The Ariege is a place to test your mind, body and soul with some adrenaline induced experiences deep in nature. If hurtling at break neck speed down ski slopes and on dog sleds is your idea of bliss as you soar across virgin Pyreneean snow or gallop across alpine glades with Merens horses - this is the place to visit. Nearest ski resorts include Les Monts d'Olmes and Axe-les-Thermes. Advise on ski days and lessons available on request. Or pick up the little 'yellow train' and tour the pyrenees. For us, we have our eye on a sleepover at the top of the Pic Du Midi space observatory.
Top Ariege slopes include
Guzet 1100 -2100 m 40 kms of pistes
Goulier Neige 1500 -2000 m . 5 kms of pistes
Ax les 3 domaines 1400 -2400 m. 75 kms of pistes
Ascou Pailhères1500 - 2000 m . 20 kms of pistes
Les Mont d’Olmes1500- 2115 m.18,5 kms of pistes
Plateau de Beille (x-country ski domain) 1800 -2000 m. 75 kms of pistes
Etang de Lers (x-country ski domain) 1300 - 1615 m. 30 kms of pistes
Mijanes Donezan1530 - 2000 m.9 kms of pistes
Domaine du Chioula 1240-1650 m. 60 kms of pistes
The Atlantic ocean and Mediterrenean sea aside, there are incredible wild stream and lake swimming, waterfall jumping, white water rafting, canoeing and natural salt hot water springs to relax in. The several swimming lakes include Lac Montbel (20 minutes), Lac de Mondély (below the colouful artist village of Carla Bayle ) and in the village of Sainte-croix Volvestre. You could even cool off high up and take a cable car to the ski resort of Bonascre and on to Le Saquet. You'll be at 2100 metres and the fresh air will revitalise you in the outdoor pool in July and August. Go canoeing, rafting or kayaking from Six, Foix ,Vernet d'Ariege or Ornolac-Ussat-les-Bains. Base Natutique between Foix and Tarascon offers water skiing, water and paddle boarding. Dingy sailing on Lac Montbel with a picnic under the watchful view of the Pyrenees is simply a day spent in paradise. A short drive to to witness the magic of Lac Bethmale. Famous for its unique trees and lake reflections from the movements of the sun. Many of the lakes have man made beaches, tree climbing parks and places to eat and play. Puivert is a true taste of the Cathars, at the base of the Chateau is a water sports centre. For something rare and special visit the Tufa waterfall of Roquefort-les-cascades in spring or Autumn.
There are so many famous trails from France to Spain through the high mountains which were used by smugglers, Cathars fleeing persecution, downed WW2 Allied pilots and refugees. We have stocked up on maps and guides but it's best doing your research and planning routes that suit your stamina. Guided walks are available and some locations such as PANORAM'ANE in Aleu will let you walk with donkeys. There are high-altitude transpyrenean hiking trails that extend from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, some of the UNESCO "Routes of Santiago de Compostela" trail the foothills near the House. You can also discover pagan ceremony grounds, hot springs, mystical waterfalls. If you want to escape the sun the Cascade d'art waterfall near Aulus les Bains offers a 4 hour walk arriving at the foot of the 110 metre high falls. Orlu valley is worth a visit and La Maison des Loups wolf sanctuary in the woods is an incredible way to see these beasts in their natural habitat. Other great walking spots include Mont Valier nature reserve, , The étang de Lers, The Port de Salau, The Cirque de Cagateille, the Chemin des Bonshommes, the Chemin de la Liberté and the GR10.
Ancient Ariège traditions have been well preserved, it continues to be an intoxicating place of mystery, meaning and deep storytelling about our inner spiritualism and outer connection with nature and the material world. In a setting of unspoilt nature, a large part was designated as a Natural Regional Park. Within this area are countless natural thermal spas where you can relax, unwind and bask in thermal waters all year round, often in view of the mountains. Druidic medicine was based on water and many of the thermal waters in the Pyrenees are said to treat different conditions. Aulus-les-Bains focusses on metabolic illnesses (cholesterol, diabetes, obesity..) and urinary tract ailments. Ussat-les-Bains is noted for its effect on illnesses linked to stress and anxiety, spasmophilia, migraines, insomnia and Parkinson's disease. Ax-les-Thermes, a firm family favourite is said to treat rheumatismal ailments, ear, nose and throat and respiratory tract ailments.
The meat sold by small butchers is mainly locally-raised using traditional methods, and a steadily increasing number of farms are raising animals organically. The cheese produced here - Bethmale, Bamalous, Moulis and Rogallais to name just a few - is semi-soft, pale, mild but far from bland, and has small holes. Connaisseurs prefer this cheese when it has been aged 10-12 months. As for desserts, the fruit-filled (apple, pear, or prune) croustade was originally a speciality of the Couserans region but now is enjoyed throughout Ariège. Millas is a cornmeal-based confection similar to polenta. It is served browned in butter and sprinkled with sugar.
In France, no decent meal is without wine. Some former vineyards in lower Ariège have been replanted. Try one of the excellent regional wines, such as Minervois, Fonton, Gaillac, Buzet or Madiran. We can recommend a selection of excellent local restaurants, just ask!
The soth east coast is full of fishing villages, lagoons and sandy beaches and mostly enjoyed by French tourists. A must visit is the infamous 'Betty Blue' beach of Gruissan (1.5hrs), where you can chase flamingoes on the pink sand and “coral sea” at the Salins de Gruissan complex. The pigment comes from salt-tolerant algae, dunaliella salina, the colour intensifies as wind and sun concentrate the salt solution. Next up is parc naturel régional de la Narbonnaise (1.5hrs) is 800 sq km of protected vineyards, lagoons, islands – and 50km of fine sand beaches. Over the canal in Narbonne is the 1901 wrought-iron and glass market, Les Halles. Open every day, it has all the veg, seafood, patisserie and stinky cheese you could wish for, and several bars for savouring them. Les Tapas de la Clape, half-way down the left-hand side, is probably the best of a good bunch, for an oyster, wine and charcuterie marriage made in heaven. The most southerly beach of the Narbonnaise is at Leucate great views to Spain and the Pyrenees, even spotting sharp-flanked 2,786m Canigou on a clear day.