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Stuart Forster explores Sommieres in the south of France, by bike.

My knees are pumping, driving my bicycle forward along the smooth tarmac track of the voie verte - the ‘Green Way’ - on the edge of Sommières, a medieval town with 5,000 inhabitants in the Gard department of southern France. A sign informs me that Caveirac, on the outskirt of Nîmes, is 21km distant.

If this was the Tour de France then the peloton would be winding up the pace ahead of a sprint finish. The flat landscape here would be ideal terrain for Mark Cavendish to add to his impressive tally of 25 stage wins. Then again, if this was Le Tour I would have been dropped by the rest of the riders long ago.

Frankly, my pace is leisurely rather than sporty. When I mentioned ‘my’ bicycle, it’s actually a sturdy hire cycle, rented from the hotel I’m staying in for €10 (£7.25) a half-day. Some of the riders I’ve seen this morning are on sleek, expensive-looking road cycles, dressed in gaudy Lycra and sporting protective helmets. Others - including me - are dressed in cotton T-shirts, cargo pants and broad brimmed hats.

Make no mistake, this region is ideal for serious cyclists but - hand on thumping heart - I’m not one of them. I’m here to enjoy impressions of the countryside before it becomes too hot. The forecast suggests temperatures will rise to 35°C today. To escape the heat I’ve booked a wine tasting – a degustation as they say here - at the Domaine de Massereau, an organic winery located a kilometre from where I’m staying, the Hotel Estelou.

From the last quarter of the 19th century until 1991 trains rolled along the route that I’m following. A three metre broad strip of tarmac has replaced the sleepers on what was once the Nîmes to Le Vigan railway. The voie verte enables cyclists, rollerbladers and horse riders to get out and enjoy nature, well away from traffic. I overtake a couple of women jogging along the track. We exchange nods and bonjours.

At the pace I’m cycling – roughly 15km an hour – I’m able to burn off a handful of the calories I’ve ingested while dining on the region’s herby, hearty Provençal style cuisine. But its impressions of the landscape that I’m really after. Rolled haystacks standing in fields remind me of Van Gogh paintings. Vines bear tiny green clusters that, over the summer, will expand into grapes. The morning sunshine catches in the long manes of two white Camargue horses standing by the fence.

As I learned last night, the voie verte is just one part of efforts to develop environmentally friendly and responsible tourism in this corner of the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Attending a meeting organised by members of Passion Terroir (www.passion-terroir.fr) put me in contact with a network of people whose aim is to recommend quality, value-for-money local restaurants, vineyards and shops. They want visitors to experience a taste of local products and go home with positive impressions of Sommières and the surrounding area.

On that score I’m doing well and with a wine tasting to attend I have an incentive to keep on pedalling. 

NEED TO KNOW

Getting there
Rail fares from London to Nîmes start at £121 for a standard class return. For bookings visit www.voyages-sncf.com or call 0844 848 5848. Alternatively, visit the Voyages-sncf Travel Centre at 193 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9EU.

Where to stay
Hôtel Estelou (www.hotelestelou.com) is a 23-room, 3-star hotel in a 19th century building that was once Sommières railway station. The hotel is located directly by the voie verte. Rooms cost from €79 (£58) per night, excluding breakfast.

Domaine de Massereau (www.massereau.com), on the edge of Sommières, is France’s first 5-star campsite. It has places for tent pitches plus cabins, and hosts an adventure park with a ropes course.

Further information 
Sommières Tourism Office – www.ot-sommieres.fr

Gard Tourism – www.tourismgard.com

France Tourism - www.rendezvousenfrance.com


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Cycling on the Green Way in Sommières
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