Houses with a cycle route attached – La Voie Verte

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France sadly had it’s Beeching moment as did many other European countries, predominantly in the 1950s and 60s, when train travel came to be viewed as an unprofitable business rather than a much needed service and hence many smaller lines were taken out of service. This of course resulted in many unintended consequences, the most obvious being an increase in cars and pollution and the isolation of many rural areas.

I am not going to start a rant on the subject here but rather focus on the far more positive recent regeneration schemes for ancient railway lines in both Europe and America. These have included wildlife havens and pedestrian walkways such as the High Line in New York or tourism projects where old rolling stock has been converted into various hand or pedal powered transport to be trundled along the old tracks in an eco-friendly form of sightseeing.

Here in the Ariège, already one of the most eco-friendly and most unspoiled regions in France, a co-ordinated project involving many local bodies and communities over four years and with four million Euros of investment has resulted in the transformation of the former railway between St Girons and Foix into a 42 kilometre car-free cycleway along the valley between the two principle towns of the region. This is a truly pleasurable bike ride, well maintained and safe with wonderful views for all ages and abilities of cyclists. Visitors can hire bikes from both towns and cycle the route in a day stopping en route for a picnic or to visit the many small villages along the route while locals can now safely jump on a bike to do their shopping without having to venture onto the road.

From a property point of view, what I found fascinating when cycling the route was the huge number of former signal boxes and small station houses that have now been turned into lovingly restored homes while retaining the ambience and character of a former time. I have never seen one of these buildings come up for sale so I imagine they are the kind of properties that have remained in the same family for generations and are passed on by word of mouth alone. I shall keep my eye out though as they have become a wonderful place to live with a cycle route on the doorstep so that anyone living here now has access to some of the nicest towns and villages in the Ariège and all by pedal power alone plus that dream of being able to pop out for a ‘baguette on a bike’ has now become a reality.

Or course it would be nice to still have a railway service in operation but at least something positive has resulted from that crazy political decision to close so many regional lines and this is the kind of project that really does improve the quality of life for so many people in this beautiful part of rural France.

More information on the Voie Verte here



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