Wine and bikes - what's more French than that? Here's an overview of cycling the Minervois wine region of Languedoc-Roussillon by local resident Natalie Trent.
The Minervois AOC is an official wine area (or appellation) in the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region. It falls largely within the Hérault department of Languedoc-Roussillon.
There are a plethora of cycling routes here to choose from, with both hilly and flat routes winding through the vineyards and villages. We often see the same faces returning year after year to enjoy a different type of terrain or a new tour.
The Minervois sits between Carcassone and Narbonne, not far from the Mediterranean sea, and runs along the foothills of our own Black Mountains, a low lying mountain range spotted with Cathar ruins and partially hidden villages.
The many medium to difficult cycle paths that lead to these ancient mountain towns and hamlets make choosing a route difficult, as each one has its own personality and ends with a different view; easier routes are scattered throughout the vines, too, as well as along the Canal du Midi, meaning there are routes here for all abilities.
Fabulous treasures can be found in any direction within the region, and there are more than enough wine caves and wine-tasting opportunities along each route to ensure you'll need a bit of extra space in your panniers for local treats road-tested and purchased en route.
Besides the Canal du Midi, we have medieval castles, abbeys and villages, most accessible via small country roads that are relatively quiet and free of busy cars even in summer (though you may have competition from locals, their tractors and their friendly dogs).
The Haut Minervois (upper-Minervois) defines the region even more and gives us Minerve, one of the last standing protected Cathar towns, as well as Lastours, Cabrespine and the heart of the pink marble Caunes-Minervois.
When to cycle in the Minervois
Best times of year to cycle in this area are September and October to avoid the crowds, high temperatures and rain. If the sun is what you are looking for and if you don’t mind the crowds, then July and August measure up. Spring, meanwhile, is full of blooming flowers, sunny, cool days, the odd rain shower – and fewer people.
Where to cycle in the Minervois
The amazing town of Minerve, which falls into the Hérault department, is a good starting point for devising routes. Surrounded by two deep gorges cut from the rivers Brian and the Cesse, which mix their waters and end in the Aude river below, the ancient village is perched atop a limestone plateau and is simply stunning. It was built with stones over 800 years ago and you can still see the ancient boulders gripping the canyon sides. It is an old Cathar bastion destroyed by Simon de Montfort during his siege, as there was only one way in or out until the bridge that today allows us easy access was built in more modern times.
Cycling around the village is a very calm and pleasant experience, with cars limited to the local community traffic owing to the villages few narrow, cobbled streets.
Within the old ‘cite’ you will find remains of the fortress, an eight-sided tower, an old rampart walk and several wine-tasting rooms with some great AOC Minervois wines dating back over centuries. For a sit-down meal, there's a local restaurant with a terrace overlooking the Brian river gorge; there are also several snack bars and some artisan shops.
There are several cycle paths down into the adjoining riverbeds, often dry and empty of water, making it easy to glide through the underground passageways and explore natural and man-made caves. One of the passageways sits beneath a limestone vault leading to the postern, a column built in memory of the Cathar downfall. And yet another cave runs through the mountainside, cut by the old river and now a mass of balancing stones piled one atop the other in honor of all who pass through.
From Minerve, you can cycle to Azille via local roads through the vineyards, the view over your shoulder providing stunning views of ancient Minerve. Or follow the winding mountain road with precipices to one side. It's a shorter ride but with steeper roads starting at the back side of Minerve as you travel around the mountain above, and the gorge below .
Natalie Trent has been living in the Minervois for over 10 years, and runs a B&B in the heart of the Minervois, near the Canal du Midi in Azille.
Maps and guidebooks for cycling the Minervois
The local tourist boards website has a page (in French) carrying links to almost 20 designated cycling routes in the Minervois. While the information is in French, the basics are easy enough to translate and each has a popup map.
The website for greater Narbonne has this great pamphlet that can be downloaded with (mainly) mountain bike routes in the area.
The Aude tourism website has these links to, again, mostly mountain bike circuits in the area, including some that combine the Canal du Midi with wine routes.
Local area maps with detailed overviews of local backroad routes can be picked up at tourist offices and most B&Bs and hotels. In particular, look out for the 'Aude tourist map - Cathar Country'and 'Carte Touristique du Haut Minervois' – both are basic but reliable resources for planning visits and routes.
For general tourist information, see the Haute-Minervois tourist office website, or download Natalie's own free guide to the Minervois.
Accommodation in the Minervois
Cyclists are spoilt for choice in this area, with a plethora of bike-friendly B&Bs, hotels, campsites and self-catering accommodation scattered along the Canal du Midi and throughout the vineyard areas.
Zoom into our map below to find bike-friendly accommodation for your trip to Languedoc.
Be sure to book well ahead, especially in summer.
Cycling tours of the Minervois
Many cycling holiday companies have itineraries taking in the vineyards of the Minervois, while the Canal du Midi is as popuar as ever with cycle tourists. Search the Organised tours section of our site for Languedoc tour options - most offer luggage transfer each day as part of self-guided rides that also include accommodation and bike hire.
Bike hire in the Minervois
Thanks to the popularity of the Canal du Midi, the Minervois area of Languedoc is one of the easiest regions of France in which to arrange bike hire. Get in early for summer trips, when bike hire is in strong demand. Check out list of bike rental outlets in Languedoc.