Thursday, 5 July 2012
Distance 21 km
Duration 4 hours 25 minutes
Ascent 88 m, descent 69 m
Map 170 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
The predicted storms arrived at dawn, with tremendous claps of thunder, then lashing wind and rain, so we stayed in our little tent, safe and dry. By 7 am it was over and we emerged.
We took our gear over to the shower block to pack up. It was crowded with Spanish fruit-pickers getting ready for work, shouting to each other through the partitions.
They were milling about in their heavy coats when we arrived at the terrace of the camping ground to have breakfast.
Then a truck arrived and they all piled in and disappeared, leaving us to our simple muesli in the shelter of the palm tepee. We enriched the muesli with some apricots that we had borrowed, or rather taken, yesterday from a roadside tree.
At 7:45 am we left the camping ground and set off along the D189 on our village-hopping way towards Montpellier.
We reached the first village, Mudaison, after only three kilometres and hunted around the streets for a while until we found an open bar. Although the rain had stopped, the awning over our table was necessary to protect us from the dripping plane tree overhead, as we enjoyed our early coffee.
Because we were no longer on the GR, we thought we would continue on the D189 to the next coffee stop, Mauguio. It was the only road on our map, but a local man kindly advised us to go a different, quieter way, past the graveyard and then beside a canal.
An hour or so on this little road brought us to where it joined the D189 and after that it was a bit busier. A slight rainstorm came up, enough to make us get out our capes.
We merged into a main road, a sort of ring road around Mauguio, then crossed it and pressed on beside the canal, but it was not picturesque any more, as we were in an industrial quarter.
Before long, however, we came to the old centre of, which was entirely picturesque. The church square was full of shoppers, as the weekly market was taking place there under scarlet awnings.
We were only interested in second breakfast, so we bought the usual pastries and settled ourselves comfortably at the Bar du Commerce, in front of the pale, sturdy church, whose bells rang the hour of ten as our coffee arrived.
The rain had passed but it was cool enough to sit in the sun.
The last leg, into Montpellier was on what looked like a minor road on the map (the D24), and no doubt had been in the past, but after we crossed the highway, it became more and more choked with traffic.
We trudged along stoically for a long time, then passed under the autoroute and eventually entered the suburbs of Montpellier.
This did not mean that the centre was anywhere near, however.
On and on we went, sometimes on a cycle path beside the teeming road, through unedifying expanses of concrete and bitumen, until we came to the river.
The buildings became monumental, although no less ugly, and as we passed over the bridge we saw a row of false Parthenons arranged along the river bank, one of them carrying the unlikely inscription “Australian Cafe”.
We then went through an area of luxury hotels which culminated in a strange, steeply sloping apron of tarmac on which we saw, for the first time, the snake-like trams of Montpellier gliding up and down. One was even painted with scales, while others had exuberant floral designs.
We climbed the slope on a set of steps at the side, in the company of a great many busy looking people, and when we got to the top we saw that we had nowhere to go. The tram line looped around and went back down.
The narrow streets of the old town were far below us, but fortunately there was a staircase and we were soon on the ground again. It was not much further uphill to the main square on the top of the hill – the Place de la Comédie.
This was evidently the centre of life in Montpellier. It was a long rectangular pedestrian precinct surrounded by beautiful buildings, shops and cafés. People promenaded at all angles across it and gaudy trams slithered about among them.
After a visit to the Office of Tourism at the far end of the Place, we came out empty-handed. They had no general list of accommodation for the whole department, they knew nothing of Montarnaud, our destination for tomorrow, and the hotel guide that they gave us was useless – we threw it away after the first glance. However they did tell us where to find an internet café nearby.
Wandering about the side streets, we found a hotel, but it was booked out. The next one that we tried was also booked out, according to the man on the desk, but then he hesitated, ran upstairs, and came back with the news that he had one spare room. That was all that we required and we moved in gleefully.
The hotel (the Kalliste, in Rue Boussairolles) was old but comfortable and our room had yellow walls, red curtains, a mauve bedspread, and not a single right angle. It looked out over the street to the Royal cinema. A shower and toilet were jammed into one corner and it even had air-conditioning, but we did not use it.
Showers, clothes-washing and lunch occupied us for a while and then we sank into a luxurious slumber for the rest of the afternoon.
When we emerged, we went to the bar outside the Opéra for coffee and composed an email, which we sent from the large, efficient internet café, down the tramline towards the Gare St-Roch.
Back at the hotel, we lay down again and watched the last of the day’s Tour de France on TV from a prone position.
At 7:30 we walked out to examine the possibilities for dinner, which were many. In the end we decided on l’Assiette au Boeuf in the Rue de Verdun. It was in a section of the street which was lined with restaurants, a veritable diners’ paradise. We had the formula of two courses for €14.90.
The waitress advised us to have the local wine rather than the wine of Nîmes for our half-litre carafe (it was cheaper and better, she said).
Keith started with carpaccio of beef, while I had salmon tartare with salad.
Our main courses were both rump steak with green peppercorn sauce – there seems to be something about long-distance walking that makes us crave red meat every night. With the steak we had green beans and salad.
It was a delightful, meticulously prepared meal, and as we paid the bill we discovered that the waitress had been to Australia for a holiday, a rare occurrence among the French.
Our hotel was only a block away and we settled down for the night, but there was such a festive din floating up from the bars and cafés below us that eventually, at 1 am, Keith got up and closed the window.