Visit Ariege, France
Little known outside France, the Ariege Department lies directly south of Toulouse, on the route to Andorra, rising dramatically to the high Pyrenees mountain range on the border with Spain.
Selected places to visit in Ariege
Ariege sights and places to visit
From towering peaks to sandy lakeside beaches, dramatic wildlife including bears, wolves (well at least in a park) plus easily observed magnificent birds such as the huge Griffon vultures and rainbow coloured Bee-eaters, the Ariege could be justifiably called 'Europe's New Zealand'.
Add to this heady mix the mystery, drama and tragedy of the history of the region, in particular Catharism, with their towering castles and blood curdling stories, then the appeal of the Ariege is boundless. The Ariegeoise people themselves are welcoming, open, proud and seem very in tune with their surroundings.
With easy access in all directions, east to the Mediterranean Sea in less than two hours, the wild and beautiful Atlantic Coast two hours to the west, the Ariege has a great deal to offer for all ages, activities and interests, with the common link of enjoying the great outdoors, dramatic history, stunning scenery and mouth-watering cuisine, all under a warming sun.
Places to visit in Ariege
For those who love the splendour and mystery of lofty castles, the Cathar ruins that run in a chain from Foix eastwards offer majestic and beautiful settings with intriguing stories to match the location. Foix itself is a pretty market town with a genuine, 'real' atmosphere. Close to Foix we suggest a visit to the Grotte de Lombrives, the most extensive cave system in Europe.
There are many wonderful, fascinating markets throughout the area. Ax-Les-Thermes, a further 30 minutes down the Ariege valley is an attractive Alpine town offering a very pleasant base for exploring the surrounding mountains, summer and winter. Ax 3 Domaines ski resort above the town offers 70+ kms of alpine piste.
Cross country skiing and snow-shoe walking is also extensively available in the area.
The Ariege has a large number of caves to explore; the huge Lombrives, with tours up to 5 hours long plus the world famous Niaux prehistoric cave paintings are amongst some of the highlights, as is the long boat trip along the subterranean river at Labouiche near Foix - both informative and an adventure, and the Grotte de Bedeilhac.
The Prehistoric Park at Tarascon offers a fascinating insight into life during the Ice Age when the first humans settled in and around the caves of the Ariege.
Alternatively, you may want to go Marmot spotting along the slightly higher levels of the Orlu valley, through the National Nature Reserve. The Marmots are wild but approachable and can be seen close to the path-side after about an hour's walk.
Cathar Castles at Roquefixade and Montsegur
This is 'Cathar Country', a land of history, mystery and splendour.
Visit two of the most impressive and exciting castles in the Region. Perched high on rocky crags, the Chateaus of Roquefixade and Montsegur each look out over the valleys below and towards the surrounding high Pyrenees.
Both the castles are accessible with decent footwear, from we suggest ages 4+, as the paths are steep in places! Water and other refreshments are required during the warmer months. Ice creams and other 'goodies' are available at the car parks or in the villages.
Other Ariege towns
Other towns worth exploring include Saint-Girons (and the nearby village of Saint-Lizier), also Pamiers (the town of Pamiers is the largest in the Ariege department), the bastide town of Lezat-sur-Leze, and the small villages of Tourtouse and Audressein both contain interesting monuments.
Outdoor activities in Ariege
There are hundreds of miles of marked walking trials, from village walks to the transiting high level HRP long distance path. There are walking and bike riding routes for all ages and abilities.
Water sports of all varieties are also on offer, from white water rafting to wind surfing. Swimming lakes also offer pleasant places to relax and play.
Above Tarascon, a nordic skiing area that is fantastic at any time of the year for walking, cycling, skiing, sledging or just for enjoying the magnificent views. There is a good cafe/restaurant, toilets, ice cream, etc!
There is something for everyone in the Ariege, but particularly for those who love the 'Big Outdoors'! From the heat of summer, lazing by a mountain pool admiring your surroundings, to scaling the highest peaks in spring or autumn or hurtling down a piste on a quiet day in January, discover the Ariege at any time of the year!
The Ariege is readily accessible with low cost airlines operating into both Carcassonne (Ryanair) and Toulouse (Easyjet). Flybe and BMI Baby also operate to the area. BA offer competitive flights to Toulouse.
The text and pictures about Ariege were in part contributed by www.pyrenees-midi.com
See a list of all Ariege communes
Map of Ariege
French version: Ariege (Francais)