In Pézenas: Mourèze loop - Three Seasons Around France: Autumn - CycleBlaze

November 1, 2022

In Pézenas: Mourèze loop

(Hey, I’m a day behind!  I thought I’d already posted this ride.  Good thing it’s raining this morning in Sète so I can get caught up.)

My morning begins with a surprise as I’m sitting on the couch working on the journal and am startled to realize that I’m back in the Jaguar Reserve in Belize where we river kayaked about twenty years ago.  I’m so unobservant about so many things, and somehow after living in front of it for the past two days I’ve failed to take in this wallpaper that covers an entire wall of the living room.

Yow!
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Yesterday’s brief descent into dampness has passed on and today we’re back to the brilliant weather we’ve grown accustomed to - sunny, warm, mild.  With many options to choose from for the day’s ride we choose Mourèze, a dramatically sited village about fifteen miles to the northwest.  On the advice of our server at dinner we biked out to Mourèze  on our first visit to Pézenas  five years ago.  It was sound advice, as Mourèze  is an exceptional spot tucked up against the folds of the limestone cliffs of the Cirque de Mourèze.

On our previous visit we took a different route getting there, circling also spectacular Lake Salagou before climbing up to the village.  Today we’ve mapped out a different route that circles above it to the northwest around Crètes du Vissou before dropping down into the village from above.

At an impasse - specifically, the Impasse des Selliers, the short dead-end alley that’s our address here in Pézenas.
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Today’s ride is the kind we like best - front-loaded, with nearly all of the work coming in the first fifteen miles.  We’ll gradually ratchet our way up to a saddle above Mourèze on the back side of the Pic du Vissou, drop into the village, and then let gravity continue having its way with us most of the way back to town.

Looking northeast across Nizas, the first village we pass through today. In the not so distant distance is the southern edge of the Central Massif - I think the high point might be Mount Aigoual. It’s a reminder of how well situated we are here: just fifteen miles from the sea, but with a challenging two day ride we could be on the Tarn.
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Beyond Nizas we start climbing, gradually at first but then more steeply near the summit twelve miles away.
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We’re in the land of the giant reeds. We’ll be seeing a lot of this over the coming month.
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In Fontès.
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Keith AdamsThe source of that diagonal shadow puzzled me when I was looking at this picture on my tablet. On the larger desktop computer screen the source is apparent: an open shutter, nearly invisible but clear when you examine the drain pipe that is partly obscured.

Very interesting, and cleverly arranged!
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3 weeks ago
Saint-Hippolyte Church, Fontès.
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We’re only about seven miles from town here. You don’t need to get far from town to start getting some contour in the ride.
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Ahead is Pic du Vissou, one of the southernmost peaks of the Central Massif.
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And this is Vissounel, the lower profile neighbor to Vissou which is just off the frame to the right. They’re the endpoints of Les Crètes du Vissou, a schist-limestone ridge that’s a vanguard of the Central Massif. We’ll skirt it to the left then climb up its opposite side before finally dropping to Mourèze.
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Pic du Vissou again, I think. Oh yes - I’m sure now, because of the tower at its top. At nearly 1,600’ it makes a prominent landmark visible from far off.
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Deux cabanes et une cycliste féminine.
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From the high point, a dramatic view down to Lake Salagou, a reservoir from damming the Salagou river. It’s a striking place (we’ve biked along it before), in a wierdly eroded basin of red and white sandstone.
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From The crest it’s a fast five mile drop to Salasc, where we found a bench in the sun and communed with the village cats.

In Salasc. Amusingly, my first thought on seeing this was - Oh, this looks like France! But what I really meant was that it looks like Provence, thinking of places like Roussillon.
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In Salasc.
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Village mendicant and white shoelaces.
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Rachael had to use the bathroom, but there was no public one in view. In desperation she found a cafe where she could use their loo in exchange for buying an ice cream bar. Smart!
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Still catching up from our dreadful cat deficit.
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From Salasc there’s one last climb to a saddle above Mourèze.  After cutting through the gap we come into a strikingly eroded landscape and drop through it to Mourèze.  Before we came to the village from below, but coming to it from above is more dramatic.  The photos don’t really do justice to it.

Climbing the last saddle of the day.
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Through the gap.
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The descent to Mourèze.
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Above Mourèze.
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The belfry of the Church of the Assumption, Mourèze.
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We aren’t tempted to explore the famous nearby Cirque as we descend through Mourèze.  For one thing, it’s too crowded today!  It’s a national holiday (All Saints Day), and the streets, parking lots and trails are packed.  The right way to see the cirque, something I’d like to do someday, is to stay overnight at the inn here and see the cirque in the morning or afternoon when the crowds aren’t around.

The other consideration though is the time of day.  We just went off daylight savings time, and we haven’t really internalized what this means yet.  It’s about three and we’re still fifteen miles from home, so we need to step on it if we’re going to get back before the road start feeling unsafe in the twilight.  Fortunately it’s mostly downhill and there are no routing surprises, and we pull into town right at 4:30 as the shadows are just starting to grow long.  We’ll need to start factoring this into our ride planning for the rest of the tour.

Dropping toward Pézenas there’s just time to stop for a look at the high country across the Hérault.
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Still dropping.
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In the Hérault.
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Overfed perhaps?
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Keith AdamsA big solid draft animal, for sure.
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3 weeks ago
In Aspiran, a village worth a slower look on some future day ride.
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Leaving Aspiran.
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Video sound track: Bright Eye, by Classic Dream Orchestra

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Ride stats today: 39 miles, 2,400’; for the tour: 1,439 miles, 86,200’

Today's ride: 39 miles (63 km)
Total: 1,438 miles (2,314 km)

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