That's it, summer is over! Following our trend of one-day adventures, Mathis and I ended our favorite season with yet another tour in Ariège. We had ridden every route from the Café du Cycliste's amazing list, except for this last one, “The Brewery Loop” - an explicit name. After modifying it a bit to suit our needs, we prepared our bike, downloaded the route and headed to Pamiers for further beer sampling and exploration.
Find the original track on Café du Cycliste’s website:
Just like our previous adventure in the Pyrenees, the rendez-vous was set for 7:30 am at the train station in the center of Toulouse. From there, we would jump aboard a TER heading for Pamiers. Continuing my attempt at sampling bakeries around my neighborhood, I grabbed breakfast on my way to the station at Origine (the croissants were amazing and the corn-bread too).
I reached the station right on time and jumped on the train, making sure to save a bike spot for Mathis. He too arrive, just a few minutes before departure, jumped aboard and we were off! With an hour to “kill” we shared breakfast and chatted the whole way, almost missing our station.
Realizing we were already in Pamiers, we got off the train in a hurry! We took a few moments to pack all our snacks, load the map and make adjustments to our bikes. The ride was about a hundred and ten kilometers, with two or three major climbs along the way. Luckily, it started in the plains at the foothills of the Pyrenees on smooth and quiet roads.
Mathis was the guide with the GPS, a rare occasion, so I stayed behind him on our way out of Pamiers. As we dashed through dry corn fields, I adjusted my camera settings and captured the fashion show Mathis was putting on with his butterfly type glasses.
In search of a coffee, we made quick work of the first kilometers. Unfortunately for us, the several villages we traversed didn’t offer any relief. After asking locals and looking at the map, we concluded it’d be best to ride ten more kilometers and stop in the medieval town of Mirepoix.
With the wind gently pushing us, the road felt like a speedway! An obligatory technical stop had to be made before crossing more fields and villages. In just under an hour we had already covered a quarter of the route. Since we didn’t care about the numbers, it only meant we could enjoy a longer break in Mirepoix.
If you’ve never visited the town, I highly recommend you do. Meandering through its narrow streets, we rolled towards the central square: an impressive network of wooden arcades, hiding shops, topped by half-timbered houses.
We settled for a bar in its center, ordered several coffee and fresh orange juices to go along with pastries from a nearby bakery. The temperature was perfect and the sun was just rising over the nearby houses, providing gentle warmth. We ended up stopping for close to an hour, soaking in the relaxed Atmospher.
It was now 11 am and we needed to set off again if we wanted to have a chance at catching the 4:30 pm train in Foix. With our bellies full of pastries and our thirst gone, we headed straight for the mountains. A few sparsely populated villages remained before the first difficulty of the day.
On our adventure through the Ariégois countryside, we met with a local cycling legend. Pierre (or Pedro) was a former member of the Légion Étrangère and most importantly strong cyclist! He caught us on a bit of flat road and we chatted for several kilometers at a fast pace. He guided us towards the climb that lead to the brewery indicated on our track.
Right before parting ways, he told us he was 70 years old! Impressed by his form, we couldn’t slow down in the upcoming hill and pressed on.
Waiting for us at the top, a stunning view over an old church, surrounded by higher peaks. We brought out the map again to determine where exactly the promised brewery was. Turned out, it was on the outskirts of the village, a small detour from our original track.
As we got closer to the place, it became evident that it was closed, a bummer! In fact, while the brewers are working every day of the week, the bar itself only opens at night. Rough calculations proved it would be impossible to wait for the place to open and catch our train.
We should have checked the opening hours but still, the disappointment was real. We made a short break to evaluate our other options and decided to continue on the track anyways.
After a short climb to the top of a nearby col, the road descended smoothly towards a village called Bélesta. Sweeping turns separated by long straight lines were pure bliss to ride! We reached the village in no time, taking us to the bottom of the second and longest climb of the day. As we looked for a place to refill our bidons, we entered a small recessed shop on a building’s ground floor.
Inside, we discovered an impressively large collection of beers, on the walls and filling every possible fridge. The owner came out from the back of the store, asking us if we wanted to try the beers he brews. That’s when time and things slid out of our hands.
As the owner sat down with us, we opened the first bottles of a very floral white beer. Our thirst was satisfied but our pallets were begging for more and the conversation was too intense to be interrupted. It turned out the owner was a prominent member of the Outlaws bike gang, and brewed beers, especially for the club.
The conversation jumped from one crazy story to the other and the beers from floral notes to dark chocolate/coffee stouts. After hearing about legends, rivalries, honor codes (and many more un-writable stories) for two hours, we finally filled our bidons and got back on our bikes.
The promised brewery was closed but not the Outlaw’s tavern!
We had lost track of time and it was now 2 pm. Getting back on the saddle was hard and only a kilometer separated us from the start of 15km climb. The morning pastries were far away and the strong beers were kicking in. As straights slowly turned into curves, we were both struggling…
We debriefed the insane conversation we had had in this bar to distract ourselves from this seemingly unbearable climb. Enclaved in a canyon, the rocky cliffs and walls guided us through the mountain. After a few turns, we had regained views of the surrounding peaks and had found somewhat of a rhythm despite the odds.
Halfway through the pass, we stopped to catch our breath. With no restaurants in sight, we resorted to eating our last reserves. The location was stunning though, and we used this short break to snap some catalogue worthy pictures. Perched on top of a steep rocky cliff, a castle that seemed unreachable.
After a short while, we had found the perfect hairpin for our shoot. We went up and down a few times, fiddling with the camera settings before getting the right pictures. Then, set off again for the final part of the climb.
A few more hairpins later, the top sign was in sight. A kind photographer took a picture of us and immortalized our ascension to the mountain pass! From there, we took a much awaited descent, taking us closer to our destination. Then, a few rather flat kilometers led us to the beginning of the third and last climb.
We were cooked! While our legs were begging for more energy, time was not on our side and we had to continue. Fortunately, l’Ariège never disappoints, stunning views alternated with dense forests, once again distracting us from the gradients.
From one valley to the other, small villages, perched on rocky cliffs, seemed like a consistent theme. Our eyes were up in the sky, admiring the surroundings. A flowing road made us quickly forget the climb, we could now see Foix. Flanked on the mountain, this balcony gave us even more scenic landscapes until the very end.
The last stretch of our journey was a mix of fast descents, sharp hairpins, and smooth tarmac. It couldn’t have ended in a better way! Foix’s castle and its impressive architecture, was watching over us as we entered the city. We borrowed one of the many bridges that cross the river, eponym of the region.
Unfortunately, at 4:15pm, restaurants were not serving anymore. We rushed into the nearest supermarket and bought a few snacks before heading towards the station.
Delays left us stranded on the platform. It didn’t matter, we had just spent a memorable day on our bikes, exploring through the region’s backcountry, traversing empty villages, embracing the unknown and opening up to locals.
We stretched our soar legs while waiting for the train to arrive. After jumping onboard, we met a cyclist who shared the same passion for adventures into the lesser known parts of our country. Browsing through the pictures we had taken, we let the memories sink in…