From Stephen Kling (July 2007): I had a great time in Caussi, largely because I was able to fit in a half day of bike riding almost every morning, still getting back in time for breakfast. In fact, I dragged a full-sized touring-bike-in-a-box all over Europe for that very purpose.
The back roads in France are narrow, seldom travelled, and beautifully, even obsessively, paved, and I loved 'em. Route numbers in France for back roads like these are, at best, a symbolic gesture, since one number can seemingly indicate many roads that are only distantly acquainted. We kept stumbling over D158, and its cousins, D158b, D15b8, and never did understand the method behind them. So my directions use towns and villages as landmarks. If cyclists stays off the fast main roads like D909, he and she will be fine.
I covered three areas, mostly:
First: West: a 60-70km circle that started in Caussi and looped back into the hills beyond Cabrerolles, to St.-Nazaire de Ladarez, and then Causes-et-Veyran, Veyran, through Murviel les Beziers, St. Genies de Fontedit, Autignac, coming back to Caussi. Incredible views, vineyards and villages, knockout sunrises, desperate climbs over sharp passes into narrow valleys and then terrifying descents plunging nearly to doom. About 4 hours, depending on how much espresso you consume along the way. And don't forget the pulse quickening sprint to the top of the mountain at La Borie Nouvelle: 8 death-defying switchbacks on the way to nowhere in particular.
Second: East: Gentler was the route to Faugeres, past the old train yard, and on just past the center of town by a hundred yards to a meandering slow climb on a tiny road that cuts by the town cemetery. Past vineyards and sheep farms and stone walls, it leads up to a meadow at the top of a ridge. Here was a rare open pasture under an endless blue sky, rimmed by trees and a few lazy cows. A ferocious-seeming dog decided he would brook no interference until I gave him my well-rehearsed death-stare. He slunk away, suitably humbled. The ridgeline dropped away to a smooth, quick glide into Penzenes-les-Mines, an ancient walled village hemmed into a tiny valley. Here were many walkways too small for two people to walk abreast, let alone drive a car. If one is especially interested in pain and torure, there's a punishing schlep just past Penzenes up over the mountain, past a sizeable fortress that apparently withstood the Moors. I saved that ride for another day. Reverse direction, or take the turn to Bedarieux and back to Faugeres and Caussi. I covered about 40km. in 3 hours or less. No place to buy a snack, though. Carry a bit of baguette.
Third, Northeast: Remember the painful and punishing schlep of the previous route? That would be this one. Starting in Caussi, pedal straight through to Faugeres, and along the D909, for a mile. Here the highway can't be avoided, and it's not for the faint of heart. French drivers are demented and possessed, and this bit of four-lane proves the depth of their dementia. Take the steep and curvy road up to the one-lane tunnel to Bedarieux, and just before the tunnel, hang a sharp right onto a barely civilized rut (where was the road crew for this one?) that snakes back into a holler to the hamlet of Soumarte. It keeps going up: the intrepid cyclist is conquering the mountain that embraces little Pezenes-les-Mines, but this isn't apparent for a while. Not that there's any doubt one is pedaling up a mountain; the road meets another and corkscrews further into the sky, then unceremoniously drops a dizzying mountain's-worth in what seems like 100 yards. Suddenly, the terrain is like New Mexico; red earth, craggy bluffs, everything but turquoise-selling Indians. This road connects to Bedarieux toward the left, but going right sends you back up into the hills to a small town of pre-fab vacation homes amidst herds of goats, maybe called Les Vignes. A left turn after the prefabs (it's the only left before the road peters out) winds through a spooky, dark forest, ending at D908. Here's where we saw the Tour d'France, shivering in the damp wind the next day. Right on D908 to the first right turn, through another tiny hamlet and suddenly you're dropping a thousand feet down into Pezenes-les-Mines, sort of over the shoulder this time. Back to Faugeres over the ridge and the meadow and the wiggly farm road, and a well-deserved espresso at the bar across from the famous wine-selling gas station. Back to Caussi, after about 50km and 2-3 hours.
A shorter route: A nice hour or two ride is the one from Caussi into the center of Cabrerolles, where one has the choice of two roads out. Take the left fork and glide down a mile-long hill to La Liquiere, then choose the right turn that pops up at the bottom of the hill. Within about a half-mile (1km to you metricists) take the unlikely-looking right that angles weirdly down a hill past a small barn, slip over the small river on the stone bridge, and look for the next right. That road snakes up the back side of Cabrerolles' mountain, through a drop-dead gorgeous valley devoid of anything but woods, vineyards and serious-looking hawks and eagles. Hairpin turns abound, enough to satisfy anyone who likes (or hates) heights. Then, when you are beginning to worry that you have really gone way too far into nowhere with no way back, a right turn appears, hidden in the apex of a hairpin curve, and carries you up over the mountain's top and down past farmers' fields back into Cabrerolles. Just in the nick of time.
And a variation: Take a left at the stone bridge instead and head toward Murviel-les-Beziers. You'll meander past vineyards, following the riverbed of a mighty and raging stream that must only rage during the winter, since it was bone dry in July. Several toney-looking vintners flip by as you cruise downstream (maybe I should say downriverbed), apparently all the way to Murviel. Look for a substantial right turn as a good place to turn back, or go ahead about 6-8km to Murviel (my estimate; I only saw the other end of that road on my West Loop ride.) Taking the right leads to an wide green valley, mountain meadows above dotted by sheep, and leads to dusty St.-Nazaire de Ladarez.
A wonderful week! I ate like a pig afterwards! And that's the whole point, isn't it?