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  • Mark Smith

Pedaling Around the Pandemic

Dernière mise à jour : 17 janv. 2021

As almost everyone figures out at one point or another, it’s easier to follow society’s rules than to break them. Break them, and you can be asking for trouble.

That’s how Paul and I were thinking late last October, shortly after arriving by train in Toulouse, in southwestern France. French President Emmanuel Macron had just announced the second of two nationwide lockdowns to counter the advance of the Covid-19 epidemic. Within 24 hours all and any unnecessary travel around the country would be forbidden, punishable by a fine of 135 euros for the first offense,1500 for the second, and prison for the third.

The following morning Paul and I had planned to start a week-long bike trip along the Canal du Midi, one of France’s best-know waterways, built in the 17th century to facilitate commerce between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean. It had promised to be a charming journey, nearly all of it along the canal’s gravel tow paths, with stops in renowned medieval cities such as Carcassonne, Castelnaudary and Beziers.

But now the plan was dashed. “We’ll never make it!” I told Paul. “We’ll be on bike paths most of the time, but we’ll have to go into the towns now and then, and when we do, the cops will nail us. These country gendarmes are assiduous fuckers.”

Paul contemplated my assessment with a mix of curiosity and indifference. “Let’s think about it over dinner,” he said.

By the end of the meal we had a new plan. We were going to break the rules, just not in France.

Still rubbing our eyes after an early breakfast we jumped a southbound train to Perpignan, then a second one aimed west, and by early afternoon we were eating fried calamari on the waterfront in Portbou, a sleepy town some 500 meters inside the Spanish border.

A handful of locals loitered around the beach’s sole eatery—a flimsy shed manned by a diminutive former boxer, 60 or so. The man’s nose had been pummeled to half its original size but he had plenty of fight left in him, which he shared with customers via indecipherable grunts and directives.

Still the calamari was A1, the air perfectly still, the sky and sea barely separable. Paul and I found the road out of town. It went up until we had a view of the turquoise water below. There were no police, no roadblocks—just empty roads under a low autumn sun. We kept going, for a month.

Little searching is required to find interesting people and beautiful places in Catalonia and Majorca.


Few Catalonian mountain towns have maintained their original character as truly as Rupit, where most of the imposing stone houses date from the early 16th century--a living museum. And at its heart is Hotel l'Estrella, where charm, good food and rest are provided aplenty.

Here is a haven of peace and luxury in the heart of Majorca--an ideal base camp from which to venture around the island, and where guests are guaranteed fine comfort and wonderful breakfasts by owner-managers Carl and Jose.

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