Aríege – The Eastern French Pyrenees South of Foix

Chapter Five – Spain already began two weeks ago and I still need to tell you all about the amazing time we had in the French Pyrenees.

You will have to forgive me for the lateness of my posts and the time delay but the Spanish lifestyle does not lend itself very well to blogging. Internet connection is not a problem. You find free wifi in almost every bar in Spain and at public squares. And now that we have finally invested into an inverter (we should have done this five months ago), empty laptop batteries are a thing of the past, too. It’s really only “quiet time to write” that is lacking.

Pamplona and the start of the Vuelta was our first day in Spain. It was 40C. We left the Tapas bar after lunch and everybody had disappeared. The narrow streets with barriers for the evening team time trial – empty. The buzz of people – gone! The entire following week we observed the same phenomenon. People enjoyed the cool morning air but with twelve noon would come the oppressive, unbearable heat. No breeze in the air and life would stop.

No point planning a ride or sightseeing or anything for the hours between one and six. We started doing as the locals do and held siesta, preferably in a shady spot or bar, or by a lake or river.

When in France or Italy I would always find a quiet night to draft a post, we are now out partying till late at night, just like the Spanish do. And sometimes life just happens. There are evenings with best intentions to write and it looks like it’s going to be a quiet night until we meet that Dutch couple and end up drinking Sangria on the pool terrace till late at night. Or there is the serene evening by the lake, until that German couple shows up, camping as well and from the same town where I studied. The bottle of red came out… and we didn’t see our beds until 2am.

I had no false hopes of getting a blog post out while visiting my best childhood friend in Barcelona.

Alberto, Daniela and I living it up in Barcelona

We did ride our bikes as well and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. North of Madrid now, we rode the Bola del Mundo yesterday. The Vuelta a Espana will be here next Sunday. We would love to hang around to see the Pros tackle this impossible climb but we are running out of time and must press on.

But before I can tell you about the Bola, let’s wind back time to August and France.

The area of Ariege is beautiful. We did lots of riding during our time there, and no partying or sightseeing, even though there are plenty of castles in the area.

Plan at least a week for the area because there are so many climbs and nice loops here. We first parked our motorhome half way up the climb to Ax 3 Domaines. 
Col de Pailheres was our first col on the menu but I didn’t like this one very much. It was a very hot day, and after six days off the bike my legs and lungs were complaining. After Mt Ventoux I needed a rest. We were traveling from Marseille along the coast so the beach was my best friend for a few days. Arles and Carcassonne are amazing places to visit, by the way!

The last kilometer of the Col de Pailheres
At the top of the Pailheres we met a Dutch cycling tour and started chatting. They were nice guys, offered water and advise and we could have made this ride a loop, returning to Ax les Thermes via the Col du Chioula but opted for the safe option and descended the same way rather than getting lost in the maze of roads on the other side of the Pailheres. I think the loop would have been magic but I just didn’t feel up for a very long ride that day.

We still climbed the Chioula from the Ax les Thermes side, and again, the climb didn’t exactly excite me.

Later that day, after returning to the motorhome to have some lunch and a little siesta, we added Ax 3 Domaines to the day. By now my legs and body seemed to have warmed to the idea of climbing again and I was much much happier. Strangely, the climb also seemed prettier and more pleasant.

Ax les Thermes
This blog is about cycling but I have to mention the hot springs because we had a most incredible experience the next day. Talking to the waiter the night before (Alberto drew all the attention by having two desserts!), we received a hand-drawn route instruction for a walk up into the mountains to a hot spring. We had planned to head straight to Les Cabannes in the morning and ride the famous Plateau des Beilles but – what the heck – we decided not to care about time and schedule and check out the springs first. If you are ever in the area, get in touch. I’m happy to share the instructions how to find this pearl of a natural pool, 37C water temperature, in the middle of the forest up in the Pyrenees mountains. It’s worth the 45 minute hike and a perfect recovery for aching legs.
We still made it to Les Cabannes, just 30km up the valley, that day and even rode Plateau des Beilles. It’s perfectly fine to leave at 6pm. The Motorhome parking area is right at the bottom of the climb and it took us just over two hours return so we were back before the sun set. Unfortunately, it was a bit foggy so we didn’t see much of valley views but we had to concentrate on the life stock on the road anyway. It’s a great climb that Alberto and I both enjoyed very much. 

Last but not least we moved to Vicdessos, another charming little village some 30km down another valley. From here we explored a part of this year’s Tour de France route, the Port de Lers, which was hiding in the clouds.

While we had a great time in the Ariege region, the cycling here wasn’t the best I have seen or done! It’s certainly worth a visit but for the real WOW factor, we had to move on to Arreau and the big Cols: Col d’Aspin, Col du Tourmalet and the Aubisque and Soulor. More about that in my next post.

It’s siesta time in Spain now!

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13 Responses to Aríege – The Eastern French Pyrenees South of Foix

  1. Richard says:

    40C! Time for a cold one! Cheers!

  2. Miff says:

    Wow. The Pyrenees look amazing. And you both look amazing WOW too. Dare I say, this sabbatical suits you well! Looking high altitudes hawt and happy Groover! Miff 😉

  3. Groover says:

    Richard – Best thing after a long ride! We sampled quite a few local ones of the artisan variety.Miff – Loved the Pyrenees! Couldn't get enough of them… Highly recommend!

  4. Will says:

    Great cow photos !! 🙂 and a couple fo Cols I don't know. Thanks for the post. When I visit I'll bring my bathing suit 🙂

  5. Groover says:

    Will – Wait till you see the photo of the cows on the Marie Blanque (next post in the pipeline). You'll love them. So, which of the climbs haven't you done? I know you've done the Beille because I read your post about the L'Alpe d'Huez of the Pyrenees.

  6. Groover says:

    Will – Oh, and let me know if you need a description how to get to the Hot Springs…

  7. kirsty says:

    Hi, we have been reading your blog. We are in Catalunya and about to head into the eastern pyrenees for some weeks on our bikes, so we are looking for the recommendations of routes….and we love finding hot springs along the way, as you say its a perfect complement to the aching legs. If you can email me the instructions for the springs that would be great, thank you
    kirsty

    • Hi Kirsty, loads of great riding in that area, just head any direction and up. 😉 My favourite was Plateau de Beille, starting in Les Cabannes, but it’s hard to pick. I also sent an email with the route description for the hot springs. Enjoy… and let us know about your travels.

      • Soo says:

        Hi, thanks for sharing all the precious experience with us! 🙂

        I am really interested to know how we can reach the hot spring. Would you mind to share with us the instructions to reach there? Thank you very much! :=)

  8. Natalie says:

    Hey! The tip about the natural hot springs sounds really neat! If you wouldn’t mind sending the route description to my email as well, I would really appreciate it too..!

    Gracias!

    • Hi Natalie, just sent the email. Hope it helps you find the way. It’s been a few years now since we’ve been there and my memory is starting to fade a little. Might be a sign to plan another trip. 😉 Let me know how you liked the place.

  9. Denis Duran says:

    Hi, fantastic rides & great blog! Could you email me the way to get to the hot springs. We’ll be in the area in Mid June and it looks worth the walk. Thank you

    • Glad to hear that you like the blog.
      The springs are about 45 min walk from the train station in Merens (just further along the N20 from Ax-les-Thermes towards Andorra). We parked at the train station and from there we walked up along the creek pass a little church and further up, keeping the little river always on our right until you get to a little dam wall. There you cross to the left side of the river/creek and find a path into the forest, away from the river. You follow that path for maybe 10-15 min and should be able to see the water holes to your right below.
      There are three water holes with different degree warm water. You can swap between them to cool down. On the return trip we actually jumped under the little waterfall that comes down the dam. Very cold, but very refreshing on a hot summer day.
      Hope this description helps. If in doubt, ask the locals. And let us know how you went… 😉
      Have fun and safe travels.

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