If you have ever wanted to go cycling in the French Pyrenees but worried it will mean riding up very steep mountains then think again. Nestled in the Ariege region which is on the Eastern side of the Pyrenees mountain range, is a Voie Verte/rail trail /greenway (a formed shared route on a disused railway line) which tracks all the way from Saint-Girons to Foix, over a distance of 44km / 27mi.
Whilst many may have never heard of it, it is a fantastic piece of cycling infrastructure which allows you to enjoy the experience of riding in the Pyrenees without the hard part of going up big climbs. What's even better – most of it is free of motorised traffic as well.
Like many cycle trails of this type, the surface of the Saint-Girons to Foix Voie Verte is in the main a hard compacted gravel. There are some small sections along the way which are fully asphalted and others were instead of one wide track you are on some gravel double track. Because of its former use as a rail line, you will also be pleased to learn the track is on mainly flat terrain. There are two areas where you will climb along the route, however the gradients here are never more than 1 or 2% and people of all fitness levels will find this to be manageable for them.
Food, Water and Accommodation
Along the route you pass through the villages which use to be stops on the train line. You will notice the old station houses which all still have the names of the station on them, and the elevation as well. Since trains stopped running along this route in 1955 these old train stations have now been turned into private residences. You can still admire their charm and think back to a time where people were waiting on the train platform to go to the next mountain village. Speaking of villages, you will navigate through several along the way. Be aware not all of these will have places where you can resupply with food and water. If you need to do this we recommend the following as places where you can do this at.
There are two particular trail features on the Saint -Girons to Foix Voie Verte which are a worth taking in. The first is a rather long tunnel which goes for approximately one kilometre. This is the longest tunnel on the trail and is located close to Rimont. It is the first tunnel you will reach if you begin your cycle from the Saint Girons end of the route.
As you approach it you may initially be thinking ‘do you need to have lights on your bike for this?’. The answer is no, because as soon as you ride up to it, the sensor lights trigger and the tunnel is lit up just like magic.
There are two more tunels to cycle through but both of these are much shorter in duration.
The other trail highlight is of course the long viaduct which is situated closer to the start/end of the trail near Foix at Vernajoul. This is a real treat to cycle on as the trail magically opens up revealing views down towards the surrounding valley, and the viaduct which crosses the expanse. Definitely a place to stop and take a picture or two.
We would recommend a hybrid bike / Mountain Bike (known as a VTT in France) or gravel bike for riding on this particular Voie Verte. Whilst it would be possible to navigate the trail on a road bike, you would need to take some extra care in some sections. There are also some small sections where the trail may be a bit more cut up. Again whilst it is not technical or steep in nature, just be mindful of any small potholes which may have opened up due to any recent wet weather or storms. Personally, we found these sections of the trail easy enough to navigate around even with our bikes fully loaded for cycle touring. There was no need at any point to get off the bikes and walk any sections of track.
The majority of the trail is also free from vehicle traffic so you can enjoy a cycle away from cars and trucks. There are some very short sections which do use small local roads along the way. Again, these are not long in length and the roads you are diverted onto are really access roads for local farmers, so they see very little vehicle traffic.
In terms of signage there are a few noticeboards along the trail itself which gives information about where you are in relation to the entire route, highlights along the trail and distance markers which provide the elevation and how far you are from the next village or town. There are some instances where the trail signs are lacking and you need to ‘feel your way’ onto the correct road. Again this is just in some short sections and you will find them to be where the local farm access roads are. We also did find it a little bit tricky to initially find the beginning of the trail coming from Saint-Girons. The trail head is located just off the Chemine de Salles which turns off the D117 just out of Saint Girons. We have provided a downloadable route map at the bottom of this article and you can see this in better detail there.
Personally we found we always chose the ‘correct’ trail, and in most cases it was obvious where we needed to ride. For example one section clearly would lead to a farmers driveway, and the other option was the trail itself going on further. This is just something to be aware of when you are riding it for yourself.
Another great advantage of this cycling route is that it is accessible year round and not prone to closures due to bad weather in winter. Which is to say when the higher mountain passes may be closed off with the arrival of the winter snow, this voie verte allows you to ride in the region while other areas may be inaccessible. We rode the trail at the end of August and whilst it was a hot summers day, because the trail is in the main shaded it was not too bad riding at this time of the year. Riding the trail in Spring or Autumn / Fall would however provide you with the best weather where it is neither too hot or too cold to be out cycling.
Saint-Girons to Foix Voie Verte: -access points
Whilst we recommend riding the entire trail to get the full experience, we do understand that for others just a short section is more than enough for a cycle. Here are a list of the towns / villages along the way and from where you can choose to start or end your journey at. Each of these has an area where you can park a vehicle alongside the trail which makes access that bit easier as well.
In March 2021 the final section of the trail linking Vernajoul to Foix was completed and now allows for a pleasant cycle all the way into the centre of Foix. There are also plans to extend the Voie Verte even further as it is part of a broader active travel network for the French Pyrenees. This route also forms part of the Véloroute du Piémont Pyrénéen V81 which will ultimately form a cycle route right across the length of the Pyrenees from East to West. From Saint Girons it is possible to also join onto another Voie Verte for a further 12kms – the Voie Verte Saint-Lizier / Prat-Bonrepaux.
Download the Saint Girons to Foix Voie Verte route
To help you navigate the voie verte we have mapped out the trail from the beginning in Saint-Girons all the way to Foix. This is available as a downloadable GPX file which you can send to your device simply by clicking the link below.
If you have never cycled in France before and are thinking of choosing it as your next cycling holiday destination, then you may be interested in reading our Comprehensive Guide. We believe it has everything you need to know to help you plan everything you need to start planning your cycling holiday. The guide includes information such as:
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