Cycling in the Ariège
The Ariège department of France lies south of Toulouse and encompasses the Parc National Regional des Pyrenees. It borders Andorra and Spain to the south and is nestled between the Hautes Pyrenees and the Pyrènèes Orientale. There is a fantastic mix of riding to be enjoyed in this region of the Pyrenees. When cycling in the Ariège you will typically be on small roads through forests which are quiet and often traffic-free. The region is renowned for its stunning scenery with a mix of Cathar castles, foothills, rivers, and mountains all to explore. The city of Foix is the regional capital and is situated on the banks of the Ariège river. Located further south are the towns of Tarascon-Sur-Ariège and Ax les Thermes. Some great Tour de France classic climbs in the Ariège include the Col de Pailhéres and Ax 3 Domaines.
Cycling Routes in the Ariège
The Tour de France regularly travels through the Ariège department. It first ventured into the region in 1910 and has since hosted both stages starts and finishes on several occasions. There are a number of fantastic Hors Categorie climbs to test your legs out here including the Col de Pailhéres which is a Pyrenean giant at over 2000m /6500ft in elevation. Other classic climbs are the Ax 3 Domaines and Plateau de Beille. We have put together a list of routes to help with your planning. Each route includes the ability to download files to a range of devices and includes other helpful information. Click below and explore the route options we have put together for cycling in the Ariège.
Traveling to the Ariège
Below we have outlined the best travel options for the towns of Foix and Ax les Thermes. Rome2rio.com is an excellent site to help plan your trip to the Pyrenees. Simply enter your start and endpoints and it will tell you the different options available, cost range, and timetable.
From Toulouse, Foix is just over 1 hour by car you will need to take the Autoroute A61 east before turning onto the A66 to Pamiers. From here the road turns into the N20 and goes all the way to Foix. Ax Les Thermes is a further 40mins drive. If you are leaving from Carcassone you will head west towards Toulouse on the A61 Autoroute and then turn onto the A66 to Pamiers. You once again stay on this road which turns into the N20 and continues on to either Foix or Ax les Thermes.
Both Foix and Ax les Thermes are well serviced by TER trains from Toulouse. There are 9 daily services available and the train journey takes between 1 hr 20 min (Foix) and 2 hours (Ax les Thermes). Our page about the French rail network has more information regarding the French train network and booking tickets.
Carcassone is the closest airport to Ax les Thermes and Foix. This said unless you fly within Europe, you will find it hard to get a direct flight to Carcassone If you are flying internationally to the Pyrenees, we recommend Toulouse. It is a major airport hub for international flights and is located just over 1 hour from Foix. Depending on the airline you fly you may have to fly to Paris first and then make your way down by car, train, or air. See our airports page for further details on Toulouse airport.
Accommodation options in the Ariège
We have identified a number of cycling-specific accommodation providers located across numerous towns and villages within the Ariège department. Each of the properties listed below offers plenty of great riding from their doorsteps. You will also typically find that hosts at these establishments also offer up a wealth of knowledge when it comes to cycling in the area and is invaluable for information regarding riding routes.
In our experience of traveling in France, most accommodation providers are very welcoming for cyclists and we have found most places will not have an issue with the storage of bikes. We would recommend you check with the provider prior to your booking and let them know you will have a bike with you.
To help you plan, we have provided links to a number of booking sites so you can see what is available. Have a look at our page on French accommodation types if you are not sure what is available.
B & B
Best base for a holiday in the Ariège
Listed below are the towns which are well suited for a cycling holiday in the Ariège. We have selected these towns based on good public transport connections as well as offering up a lot of other activities for when you aren’t riding. Of course like much of France, the Ariège offers up much in the way of fantastic small villages which are also fantastic options so just because they are not listed below, do not preclude these when planning out your holiday.
As the capital of the Ariège region, Foix is a natural choice when it comes to holiday bases here. There are many options in relation to accommodation and dining out. Set on the banks of the Ariège river and just over an hour away from Toulouse and Carcassone, the small town is very easy to get to as well.
Located just south of Foix, the village of Tarascon-Sur-Ariege has a lot to offer as a holiday base. Once again the town is set by the banks of the Ariège river and is right in the heart of the mountains. It is well serviced by rail making travel to and from the town via public transport quite convenient.
Ax Les Thermes
At the confluence of three rivers, Ax Les Thermes is a spa town known for its thermal waters since Roman times. It is smaller than Foix but still has many options when it comes to accommodation and eating out. It is further south of Foix and only 35kms north of Andorra.
Located in the East of the Ariège department is the small town of Saint Girons. It is situated by the banks of the Salat river and cycling routes available here can include higher mountain passes or more gentle terrain such as the Voie Verte between it and Foix. A regular coach service links Saint Girons to Boussens and from there you can take the train onward to the larger city of Toulouse.
Eating and drinking
There is no shortage of places to eat and drink in the area and we generally turn to tripadvisor.com to look at options for restaurants and cafés or just take a gamble on a place that looks nice and busy and is open and serving food. We have yet to be disappointed.
Farmers markets in the Ariège region
There are 3 weekly farmer’s markets operating from Ax les Thermes that are worth checking out if you have the time. Here you will find lots of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as local cheeses, small goods, seafood, and meats.
Markets are held on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The markets can be found at Place de la Poste and typically start between 7 am and 8 am and run through to lunchtime or until sold out.
Weekly markets are held in Foix on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Regional specialities of the Ariège
Every region in France has its culinary specialties and the Pyrenees is no different. Some things to try include:
Bouef Gascon – a carpaccio of beef made from the Gascon breed of cattle which is prominent in the region.
Azinat – a cabbage stew flavored with conserved duck.
Tomme des Pyrénées cheese – a semi-hard cheese famous within this region made from cow’s milk. There can be many variations in flavor and texture from village to village so try a few different ones.
Croustade – a pastry filled with apple, pear or prunes.
Millas – a cornmeal-based sweet treat that is often browned in butter and served with a sprinkling of sugar.
Like the southwest of France, expect to see plenty of duck and goose on the menu including confit and other dishes such as cassoulet.
Bike shops and hire
Whilst road bike hire in the Ariege department is not as prevalent as in other areas of the Pyrenees there are still some options to do so. We have outlined this in the table below. You may also be able to have a road bike delivered from Velomondo which offers bike hire and delivery service to the Ariége area.
Some of the cycling-specific accommodation providers listed in our table above also offer bike hire so this may be another option for you when staying in the Ariege.
If you are looking to hire a bike for your cycling holiday we would recommend getting in touch directly with the hire shop and arranging this well in advance of your holiday. This will avoid the disappointment of missing out on a rental due to popular demand.
Another tip is to make sure the bike you hire is equipped with gearing which will allow you to climb the mountains with a greater level of comfort. Most road bikes for hire will now come with compact gearing to allow for this, but it is best to be certain!
Discover these 3 top Activities and Attractions in the Ariège
Whether you want to spend some time off the bikes or have family members that are not keen cyclists, there are plenty of things to do around this area. Included below are some of our suggestions.
1. Château de Foix
With its prominent position overlooking the town, Château de Foix is top of the list of places to visit when staying in Foix. Constructed in the 10th century, the castle is now a major tourist attraction and houses a museum dedicated to the buildings of the middle ages. Tours are run regularly throughout the day.
2. Walking and Hiking
This region of the Pyrenees has many hundreds of kilometers of beautiful walking and hiking trails. For those days where you want to get off the beaten path and explore off the bike, a hike in the mountains is perfect. From Ax les Thermes the Orlu Natural Reserve is easily accessible.
3. Thermal spas
People have been traveling to this area to enjoy the many thermal spas for over 750 years. You will find options in Ax les Thermes to enjoy a range of treatments and pools where there are 3 different spa centers to visit. This is a great idea after a hard day on the bike to help those muscles recover. We have compiled a list of some of the spas you may wish to visit, click on the name to access their website.
Les Baines du Couloubrait – Ax les Thermes
Thermes du Teich – Ax les Thermes
La Residence les Grandes Tetras – Ax les Thermes
Explore these 4 options for day trips from the Ariège region
For something a bit different there is also the possibility of a day trip away from the mountains. Listed below are some options for you to consider.
From Ax les Thermes the medieval walled city of Carcassone is only a short distance away. Due to the train and bus links this option is best taken if you have access to a car as the other transport options are via Toulouse.
Good train connections to Toulouse from both Foix and Ax les Thermes make this a great city break option. From Toulouse, you can enjoy walking through the cobbled old streets or perhaps even hire a bike and ride a section of the UNESCO heritage listed Canal du Midi
Located just south of the Ariège department Andorra is within easy reach for a day trip. Whether you are after some duty-free shopping or perhaps want to explore another region of the Pyrenees high mountains there is something both for the indoor and outdoor lover here. There are numerous operators who also offer up options for three countries in one-day trips which not only take in Andorra but also neighboring Spain.
4. Lombrives Caves
Fancy seeing the biggest cave in Europe? Le Grotte du Lombrives offers tours of up to 7 hours to explore this 39km /25mi subterranean cave system. For more information click here.
As you can see, there is no shortage of other activities in the mountains for your consideration also. Whether it be mountain biking, canyoning, fishing, or rock climbing there are many things to see and do.
We have included some useful websites to help you see what is on offer and plan your trip.
Viator.com – book a range of tours and attractions before you leave home
Ariege Pyrenees – Tourism Information for the Ariège department.
Pyrenees Ariegeoises– includes lots of information about Ax Les Thermes and the surrounding area