The voie vertes are a network of “green” routes suitable for walkers, cyclists, and horse riders, importantly traffic-free. The criss-cross across France usually following converted old railway lines, sometimes combined with sections of dedicated cycle-paths or footways. A relatively up-to-date map is shown here on the official af3v website.
We are lucky enough to have one (almost) right on our doorstep and two more in close proximity. The nearest one to us runs through Ariege into Aude following a disused railway line and was recently extended so that it’s now possible to start in Lavelanet and cycle all the way to Bram, where you can join the Canal du Midi and continue west to Bordeaux or east to the Med. Yes, you read that right: I can ride from more or less my doorstep on a traffic free route to the Mediterranean Sea. And yes, you can bet this on my to do list!
However, not all voie vertes are created equal. Before the Lavelanet-Mirepoix route was upgraded and extended, some of it was just a rough track through a field or woodland: traffic-free, yes, but not always the easiest for beginners or anyone not on a mountain bike (or something with a bit of grip). Tracks would get muddy and scratch (brambles grow well here!)However, since spending a considerable amount of money to upgrade this route the track has been fully resurfaced and there is even a project to plant fruit trees along the border from end-to-end. What could be better than a child-friendly bike track with free healthy snacks along the way!
The Foix-to-Saint-Giron surface was good from end-to-end, however there was nowhere to stop and get refreshments along the way. Also it was far from flat. The Lavelanet-Mirepoix, climbs a little in one direction only so can be ridden in the “easy” direction, if you only want to go one way so that’s what I naively expected. Also in the UK I never rode on a disused railway line that went up a steep hill! (I’m thinking the Longdendale Trail, Monsal Trail, and the Fallowfield Loop. Hills? There were none. Even riding sections of railway out from Greater Manchester into Burnley, hills were not included in the route. Let that be a reminder to always plan your route in advance using something like Komoot so you can get a sense of the elevation!
As refreshments go, these routes can be a bit hit too as cafes and shops are opening and closing all the time. Local knowledge is helpful but unless you’ve reccied a route it’s hard to say whether what the internet says you’ll find is actually there – or open.
In short, there’s an extensive network of these, as you can see from the map link shared above. Many are incorporated into the longer European EuroVelo routes. Every region of France has them so if you’re planning a holiday and want to incorporate a day or two of cycling – or if you’re planning tour or longer trip – they’re a great resource and most local tourist info centres will be able to give you a map and pointers on bike hire, etc.
As with all disused railway routes there are usually some really interesting features along the way: old industrial bridges and other artefacts (which you’re children probably won’t thank for you for wanting to stop and photograph) – plus some routes have helpful waymarkers showing you where you are in relation to where you’re going.
Routes within/crossing the Aude and Ariege local to Puivert are:
- Lavelanet to Bram – 80 km end-to-end connecting you at Bram with the Canal du Midi, to continue on the Canal des Deux Mers, if you wish. You can read about my rides along this route here and here.
- Foix to Saint-Giron – a 42 km route (with an incline) taking you from the capital of the Ariege into the Midi Pyrenees. You can read about my ride there and back along half of this route here and here.
There’s a full list for the Aude here.