There are so many cities with rich history to discover on the doorstep. Toulouse is the most significant as the capital of the Occitanie. Sitting on the banks of the River Garonne it is the fourth largest city in France. Known as the pink city (la Ville Rose) due to the architecture being dominated with pinkish terracotta bricks. It boasts two UNESCO world heritage sites, including the largest remaining Romanesque buildings in Europe and a key location on the Santiago de Compostela pilmigrage route. It also has the largest space centre in Europe. Accessible within a one hour drive from the House, other notable nearby cities include Narbonne, Perpignan and Carcassonne. Magical places to explore history, architecture or to visit whilst on route to the mediterranean beaches or mountains. Best visit in spring for a tourist free experience or retreat to the man made beaches and bask on the beautiful banks of the Canal du Midi. Perpignon was the capital of the Kingdom of Majorca during the 13th century, and boasts a significant Catalan influence in its medieval core. South of the old town, the huge Gothic-and-Romanesque Palace of the Kings of Majorca has ramparts with views to the coast. A great day trip on route to the crystal blue mediterranean beaches.
Foix is the prefecture of the Ariège and twinned with the English cathedral city of Ripon. It sits in the centre of the area in a valley where the rivers Ariège and Arget meet. Historically a site of great strategic importance, from prehistoric times to Visigoth and Merovingian eras and the wars of occupation in the 13th century. Foix is dominated by its castle. Whilst the ruined citadel of Montségur speaks of gods and giants and kingdoms in the clouds the castle at Foix proclaims the might of men. In the Albigensian Crusades it was the only fortress never taken by the northern French invaders. The foundations of the current castle dates from 1000. The chateau sits, dominant, splendid, powerful, on top of a rock that looks as if it might have fallen from the sky. Another significant site connected with Foix is Montsegur. Seen as the final stronghold of the Cathar faith, a bastion of true devotion besieged by the worldly ambitions of the papal troops. A trip to the region is of course not complete without a visit to the UNESCO world heritage set of Carcassonne just 30 minutes from the House. With a fairytale collection of drawbridges, towers and atmospheric cobbled streets it was reputedly the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty! Chateau Lagarde and Roquefixade are worth visits and a few of many Cathar era relics.
From April to November the Ariège is in festival and fete mode. You won't have to travel far before you come across celebrations of everything from medieval crafts, apple season, light shows, ski tournaments, puppets to composers and the rich wildlife and local customs. Limoux has been the setting of one of the most picturesque carnivals, certainly one of the longest running and most unusual. Some say that the tradition goes back to the ancient Roman feast to the god Bacchus, but the first carnival in Limoux probably started sometime during the Middle Age, in the 14th centuries. Limoux is also famous for its bubbly wine, the Blanquette, invented ages before Champagne was even born. Fetes, festivals and celebrations are part of the fabric of France. Villages put on fantastic community events, where you can haggle, practice your lingo, enjoy music and entertainment and really immerse yourself in local life. Aside from Teilhet's home events local village Leran runs a weekly Friday evening food festival in July and August. Communal outdoor dining and exploring over 20 artisanal food producers and wines is a great way to make new friends. Check out Ariège and Mirepoix tourism websites for calendar dates.
From Midnight seances at Bucharach, Rennes-le-Chateau or Montsegur - the Ariège is the only place in the world to get up close and personal with the home of Cathar mysticism. From witch wisdom, pagan gods or the spirit of Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail, prehistoric art and medieval culture the Ariège is a unique playground to evoke memories of our ancestors. Even the natural landmarks have names: le Trou du Curé (the Priest's Hole) or le Pont du Diable (the Devil's Bridge), echoes of the old, forgotten stories of the Ariège and of the demons and devils that are believed to haunt these mountain passes. Aside from the many cathedrals and churches worth visiting ,not least the Village of Vals, walking distance from the House to visit its troglodyte church built out of the rock. Other locations that have contributed to Hollywood blockbusters are Montsegur and Rennes Le Chateau. In March 1244, the Cathars that had been locked inside the Montsegur castles for months finally surrendered. In the days prior, four Cathars descended down the steep slopes, carrying a “treasure”. Speculation is this was the Holy Grail or a holy book containing the wisdom of the Cathar religion. In the early 20th century, a series of palm leaves containing anomalous writing were discovered within a hidden cache of the walls. Though without any intrinsic value, the “wooden book” would become the centrepiece of the esoteric and metaphysical communites. Its discoverers even labelled it “the Oracle” and said it was able to contact the hidden masters of Agharta.
The Ariège is home to more cave drawings than anywhere else in Europe. A 40 minute drive towards the mountains will bring you to Niaux, the most important cave in France for viewing some of the finest prehistoric cave art in Europe. With drawings of bison, horses and deer that have been carbon dated at 13,000 years old. Niaux is one of the 7 'Grand sites of the Ariège '. Even closer to the House, around 30 minutes in the car, you will find the Grotte de Lombrives. Considered to be 'the biggest cave in Europe', it has one huge chamber hosting concerts for up to 1000 people . A 90 minute tour takes in the famous 'mammouth' stalagmite! The most beguiling is the Tombe de Pyrène, the legendary Princess and lover of the demi-god Hercules, after whom the Pyrenees are said to be named. The tomb itself is a beautiful white stalagmite shaped like a burial mound. True to the legend, the granite roof never stops weeping its opalescent calcaire. There is also the cave Bedeilhac 40 mins drive from the House, full of stalagmites and with some paleolithic paintings of animals dating back more than 15,000 years. North of Foix is the Riviére Souterraine de Labouiche - the longest subterranean river in Europe which you travel in a boat in groups of up to six. Other caves include La Vache, Mas d'Azil and Fontestorbes. A visit to the Prehistoric Park is also a firm family favourite where you can have a dabble at cave painting yourself.
The name Ariège comes from the Latin “Auriger flumen” - the river of Gold. The Ariège river carries nuggets and grains of this precious metal, as does the river Salat at St. Lizier. Hurtling down the slopes of the Pyrenees or the Corbières, the rivers carry legends and glittering flakes of gold alike. The Romans had a gold mine at the Pic de Baxouillade at Orlu and another of silver at Aulus-les-Bains. In 1750, the Ariège river produced 50 kilos of gold, collected by placing a sheepskin in the flowing river, from where comes the legend of the Golden Fleece. France is awash in Flea markets, Brocantes and Vide Greniers. Every weekend you will find an oasis of beautiful antique treasures. Pamier, Mirepoix (Monday) and Foix (Friday) are big antique destinations but keep an eye out for other smaller events in surrounding villages. They make a great excuse to explore, try out local produce and buy unique French trinkets, treasures and handmade crafts. Go early and indulge in the coffee and liquor breakfast pick me ups to blend in like a local. Mirepoix and Foix attract people living in the mountains with their creative wares. The vibe is like Brighton meets Glastonbury. You will find an abundance of herbal, plant based goods and meet the occasional friendly witch or wood nymph.