To Belvès by stages: Bike Route No. 1

Recently we were chatting with an English couple who have just bought a house in Daglan, and who are starting to explore the Greater Daglan Area (GDA) by going on walks and taking bike rides. When they said they were interested in bike routes with “a destination,” I had a brainwave: In Radio Free Daglan, I’ll describe and show off a variety of bike routes that my wife and I enjoy. But before I reveal details of the first route in this occasional series, let me deal with a few questions that I’m sure are already troubling you:

What’s with biking in the GDA? The simple answer is that the GDA (parts of which go under the name of Périgord Noir) is a wonderful place for biking, whether you’re an occasional recreational rider or a serious cyclist. Roads are good, scenery is lovely, traffic is relatively light, and there’s a great variety of routes; you can choose from flat trips to rolling hills to steep climbs. Renting bikes is easy (the Bike Bus will deliver them to your door) and you can plan your ride so that you wind up somewhere nice for a coffee, a drink, or a lunch. (Caution: Exposure to the GDA can be a life-changing experience. Our bike trip to the Dordogne and Lot départements in 1998 is the reason that my wife Jan and I wound up moving to Daglan.)

I don’t bike, so why should I care? Don’t worry, because my pieces on cycling won’t be too technical and certainly won’t include boring maps. There will be lots of photos and descriptions of countryside and villages and restaurants, so you can follow along even if you despise biking and plan to drive everywhere once you’re in the GDA.

What if I’m not visiting the GDA right away? How can I use the information? It’s easy. There is a “Search” box in the upper right of each Radio Free Daglan posting, and the function works beautifully. So if you’re planning a visit here in 2014 or 2015, just enter “Biking” or “Bike Route” in the box, press Enter, and you’ll be directed to all the Bike Route postings I’ll have written by then.

Now let’s get started, by following a ride that Jan and I did yesterday morning — beginning under skies that were a bit grey and threatening, but which cleared up beautifully by 10 a.m. Our destination was Belvès, about 22 kilometres from Daglan, which would be a round trip of 44 kilometres. However, I’ll break down the ride into stages, so that you can decide what distance would suit you.

Leaving Daglan, we headed out to the village to the south and west of us, which is Saint Pompon. It’s just about five kilometres from Daglan, so if you’re looking for an easy 10-kilometre trip (out and back), this would be it. The two-lane road is flat and the traffic is never too heavy. Generally you’ll be travelling past woods and small garden plots, and eventually you’ll come to the village. Here’s how Saint Pompon looks as you arrive:

Your view as you enter Saint Pompon.

Your view as you enter Saint Pompon.

There are a few places in Saint Pompon to stop for a drink or a coffee, and if you want an informal lunch you could choose L’Envie des Mets. Before you go, do make a reservation, because the restaurant can be extremely busy, especially in good weather; the phone number is 05-53-31-94-01. Note that it’s closed on Sundays and Mondays.

If you’d like to keep going, as we did, just continue through the village. You’ll find that the road starts a very gentle climb for a couple of kilometres, until you see the turn-off for the hamlet of  Saint Laurent la Vallée. This hamlet is about 10 kilometres from Daglan, so the round-trip will give you a nice 20-kilometre ride, with a long (but quite manageable) climb, and then a wonderfully smooth downhill coast on the way home. You can’t miss the turn-off , because it’s clearly marked, like this:

You can't miss the sign for the turn to Saint Laurent la Vallée.

You can’t miss the sign for the turn to Saint Laurent la Vallée.

Once you’ve made the turn, you’ll find that you’re on a long hill, with scrubby woods on your right and agricultural fields on your left. Eventually you’ll reach Saint Laurent, and that’s where you can stop for a coffee (as we did on Wednesday morning) or a lunch. The place to go is Le P’tit Bistro, which GDA veterans will recognize as the old Lou Cigalou. It’s a place for hearty, multi-course but amazingly inexpensive lunches, so bring your appetite if you’re lunching.

The entrance to the bistro in Saint Laurent la Vallée.

The entrance to the bistro in Saint Laurent la Vallée.

Right across the street from the bistro is an area for seating under the trees, so if the sun is too hot you can relax in the shade before setting off — either back to Daglan, or onwards to Belvès, as we did. Here’s the shady area:

Here's where you can sit in the shade, outside Le P'tit Bistro.

Here’s where you can sit in the shade, outside Le P’tit Bistro.

Our ultimate goal, of course, was to reach Belvés, so we headed west out of Saint Laurent (the signs are easy to follow). There is a slight decline as you leave the hamlet, but it lasts barely a kilometre; then you begin a long climb to the height of land that lies between Saint Laurent and Belvès. In fine French tradition, the climb is made much easier because of gentle curves and lots of switchbacks.  (This is in sharp contrast to our experience in Tuscany, where the road-builder’s motto is “Climb every mountain — straight up.”)

You’ll know when you reach the height of land, because the road begins to flatten out. At this point, Jan and I stopped to admire the views.

On our left, there was this interested group of spectators:

These ladies were on our left, at the height of land between Belvès and Saint Laurent la Vallée.

These ladies were on our left, at the height of land between Belvès and Saint Laurent la Vallée.

And to our right, the land fell away into a series of small dips and valleys, dotted with trees and more small herds of cattle. In the distance there are yet more hills. Here is Jan, surveying the scenery:

Jan is checking out the view.

Jan is checking out the view.

And here’s another view of the landscape that you’ll see from this vantage point:

Here's another view of the landscape.

Here’s another view of the landscape.

So now we’re at the top, and ready for the descent to Belvès. And what a descent it is — first, a rapid series of turns as the road heads down, and then a very long and winding road that dips downwards so consistently (but gently) that you probably can coast for several kilometres. Here’s a look at just one section of the road as you head down:

The road continues down and down, and on and on.

The road continues down and down, and on and on.

Once the road flattens out, you’ll know that you’re near the base of the hill on which Belvès is perched. At the miniscule hamlet of Vaurez, you’ll find this collection of iron statues, which always intrigue me:

An odd collection of iron statues.

An odd collection of iron statues.

Up ahead, and up above, is Belvès itself. Jan and I have made the climb up the Belvès hill many times, and it’s worth the effort, because the village is historic, picturesque and interesting — and a good destination for lunch. (Our standby restaurant is Le Home; nothing too fancy, but generally quite good. However, there are several other restaurants and cafés to try.)

Yesterday morning, however, we were facing a deadline, because we needed to be back in Daglan by the time the weekly fish truck arrived. So we turned around in Vaurez, and had to be content with this view of Belvès:

Looking like a town in Tuscany, Belvès is perched on a hill.

Looking like a town in Tuscany, Belvès is perched on a hill.

On the way back to Daglan, I stopped several times for photo opps. Here’s a view of the road heading back to Saint Laurent la Vallée, with farmers’ fields on the right (in this case, newly planted with corn):

A typical view of farmers' fields beside the road.

A typical view of farmers’ fields beside the road.

The scenery along the way is not just farmland and herds of cows; there is also a lot of forest hugging the road. Here’s one view:

You'll pass through woods like these along the way.

You’ll pass through woods like these along the way.

And then as I began the long descent to Saint Laurent, I came across this cherry tree growing right beside the road:

This cherry tree beside the road was full of ripe fruit.

This cherry tree beside the road was full of ripe fruit.

The tree was full of ripe fruit, and several of the cherries were actually calling out my name. (No, seriously, they were.) So naturally I had to try several, and they were delicious. These particular cuties were some of my favourites;

The cherries looked perfect for picking -- so I did.

The cherries looked perfect for picking — so I did.

With my energy levels restored, I continued on to Saint Laurent, and was stopped by the sudden need to photograph this lovely flower garden, right beside the road:

A lovely flower garden in Saint Laurent la Vallée.

A lovely flower garden in Saint Laurent la Vallée.

Another great sight, at the front left of the flower garden, was this patch of raspberries. Because it was very close to a house, I thought that I should refrain from stuffing my face with the berries, and so I moved on. But they really looked tempting:

The raspberries were ripe -- but too close to the house.

The raspberries were ripe — but too close to the house.

And now we’re near the end of our ride. We’ve passed through Saint Laurent, and we’re on the long downhill glide that leads to the road that takes us through Saint Pompon and onward to Daglan. Here’s a look at the downhill road that’s just made for coasting:

You can coast most of the way down from Saint Laurent la Vallée.

You can coast most of the way down from Saint Laurent la Vallée.

Aside from the exercise and the nice views, I did benefit from an insight that I’ll have to pursue. It struck me that (a) cherries are ripe and (b) so are raspberries. Knowing that at Daglan’s Le Petit Paris restaurant, Chef is very clever at using seasonal fruit just as it reaches the markets, I figured that Jan and I should begin planning our next visit to the restaurant for lunch.

But that was for another day. When we got home, Jan made a delicious lunch of sautéed fresh cod (from the fish truck), served with sorrel sauce, saffron rice, and broccoli. It was worth the ride to Belvès.

This entry was posted in Bicycling in the Dordogne, Cafés in France, Exercise and fitness, Flora and fauna, Holidays in France, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in the Dordogne, Sports, Sports in the Dordogne, Tourist attractions, Travels in and out of France, Weather in the Dordogne and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to To Belvès by stages: Bike Route No. 1

  1. Doug Curson says:

    As a matter of interest, how could you be sure the cod was fresh – bearing in mind your distance from the sea?

  2. loren24250 says:

    Hi Doug, all I can say is that all the fish we buy from the truck smells good — nice and clean, which I believe is a good sign of freshness. As for distance, we are only a few hours away from both the Atlantic and the Med, so I don’t think that’s much of an issue.

  3. Andrew MacFadyen says:

    Loren – genius idea! Wagner’s ring cycle…. Loren’s cycle ring….. you”re up there with the greats!

  4. loren24250 says:

    Thank you, Andrew. Indeed, I do walk amongst the giants — although in my case, I’m worried that one might step on me. I am indeed glad you’re a fan of Radio Free Daglan!

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