of St-Privat-d'Allier, you must decide whether to make a detour.

You can ride for about 3 kilometers on hilly roads, some used by the official walking route, out to the ruined tower and chapel of Rochegude. The chapel commands a spectacular viewpoint over the Allier river, 1000 feet below, and is touching in its simplicity. To ride to the Rochegude chapel, turn right off the main highway onto D301 just after St-Privat-d'Allier. This descends a short hill, climbs, and then slowly descends. Watch for the sign for the chapel on your right; the unnamed road climbs a small hill steeply to a village, turns left, and contours out to the chapel. You must retrace your steps back to the main highway, as the GR descends too steeply for anyone but walkers. The author made, and would make again, this excursion.

Whether or not you made the excursion to Rochegude, you now continue downhill on D589 to the Allier river. Many bikers may choose to end their day here, in Monistrol-d'Allier, where there are hotels, gites, camping, other lodgings, a food store, and a train station. If so this adds a day to your trip. Assuming you have the energy and inclination to carry on, stay on the main highway, which bypasses the village. If you ride into Monistro-d'Allier you can rejoin the main highway by riding north out of town along the river. At the Y, bear left and climb to the highway. The GR65 goes right here, where there is a sign"seulement pour riverains" (only for residents), but the old road is too steep to ride your bike on.

After a long climb, you reach a pass with a nice view to a higher distant mountain chain (in the Eastern USA, things like this are called mountains!), and then descend briefly into Saugues (hotels, gites and camping; total of 44 kilometers) . Saugues is a charming old town, with an interesting and beautiful central square with a church, an "English Tower"and surrounding buildings, bedecked in flowers. Don't miss seeing them.

Author's tip: The Hôtel and Restaurant de la Terrasse provided a very nice room for one, an excellent dinner with glass of wine, and ample continental breakfast for € 59 (2002).

Day 2: This day is quite exhilarating, but has a dull start. After Day 1, your slow climb in elevation above Saugues (total gain of 340 meters in 23 kilometers, but with intermediate dips) should prove rather easy..

From Saugues, nearby the river, follow D585 south (slow, gently rolling climb) for about 6 kilometers. Just before Esplantas comes the first hill. At Esplantas turn southwestward onto D587, which climbs to a number of hill villages and drops back again, in pretty countryside of farms. You then begin to climb in earnest in the forest, with only a few brief descents, until you attain an elevation of 1,300 meters (4250 feet). A chapel to St. Roch stands here. The mountain chain, called the Margeride, is the one you saw in the distance yesterday. The pass area can be quite windy, and even dangerous in stormy weather. At this point the French department (i.e., state) changes from Haute-Loire to Lozère, and the highway number changes to D987.

A long and glorious descent of 11 kilometers, practically traffic-free, ensues into St-Alban-sur-Limagnole. If you wish to visit the town, dismount from your bicycle where the main road becomes one way against you and walk your bike; otherwise you would have to climb back up to the town. You are 28 kilometers from Saugues (hotels, gites and camping, many stores).

From St-Alban you ride, still on D987, beside a stream in a charming canyon whose looks and smell reminded the author of northern New Mexico or Arizona. When D987 runs into N106, make a short jog to the left to pick up D987 again. A short climb leads to the town of Aumont-Aubrac (hotels, gites, camping) (total of 47 kilometers).

Day 3: Good weather is important, as you will spend much of the day crossing a high range land with few trees, as you might find in the Southwest USA above tree line. As usual there are some long climbs. Cherish this scenery, as by the end of the day, after an incredible descent, you will be in a completely different, lower-lying countryside, the Lot Valley. Navigation is easy today, at least for the first 64 kilometers: Just keep going on the highway.

After climbing from the town on D987 and crossing the autoroute (expressway), you ride into micro-hilly terrain that resembles again the United States Southwest, for example the ponderosa pine park land near Santa Fe with some low-growing bushes that look like juniper but are not. You begin to climb, and 10 kilometers from Aumont-Aubrac you cross the Aubrac pass, and enter a high range land with grazing cattle. In this high land, at 1,100 to 1,300 meters ( 3,600 - 4,200 feet), called Aubrac, you continue riding for 15 kilometers. It is superlative in good weather, but you don't want to be caught here when the weather is bad.

You traverse Nasbinals (gite and a few stores), located in a small depression, before you climb almost 300 meters (1,000 feet) to the pass, and enter the French department of Averyon. Now starts your longest descent of the entire St. Jacques journey, 28 kilometers (17 miles). (You will have to turn your pedals a few times in the tiny but quite picturesque village called Aubrac (ruins of a monastery, gite, hotel, other accommodation), and there is another tiny hill after 13 kilometers.) After that, if you keep your wind resistance low, it is another 9.5 of pedal free riding until St-Côme-d'Olt.

If you are a pilgrim, conceivably you might wish to take another route, which follows closer to the GR65. In reading the booklets published on the Chemin de Saint Jacques, there seems to be no particular reason to do this, except that it is closer to the way the ancient pilgrims walked. It does involve a steeper initial descent, probably requiring brakes, and a climb of at least 150 meters (500 feet). If you wish to follow this alternative, at the village of Aubrac turn left on D533, and follow that highway until St.-Chély-d'Aubrac. Here, be sure to cross the river and climb to Cambrassats. That road will eventually join D557 and arrive at St-Come-d'Olt.

St-Côme-d'Olt (elevation of 385 meters - 1,260 feet) lies in the valley of the Lot River (Lot is a corruption in French of the original name "Olt"), and is a very charming old village with medieval half-timbered buildings. It could well be your stopping place for the night (hotels, gite, camping, about 60 kilometers from Aumont-Aubrac). At the minimum, it is worth an hour's visit . If you stay, you will want to take a very short, extra day on the following day to stay at Estaing. However, given the speed of the descent to Saint-Côme, you may feel, as did this writer, that it is too early to call it a day, and continue onwards.

In four kilometers, slightly downhill along the Lot river you come into the large town of Espalion* —the largest town since Le Puy-en-Velay. (hotels, gites, camping, but to stay there you have to prefer being in or near a city). As you approach the town center, traffic builds up and becomes heavy. D987 ends here. You have a choice: Continue straight ahead on D920 for Estaing on the main highway along the Lot River, a shorter and easier ride (traffic light to moderate). Or, ride through town, crossing the river in the direction of Bozouls. As you cross the river, stop and look left at the "pilgrims bridge". There are food and other shops just across the pilgrim bridge, on a charming narrow old street one block to the left of the highway.

Continue uphill straight away from the water to the south, not taking the road which curves to your left. Before the end of the town you will see a sign for D556 on your right and Bessuéjouls. In about 3 kilometers a road goes off to your left near a cross and there is a sign "eglise romane" (i.e., Romanesque church). You crest a small hill and come upon the old church, St. Pierre-de-Bessuéjouls, which you can enter by pressing a button that unlocks the door. The church provokes a feeling of reverence. Climb the steep stairs at the back to arrive at the upper chapel in the bell tower, basically unchanged since the 11th century and with a ninth century altar. Grassy areas before and behind the church provide possible picnic spots.

Retrace your path to D556. After 6 more rolling kilometers with one hill, you turn right and follow D100 for 2 kilometers to reach Estaing. As you approach Estaing, the view of the town across the Lot is out of a fairy tale.Visit the churc, the chateau, and, the twisty old streets. Estaing has hotels, a gite, and camping (about 76 kilometers from Aumont-Aubrac, elevation 320 meters - 1,000 feet).

Author's tips: The restaurant of the Hotel Armes d'Estaing has a tasty three-course dinner for € 11 (plus any beverages, which are also very reasonable); reserve space in the afternoon; the author was unable to see the rooms as the hotel was full. The hotel Auberge Saint Fleuret has small but nicely decorated rooms for € 43.

One American luxury bike touring company offers a tour that spends a few days in the region. They spend at least one night in Laguiole*, where there is a luxury hotel with a panoramic view, and a Michelin*** restaurant. In the unlikely event that you are interested in pursuing this option, perhaps as part of a tour of the region, it is easily possible: from the village of Aubrac (not the town of Aumont-Aubrac) bike 20 kilometers northwest on highway D15 to Laguiole . The next day, or when you are ready to leave, follow the main highway (D921) and D22 to Estaing. Or stay on D921 to Espalion, ride up to St-Côme-d'Olt and back again, and then continue to Estaing.

Day 4: Today you will ride mainly through woods, undertaking climbs totaling about 500 meters or 1,600 feet, as did the ancient pilgrims. It is said that they were afraid of bandits lurking in the river gorges. Also, in those days, the rivers were higher and less tamed. (If climbs seem daunting, you can circumnavigate the hills by staying along the river, as detailed after the main itinerary. In fact you can do that tomorrow as well, but you'll miss out on some lovely scenery, and on strengthening those muscles for the ride ahead.) Your destination, Conques, is a highlight of this journey.

From Estaing, cross the bridge over the Lot river, and continue straight on D22, beginning a relentless, steep climb of about 180 meters, 600 feet. The road levels out, and you have a beautiful ridge-top ride until D22 ends, 8 kilometers from Estaing. Turn right and follow D20 uphill, turning left at the sign towards Campuac, reached in another 4 kilometers. (If you branch left towards Campuac before the sign, you will extra climbing, and the road is less good.)

Note: The route you have followed to Campuac—a road bike could not follow the GR65—is actually the ancient pilgrim route, whereas the GR65 is not. Should you wish to continue on that ancient route (which is not the same as that of GR65), do not turn left off D20 towards Campuac but continue straight another 5 km to near Golinhac, where it turns left; you continue on D42 to Espeyrac in another 8 or 9 km. This alternative routing is 5 km longer, and somewhat hillier than the author's recommended route.

(Disregard the details of the IGN 1:100,00 map for the following two paragraphs; it is inaccurate. The IGN 1:50,000 map is fine. On a Michelin 1:200,000 map the road appears to dead end.) You can ride into the village of Campuac, or bypass it to the north: In either case you will want to get onto the route of "la Roque", D656. You will see a sign for it just before the village on your right. If you bypass the village, at the first oblique intersection, marked by a cross, bear right towards "la Roque". If you go into the village as suggested above, you will want to exit at an angle 45° to the right of the way you rode in, i.e., to the northwest, and then always continue straight.

Now stay straight always (not turning left to the village of la Roque), a beautiful, flat or slightly descending ride through woods, until the end of the road, where you bear left and descend a long hill into the river valley, almost coming back to the altitude of Estaing. To visit the town of Espeyrac (hotels, gite, one food store), turn right and ride 300 meters. To continue, turn left onto D42.

D42 climbs 265 meters (870 feet), passing through the town of Senergue (hotel, gite, shops), to a pass. Now, after several smaller descents and climbs through a countryside of open forest, you begin a long descent to Conques. If you have to find lodgings, or if you are not staying for the night, lock your bike at the lower end of the parking area. Once you have your accommodations (or if you are leaving town), walk your bike downhill into the village. Conques*** (16 kilometers from Espeyrac; about 38 kilometers total from Estaing) has hotels, a gite in the Abbey, camping, chambre d'hôtes, rooms—but many visitors, and since you will want to stay in the main village, reservations are highly advisable (failing that, arrive early).This is an excellent place for a rest day).

Conques*** is one of the highlights of this trip, clearly worth several hours or more of your time. The carving (of the Last Judgment) above the doorway to the Church of Saint Foy (1031-1140) is incredible, as are some of the relics in the church's treasury, the most famous of which is the Majesté d'Or statue. The town is lovely. In the evening, the church organ plays concert music as the sun sets, refracted in the recent, controversial, modernistic, duotone stained-glass windows of the church. In the summer, at 10:00 PM, a tour is given of the "tribunes" (the upper floor of the church, normally inaccessible), with many compelling stone carvings of both people and grotesque animals. For more information, consult the site

Authors tip: Ample, gourmet-quality, four-course dinners are served in a pleasant setting in the upstairs restaurant at the Hotel-restaurant St. Jacques for € 25 to 30 plus beverage (2002). The author never saw the hotel's guest rooms.

An alternative route to Conques follows river valleys from Estaing—deviating completely from the ancient pilgrim's route and avoiding that route's 600 meters (2000 feet) of climbing. It is faster and easier, but out of the spirit of this journey, and less interesting. To follow the alternative route, from Estaing, stay on the main road along the Lot river, D920, for 17 kilometers to Entraygues-sur-Truyère (hotels)*. Follow the Lot gorge** westward on D107 and D141 to the intersection of D901, about 18 kilometers. Turn south and ride 5 kilometers on D42 along the Dourdou River. Conques*** is a short, 60 meter (200 foot) climb up into the hills.

Day 5: This day brings with a strenuous climb, followed by beautiful ridge ride and an exhilarating descent. You then have a choice between a hill route and a river route to the charming city of Figeac. If you are a strong rider, and do not wish to spend the night in Figeac, you can continue on towards Cahors, spending the night in a small town.

From Conques, walk your bike downhill until the road becomes two-way (at the "star" on the road). Now ride directly down the hill, bearing left at the Y. Cross the main highway, taking the tiny roadway between two buildings. Cross the narrow, medieval bridge (mistakenly labeled a Roman bridge (should be Romane in French, rather than Romaine) onto "highway" D232. A very steep climb (10 - 15% grades) of 370 meters (1200 feet) ensues. D232 joins D606 (stay left). Bear right onto D580, (or you may chose to ride slightly downhill to the left for 0.5 kilometer to visit Noaihac (gite, rooms), before returning by the same road to D580). In one kilometer, on the right is a beautiful chapel and a picnic area. Now ride, on the level, on a ridge top with stunning long-views, among beautiful pastures. (Note: The original pilgrim's route bears off to the right on D183, but the bridge over the Lot River is no longer standing, and the views on D580 are superior.)

A descent begins. At an intersection just after the village of Agnac, D580 turns left, but do not follow it, unless you wish to take a longer route to visit a large, not especially attractive, mining town with all services and with traffic (and a train station 5 kilometers away). Rather, continue straight in the direction you were riding before, at first flat, and then up a slight hill, on a somewhat rough road. At the Y bear right. You now begin a sharp descent in a nice residential suburb. Follow this small street down curving left, then turning sharply back to the right, until it comes to a stop sign at the bottom of the hill. Turn right on the main road (heading north), and ride about 300 meters until you merge (bearing right) with the main highway. Ride 50 meters over the crest of the hill to a major intersection. Bear left here onto D21 (Sign: D21 Livinhac-le-Haut). Ride steeply downhill, and cross the Lot bridge into Livinhac-le-Haut (hotel, camping, gite).

It is possible, but not recommended, to bypass the authentic, arduous and beautiful section of the Route of Saint Jacques described in the previous two paragraphs—in about the same distance, but with much less time and effort. From Conques, simply ride north along the Dourdou on D901, then follow the Lot River on D42. Don't cross the Lot at Port dÁgres; rather jog right and continue on D627 into Livinhac-le-Haut.

From Livinhac-le-Haut you have a choice of routes to Figeac. The author, on his most recent trip, followed the historic pilgrimage route, which involved a climb followed by rolling hills, but didn't find the scenery striking or enjoy the village of Montredon. To follow the historic route taken by the author, simply stay on D21 to Montredon (150 meter-500 foot gradual climb), now in the French department of Lot, staying left at the Y (6 k from Livinhac-le-Haut) where highway D21 becomes D2), and follow rolling D2 until the intersection of N140 (moderate traffic), which descends into Figeac* (several one-star sites, charm many hotels including a deluxe hotel, camping, but no gite, train service). (The total distance from Conques to Figeac by this route is approximately 45 kilometers).

The other route to Figeac, which the author rode a few years ago, is faster, easier and more scenic, but has more traffic, and does not follow the ancient pilgrim's route. At Livinhac-le-Haut, after the town, turn left onto D632 and follow it along the north bank of the Lot, until it intersects with N140. Then follow N140 along the Lot to Capenac, and over a big hill into Figeac*.

Days 6 and 7: Possible extra-day side-trip: As did many ancient travelers, you may wish to deviate from the Route of Saint Jacques to visit the incredible religious and tourist site of Rocamadour***, only 43 kilometers to the northwest of Figeac.

Rocamadour is highlighted in the Dordogne Itinerary on this Site. The Dordogne valley is only a short ride from Rocamadour.

To reach Rocamadour from Figeac, you will probably want to ride on the easiest route, N140. The author has once done so, and on that occasion the traffic was not bothersome. Turn off at D36 for L'Hospitalet, which adjoins Rocamadour*** (hotels, gites, many campgrounds). Or, if you wish to avoid the main road, take D2 from Figeac, turn left, still on D2 at Reyrevignes, and at Tartabelle turn right onto D14 to Gramat (hotels). From Gramat to Grignac (chateau hotel) you can avoid N140 by taking D36, then continue to L'Hospitalet (total distance to Racamadour by this route is about 56 kilometers).

To return to the Road of Saint Jacques, rather than retracing to Figeac, you might well wish to follow this routing: Rocamadour, D32 south 17 hilly kilometers to D677, to Labastide-Murat (hotel; 8 kilometers), direct route to Cahors** by D32 and D653, 36 kilometers (total 61 kilometers). Or to see some of the Celé and Lot rivers, after Labastide-Murat, take D32 to St. Martin-de-Vers (7.5 kilometers) and D13 to Caberets and the Grotte of Pech Merle** (see descriptions below; 14.5 kilometers plus perhaps 3 kilometers to the grotte); then continue to Cahors in 35 kilometers (total 82 kilometers); or detour to St. Cirq-Lapopie** (additional 10 kilometers total).

Day 6: (without side-trip): This will be your first non-mountainous day. You won't be in mountains again until your final day in the Pyrénées. But there will be plenty of high hills ahead to keep you in shape.

.Today, if you choose to ride the most frequented route of the historic pilgrims, you will find yourself in rolling terrain with a couple of 200 meter (700 foot) climbs, in woodland and pastures.

If you ride the recommended Célé River to Lot River variation, which is also believed to be a historical route, you will be in a flat river bottom with pastures and farmlands within a wide, limestone-walled valley. For 85 kilometers (50 miles) you will be always on the "descent", at the rate of less than one meter per kilometer! The road surfaces are quite rough, however, so you won't be able to make especially good time until near Cahors.

It is also possible to follow the Lot River, as some pilgrims did.

The primary route used by the pilgrims was the following:From Figeac take D19 to Gréalou (hotel) to Carjac (hotels, gite, camping), to St. Jean-de-Laur, to Limogne-en-Quercy (gite, camping), to Vaire (gite) and to Bach; then D22 to Laburgade and Cahors**, about 75- 80 kilometers over rolling land. In so far as the author knows, there is no special reason, other than historic tradition, to take this route.

The author recommends that cyclists interested in architecture and prehistory strongly consider the Célé River variation, which is also thought to be an ancient pilgrims route. From Figeac, take D13, the main highway towards Cahors for 4 or 5 kilometers (light to moderate traffic). Turn left after the stream onto D41 (now light to very light traffic). Or, if traffic is heavy on D13, cross the bridge over the Céle River that is a few blocks west of the town center, and follow D662, bearing right onto D19 in 3 kilometers. If you do this, be sure not to miss the right turn onto a small road in another 2.5 kilometers or so, towards the Moulin de Béduer. If you round a sharp curve to the left, you gone too far, and you will make an unnecessary sharp climb into Béduer village.

Excluding the two side trips (described in subsequent paragraphs) that you should plan to take, you will follow D41 for 55 kilometers until the intersection of the Célé River with the Lot River (camping, gites and hotels all along Célé valley, especially at Marcilhac and Cabaret; very light traffic). At the Lot River, you will follow D10 for 28 kilometers into Cahors (light plus traffic, except moderate traffic before Cahors). You can enter Cahors either by riding right up the hill at the sign for the city center, or by staying along the river, and curving right to the Louis Philippe bridge. (For a less busy but hillier route to Cahors , cross the river just after Vers on D49, then turn left and follow D911 to the Cahors bridge—about 13 kilometers. Cross the Lot into the city.)

Recommended visits along the way in the Célé River valley are: Espagnac-St-Eulalie—church, and priory ruins; and Marcilhac—pleasing park along the water and ruins of ancient abbey. Nearby is the cave of Belvue*, but you should save you energy to visit the very special cave described in the next paragraph.

A steep climb from Cabrerets of about 150 meters (500 feet) in 3 kilometers, the cave called the Grotte du Pech Merle** is well worth your visit, as it contains well-preserved, 25,000 year-old cave paintings of prehistoric animals. Allow about 2.5 hours for climb, the visit, and the descent.

Author's Tip: The Auberge de la Sagne, on the Route de Pech Merle just out of Cabrerets, below the cave, provided a small but adequate room for € 38, and a tasty dinner served outdoors, a glass of wine, and breakfast at a half-pension rate of € 13(2002).

A 5 kilometer detour each way that begins at the confluence of the Lot and Célé rivers, 4 kilometers after Cabrerets, leads to St-Cirq-Lapopie**, a fortified, very-well preserved, picturesque, middle-ages village on a cliff that commands a wonderful view of the region (hotels nearby). Going there, take D662 on north side of the river (2 tunnels - light traffic), and returning, stay on D40 on the south side of the river until Bouzies.

Cahors** is a large town, with all services (many hotels, gite, moderate to heavy traffic, train service). The principal sight is the Valentré bridge**—a great, example of middle-ages military construction, with towers and parapets. It is located on the west side of town. You may also wish to visit the Cathedral St-Étienne*, with its splendid northern doorway and its cloisters.

Day 7: A less interesting and less difficult day, but worth it to reach Moissac.

From Cahors**, take the flat, very heavy-traffic route N20 south for 3 kilometers. Initially you can ride on a narrow shoulder; then there is a short stretch when you have to brave the traffic, then you can ride in the joined parking lots of the mega-stores on the right. Just after the intersports (bicycle supplies, closed 12:30-14:30), at the second traffic circle, turn right onto D653 west (light plus traffic) for 0.7 kilometers, and then left onto D7 heading southwest (very light traffic).

If you choose to bypass the traffic on N20 it will cost you time and effort. The ancient pilgrimage route left Cahors to the west, passed through Roquebille, following the course of today's D27 to Trespoux-Rassiels, and then turned south towards Labistide-Marnhac (following D67?)

Initially on D7 there is a moderate climb to Labistide-Marnhac, then a slow climb and a descent. The countryside seemed to the author quite dull until Lascabanes, and you should probably just take the straightest route and get it over with. However, if you wish to follow the ancient pilgrimage route as closely as possible, take D67 from Labistide-Marnhac to L'hospitalet (once site of a hospital ministering to pilgrims) and continue south on D54 until it rejoins D 7 after Lascabanes. Stay on D7 (the ancient route) to Lauzerte (fortified hill town, hotel, gite, camping; 30-34 kilometers). Before Lauzerte you leave behind the department of Lot and enter the French department of Tarn-et-Garonne. This department has better road surfaces, and you can make better time.

From Lauzerte, if you wish to follow the ancient route somewhat closely, take D2 to Durfort-Lacapelette. The author noticed that may trucks were going this way, and you have to cross two ranges of hills instead of one, climbing 100 meters (300 feet) each time. From Dufort-Lacapellete take D16 and D957 (rolling to flat to downhill) into Moissac.

The 4k longer, faster, easier, less traffic, route followed by the author is to stay in the river valley on the well-surfaced D953 from Lauzerte, until you reach the sign for Moissac. Turn left on D957. A climb of 100 meters (300 feet) ensues, followed by a descent into Moissac.

You should definitely spend the evening in Moissac** (train service, hotels, gites, camping; total distance of about 52 - 59 kilometers). The town has a charming Italian aspect—with stuccoed facades painted in different earth tones. The carvings over and beside the doorway into the Church of St. Pierre (executed between 1100 and 1130) are fabulous.** The church interior* is interesting. The adjoining cloister** is noted for the carving on each column.

Author's tip: The little pizzeria on the corner of rue de la République, with outdoor tables facing the main (carved) doorway to the church, serves excellent fresh salads, hot dishes, and fruits for dessert at reasonable prices.

Day 8: Today we cross the mighty Garonne river, and enter Gascony—land of Dartignan, third of the three Musketeers; a land of brave and passionate people who live life to the full (so they say!). Don't be surprised, in the hotels, to find posters of Torreros and Matadors. Bull run during July, August and September. You enter today, after the relative flatness of the last few days a land of hills in every direction, with manicured fields of crops.

Almost without exception, for the next three days, you will be riding upon the ancient pilgrim's route.

If you are a very strong rider, and if you are short of time, you could combine the next three days into two: Continue as far as Condom on the first day, then to Aire-sur-l'Adour on the second. Another possibility, if you like the town, would be to shorten your second day to stay in charming Condom, and on the third day, ride Aire-sur-l'Adour.

To leave Moissac, either follow N113 west, or take the haulage path along the south side of the canal.

N113 is fast—with a good surface, wide, and with light, but high-speed traffic. This highway will be much faster and easer on your bicycle, if you don't mind cars whizzing by. Unless the traffic is very bad continue to the clearly market left turn for Espalais on an unnumbered road (about 14 or 15 k from Moissac, 4k after the town of Maluse). The ride to Espalais is appealing.You can also turn at Maluse, cross to the south side of the two canals, turn right for 1 kilometer, and follow through Bayne to Epalais.If the traffic on N113 out of Moissac is unbearable, you can turn left on D15 (5k from Moissac). Follow this south through St-Nicholas-de-la-Grae and over the autoroute to D12. Turn right, and follow D12 to Auvillar.

On highway N113 above, just before Malause, you might want to turn left onto D26 bis to the bridge over the Garonne towards St. Nicholas—for a photo of the river—and then come back to the highway.)

The Canal Haulage Path:

Unless you are really short for time, or have narrow racing bike tires, the author recommends a ride on the very pretty canal haulage path for at least a short segment. Initially, it corresponds with the walking route, and you may come accross laden pilgrims. The haulage path is composed of compacted earth and gravel. The first segment was not a problem for the author's 28 mm tires. Below the haulage path runs a tarred road, but it lacks view.

If you take the haulage path, you have a choice on how far you wish to continue: If time is short, or if you have a heavy bicycle with tires less than 28mm wide, you should probably cross back to the road on the right bank at your first opportunity. You can do this where the paved road on the left rises, turns right across the haulage path and crosses a bridge over the canal (about 2.5 - 3 kilometers from Moissac). After this crossing, the haulage path becomes more bumpy and stony, but is still rideable, with 28 mm or wider tires.

If you are not pressed for time and if you do have wide tires (or if your tires are narrower but your bike is not heavily laden), you may well wish to continue on the very pretty and calm haulage path, rather than taking the highway. It provides magnificent views of the Garonne River on your left. After riding 9 or 10 kilometers from Moissac, after the river turns away, you will find yourself riding between two canals, and in about another kilometer, just south of Malause, you will come to a crossroad. Turn left, crossing the southern canal, then turn right and ride about a mile on a paved road to a left turn marked for Auvillar. It passes through Bayne and Espalais.

From Espalais, cross the Garonne and climb very steeply into Auvillar.

The old-town of Auvillar merits a visit; turn left through the tall clock tower (Gite, camping, hotel). After the town there is another long climb. Trying to follow the present GR65, the author took D11 (with a descent and another long climb to Bardigues) and on 3.5k to D3, where a right turn led down a wonderful descent near Masonville to highway D953, but this was probably a mistake. The ancient pilgrims took a route which is easier and shorter, thus recommended: After Auvillar simply branch right on D88 which with no descent, and in much less of a climb leads directly to D953 (possibility of light plus or light to moderate traffic).

Follow D953 uphill to the hill town of Flamarens (now in the French department of the Gers), then down and up to the hill town of Miradoux; then take D23 to N21, and N21 for about 2 kilometers (moderate traffic and trucks, but road has a shoulder) to Lectoure* (bastions, remarkable view from the park, prehistory museum, hotels, gite, ; total distance of 50-55 kilometers). Below the town of Lectoure, down by the rail station near the road to Condom, there is a small manufacturing facility that produces "the blue of Lectoure"—pre-indigo, woad dye (pastel in French), and sells dyed textiles and jewelry. Turn left on a dirt road by the tracks to reach it. Until the 17th century, the production of woad brought great riches to this part of France, particularly to Toulouse.

Day 9: From Lectoure to Condom it is one small but steep hill after another (count on 500 meters - 1700 feet of climbs). From Condom to Éauze, the hills are less steep and farther apart. Field follows field. After Condom you will notice the vineyards, planted most often with the grapes that give the distilled spirit Armagnac.

Make a left turn off the main street of old Lectourne and follow some reverse curves steeply down from the promontory to the main highway towards Condom, D7. In very hilly country , ride D7 (light traffic once away from Lectourne) to Marsolan (hotel, gite), D166 to the 14th century Romieu abbey* (hotel, gite, camping). "Romieu" is a corruption of the Occitan (Southern France) language word for pilgrim, because the earliest pilgrims went to Rome. The Monastery was founded in 1062. Particularly interesting and unique are the decorations of the tower to the left of the altar. Now ride D41 to Condom* (very quaint town worth a walking tour or an overnight stay, see cathedral* and cloisters*; the earl of condom is said to have invented the condom here; armagnac museum; hotels, gite, camping 26 kilometers).

Follow D15 towards Montréal. After 4 kilometers, a short 1 kilometer detour to the left up a small hill leads to Larressingle (France's smallest and "cutest" bastide—from the 13th century, also with a working 1/3 scale display of war machines of the middle ages), then return the way you came. In Montreal there are shops. When descending the hill at Montreal, be careful not to miss the left turn onto D29. (If instead you go straight, you come to a nice park with a picnic area and a swimming beach on a pond.)

Just after the turn, a right turn (a detour from the route) on a side road leads uphill (about a 50 meter climb) to Séviac. The author recommends a visit to this site, which contains the ruins of a 4th century roman villa of vast size, if you will, a "plantation house", including many spectacular original mosaic floors and vestiges of baths and an undergournd heating system. There is a small admissions charge. Return the way you came, and take D29 south to Éauze (one time roman capital of the region; priory, old houses; hotels, gite, camping; distance with the Larressingle detour from Condom 30 k, total distance from Lectoure, 57 kilometers). A shortcut from D15 near Beaumont to Eauze through the Armagnac back-country, is via D254.

Day 10: Hills are less numerous as you approach Aire-sur-l'Adour. Mainly the terrain is rolling. Road surfaces are excellent, and you zip by fields of vines and corn (maize).

From Eauze, by D931 ride to Manciet and Nogaro, then follow N124 to Barcelonne-du-Gers, then D935 to Aire-sur-lÁdour,in the French department of Landes (train service, hotels, gite, camping, château hotel 10 kilometers south by N134 or back roads, in Segos) (39 to 50 kilometers—possibly moderate traffic in town).

Out of Eauze, on the author's trip, traffic was moderate for 3.5 k (good shoulder), and then becames light to moderate. Just after Manciet you can leave the main road if you wish for a hillier alternative: Take the road branching to the left with the do not enter sign; walk your bike up the hill to respect the one-way traffic; after that the road is two-way to Nogaro. After Nogaro traffic on the main highway becames light. The road surface is very fast, until you reach Barcellone-du-Gers. From here until Aire-sur-l'Adour, traffic was moderate.

The town of Aire-sur-l'Adour is acharming commercial center (hotels, a gite, and camping). There is a park on the north side of the river with picnic tables. The shops are surprisingly well stocked.

There is a chateau-hotel 9k to the south in Segos. Also, the famous, expensive luxury spa resort and Michelin three-star-rated "health food" restaurant of Michel Girard at Eugenie-les-Bains is only 18 k away by D65.

The hotel L'Ahumat in Aire-sur-l'Adour provided a pleasant room, a tasty dinner for one, a glass of wine and breakfast for € 44 (2002).

Day 11: With good weather, this is an easy and beautiful day of biking. The author strongly recommends you follow these directions, as other routes (listed in some guidebooks) will make for a harder and less esthetic day. Moreover, the author's route follows close by the GR 65 and the ancient pilgrimage route.

Unless you purchased the IGN #62. "Bayonne to Mont-de Marsan" map, which I have not recommended, you will be riding for about 10 kilometers off of Map #63 (Tarbes Auch) southeast of Aire-sur-l'Adour, where that map's cover page is printed (and before you pick up again on the same map on a panel just below the cover page). You won't get lost if you read the bold-type paragraphs just below carefully.

Climb from Aire-sur-l'Adour by N134, of good surface, fairly wide, and moderately graded, but with moderate traffic. (Or you can take the old road that climbs out of town to and by the cemetery, until it joins N134, which is initially steeper but has less traffic.)

In 3.1 kilometers from your start, turn right on D456, signed Latrille. Traffic will be light to very light to nonexistent for the rest of the day. (This road runs close by the GR 65 walking route. If you miss the turn, there is another turn off market for Latrille in approximately 6 kilometers.) Road D456 begins inauspiciously, with a decline and regain of elevation, but afterwards the terrain will be essentially flat as the road heads south for approximately 6 kilometers. When you reach Latrille, one block after the church be sure to turn right, and at the next road turn back left again. (If you don't, the road curves back towards the main highway.) In one mile you are back on your map #63, in the bottom-left corner, just west of N134 and north of Lamenchaou.

Do not turn right after Lamenchaou; despite the map, the road is unpaved. Do turn right at D412, which leads to D11 (turn right) and into Maramont-Sensacq (gite, hotel). Turn left here, and continue south on D296. (The author recommends a detour at the second right turn after Miramont-Sensacq, for a few hundred meters along the signposted GR65 walking route to see and photoraph the milestone indicating that walking pilgrims have "only" 953 kilometers to go to reach Compostella, Spain; return to D296 and continue south, as road bikes cannot follow the ensuing section of the GR65.) You will now begin to encounter some small hills.

You cross into a new French department, the Pyrénées-Atlantique. Turn right on D946 near Boueilh. A huge descent takes place, followed by a couple of small climbs into Arzacq-Arraziquet. (Your location is now at the top-right of IGN map #69, "Pau-Bayonne".) Arzacq has many services, including a large supermarket, a gite and a hotel.

The author strongly recommends that you do not leave Arzacq-Arraziguet by D946, as this highway is very hilly for a long period of time. Rather, take D32 towards Mazerolles, which has one short steep hill, followed by a long descent, then one long, moderately-sloped climb, followed by another long descent.

At the beginning of the valley, turn right onto D262, towards Larreule. You have a choice of may flat routes, but you will very much enjoy following the white and red blazes of the GR65, through Uzan, Géus, and Pomps. (Before Pomps, when the GR crosses a field, turn left and then right to regain the GR route.) When the GR crosses the main highway, D945, you have a choice: either follow the road (D269) (near the GR) to Castillon, which involves an extra very steep climb and a descent; or, turn right on D945 and follow to D946 to bypass the first climb. You arrive into Arthez-de-Béarn (100 meters above the valley, good view, gite, camping).

From Arthez proceed westward on the ridge, continuing to climb after the town, until D275 bears left and starts descending slowly, then faster At the national highway N117, turn right and ride 1 kilometer. (To reach Orthez and its train station follow N117 for another 9 kilometers.) Then turn left and cross the bridge (onto again D275) over the autoroute and the Gave de Pau River into Maslacq (hotel, gite; total of about 75 kilometers from Aire-sur-l'Adour).

Day 12: The day divides into four parts: a slow-going morning trip through the back country to Sáuvelade; a ride over very steep hills in extremely pretty country to Navarrenx; a medium-paced late morning ride through attractive rolling countryside to St. Palais; and a rapid but less interesting (unless you were to make some detours) afternoon ride to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

Leave Maslacq by the signed route for Sáuvelade (D273). This road, after crossing a medium hill, joins the level D110. The church in Sáuvelade is a remnant of an ancient abbey. You now have a choice of route: Either follow D110 and D110A to Vielleséqure over flat terrain, and D111 to Navarenx over one high hill (about 130 meters or 400 feet)—by far the easier, faster way (14 km). Or, follow the blazes of the GR65 on tiny roads, as the author did, in beautiful countryside (about 12 km), but you will have to cope with two long and steep hills (about 130 meters or 400 feet each)—one of which is so steep that even walking it takes a huge effort to push your bike up it. When you emerge from the back roads at highway D936 at Méritein, turn left to reach Navarrenx. Navarrenx has hotels, a gite, camping, and all services.

From Navarrenx, cross the bridge over the Gave d'Oloron River and bear right immediately towards Castetnau-Camblong. Continue following D115 due west (rolling with small hills) to Nabas. After crossing highway D244, D115 ends at D2. Turn left. Before long, D115 starts up again, branching right. Follow it to Aroue. Then turn right on and follow D11 up and down a succession of small hills through Etcharry and some other Basque towns to St. Palais (47 k from Maslacq). Three pilgrimage routes through France join near St. Palais. The town has hotels, religious accommodation, and camping.

Follow the main road, D933 to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. At lunch hour, the author found this road deserted. Later, traffic became light plus. The surface of this highway is unusually good, and it has a nicely paved shoulder "biking lane" that is about 2.5 to 3 feet (0.8 - 1 meter) wide. There are several small hills and one big hill on the way to St-Jean-Pierre-de-Port, but most of the way is uphill at an easy gradient that allows for rapid biking. Just before the town their is a pleasant, high-speed descent. Unfortunately the scenery seen from the highway is not special. Along the way, above the main road, are more scenic towns and villages where you could visit or stay, such as Ostabat (gite) and Larceveau (hotels).

Unless you are pressed for time, you should really make the small detour necessary to enter St-Jean-Pieds-de-Port by the ancient St. Jacques "porte" (portal) to the old town, used by the historic and present day walking pilgrimage route. You will need to watch for the turn carefully, as you will be in a high-speed descent: One kilometer west of St-Jean-le-Vieux, where the highway has curved to the right and you are riding downhill to the west, look for the left turn to la Magdeleine and/or also possibly signed for the "Porte St-Jacques" and the Citadelle or "Caro". (The author missed the turn and had to retrace.) The GR65 also crosses here. After the left, you must immediately turn right. Shortly, you angle left, cross a little stream and climb gently to a Y with D401. The gate is on your right. (About 77 kilometers from Maslacq.) Walk your bike down the cobbled street. If you miss the turn, you will enter the new town by the main street. In that case go visit the Porte St. Jacques on foot.

Just inside the St. Jacques portal on the right is a pilgrims welcome office, where passports are stamped and documents are provided for pilgrims going on to Spain.

St-Jean-Pied-de-Port (literally "St. John Foot of Pass") is very picturesque and charming Basque town, 8 kilometers from the border with Spain, and rightfully filled with tourists. The tourist office provides a map for a walking tour. The town has many hotels ranging from inexpensive to deluxe, gites, religious accommodation and two campgrounds. Restaurants range in from the inexpensive to the costly, including one with a Michelin star.

Assuming that you are not continuing by bicycle to Compostella, St-Jean-Pied-de-Port is a logical ending place for your journey. Train service connects the town with Bayonne, and from there you can return to Paris in less than five hours. (See the discussion of train connections and other alternatives in Part 1 of this article.)

But if you have a day and energy, there is a better alternative than immediately leaving St -Jean-Pied-de-Port: Continue on to Roncesvalles, Spain (Roncevaux in French) on Day 13 and return to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the afternoon for a second night or an evening departure.

Author's Tip: Up the main road from the tourist office there are some stairs, and a right turn leads onto a short little street, rue de France, that enters the ramparts and climbs to the rue de la Citadelle. On the left is a tiny restaurant that serves a salad, simple main course, and desserts including tiny fresh fruit cocktails for € 10. If this restaurant is full (it can fill up around 7:30 PM), its larger sister restaurant is located just below on the other side of the street.

Day 13: Today you will ride up to the illustrious and beautiful Roncesvalles Abbey, Spain (in French, Roncevaux), crossing the Puerta de Ibañeta (Pass of Ibañeta) at 1057 meters (3468 feet), an 877 meter (2,877 foot) climb above St-Jean-Pied-de-Port in 27 kilometers. Roncesvalles is located only a kilometer beyond the pass and about 80 meters (260 feet) lower. Assuming that you are returning to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, leave most of your baggage behind.

Mountain bikers will be tempted to take the high route, the so-called Route Napoleon, because it is the route Napoleon took to invade Spain. It crosses a pass called the Col de Bentarte at 1,337 meters (4386 feet)—a climb of 1,157 meters (3796 feet) before descending to the Puerta de Ibañeta and Roncesvalles. The Route Napoleon is entirely upon a ridge, with great views in all directions, whereas the main road follows the river and then contours up a mountainside. Ancient pilgrims used both routes, but favored the higher one, as it was out in the open, and less subject to surprise attack by marauders. Road bikers on the high route can take a road to reach a spot one kilometer from the Col de Bentarte, where the walking path deviates from the road. They can also visit a nearby pass called the Col d'Arnosteguy, with views down into Spain. It is perhaps possible to descent from the Col de Bentarte on foot with a non-loaded road bike equipped with wide tires; however, the young Spaniard in the Roncesvalles Tourist Office, himself a cyclist, strongly advises against it. An email from a reader argues that "there would be no point in attempting the Route Napoleon with a road bike....The not horrendously difficult...but the last leg is a steep downhill run which requires good brakes and firm control."

Beware of bad weather and the possibility of gale-force winds at elevation that could blow you off the road. With a bad forecast, or bad weather, don't set out.

Leave St-Jean-Pierre-de-Port to the west; D933 branches left almost immediately. Traffic is said to be normally light or very light, as it was for the author on a Sunday in early July. Interestingly, at least 100 other cyclists were riding up to or back from the pass. For the first 8 kilometers to the Spanish border, you ride in slightly rolling ride near the river, with very little gain in altitude, and pretty good road surfaces. The highway number changes to N135. Now your climb really begins, lasting interminably, until suddenly you round a curve and are at the Ibañeta pass, with its chapel and monument, 27 km from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. After taking in the view, you descend quickly to Roncesvalles.

Lock your bike and visit the area by foot. There is a museum with religious paintings and sculpture, open in summer from from 11:00 to 13:30 and later in the afternoon. Accommodations are available in the refugio (gite) or in the youth hostel (if you qualify), and there are several restaurants.

Both French and Spanish literature have early epic tales recall the events at Roncesvalles in the year 778—from opposite points of view! Roland, who was bringing up the rear guard of Charlemagne's army, came under attack by the Spanish Basques. According to the French version of the tale, Roland, blowing an incredibly loud blast on his horn, succeeded in summoning the Emperor, and staving off the attack.

The exquisite abbey church, dedicated in the year 1219, contains architecture and stained glass windows that are reminiscent of, and highly influenced by, the gothic churches of the time in the Paris area. (Every day, there is an evening pilgrims mass, and there are two midday Sunday masses. The organ only plays before, during and after masses.)

The author was much moved by the beautiful designs of the windows and the sheer quantity of glass (these brought to mind Saint Chapelle in Paris, the jewel-like private church of King Saint Louis, built two decades later). Since Sunday mass was soon to begin, the organ—with a fabulous tone— was playing, while the stained glass shimmered in the mid-day sun. An altogether fitting experience to end a magnificent trip on the Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compestelle.


If you are going to continue along the Camino de Santiago in Spain towards Compostella, a 47 kilometer downhill ride will bring you to Iruña/Pamplona. If you haven't alread done so, please re ad and act upon the sections in Part I of this article that cover Spanish information sources, the timing of a trip on the Camino in Spain, and how to use the Spanish trains. The Tourist Office in Roncesvalles can be of great help. Buen Viaje!

To return to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, ride back up to the Ibañeta pass, and enjoy your long descent.


The days after:

If you are planning to continue cycling in France, and don't care to retrace your path, you may wish to visit the busy Atlantic seaside. To the author, Biarritz*** (it was the seaside escape for Queen Victoria) has lost most of its Victorian charm since he last visited it many years ago, but the author's acquaintances, who don't know how Biarritz used to be, feel that it still has charm and is worth the visit. Biarritz has a wide selection of hotels and restaurants at all levels, as well a youth hostels and a campground. Traffic can be very heavy on the highways in the area, but is only light plus to moderate on the city streets. St-Jean-de-Luz** is another important Cote Basque seaside resort, with all facilities. All of the Cote Basque is connected to Paris by high-speed TGV trains in about 5 hours.

To reach Biarritz from St. Jean-Pied-de-Port, follow D918 north along the Nive River. For the first 25 km, it is a continual slight downhill grade. Traffic doesn't pick up until about 9:30, so you might wish to get an early start. There is a "bike lane", i.e., a nicely paved shoulder about one meter (3 feet) wide for most of the trip. You come upon two medium hills near Louhossoa and Cambo-les-Bains.

After Cambo, the author followed a route which he doesn't recommend. It appears (in retrospect) that the best route to Biarritz will be to stay on the main highway (now D932) to Ustaritz. Then turn left on D250 uphill, passing by the tiny village of Etchetokoborda to D3. Turn right and follow to Arcangues and Bassussarry. From here a left on D254 should take you down to the Biarritz train station, from where you can follow D910 (wide, moderate traffic) into central Biarritz (about 50 km total ). (The author thanks a correspondant, who rode the above suggested route as far as the Biarritz train station in 2005, and found it entirely without traffic or stress.)

To reach St-Jean-de-Luz, at the major intersection near Cambo-les-Bains, branch left, which is still D918, and follow this for 28 kilometers (total distance of about 50 km).

The seaside resort areas around Hossegor* (30 km north of Bayonne), and those further north along the Atlantic are duller and less expensive; they are frequented by French families in the summer, and have all facilities. From theseresorts you could continue riding north. To visit this area rather than the Basque Coast, you could bicycle to the Biarritz train station, and transfer your bike to Labenne—either on direct train carrying bicycles, or with a change in Bayonne. If you want to avoid the train, from an examination of maps, it appears that you should bike through very hilly country to Hasparren, either on D22 from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port or on D10 from Cambo-les-Bains. Then follow D21 northeast to La Bastide-Clairence, then D123 to Urt. Cross the Adour, pass through St-Barthélemy and follow D154 northward through St-André-de-Seignanx, and D54 to Haurie. Then follow D366 to the coast (about 90 or 100 km total).