France - Wine Region (September 6th - September 12th)
La Rochelle - Rochefort - Soulac - Pauillac - Bordeaux - Creon
Distance biked so far: (1,793 km)
The City of La Rochelle is noted in my guide book as having a population of just fewer than 80,000 but like most places in France, it seems much larger. I'm not sure if the guide books are wrong or the cities are just spread out to appear larger than they appear. La Rochelle is about mid-way down the Atlantic Coast and is noted for the 3 Towers that guard the harbour. In the old days, when the city was being attacked by pirates or more commonly by the English, a large chain would be raised between 2 of the towers preventing them from entering the port. A simple but effective defense in those days.
The 3rd Tower is called Lanterne and is the one I visited as the other 2 were closed (I believe the employees were in solidarity with the nationwide strike in France to dispute the governments bill to increase the retirement age from 60 to 62). You just can't get away from strikes in France. I gather those in the Lanterne Tower drew the short straw and had to work. Judging from the age of the employees (about 22 - 25 years old), maybe they just weren't too concerned about the retirement age just yet.
The Tower was converted to a prison about 150 years ago and held the pirates or military prisoners captured in the various battles. Throughout the Tower, you can see names and messages carved into the soapstone walls, some dating back to the 1600's, before the Tower was a prison.
The road system in France is very good for cycling but sometimes I run into trouble by ending up on a highway. On Wednesday as I was making my way down to Rochefort, I was merrily riding along a highway and noticed an inordinate number of people honking at me. I thought it unusual to be greeted so regularly in France until it dawned on me that they were telling me I can't bike on this road. It was not marked as such and it was not a major highway but I soon noticed a little side trail and got off the road. It was a nice trail that would take me about 20km but a few times I wondered if I was getting way off track again.
The lower Atlantic Coast of France includes the large Aquitaine region but is of course most famous for its wine. The 1,000-sq-km wine growing area around the city of Bordeaux is, along with Burgundy, France's most important producer of top-quality wines. French wines are generally named after the location of the vineyard rather than the variety of grape and if you buy Bordeaux, you may see names such as Merdoc or Pauillac, named for the small villages in the region.
The views are what you would expect when cycling through very gently rolling hills, sunshine and miles of vines. The grapes are almost ready to be harvested at this time of year but no one is in the fields at this point. What I find most impressive however are the Chateaux's, here is the Lafite Rothschild estate.