Toulouse via Millau to Villeneuve les Avignon, France

Distance:  270 miles
Time on bikes: 7.25 hours

We wake up as Bene’s friend Murielle is going to work at 8 am. Our intentions to get up at the same time and get on the road are slightly scuppered as we, or rather Carl thinks a slightly more leisurely start is in order. We do manage to get going by about 9.30 am, although again we’re delayed as the access code to get through the security gates has changed overnight.

Carl manages to get through the pedestrian gate and is just working out the logistics of how to get the bikes through the gate in the least number of luggage moves, when a car turns up to go into the private residence area. The gate opens for them, so they have the new code. One polite enquiry later and we’re able to get through the exit gate and we’re on our way.

We’d been debating on whether to go and see the Millau bridge or the town of Carcassone on the way to see Bene’s friends near Avignon, where we’ll be spending the evening. It was too much to fit both in, so we settled on going slightly north to Millau as this would also give us the opportunity to see a National Park and avoid the coastal roads which we expected to be much busier.

The first part of the journey followed fairly boring dual carriageways, as always avoiding the toll roads. We then turned off and joined a really nice road through the valley of the Tarn river. This is the valley that the Millau bridge spans and we rode along for about two hours before we eventually came across the bridge. This was a great way of getting to see the bridge; and the valley and the river itself were really nice with old bridges and narrow tunnels guiding us along. Our only complication is a poorly signed deviation for road works which takes us up into the hills surrounding the valley, before eventually allowing us back down about forty minutes later.

The Millau bridge itself is a real tourist draw, and after getting photographs of the bridge from underneath in the valley we ride up to the visitor centre where we see some tacky models and a short film about the construction of the bridge. Because of the anticipation and expectation of what the bridge would be like, I’m not sure whether I was impressed or not. Its biggest claim seems to be that the legs of the bridge are the tallest in the World, with the deck being 273 m above the river. Still, the box is ticked and the photos are taken, so onwards we go.  The valley was better though…

On the way to Avignon we take a bit of a detour through the Cevennes National Park which takes us through some very lumpy countryside with great roads and great views. I’d not realised this part of France was as spectacular as this, so it was a real bonus. We stopped for a break on a corner where there was a memorial to Roger Riviere, a Tour de France rider who must have crashed and died on the bend in 1960. It seemed quite moving and reminded us of the care we should take on these winding roads.

The bikes are continuing to do well, but Carl’s fuel consumption is starting to suffer as his chain and sprockets are in their dying throws and basically are completely shagged. They’ve managed to do 23,000 miles which is very good going considering the first set lasted 16,000 miles and the second set lasted 20,000 miles. But many of the links have now lost their rubber gasket seals and are seized solid, with the chain taking on a W shaped appearance in places. The regular applications on oil and silicone spray seem to be keeping it moving, but the replacement parts waiting in Strasbourg can’t come soon enough.

The final leg of our journey to Avignon was just a case of getting on with it as our ETA had slipped to about 7.30 pm and we were supposed to be getting to Bene’s friends at a reasonable hour for dinner. The wind was very strong on the way and we laughed over the intercoms as each of us was hit by the gusts buffeting the bikes and pushing us to the side of the road.

We eventually arrive in Villeneuve les Avignon and we’re greeted by Helene, Jean-Francois, Alex, Aurelie and her boyfriend. After a quick freshen up we sit down for dinner and Carl is relieved that Jean-Francois speaks excellent English and they all show great interest in our trip. We have a lovely dinner and Carl really appreciates the chocolate mousse that Helene has made. A huge thanks for their hospitality.