Eastern Pyrenees

The land of spectacular gorges, majestic passes and mystical castles

There’s more to the Pyrenees than peaks and passes: this is the Gorges de Galamus

There’s more to the Pyrenees than peaks and passes: this is the Gorges de Galamus

I’ve become a little addicted to this more eastern corner of the Pyrenees. I love how it feels; somehow wilder than the west. As well as the wide, smooth roads there are lots of narrow, bumpy ones. Modern hotels are built in ancient villages. There are deep gorges as well as lofty passes; in addition to well-tended fields and verdant vineyards there are shady woods and rocky high-mountain moors. It’s a landscape of extremes, which makes it all the more rewarding to explore.

I’m making Weeble retrace sections of my last trip, visiting the castles between Carcassonne and the Spanish border. I spent two days stopping at each one, but now we’re cramming as many as we can into a single afternoon: roll up, grab a picture, move on…

It’s tiring work for a sweltering, humid day. If we were on a motorway, I’d be nodding off in these conditions – but the riding here is a dream, with bend after involving bend to keep me focused and alert. It’s a fantastic ride – as they all are, down here.

PLACES TO STAY

FOIX
A sleepy town in the heart of the Pyrenees, the skyline of Foix is dominated by its magnificent château – one of the best-preserved of the Cathar castles. Foix’s a perfect base for exploring the area. Hotel tip: Hotel Pyrene

PRATS-DE-MOLLOLA-PRESTE
The last small town in France before Spain, Prats-de-Mollola-Preste is quiet, non-touristy and full of character. Hotel tip: Hotel le Bellvue Rest . Bellavista

CARCASSONNE
A bustling modern city built around a perfectly-preserved Medieval citadel – a genuine must-see site. If you have a big budget, you can even stay in the old city; otherwise, stay outside the walls and walk up for dinner and to see the sights. Hotel tip: Hotel de l’Octroi




OFF THE BIKE

CATHAR CASTLES
The Aude corner of the Pyrenees was once home to the Cathar sect of Christians – wiped-out by a crusade in 1229. The ruins of their castles make spectacular stops. There are more than a Cathar castles dozen to pick from, including Queribus, Aguilar, Termes, Foix, Puilvert, and Lastours but our must-sees are Puilaurens and Peyrepertuse plus – if you take walking shoes for the climb to reach it – Montségur, where the Cathars made their last stand.

RENNES-LE-CHATEAU
If the Cathars didn’t have the Holy Grail, was it hidden here? The beautiful little village that is home to the Rennes-le-Chateau is well set up to welcome tourists on the DaVinci Code trail.

BIG CAVES
This region is packed with impressive caverns – from the Fontrabiouse and Grandes Canalettes in the high mountains, to Limousis and the vast Gouffre de Cabrespine north of Carcassonne. We particularly like Le Mas-d’Azil, north of Foix, as the road runs through the cave.

SUBTERRANEAN RIVER, LABOUICHE
A boat trip with a difference: the river La Bouiche is 60m underground, flowing through spectacular caves.

GORGES
You can ride along the Gorges de Galamus but if you want to explore the Gorges de la Fou, that has to be seen on foot. (gorgesdelafou.com, gorgesdegalamus.fr)

PREHISTORIC MEN
The Prehistoric Park at Tarasconsur-Ariege is more of a family-friendly day out than a short stop on a motorcycle tour, but nearby Niaux caves is a perfect biking break, with some of France’s finest Neolithic cave paintings.

SIGEAN SAFARI
Near the coast, between Narbonne and Perpignan, is the huge Sigean safari park, packed with animals. You can’t ride your bike through it, of course, but you can join the park’s minibus tours.

PERPIGNAN
Perpignan is a full-sized city packed with historic goodies, from the Forteresse de Salses out by the A9 motorway to the pocketsized Castillet in the heart of the city, the lavish palace of the kings of Majorca and the impressive cathedral.

CHATEAU ROYALE, COLLIOURE
Just down the coast from Perpignan is the compact port of Collioure. It’s a fantastically-picturesque village to visit, home to a royal castle and some outstanding sea food.

GETTING THERE

There are plenty of options for getting to the eastern end of the Pyrenees. From the north, a three-day cross-country run from Calais, mixing a little motorway with great riding, is one option though overnight ferries to Caen and Le Havre lop off a chunk of mileage and guarantee an early start . A ferry to Santander gives the option of riding the Spanish or French side of the mountains (or zig-zagging along them).

CALAIS TO CARCASSONNE
Distance: 780 miles. Riding time: Three days. Overnight stops: Troyes and Ambert
Day one map,   Download the GPX    Day two map, Download the GPX   Day three map, Download the GPX

LE HAVRE TO FOIX
Distance: 640 miles. Riding time: Three days. Overnight stops: Buzancais and Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne
Day one map, Download the GPX    Day two map, Download the GPX   Day three map, Download the GPX

SANTANDER TO CARCASSONNE
Distance: 520 miles. Riding time: Three days. Overnight stops: St Jean-Pied-de-Port and Bagnères-de-Luchon
Day one map   Download the GPX    Day two map   Download the GPX   Day three map  Download the GPX

SANTANDER TO FOIX
Distance: 450 miles. Time: Two days. Overnight stop: Fafalla
Day one map   Download the GPX    Day two map   Download the GPX   



OUR MOTORCYCLE TOURING ROUTES

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FOIX ADVENTURE
Start/finish: Foix. Distance: 200 miles. Riding time: 6 hours
A full day’s ride with a mix of roads, from the broad and sweeping to the narrow and challenging, with epic views round every turn.
Route map,    Download the GPX

TWO CHATEAUX
Start/finish: Foix. Distance: 165 miles. Riding time: 5 hours
From the towering well-preserved Château de Foix to the ruins of Montségur (take walking shoes to visit this one).
Route map,   Download the GPX

CARCASSONNE CASTLES
Start/finish: Carcassonne. Distance: 140 miles. Riding time: 4.5 hours
Takes in the Cathar castles at Termes, Peyrepertuse, Queribus and Puilaurens.
Route map,   Download the GPX

CATHAR ADVENTURE
Start/finish: Carcassonne. Distance: 160 miles. Riding time: 5.5 hours
A full day on challenging, narrow, insanely-twisty roads through rugged hills and gorges – not really suitable for pillions.
Route map, Download the GPX

CORNER OF HEAVEN
Start/finish: Prats-de-Mollo. Distance: 190 miles. Riding time: 5.5 hours
This loop crosses into Spain and takes in some of the best riding in the Pyrenees: it’s great bend after great bend, all day long.
Route map, Download the GPX

 

Please note: This page contains the route files for The RiDE Guide To France which came free with RiDE magazine in July 2017. These website page are not regularly updated, so please check all critical information before you travel. All route files are in .gpx format. Garmin and BMW users can download the main file, which contains all the routes and our recommended hotels as separate waypoints. TomTom users can download the individual routes and use the Tyre software to convert them. For many routes we also have Google Map links. However, as Google Maps will not plot routes over seasonally closed high Alpine passes when they’re shut, these may not work for every route all year round.