On the road

AUDE (11)

Region: Occitanie

Population: 368,025

Prefecture: Carcassonne

Sub-prefectures: Narbonne, Limoux

Number of communes: 436

Area: 6,139 km2

Specialties: Castelnaudary cassoulet, eel bourride, lucques (green olive), limos (brioche), Limoux fricassee, Leucate oysters (shell), truffle, rice and Marseillette apple, Pays Cathare écu (goat cheese), nougat from Limoux (confectionery), Aude wines (7 PDO), Limoux blanquette (wine), micheline (liqueur), cartagène (liqueur), Caunes-Minervois marble, boudegue (occitan bagpipe)

Sports Clubs: Rugby Union RCNM Narbonne and USC (Carcassonne), Rugby League (Lézignan-Corbières, Limoux, Carcassonne), Volleyball (Narbonne, Gruissan), Women's Handball (Narbonne).

Competitions: Mondial du Vent (Leucate), Wind Challenge & Kite Challenge (Gruissan), Junior kitesurf World Cup (Saint-Pierre-la-mer), Grand Raid des Cathares, City Cross (Carcassonne), Cycling the Audoise (Villeneuve Minervois), mountain biking Cap Nore / Déval 'Nore (Aragon), Critérium de Quillan (Cycling)

Culture & Heritage: Citadels of Vertigo, Canal du Midi, Lagrasse Abbey, Fontfroide Abbey. Carnival of Limoux, Montolieu village of the book, Scenes of childhood (all the department), Artists to follow, Festival of the Cassoulet, Limoux brass Festival, Jazz in Conilhac, Festival of summer (Lézignan-Corbières), festival of the Boats in Scenes (Narbonne), festival de la Cité (Carcassonne), Circus time (all the department), Sorite de Case (all the department).

Economy: viticulture, fishing, agriculture, breeding, maritime trade, seaside tourism, mid-mountain tourism, hydrotherapy, cultural tourism, wine tourism and truffle tourism

Websites and social networks: www.aude.fr / www.audetourisme.com / www.payscathare.com / www.payscathare.org / citadellesduvertige.aude.fr / www.facebook.com/departementdelaude / www.instagram.com/citadellesduvertige / www.aude.fr

Km 6

Alet-les-Bains (Pop: 431)

Alet was noticed by the Romans for its thermal springs. Later, the history of the village coincided whit that of the local abbey, founded in the 6th century. Very prosperous in the 14th century, it was ravaged in 1577 by the Huguenots while the Romanesque cathedral was totally destroyed. It was never rebuilt. The old Benedictine dining hall was used since as a replacement cathedral, which suffered in turn from the French Revolution. Sheltered behind neighbouring hills, Alet is similar to many Languedoc villages, untouched by the passing of time. The medieval village is nestled behind its ramparts and the life is organised around the star-shaped square from which start several narrow streets lined with half-timber houses. The cathedral of yellow and red sandstone is remarkable for its subtle Romanesque architecture. Just past the nave, the altar is especially striking with its beautiful capitals decorated with acanthi. Just by the abbey, the 14th century St Andre church displays the blazons of the successive bishops between 1333 and 1363.

Alet-les-Bains mineral water is among the oldest to be on sale in France as it has been bottled for 120 years.

www.aletlesbains.com

Km 16

Esperaza (Pop: 2 200)

This pleasant village thrived for centuries thanks to the hat making industry, an activity now replaced by tourism. Visits to the Dinosaurs Museum, the old hat manufacture and the honey mill attract hundreds of visitors. Esperaza was the birthplace of Paul Barriere, former president of the French Rugby League and founder of the International Board, who created the sport’s World Cup.

www.esperaza.com

Km 34.5

Puivert (Pop: 500)

Of all the feudal castles of the first half of the 14th century, Puivert is one of the best preserved. It remains a major example of the French royal building style known as Philippian architecture. For this reason, Puivert is definitely one of the places to see in the Cathar country. Local legend recalls the tale of a young princess of Aragon, all dressed in white, who once drowned in the lake near the castle. She can still be seen on rainy days.

ARIEGE (09)

Population: 157,936

Prefecture: Foix

Sub-prefectures: Pamiers, Saint-Girons

Surface: 4,890 km²

Specialties: Bethmale (cheese), Flakes of Ariège (confectionery), Azinat (type of garbure), Mounjetado (mountain cassoulet), hypocras (medieval aperitif), cutlery, wool, horns ...

Sport: water sports, cross-country skiing, hiking, tobogganing, downhill skiing, sled dogs, biathlon, mountaineering, climbing, mountain biking, fishing, horse riding, gran fondo, paragliding, tree climbing, canyoning, water ski lifts , golf.

Competitions: The Citadel Trail, La Ronde de l'Isard, Ariège, Trail des Cretes, Mountain Festival, Montcalm Marathon, National Days of the Merens Horse Race, Ariège Trail Challenge.

Festivals: Summer of Couserans Theater, Spectacles de Grand chemins in Ax valleys, Historic Festivities of Mirepoix, Foix Land of history, Once in Couserans, Medieval Mazères, Festival of Saint-Lizier in Couserans, Jazz festival in Foix, Jazz'Velanet festival, Tarascon Latino festival, Terre de Couleurs festival, RITE festival (dances, songs and music from around the world), Résistances film festival, Autumn backstage festival, MIMA, Mirepoix Puppetry Festival ...

Economy: hydrotherapy, "4 seasons" tourism, agropastoralism, hydropower, talc mining, aeronautical subcontracting, textile, wood industry, ...

Websites and social networks: www.ariege.fr / www.ariegepyrenees.com / www.grands-sites-ariege.fr / www.facebook.com/tourisme.ariege / twitter.com/tourismeariege / www.instagram.com/ariegeledpt / twitter.com/ariegeledpt

Nestled at the foot of the Pyrenees, Ariège is a land of authentic adaptation. Formerly punctuated by the hammering of Catalan forges, it is now building its development around three key sectors, technology (aeronautics subcontracting, nanotechnologies), green economy and tourism.

A natural and cultural mosaic, Ariège charms with an art of living that combines nature and local traditions: you cannot talk about Ariège without describing its breath-taking landscapes, between torrents and thermal springs, its Mérens horses, champions of the adaptation to mountain conditions, or its Bethmale cheese, refined in the heart of the green valleys of Couserans.

Deep in the lands where steep mountains and sunny valleys coexist, Ariège has lived through centuries of a history steeped in dramatic events and emblematic characters: from the first prehistoric men to the actors of Catharism and WWII Resistance, Ariège has lots of tales to tell

Every year, the charms of Ariege attract the ones in the know and newcomers: trying Ariège means being hooked for life.

Km 45.5

Belesta (Pop: 1,050)

Fontestorbes karst spring  

It is one of ten kast springs in Franceand one of the most spectacular. For most of the year, the spring flows consistently. Then in periods of drought, it suddenly becomes intermittent around a cycle of 60 to 90 minutes. There are fewer than 30 such karst springs in the world. The reasons of the phenomenon are unknown as divers never managed to swim back up the siphon from which it starts.

Km 58.5

Montsegur (Pop: 125)

In wild and unspoiled nature, Montségur is a mountain village in a protected Pyrenean valley built around a famous castle, rich in history and tragedy.

Montségur was the stronghold and the martyred village of the Cathars in Ariège. The Cathar religion appeared in the 11th century from a wish to return to the sources of Christianity. Detached from the goods of this world, the Cathars conformed to the model of the apostles and rejected the Roman Church and its greed for power and holy wars. Their ideas found a resounding echo and spread throughout the whole of the Occitan counties in the 12th century. In 1208, the pope launched a crusade against those heretics who dared challenge Rome. The southwest of France was ravaged. Tragedy culminated at Montségur in 1243. A large crusading army besieged the fortified village, where 500 heretics stood up to an army of 6,000 men. Despite the cold and the hunger, the deadly fighting and betrayals, the siege lasted almost a year. Exhausted, the Cathars surrendered in March, 1244 -- 225 of them, flocking around their bishops, refused to abjure their faith and were burnt alive at the foot of the fortress. In 1321-1330, the last Cathars were exterminated, and the whole of Occitania was annexed by the kingdom of France. This was the end of an epic struggle that lasted three centuries.

In Montségur but also in Miglos, Roquefixade, Lordat, Usson, now stand isolated in luxuriant vegetation, the ruins of the castles recalling the message of tolerance and humanity of the Cathar knights. In Montségur, the ruins of the castle are open to visitors and a museum retraces their history.

Chemin des Bonshommes (Path of the Good men)
Between the 11th and the 16th century, it was an important commercial route linking Ariege to Bergueda. The last exiled Cathars, fleeing jail and death, used this path to seek refuge in Catalonia. The cross-border path is exactly the same today as the one used by these men and women. It takes 10 to 12 days on foot and can also be ridden by bike or horse. Whichever way, it is an exceptional trek across unforgettable sites.
www.chemindesbonshommes.com

Km 65

Montferrier (Pop: 500)

On the commune of Montferrier is the ski resort of Monts d’Olmes, created in 1968. This is where Perrine Laffont, the 2018 moguls Olympic champion comes from.

Km 93.5

Tarascon-sur-Ariège (Pop: 3,500)

Tarascon is an Indo-European word meaning rift. Its prehistoric heritage is exceptional. Its is still possible to admire the wall paintings of the Niaux caves or visit the largest caves in Europe, Lombrives, the home of Hercules lover Pyrene. During the antiquity, the iron mines were extremely disputed while Tarascon was invaded by the Franks, the Vandals, the Visigoths and the Moors. In the 16th century, the Wars of Religion were especially bloody. Protestants and Catholics in turn seized the castle, massacring their enemies.

Tarascon later lived on agriculture and gypsum careers before switching to tourism. The town hosted a rest day and the start of a Tour stage in 1998.

Prehistoric Art Park
In a mountainous park scattered with ponds and rocks, the superb site leads to an original approach of the prehistoric heritage of Ariege. Inside contemporary buildings, several interactive applications and a lightshow recount the history of the arts of our ancestors and are destined to adults as well as children. A reconstitution of the Niaux caves makes it possible to admire paintings now inaccessible to the public. Modern art exhibitions are also held to confront contemporary artists with their colleagues of old.

Km 98

Niaux (Pop: 175)

Famous for its immense painted cave, Niaux also has a pretty Pyrenean Museum since 1982.

Niaux cave
It has 200 entrances and some of its halls are gigantic. The hall of the cathedral is as large as Notre-Dame de Paris while the Hall of Satan’s Empire, 4 km deeper, is four times as big. The cave has been used as a shelter by Catthars and by Catholic priests during the French Revolution.

Km 121

Port de Lers (1,517 m)

At 1,517 metres high and listed as a first category climb on this side, the Port de Lers featured five times on the Tour de France route in between 1995 and 2015Marco Pantani was first at the top in1995 and 20 years later, it was Michal Kwiatkowski who was pulling the bunch.

Km 147

Mur de Péguère (1,375 m)

On paper, the Peguere “wall” is 9.4-kms long, with a 7.9 pc percentage. But on its final part, it includes 3.6 kilometres at 12 pc, making it a potentially decisive climb. In 1973, in its first  appearance on the Tour map, it was finally scrapped because of bad weather. Since then, it suited French riders for Sandy Casar was first at the top in 2012 and Warren Barguil in 2017.

Km 165

Serres-sur-Arget (Pop: 720)

Since 1991, the commune has hosted a Benedictine abbey installed in former agricultural premises. An abbatial church inspired from the abbeys of Senanque and Silvacane has been in construction since 2010.

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