Les Cabannes - Route des Corniches

Route des Corniches, Col de Marmare & Col de Chioula, 70.9km, ascent 1383m

This sounded a cracking ride when we read it in Graeme Fife's book, our 'bible' for this trip. 

The problem is, it's a linear ride, from Tarascon sur Ariege to Ax les Thermes.

With no convenient mionor road at a low level, the only way to turn it into a loop would be to come back along the hideously busy N20.  

Being skimmed by truck drivers tanked up on Red Bull is not my idea of fun.  

So we decided to skip the first section and turn it into an out-and-back route, visiting two cols. 

It worked well and certainly gave us an introduction to the Eastern Pyrenees.  This area feels very different to where we've ridden until now.

The attractive town of Les Cabannes was our base, staying first at an Aire (with toilets) and then at the municipal campsite, where pitches are very small and are mixed with long-stay residents.

I can't recommend this site and feel we might have been better off at the local Camping a la Ferme, just across the river in Verdun.

From Les Cabannes, the initial climb through Verdun, past that camping, is the toughest of the day, and follows the route of the Areogoise Cyclosportive (end of June). 

The hairpins are good, there's lots of shade, and soon you're on the Corniche, which my dictionary translates as "cornice". 

The name is frequently given to roads which cling to the rock, and while this route doesn't exactly live up to that death defying promise, it is a lovely ride, passing through many high, attractive villages.

At Lordat you can decide to descend to the valley and try your luck either on the N20 or prospecting a back-roads route to return.  Feeling refresh, and tempted by the signs to Col de Marmare, we pressed on. 

Talcum poweder cable car - seriously
Ever wondered where talcum powder comes from? 

Me neither, but the answer is, "here".  Incidentally, who uses talcum powder nowardays?

Anyway, there's a huge mine ontop of this mountain, where this precious commodity is dug out of the ground.  Amazingly enough, it is a tourist attraction with regular public visits, presumably from talc enthusiasts.

We were not tempted by this dubious delight, but we did ride underneath the industrial cable-car which passes across the road.

This carries buckets of the stuff down to be processed in the industrial town of Ax les Thermes.

It reminded me of the similar system near where I grew up, which carried waste from the coal mines of Ashington in Northumberland and dumped it on the top of huge slag heaps.

Pretty soon you're through the last village of Caussou, and you start a long, long climb to the col. However, the road is very quiet and the gradient very easy, so it's actually a delight to ride.

The col is merely a route to somewhere else, in this case the slightly higher Col de Chioula just a few kilometres further.  This is a ski station with a pretty good cafe, although when we arrived we were slightly surprised to find an ambulance waiting for cyclists.  

It seems we had stumbled onto the route of a Triathlon for which the ambulance was providing emergency cover.

We returned by exactly the same route, and although this was most definitely an out-and-back route, it didn't feel like it.

Or perhaps it just felt completely different to recent rides which have just gone straight to the top of a col and back down again.  Which was, of course, Liz's whole point in us coming to ride here.

So that's the end of these blog posts about our Campervan & Cols trip to the Pyrenees in June 2012.  To read all the posts (in reverse order) click here.

Our journey didn't end here - we spent a lot more time in France, walking and cycling, but I'll not bore you with those details.  

The whole idea of writing this, with GPS tracks and campsite suggestions, has been to present a useful source of information for anyone planning a similar trip.  If you've found it useful, a quick comment to that effect would be make me 'appy.

What's this about? We took our campervan down the Pyrenees this summer, riding classic cols and hiking great walks. Now I'm sharing the info about best campsites for the best rides.


GCS said...

Have really enjoyed reading about your adventures in the Pyrenees. Hope to follow in your footsteps soon - some very useful information.


Simon said...

Thanks for taking the time to comment Graham. It's much appreciated. Enjoy your trip!

Simon Lee said...

Hi Simon, i am actually not an adventure type of traveler, but the second picture with the building behind catch my attention:) Can i know where is this place exactly?

Simon Lee

Simon said...

Hi Simon

If you look VERY carefully, and perhaps enlarge the photo, you'll see it's the village of Axiat near Ax Les Thermes in the Eastern Pyrenees.

Hope that's useful!