Actually, the day would have been just fine except for two things – the heat and the trail.
By the time we got out of Carcassonne it was nearly 10:00 and already about 85 degrees. Lovely temperature for a ride in the shade. There was a pleasant breeze as we were riding and for the first stretch the trail was not too bad – one could ride along at a pleasant clip.
After about 10km or so the trail got worse and continued to range from mediocre to bad for the rest of the day. Shortly before lunch time we happened on a farm stand next to the trail and bought melon and tomatoes from the nice lady.
At Pulcheric we checked out the cool found-metal sculpture (kind of like Tinguely) at the lock and then just past it there was actually a picnic table where we feasted on tomatoes, melon and baguette sandwich. After our fine repast we relaxed for an hour and then checked through the guide books to find lodging for the night and called ahead to make a reservation.
The next 30km were extremely taxing. Under normal conditions (paved trail, comfortable temperature) that distance should have taken about an hour and a half to two hours. Well, with sub-standard trail (I was racing along at 16kmh top speed) and well over 90 degree temperatures, we made it in a princely 4.5 hours. Needless to say, we stopped a few times along the way, drinking and replenishing our supply of water and trying to tank up on energy.
By the time we got to the gite it was about 6pm and all we could do was collapse and draw straws for first visit to the shower.
For some odd reason we decided to ride our bikes back to the center of the village for dinner and laughed at ourselves when we realized it was less than 300 meters. Two hours previously when we were hot and exhausted the same distance had seemed like miles.
Our dinner was serendipitous. We sat at a table directly adjacent to the town’s canal boat-lined harbor. Directly across from us was an ivy-covered house that glowed in the setting sun. Quiet, no traffic noise, excellent service, small but well-chosen and interesting menu - what more could one ask?
For starters I drank a house aperitif: rosé wine with grapefruit and cassis juices – what a lovely surprise!
As a first course I was treated to a chicken breast stuffed with a pine-nut and vegetable mixture and served on a salad comprised of thin-sliced fresh vegetables (including fennel, cabbage, cucumber and cantaloupe) drizzled with pesto. Wow! The vegetables were fresh and crunchy, the chicken tender and flavorful with just enough pesto to not overwhelm the other flavors. Yum.
I chose my main course because it involved polenta. I was not sorry. A perfectly cooked, juicy piece of cabillaud (cod) on a bed of polenta with roasted seasonal veggies. Oh my, that was good! And accompanied by a regional rosé wine. Ah, I sigh as I think about it…
And then there was dessert… For me the perfect finish to a summer meal – lemon meringue tart accompanied by a scoop of homemade lemon sorbet. It was a divine combination of sweet, tart and not too heavy. Really, really great!