Saturday 13 July 2019 – Monday 22 July 2019 Arreau – Toulouse – Lavaur – Toulouse – Foix
We left the Aires at Arreau and continued along our journey to Toulouse to do our reconnaissance for stage 12 of the Tour de France. We arrived at Cite de I’espace, an Aires on the outskirts of Toulouse. The next day we caught a bus to the metro and then the metro into Place du Capitole.
Toulouse is bisected by the Garonne River and sits near the Spanish border. Its 17th century Canal du Midi links the Garonne to the Mediterranean Sea.
Place du Capitole is Toulouse’s main square where the 120-metre-long facade of the Capitole, the city hall is located. It was built in the 1750s with 29 arches and 8 columns, each column representing one of the former eight districts of Toulouse (called Capitoulats). Inside this building is the Theatre du Capitole, which is the venue for operas.
Also located in the square is the oldest element of Roman days, the Donjon or Archive Tower, built in the 16th century to protect the Capitouls (those who govern the city) and their archives.
After visiting the tourist information centre and obtaining a copy of the route of the Tour de France we walked to Les Halles Victor Hugo, the produce market on Victor Hugo Place. The stalls once again, had beautiful displays of fresh meat, seafood, fruit and vegetables.
Upstairs is a restaurant area where there are about 6 different cafes serving traditional French food. We chose one and sat on the balcony overlooking the streets with several other diners. With the help of a French couple we managed to order a three-course meal, Menus (meal deal), which included a half carafe of wine for 14 euros. The meals were huge and in hindsight, we should have just ordered 1 meal for the both of us to share.
After such a huge meal, we decided to walk along part of the route of the Tour de France. From here we continued along the Canal de Brienne inaugurated in 1776, which connects the Garonne River with the Canal du Midi and the Canal de Garonne, a channel dating from the mid-19th century. At the joining with the Canal du Midi and the Canal de Garonne is the Ponts Jumeaux (Twin Bridges) built in 1774 and Port de I’ Embouchure. It was very pleasant walk along the banks under the shade of the trees.
From here we walked across Pont des Catalans passing over the river Garonne along the pathway into the Old Town. This took us three hours which helped to digest our enormous meal.
Some of the sights of Toulouse:
La Basilique Saint-Sernin is the largest Romanesque church in France, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and has welcomed pilgrims for centuries along the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. It is a very imposing sight.
Bridges which cross the Garonne River: Pont Saint-Pierre, a steel deck rebuilt in 1987, Pont Neuf, 16th -17th century bridge which has holes above the piers, between the arches to let water through in the event of a serious flood and Pont Saint Michel, built between 1955 and 1961 replacing its predecessor built in 1890.
The Bazacle (a natural ford) is a structure in and on the banks of the River Garonne where an old mill was built in the 14th century.
La Chateau d’eau (The Water Castle) is an old nineteenth century water tower, near the Dillon course, just next to the Pont Neuf. It was originally designed as a water tower, but it is now a photography gallery.
Place Olivier Fountain was erected in 1886 to commemorate the victims of the floods of 1875 when the Garonne River carried away the bridges of Saint-Pierre and Saint Michel, a thousand houses and more than 200 people lost their lives. On Saint Nicholas church, is a plaque showing the height of the devasting flood of 1875.
After strolling around the fairly compact city, with the centre a maze of narrow streets crossed by a few wide boulevards and investigating the route of Tour de France we headed back to the Aires.
We then drove to Lavaur to make sure we would have a spot to stay to enable us to watch stage 11 of the Tour de France, Albi to Toulouse.
Lavaur (Stage 11 Albi to Toulouse)
Lavaur is a small village located on the banks of the Agout, in the hillsides of the Pays de Cocagne. When we arrived at the Aires there was one other motorhome. The Aires was 100 metres from the route for Tour de France.
Mid-morning of stage 11, we walked up the road with our chairs and supplies to wait for the tour to come through. A group of experienced riders who ride the route before the tour rode along with a police escort and tour cars following.
A little while later the Caravans arrived and began throwing their samples to the crowd. It was an amazing sight to see – floats with a giant Maillot Jaune (leader of General classification) leading, followed by a giant lion, Mickey Mouse, Skoda with a large green jersey mascot (sprint leader of the tour) and other various floats representing their sponsored products for the tour.
Following the Caravansl there were team cars passing by, some with bikes and some without. Then there was a long break before the main event, so a lot of the residents went home with their goodies to watch the race on the television. When the riders were approaching the crowd swelled again.
Eventually, the race leaders rode through followed by the peloton. As this was a flat section of the race the riders passed by fairly quickly. The team cars were the last to come through and when we saw the Mitchelton Scott car (Australian Team) we waved our flag and the driver tooted.
For our first live section of the Tour de France it was still an incredible thing to see. Within half an hour the streets were open. We went back to our motorhome to watch the completion of the stage on television with young Australian rider Caleb Ewan winning the sprint finish in his first Tour de France. He certainly will be a champion of the future.
The Tour is a huge event with the caravan floats, the police escorts, the sponsored official cars, the team cars, the television and communication crew, the team buses and the town and village pre and post preparations. I am sure there are still a lot more entities behind the scene that make this fantastic event happen. The money involved in bringing all this together would be enormous but is very impressive.
Later in the evening we headed back to Toulouse to the Aires near Cite de l’espace in readiness to witness the start of Stage 12. When we arrived at the Aires a section of the carpark was taken up with the floats of the Caravans.
Toulouse (Stage 12 Toulouse to Bagneres-de-Bigorre)
We were up early this morning as we had to catch transport (a bus and then the metro) into the city centre and then walk about 30 minutes to the sports centre for the start of Stage 12. The city streets of the route were cordoned off with barricades and police were stationed along the city route. We arrived at the sports centre and found a good position on the bridge above the start area. A lot of people had come out for this event.
There were people throwing out sponsored items to the crowd and then the Caravans left from inside the stadium and through the streets of the route for the day throwing out samples. It took about 45 minutes for the Caravans to come to an end. This was interspersed with team and sponsor cars as well.
Then the riders, in numerical order of position, rode their bikes onto the stage area and pressed the screen, which we think was their way of signing on before the race and then rode down the ramp. The sports commentators interviewed some of the riders, which we could see close up via a big screen.
Eventually, the riders took their positions with the leaders of each category at the front of the line. The count down to the start of the race was displayed on the screen and the lead car came to the front. The riders headed off through the starting area and into the streets of Toulouse following the lead car. Then all the team cars with bikes on came through the gates. We were in awe! Until you see this you don’t realise how huge the event really is.
On our way from the area, the team buses drove past us and the Mitchelton Scott bus, tooted as we waved our Australian flag. We walked back to the metro and caught the bus back home to watch the remainder of the race on television. It was a fantastic experience to witness and was worth the early morning journey.
We have really enjoyed seeing the different sections of the Tour so, we have decided to head to Foix for a mountain stage.
Foix (Stage 15 Limoux to Foix)
Foix is a commune, south of Toulouse, close to the border with Spain and Andorra. We arrived in Foix three days before the race to an Aire close to the river. Just as well we arrived when we did as we parked in the last spot available. The Aires was less than ten minutes’ walk to the town centre.
Whilst waiting for the day of the race we walked around the small town, found the tourist information centre and obtained a map of the route. We were informed the last 10 kilometres of the race was inaccessible to any form of vehicle. After doing some reconnaissance, we decided to watch it from the last 11.8-kilometre mark. This stage was a mountain stage with three hills so we thought the riders would be spread out enabling us to see the riders in a more sedate manner.
We also visited Château de Foix castle a Roman built fort on the rocky hill overlooking the town over 1, 000 years ago. The castle, whose foundations date back to the early tenth century, was a strong fortress and a symbol pf aristocratic power. It was later the lord’s residence, a garrison, a prison and is now an historic monument.
Today, inside the castle is a museum which traces the history of the chateau from its celebrated family of counts to the French throne in the person of Henri IV, various displays of armoury and weapons and a film about the chateau.
In the Castle grounds there were stone carving and blacksmith workshops which we watched as they explained the process and throughout the day there were shooting, building machines and war machine workshops.
As well as this we climbed one of the towers which at times was quite narrow. There are various rooms on each of the floors, some with period items and others bare.
From the roof of the tower the view of Foix and the valley below where the tour will come through is quite special.
The next day, late in the afternoon, after watching the first half of the race on the television we headed to the roundabout where the riders would be coming along after three huge mountain stages. We found a great place just near the 11.8-kilometre mark and waited.
The support teams walked past with their feed bags and positioned themselves about 300 metres up the road.
The noise from the helicopters announce the eminent arrival of the leaders, followed by the first motorbike. The leaders consisting of two riders came into view, one of them from Mitchelton Scott, Simon Yates. The Australian flag flew high.
Then about 2 minutes 20 seconds later the peloton rode into view followed by the rest of the riders. It was a great place to watch the race unfold. As the last riders passed, we headed down to main street and watched the remainder of the race on the big screen, with Simon Yates winning the stage!
Following this we walked back to our campsite and passed all the team buses. After watching the presentations on the television, we noticed the riders were riding back down the road and realised that the buses were waiting for the riders. We decided to go back to the carpark where the buses were and saw many riders returning. We waited outside the Mitchelton Scott bus and saw Luke Durbridge (Australian), Michael Hepburn (Australian), Daryl Impey (South African) and Christopher Jwljensen (Denmark) arrive and then we listened to Matt White being interviewed. It was absolutely surreal being so close to these elite athletes.
We thought this day could not get any better! Then on our way home we saw the Peter Sagan motorhome/bus. The best day ever!! We have watched three stages of the Tour and each time either an Australian rider (Caleb Ewan) or a rider from the Australian team has won the race. Maybe we bring them luck too.
The next morning, we drove 5 kilometres outside Foix to visit Forges de Pyrene.
Forges de Pyrene is a village set in a shady 5-hectare park, crossed by a river where trades and tools from the old days (1900s) are displayed in a museum. The display of each trade is well set out and the number of tools and machines and the condition of them are incredible.
The first workshop we attended was Le Vannier (basket maker). After listening to the history and seeing the different weaved baskets for different purposes (all in French), we were given a piece of moist reed to manipulate into a bracelet. It looks easier than it actually is, but we managed to make something that looked similar.
From here we saw the L’Orpaillage (the gold panner) down in the stream with a pan, shovel and bowl where she explained the history and technique of panning for gold.
Next, we went to Le Forgeron a Martinet (the tilt hammer smithy), visited the museum and then witnessed how to mould iron using an anvil. In an old factory, a coal fire was burning, and the blacksmith placed a rod of iron into it until it became red.
He demonstrated the old technique of using a wooden tilt hammer to mould iron. The hammer was attached to a pole which when pulled, produced water which turned the water wheel, which in turn made the hammer rise and fall with an enormous bang, which scared us all.
The smithy took the red-hot iron rod out of the fire and demonstrated how to mould the iron. While his assistant pulled the pole, he manipulated the rod turning it as the hammer rose and fell. He sat on a swinging seat which he spun on from one side to the other. It was an incredible sight to think that this was the way they shaped iron in medieval times.
The last section we visited was les jeux anciens (old games) where we played the old-fashioned games of coconut shy, hole board and shuffleboard. It is amazing to think that such simple games could be so entertaining.
There were other workshops (glassmaker, clog maker, village blacksmith, bread oven and 1900 school) which we didn’t attend as they were spread out throughout the day and we needed to be on our way to Neffies to meet up with Ian’s brother and his wife. We spent four hours at the village but to see all the workshops on offer you really need to spend a day there. The village is well set out, the grounds are enormous with picnic areas and small cars for children to ride around a track. It was really entertaining to see living history in action, which we enjoyed immensely.
We drove to Neffies, a small pretty village with many old buildings, narrow streets and a medieval church to stay the night with our brother/ brother-in-law Andrew and his wife.