Experts in Escapism
The following blog was penned by @jmeolssn of Giro Cycles and we’re rather proud of it’s content. It’s a terrific read and we thought it would be rude not to share it. All pictures courtesy of @arrieredupeloton
Cloudy, gloomey winter got those feelings of wanderlust way above threshold?! Well, maybe stories of escape and adventure are what you desire. We can’t offer a solution but we certainly love to hear about destinations and people that can help to inspire your next adventure. Recently, our man @jmeolssn had the chance to visit the gorgeous Ariége region of France, staying in the foothills of the Pyrénées with friends of G!RO @zeroneufcycling. From the sounds of it, Jamie had an awesome week sampling the best France has to offer with the help of the brilliant Mike and Joss, so have a read as these guys may hold the key to the next escapade you were craving.
Like a lot of you, I find winter an extremely testing time of year. The damp gloominess makes the juggle of work, life and riding a near impossible task that often leaves you resorting to a resentful turbo session. The UK makes you a resilient rider, but sometimes you have to give that resilience a rest, something I’ve certainly eluded to before, through the medium of blog.
The opportunity to break routine and escape the depressing dullness is always one I welcome with open arms. I can suffer through the UK winter with the best of you but escape and exploration excites the mind. When offered the chance to book a quick week at Zero Neuf, with flights costing a lofty £37 (return), it was a very simple case of saying, yes please, 100% keen. Located in the foothills of the Midi-Pyrénées, it certainly wasn’t going to be tropical in January (in fact, it was colder than the UK), but it was new, it was sunny and with my awesome @attaquer winter gear, how could I resist the seductive call of the fresh mountain air!
Arriving, you are struck by the beauty of the HQ, set in a traditional, and equally beautiful French farmhouse, this place offers the perfect base to immerse yourself in the local culture and sample some of the finest riding in France. Mike and Joss, the owners, are quick to welcome me, making me feel incredibly at home and I am whisked off on a full tour of the stunning buildings. The interiors are equally arresting, my accommodation for the week was ‘The Lodge’, a cosy annex to the main building, complete with log burner for daily macho fire starting (a welcome addition to my routine). It was full of thoughtfully selected design elements, taking inspiration from local culture and tradition, as well as cleverly interwoven pieces of cycling memorabilia and art, a gentle reminder that cycling is in both the DNA of Zero Neuf, as well as the Ariège region. The area owes itself to cycling, particularly if you want to avoid the busier European destinations like Girona, Majorca, to name but a few. The Ariège also offers an unrivalled diversity when it comes to adventure riding and bike based escapes. This place is a perfectly cultivated HQ for immersing yourself in a multitude of bike based escapades.
The buttery smooth tarmac and near empty roads tick the box relative to other top European destinations, a shared characteristic that is a must for any cycling break. Here the serenity really is overwhelming and unique. Away from the infamous col’s and tourist trail you can find an unmatched peace to your rides that really helps you to forget the rush of everyday life, you can truly and deeply relax. However, it does not end here, the diversity of riding available sets this place out from the others. An endless network of gravel tracks and off-road climbs intertwining the roads, allowing you to get pretty much anywhere locally, with a choice between taking the beaten or unbeaten track. The ability to get lost in this network of trails is endless and climbing col’s via the gravel access roads just adds a whole new dimension to the already epic and intimidating climbs.
I was fortunate enough to be travelling with the G!RO @curvecycling Belgie Disc again, a bike that was truly at home in this environment. It ate up all the gravel and mud we threw at it, it danced up to way above 1000m altitude and even had its first encounter with snow. It is such a utilitarian machine that really felt at home, humming along the ribbons of tarmac at speed and laughing in the face of the gravel trails, all the while looking resplendent in the winter sun and turning heads, as ever, with its stunning custom paint job and excessive aero rims. I could go back here for months on end. The endless exploring offered by this region means you can get fully absorbed into a voyage of discovery, and over this time you could ride new roads and trails every day. Mike is actually undertaking the lengthy project of mapping all the trails and access roads on some old school maps. Sharing his growing knowledge with guests is definitely a passion and as this ambitious project remains an ongoing one (Mike says even after 4 years he keeps discovering new roads and trails), 2019 looks set for some really epic road and gravel riding.
Whether you return from a hard days riding or a gentle pootle on some of the local lanes, Zero Neuf is fully equipped to meet the needs of all, off the bike too. For the discerning coffee nut; fear not, they have a lovely café serving, the G!RO coffee of choice, @workshopcoffee out of, just like G!RO, a @rocketespresso machine. A truly welcome home comfort in France. Animal lovers; Mike and Joss have an ever growing menagerie of friendly and fun-loving animals, ready to capture the heart of anyone willing to send some affection their way. Food fanatic; Joss loves to source the finest local ingredients, as well as veg from the garden and eggs from the hens, preparing gorgeous home cooked meals for guests. Likewise, the local area has some of the finest red wine and French cheese, ready to throw even the hardiest of new year’s resolutions off track, but who cares… You’re on holiday after all! Culture fiend; the local area is steeped in history, Mike and Joss will be able to rattle off a list of stunning historical towns, castles, chateaus, and hikes for those seeking vistas and amazing architecture… And failing all this, falling asleep in front of the log burner for those who can’t fend off the post ride nap is definitely another top quality option (…or by the pool – best avoided until at least May though)!
A week with these guys was truly refreshing, I felt like I had fully escaped – the emphasis they put on adventure really resonated and a week here certainly helped me remember why I love riding my bike, in a way that the gloomey winter in the UK can’t quite do. I can’t wait to head back with some wider tires and warmer weather, spend hours exploring the trails and gravel and maybe get so lost I have to set up a bivvy, high up in the Pyrenees. Maximum escapism. Until then it’s back to blighty. Thanks for being awesome hosts Mike and Joss @zeroneufcycling.