The great pyrenean adventure - Day 2

Sunday 14th September, Biarritz to Salies-de-Bearn - 61kms

The Off...

I hate Sundays. It's always a constant worry as to where I'm going to find some sort of food for the group - "feeding The Five-Thousand" was a cinch compared to making sure each member of the party found a LOT of food at the correct time on each day. Sundays are of course the worst case scenario with so much being closed.

But the first meal, 'breakfast' was easily sorted as we went back to the restaurant that we'd frequented the previous night. This was a 'help-yourself' buffet and so our band of cyclists, who'd been warned that this "might be the only meal of the day" took me at my word and plundered the breakfast table mercilessly. It certainly made up for the small portions the previous night (and wiped out any profit the restaurant may have made...). Posters on the door of the restaurant explained the rowdyness the previous night - a bikers convention with live music and plenty of strippers - if only we'd known...

Ho hum....

So with everyone very full of both croissants and 'buzzing' on coffee we took a photo at the campsite entrance of our happy band suitably attired in our ITDG T-shirts and set off.

the cycling gang

I hate navigating out of towns on day one.

Normally I avoid any big towns like the plague, but as airports aren't usually found in country villages I'm invariably forced to navigate a trusting group of cyclists out of the metropolis using a Michelin 1:200,000 map and a compass. Chip had picked up a street map from the tourist office the previous day which would have helped if it hadn't been drawn in 1935 and ignored all the one-way system. Soon I resorted to the time honoured practice of finding the river and tracking along it's bank (there's always a road/path) until the urban area thins enough to find a route.

 over the anti cycling barriers

The main river is the Nive and this technique proved particularly successful as it took us north through Biarritz. OK so we had to push along part of a footpath and over some 'anti-cyclist' obstacles, but at least soon after I could shout "ha! A signpost for Urt" at all the sceptical group members still lifting their bikes over the barrier. My navigational credentials restored we followed the road out of Biarritz and on to Urt.

cycling gang

And it was a truly gorgeous day. The traffic thinned, the road was good, the group was seriously relaxed and happy (as I'd assured them there were no big hills and it was short). We followed the river to Urt and on - here my credibility took a tiny dent as we found we were on the wrong road. My map covered the entire route for the fortnight except for a tiny 10 kms stretch as far north as we would go. Of course I was by now navigating by the sun (the last resort of the desperate) but finding myself back on the map assured the faithful that it was no further and much quieter than plan 'A' anyway. What I didn't tell them was that it took us up a stonking great hill into the pretty but apparently deserted village of Bidache. Several of the group were getting very tense over not having eaten for three hours (it's always my fault) but much to my relief we found sustenance here in the form of a bar that made us sandwiches whilst we watched the Grand Prix on the bar telly.

And so the afternoon wound by as we trundled to our ultimate destination, the campsite at Salles-de-Bearn, chosen because I though the town big enough to be able to feed fifteen cyclists even on a Sunday evening.

As it turned out we had hit the annual Sales-de-Bearn 'Salt Festival'. Now I know what you are thinking, but anyone who knows France will tell you that every village with a population greater than your average bus queue will cobble together a massive, rowdy and thoroughly wonderful fete on the feeblest pretext. Here there were 'salt-games' where a World-Champion-salt-carrying-team were crowned and a salt works brass band playing in the street. But more importantly the place was heaving with people, I'd guess 10,000 and praise be food was in plentiful supply everywhere. To add to my joy the campsite was cheap and excellent and there seemed no chance of a 3.00 am rave on a Sunday night...

 salt festival

So we all split up and in small groups found fun and food in the festival - I ate with William and Allan in a gorgeous little scruffy restaurant and we snaffled 4 courses for 13e. It transpired that some of the others had god roped into some serious wine drinking by the locals at the fete but I think it best to draw a veil over that...