New Year's Day is always a good time to regroup and look at the coming year, and your trusty Gastrocycling guides have some exciting riding plans for 2016. Stay tuned for our "DIY Training Camp" series, which will include stints in the Santa Ynez/Santa Barbara area of California for some spring training; a Montreal-based "power on the flats" trip; and a long weekend in the hills of Bend, Oregon.
After a long ride, when you arrive in a new town looking around for somewhere good to eat, we have a tip: look for restaurant signs with good font. Seriously. Take a look at this sign to the left here. We arrived hungry and exhausted in the town of Saint-Girons, it was late in the lunch hour and we had to find somewhere fast. There were no immediately apparent options, but then I saw this sign pointing down a side street. (Good: off the beaten path is another plus). What caught my eye was the way the sign was written. Interesting font! Arty, in fact. We followed the arrow and found the place, which was packed with locals so we knew we'd found a good spot. The host was very nice, the outdoor seating area relaxing, and we had an excellent 3-course menu du jour for a very reasonable price.
Restaurant le Saint-Gi
14 Rue du Pujol
Centuries ago in the southwestern part of France, some people became drawn to a religious sect of Christianity known to outsiders as the "Cathars" but referred to among themselves as the "Good Men" and "Good Women." They were considered heretics by the Catholic church, because they didn't believe in materialism (rejected the worship of religious relics, which was big at that time), or any of the sacraments of the Church. In fact, they believed the Church was morally and politically corrupt - and they said so. As a result, they were fiercely persecuted, attacked, and burned alive by the Catholic Church and its henchmen, and ultimately wiped off the face of the earth.
The Cathar heyday was roughly between 1150-1300, though their days certainly became numbered when the Church established the Inquisition in 1229 specifically to destroy them. Some in modern times consider the Cathars to have been similar to Buddhists, because they were vegetarian ascetics who were non-hierarchical and believed in reincarnation, among other things. (Along with their commitment to celibacy, or at least to non-reproduction, Cathars could not eat anything that was a by-product of sexual reproduction such as eggs, milk, etc. Fish was okay though, because at that time, people believed fish just spontaneously appeared in the sea, no mating required.)
Ironically, France now seems to embrace the concept of the Cathars, as you can see from the many "Cathar country" road signs and the promotion of various ruins as having been places where the Cathars hung out (and hid out). The towns of Carcassone, Montsegur, and Foix are in the heart of this area. Montsegur is a charming village, and you can hike up to the fortress at the top of a very steep hill, where the Cathars sought safety. Be prepared for a steep hike, but it is a truly amazing spot. Here is a link to a NY Times slideshow on "Exploring Cathar Country":
1. There are so many roads you can usually find one without a lot of traffic, and even the small roads are well paved
2. Drivers are better at navigating around cyclists than in the U.S.
3. People treat cyclists with respect in France; sometimes they even shout encouragement as you go by ("Bon courage!" is my favorite)
4. Lots of old guys still get out and do hard rides (inspiring)
5. Lunch is a serious matter: if you plan it right and end your ride before 2 you can count on getting a 3- or 4-course meal almost anywhere
6. You can eat stuff yourself with croissants, cheese, pate, foie gras, duck confit, cassoulet, and pastries with very few ill effects