Durfort - Montreal: Mont means Mountain - France: Between the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees - CycleBlaze

August 25, 2007

Durfort - Montreal: Mont means Mountain

This is not about kilometers. I am recovering or hopefully have recovered from a knee injury in early summer. Now the knee is being put to the test with hills and a loaded bike. We'll take it easy and hope touring is again on the agenda.

We had a cold, rainy week at my sister's but the day we had set to start our tour, the sun came out. Oh, how heavy the loaded bicycle feels after a summer of inactivity. The doctor had prescribed rest for my knee and let's hope he was right. My knee feels okay, but otherwise I'm feeling a little out of shape. Nevertheless, with a nice tailwind we sail the first few kilometers to the nearby town of Revel to get some information at the tourist office and have a look at the colorful Saturday market.

Saturday Market in Revel
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Where are we headed? We're not too sure yet, maybe the country of the Cathars? Cathars?

In the 12th and 13th centuries, a new religion, Catharism, was established across the south of France. Obviously any "alternative" Christianity was going to be perceived as a serious threat and a "holy" war of unprecedented violence and savagery was undertaken against the Cathars in the southern Languedoc-speaking regions.

Particularly well known are the grand "Cathar Castles", often in a picturesque state of decay and usually perched on mountain tops for purposes of defense - a location which also successfully discourages cyclists from getting too close.

With information from the tourist office promising us Cathar castles and good wine, churches and monasteries we set out to the southeast, the corner of France wedged in between the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees, with the wind at our backs.

We first travel south to the town of Castelnaudary on the Canal du Midi. This week-end Castelnaudary is celebrating its Cassoulet Festival with brass bands, stands and stalls selling local goods and above all - cassoulet.

Marching bands in Castelnaudary - celebrating the Cassoulet Festival
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Cassoulet is a delicious dish of duck confit and sausages baked in a pot of white navy beans and is not something to be taken lightly. Castelnaudary was the birthplace of cassoulet and legend has it that the first batch promptly enabled its citizens to route the besieging English - a decisive moment in The Hundred Years War.

Of course we treated ourselves to this specialty before continuing. I don't know how this dish enabled the French to route the English - we could hardly pedal out of town after consuming a modest portion. As good as it was, next time I will think twice before feasting on cassoulet when cycling.

The owner of the restaurant suggested I keep the pot the cassoulet is baked in as a souvenir. I had to turn down his kind offer as I didn't think it would do well in my panniers
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From Castelnaudary we follow the tow path along the Canal du Midi to Bram. The dirt path is smooth and shady, the ensuing road at the end of the day to Montréal is steep and hot.

Bicycles being taken for a ride on the Canal du Midi
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After several enquiries we find the simple little campground, not signposted, which cost all of 4.80 € complete with a hot shower and clean toilets. What more can you ask for? France is unique in all of Europe in that it has a great density of campgrounds, many are municipal campgrounds and very cheap, and they almost all have hot showers.

Campground in Montréal, located close to the public swimming pool, as is often the case in France. But beware, you're not allowed to wear baggy swimming trunks and the swimming pools as well as the campgrounds often close on September first.
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This was our first day on the road and my first real cycling since my knee injury. After two and a half months of no exercise I'm not as bad as I had feared.

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