CYCLING THE CANAL DE LA GARONNE
By Declan Lyons
Cicerone Press, 2019
Softback, Gloss Laminated
Reviewed by Steve Dyster
Cycling the Canal de la Garonne is Declan Lyons second cycling guide for Cicerone. The first was cycling the Canal du Midi. The two put together will take you from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. Of course, that was why the two canals were built, although for boats not bikes.
The Canal de la Garonne took seventeen years to build, 1839-1856 and runs close to the Garonne river. Why not use the river? Well, going against the current, shallows and periods of flood made navigation unreliable. Thus, the cyclist has 193km of towpath – asphalt surface all the way.
The Voies Vertes movement is going strong in the area around Bordeaux. Declan Lyons conveniently starts the guide in the city centre -- well served by plane and train – but offer a prologue before setting off for the canal via a former railway line and some quiet roads. The prologue consists of a 135km round trip to the seaside town of Lacanau Ocean and back. Once again, this is on an asphalt cycle track.
Flora and fauna abound in the boggy forest through which the prologue makes its way, as well as along the main route. Although you are following pieces of nineteenth century industrial heritage, the regions rich history goes back much further. You’ll find Roman villas, castles, medieval bastide towns, and all the accoutrements of a thriving river region.
The Canal de la Garonne (aka the Canal Lateral de la Garonne and the Canal de Garonne) actually leaves the river at Castets-en-Dorthe. Thus, the route initially heads across country through medieval towns to reach the canal. A short detour is required to take the purist to the start of the canal.
Thence you’ll find all you need to know in this guide. The mapping is the familiar Cicerone style, and the route guide – along with signage – should keep you on track, even without downloadable .gpx files. Along the way, you’ll find plenty of accommodation, much of which is mentioned in the guide. There are the usual planning tools, too, and advice on when to go, what to take and so on. All you need is here.
The route terminates in Toulouse, where the Canal du Midi, the Canal de Brienne, and the Canal de la Garonne meet. Rather nicely, the author offers a 2km epilogue to return to the River Garonne. Others may head onto Sete, the airport, or the delights of the city’s sights.
Along the way, you’ll have passed though some beautiful scenery, with the occasional city suburb, the centres of Bourdeaux and Toulouse, loads of history, nature (a short diversion may take you into the home of boar, marten, and a host of reptiles and birds – if you are lucky), with Declan Lyons’ relaxed guidance. There are a couple of detours described along the way. Unlike some recent guides, these are very much detours than day excursions – though take as long as you like.
From fireside inspiration to jersey pocket on the road – or, in this case, cycle track – Cicerone will be your guide.