The foothills of the French Pyrenees might appear a daunting choice at first for some cyclists. These three ebike routes in Aude prove that with a little assistance, ebiking in the Pyrenees foothills brings the region’s wonderful countryside and scenery easily within reach.
Aude is a department in the Occitanie region of southern France. Occitanie sits at the foot of the French Pyrenees, runs all the way east to the Mediterranean, borders Andorra and Spain to the south and is home to most of the Pyrenees Mountains.
The region was established in 2016, a composition of Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées.
New to France, its composition might seem confusing. Simplified, large to small, it goes like this:
Region/ Department/ Arrondissiment/Commune
For UK visitors this is roughly: Region/County/District/Village. (So Aude is a district in the county of Occitanie)
For US visitors this might be : Region/State/County/City (So Aude is a County in the State of Occitanie)
We picked up our bikes from the super-friendly Bicicleta Del Razes and after a quick check over we made a start. The bikes were Rockrider E-ST 520’s, budget mountain bikes from Decathlon with decent build quality and spec to handle most tracks and trails.
The obvious benefit of having an electric mountain bike (eMTB) in this region is low-down power for climbing. So, while they may not be the quickest on the road, they soon proved useful. Even after the first ride I appreciated the strong, even power delivery – me, a total Bosch motor fanboy.
Interestingly, Bicicleta Del Razes is planning on getting an ebike trike so disabled riders can also get out and enjoy the region. Really impressed with this idea. Ebikes are opening up adventures to so many people and full credit to this small hire company for thinking ahead.
Aude is predominantly rural. In fact you have to try fairly hard to cycle through anywhere that could be described as urban. Carcassone and Narbonne are the largest cities, but away from them it’s relaxed country riding.
Ebiking in Aude you’ll spend most of your time stitching together routes between tiny villages, its minor roads ideal to get a feel of rural France unbothered by traffic.
Road surfaces are surprisingly good; there are some rough verges but if you usually cycle in the city you’ll find fewer potholes here than on your commute.
Road markings come and go the deeper you ride into the countryside. The ‘D’ designation is no guarantee of road markings or streetlights. The main roads are well surfaced but often unlit, while the rural roads commonly have no markings other than intermittent chevrons on some bends.
It’s safe though; just don’t get all Tour de France on the descent if you don’t know the route (Le Tour regularly rolls through here, as you’ll see from the road markings).
Ebiking in the Pyrenees foothills is much more achievable than in the High Pyrenees with its massive mountain summits. Routes here are realistic for anyone with a little fitness – or a road cyclist looking to test themselves. It’s also safe, as while you are soon deep into the countryside, you are never that far from a small habitation.
The weather can be a challenge though as Summer temperatures rise well above 30C degrees. Another reason to ride here is that despite the heat, you’re rarely exposed for too long: it’s so heavily forested you can always grab some shade.
This part of France is not far short of a natural paradise. If you want to take your time and reconnect to nature, cycling or ebiking has to be on your list of adventure activities in France; I couldn’t begin to document the variety of trees and plants we passed.
We spotted huge eagles circling over high mountain forests. A stag stopped us in our tracks just 200m metres from where we were staying. We woke to the sound of cowbells and ended our day gazing long into ink black skies, unspoilt by light pollution. And I found a mantis on my underpants – perhaps for another story…
It’s also a wine-growing region soaked with sunshine. Look for a Blanquette de Limoux from the town of the same name to celebrate a day’s ebiking in the Pyrenees foothills.
Historically there’s a lot to learn. Known as ‘Cathar Country’, Aude was home to the Cathars, a medieval sect that challenged the all-powerful Catholic Church in the 12th century. There are castles, private châteaus and classic French village charms everywhere.
Adventure here is achievable and it’s ideal for ebike touring. Take your swimmers and walking boots, too. Look out for lake swims near Chalabre and more trekking routes than most blogs could ever mention.
From the centre of Limoux it’s just moments till you find yourself deep in the Aude countryside. Take the D118 out of town you’ll soon turn right onto the D121. You’ll start a steady climb to Magrie, a good early stop to check you’re comfortable and everything is rolling fine. From here it’s very rural.
We took an early break and could already catch distant mountain views. The valley tightens and soon you’re enclosed by the heavily forested hills that blanket this region.
It’s incredible to be honest: 30% of Aude is forested; in the mountains you’ll spot chestnut, fir, beech and spruce trees. There’s such a variety of plants and wildlife, too. City cycling soon felt a long way away.
This route opens a few options and loops you can extend depending on how much time you have. Bouriège is the village where you could return to Limoux (via the D52) to keep this a short route (25km) via Tourreilles.
Cross the bridge and ride on to Puivert and grab a beer at the BDQ Microbrewery (check their opening times) before you return to Limoux in either direction. Whichever route you’ll earn that drink having climbed the Col de Festes – the highest point of the ride (672m) and popular with local cyclists.
We turned early before Puivert and took the long descent to the market town of Espéraza, lost in the views to the mystical Bugarach – the highest mountain in Occitanie (1230m/4000ft). The return to Limoux led us onto one of the busier ebike routes in Aude, the D118. It’s flat, fast and there’s more peaceful options. With hindsight we’d give ourselves more time and stay on the right of the river Aude for more relaxed riding.
Return via Bouriège 25km
Return via Espéraza 57km
Return via Courtauly 65km
Head west out of the commune of Espéraza on the D12. Turn immediately left before you cross the train line onto the Chem. de la Grave. From here you’ll follow the river Aude to a labyrinth on the plateau that leads to Puivert.
Initially you’ll switch to a track better suited to hybrids and mtbs before settling back on the D12 and following the Aude. Look out for the small hydroplants on the river to your left and the old wine factory.
After the simple but pretty Campagne-sur-Aude you’ll soon start to climb towards Brenac. If you’d rather turn around then here’s the spot. First, turn right on the D602 to the barely pronounceable – at least for me – Ramounichoux.
The extra effort (use that battery) is rewarded with excellent views back to the river. Again there’s wine production and vineyards everywhere.
Other than in Brenac you’ll have the road to yourselves much of the time. We dropped gears and pushed up the motors, passed only by one of the ubiquitous Renault C15’s much loved by local farmers.
As with other ebike routes in Aude, we felt remote but never isolated. Deep in the countryside, we found each of the communes had an information board with a street layout, and detailed routes.
The plateau at the top was a surprise: I didn’t expect to be back on such a good road. We’d climbed roughly 300 metres so felt no guilt letting the bikes roll to our first break for food in Nebias. MTB tyres don’t really roll , so again we pushed the motors, got into top gear and dragged them up to the speed limit – and not a km/h more…honest.
From Nebias the road (D117) winds slowly to Puivert where you can join the loops we mentioned in the Limoux to Limoux route above.
Along the way ride up to Château de Puivert for commanding views right across the valley or break in Nebias and seek out its secret labyrinth – its location far from secret, yet you still feel like you’ve stumbled upon an entrance to the underworld.
Return via Puivert: 41km
Return via Chalabre then Limoux: up to 75 km
In 2006, the local communities of Chalabre, Mirepoix and Pays d’Olmes regions converted this former railroad into 38km of pathway known locally as the Voie Verte (the Green Way).
The Aude department is making a big effort to develop this route. They recently finished this section to Chalabre and a planned extension to link right through to the Canal du Midi is due in 2023. Right now you can join it at any point between Lavelant and Mirepoix as it curves into and back out of the Aude region at Chalabre.
It’s a mixed path and gravel shared-use route for cyclists, walkers and horse riders that’s plenty wide enough. There are picnic areas along the way and it’s the most leisurely of ebike routes in Aude we found. This is easy family cycling. You’ll closely follow the Hers river, cross railway bridges and pass through cool reclaimed railway tunnels.
Take some time, pack some food and wine. Maybe make a slight detour (extra 5/10km) before Chalabre to the 570 hectare Lac de Montbel, a large reservoir on the border between Aude and Ariège. There are beaches with lifeguards throughout July and August and some off-bike activities such as kayaking and sailing.
Up to 38km in one direction
Full loop to the lake and back adds 10km
Check here for essential information and updates on travel in France
Regional information for tourism in Occitanie
Bike hire: BICICLETA DEL RAZES, Allée des Platanes, 11240 BELVEZE Tel: Mélissa 06 72 48 41 90
Detailed maps of Aude: IGN.fr including 2247OT / 2347OT
We hope you found this piece on ebiking in the French Pyrenees foothills inspiring. The three ebike routes in Aude listed here are just a flavour of what Occitanie and France has to offer.