Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Port Louis, Brittany, Summer Fun Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 3.5 km (2.2 miles), terrain: flat

NOTE: This is the latest of our Summer Fun-Run routes, in vacation towns in Europe.

Port Louis, on Brittany's south coast, is a town that grew up inside a citadel, on a peninsula, surrounded by water on every side. The old walls (or most of them, anyway) still stand, and make a great course for a run around town: there is the main fort, further walls around the town on the coastal side, a harbor and a promenade walkway outside the walls, and the amazingly quiet old-town itself.
The fort at low tide
This route starts at the Notre Dame church in the old town, heads out to the fort, then continues clockwise around the town before looping back to the church.

So, ready to go? Then get yourself to the little square in front of Notre Dame on Rue des Dames, and then turn your back to the church and start running west along the little lane called Rue Notre Dame.
The street in front of Notre Dame church
In just two blocks, you'll leave the town and come to an area of fenced-in sports fields, with the citadel visible in the distance.

The city walls stretch out between the citadel on the left side and the town on the right.

Now turn left to run past the bus-stop, then turn right to take the footpath heading towards the citadel, with a little park-like area along the walls to the left. At the little parking lot, you'll see a gate in the walls leading out to the beach on the other side, with its beach-side restaurant: a place to come back to later.
Approaching the drawbridge
Keep running until you come to the drawbridge at the main gate of the fort, at the 0.5-m mark.

Now turn right and follow the waterside, with the water to your left, running past a war memorial to the Resistance fighters.

You'll run eastwards, past a little cove where some Hobie Cats and windsurf-boards are stored, then you'll re-enter the town, at the 1-km mark.
Hobie beach, looking back towards the fort
Follow the waterside road as it goes down to the harbor-side and turns right (the sign direction that says "Port la Pointe"), running southeast along Boulevard de la Compagnie des Indes. If you like boats, like I do, you'll enjoy running past this spot. The old town is up above the wall to your right.

Stay on the same road after the water ends, and it curves to the left past some garages and a soccer field.
At the harbor
The road turns to the right and comes to an intersection that looks almost like a plaza, crossing Avenue Marcel Charrier. Keep going straight here (south) into the little street called Boulevard du 14 Juillet, still running south.

At the end of this street, at the 2-km mark, you come to the water on the southeast side of town at a bay with boats moored out in the mud flats. At low tide, many of them are sitting on dry land.
Start of the Promenade du Lohic at the bay
Now turn right to run along the water's edge, going past the boat ramp and some benches, along the gravel path of the waterside park. This is the Promenade du Lohic, a short waterside trail. You're going past the ruins of a little fort at the beginning.

The trail makes a right turn at some rocks and continues outside the town walls past some wall-towers. There is a beautiful view here, with rocks and fishing boats and the towers.

At the third tower, at the 2.8-km mark, the promenade ends, and you run through the gate in the walls, where you turn left to continue running westwards on the inside of the walls, along the street called Promenade Henri Francois Buffet.

The street curves to the right, heading northwards, past a school, then comes out to the athletic fields that we saw at the beginning of the run. Now just follow the way straight past the bus-stop and then to the right, back along Rue Notre Dame to the starting point at the church.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

St. Leon, Dordogne, Summer Fun Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 5 km (3.1 miles), terrain: one hill of 80 meters

NOTE: This is the latest of our Summer Fun-Run routes, in vacation towns in Europe.

The Dordogne in western France is truly the home of The Good Life (TGL). TGL starts with a few basic staples: the food and wine are wonderful, the restaurants are relaxed and affordable, there are castles on every hilltop, there are great spots to canoe and camp, and the whole area is steeped in fascinating history.

Much of what we know about prehistoric man comes from finds along the Vézère River, a tributary of the Dordogne. The whole river is lined with cliffs and caves, where people have lived since Neanderthal- and Cro-Magnon-days, leaving behind beautiful cave paintings and carved utensils. The Lascaux cave paintings are just up the river. There are still houses lining the cliff-faces where people live to this day.
Dordogne scene in La Roque Gageac
It's also a great area for running and mountain biking. Here's a route that takes you along the Vézère at one of its most interesting spots, without any car traffic close by. It starts near St. Leon, a village about half-way between the somewhat bigger towns of Les Eysies and Montinac. It actually starts at Le Paradis campground, which is where I was staying, and is the most wonderful place to stay in the area (with its botanic-garden-like landscaping).

So go to the canoe dock right on the river, in the middle of the campground, and turn south to follow the little river trail between the campground huts and the water.
Running between river and fields
Soon, you'll be out of the campground and running along farm fields to your right. It's nice and quiet here, just us and the path. The river is a slow-moving, pleasant river, lined by woods, fields and castles.

After 1.5-kilometers, the river will curve to the right, as the cliffs on the other side rise above the fields.

Now run through the little woods and past the canoe let-in spot. 
Looking ahead from the canoe-let-in spot
Right across the river you'll now see the impressive site of St. Christophe, a cliff village that was the home of people from prehistoric days (17,000 years ago) till just a few generations ago). You can see the ledges within the cliffs where people built their stone houses, and the little cranes used to pull up supplies from the riverside since medieval times.
St. Christophe cliff village across the river: those are tiny people in the crack on the right side
You'll soon come to the stone-arched car bridge, where you run under the bridge and along the pasture on the other side.
The trail heading under the bridge
When the pasture ends, turn right and follow the trail as it heads into the little village of Moustiers.

You'll hit the main (and only) street, where you turn right and run through the village for a couple of blocks, past the church.

Where the side-road heads uphill, just after the grocery store, follow it.
Turn left here at the store to head up the hill!
You will now have a fairly long -- 800-meters -- but gentle uphill section, leaving the village and heading into the fields and woods. 
Countryside along the hilltop
You'll pass a Buddhist meditation center on the left, at the top of the hill. Now continue for a few hundred meters over the gently-rolling road until you see the little round stone building on the right, in front of two houses, now used as the Buddhists' library.

Turn right along the right edge of those houses, at the 4-kilometer mark, and start heading downhill directly towards the campground along an old gravel road.
Turn right just before this round-house to head back to the campground!
The road curves to the right as it goes by a little farmhouse. Keep to the right here, following the gravel trail down the hill.

It will wind through more woods and fields until it comes out at the farm directly across the street from Le Paradis. A nice little river-and-hill run in the heart of the Dordogne! And when you've taken a shower and jumped in a pool, you can head off to any of the nearby villages for a great dinner and another taste of TGL.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Cluny, Burgundy, Summer Fun Running Route

Click here for route map 
Length 2.8 km (1.8 miles), terrain: two hills, gain 50 meters

NOTE: This is the next installment of our little Summer Fun-Run routes, in vacation towns in Europe.

Cluny is the home of what was once the most influential abbey in Christendom, a cultural wellspring producing great art and books. Many other abbeys were founded as daughters of the mother abbey in Cluny, and the many abbots had to travel to Cluny each year to report on their progress. The Cluny church was the biggest in the world until St. Peter's was built in Rome, and was the spiritual magnetic pole for endless pious pilgrims.

But Cluny was also associated with negative sides: for the opulent buildings and lifestyles of its monks, who limited their activities to praying and reproducing books. Outsiders were hired to work in the fields, kitchens, stables and gardens. When the French Revolution came, the abbeys were closed down, many of the books were lost, and the great church was turned into a rock quarry for other buildings. Only about ten percent of the previous abbey buildings now stand.

But enough of the abbey still exists to make an interesting tour of the remains. So, if you're in town to visit this unique showplace of history, here's a little route to circle the old town walls.
The painter and the church
We'll start the route in town, at the Place Saint-Marcel at the statue of painter Pierre-Paul Prud'Hom, who was born here, and the parish church. Turn north and begin to run along Rue Prud'Hom, a quiet old-town street, and in three blocks you'll find yourself running outside the abbey walls. You'll pass a gateway where you can see across the sprawling gardens to the main abbey buildings and the church towers.
The abbey gardens
Keep running north to the end of the walls, at a big roundabout with a rose-garden on the right, and horse corrals further to the north. These belong to the Haras, the French national stud farm, which now uses this end of the old abbey grounds.
Heading west at the round tower
Now turn left after the round wall tower (simply called Tour Ronde), and continue following the walls westwards, past the Haras stables and corrals behind the wall.
Running by the Haras grounds, with Cluny abbey churchtower in background
At the next round tower, Tour Fabry, follow the Chemin des Trepasses as it goes uphill to the next tower, the Tour St. Mayeul.
Tour Fabry. Now comes the uphill part
Here, you turn left to now follow the western walls as you head southwards, downhill along Avenue Pierre le Vénérable.
Stone-mason's shop window along Avenue Pierre le Vénérable
When you get to the bottom of the hill, at the apartment houses, you'll be in a big square, Place du Champ de Foire. Turn left here and head uphill on Promenade du Fouetin where you can soon run through a narrow park next to the road.
Along Fouetin
When you get to the roundabout, continue into the small park extension looking over the edge of a bluff. You'll see a stairs going down to a serpentine hiking trail through the green Le Quinconces hillside park.
Heading down the serpentines. Ahead is a sheep meadow
At the bottom of the hill, at the first real cross-street, Avenue Charles de Gaulle, turn left and run the three blocks back to the start at Place Saint-Marcel.