Located in the heart of South-West France, the Midi-Pyrenees is one of the largest regions in the country with a fascinating history and a landscape punctuated by Romanesque churches, ancient towns, villages and castles. The department of Ariège nestles in the Pyrenees to the south of the region and is named after the river Ariège, which is a tributary of the Garonne. One of the least populated and unspoiled regions of France, Ariège's wild countryside and beautiful scenery offers an idyllic haven for its visitors.
Ariège is one of the 83 original departments created during the French Revolution in 1790. Throughout history the area has offered sanctuary to many. Prehistoric man sheltered in the many caves of the region, while resistance fighters, refugees and downed WWII pilots eluded the Nazis in their attempts to cross the mountains into Spain. The many castles, fortified towns and churches bear witness to the rich and fascinating history of the area.
The local climate is typical of a continental region, but is never too extreme. Summer temperatures peak at around 28°C, and the area is mainly sunny all year round. In the winter temperatures drop considerably, but strong winds are rare. An expression local to Ariege gives the perfect indication of how best to approach the weather in the region: "In the Ariege you should dress like an onion" that is, layers to be shed or added!
Average Maximum Temperatures
|Period ||Temperature Celsius |
|January-March ||12 |
|April-June ||19 |
|July-September ||26 |
|October-December ||14 |
Ariege's pre-historic past is fascinatingly accessible at Le Parc de l'Art Préhistorique in Tarascon. Replicas and photographs of ancient cave drawings and paintings can be viewed with an accompanying electronic narration in a variety of languages. Just fifteen minutes from the park is the Niaux cave, containing many of the original paintings and drawings. It is highly advisable that visitors book their places on the tours in advance to avoid disappointment.
The ancient Roman town of Saint Lizier is rich in both art and history and is officially classed as one of the most beautiful villages in France.
Ariège offers a range of exciting activities suitable for all ages. Animaland in St Michel is a woodland park which is home to more than 400 species of rare animals from all over the world. With a forest park, bouncy castle, playground and barbeque and picnic areas, Animaland is an ideal day trip for the family.
Donkey treks are also a great option for children, with treks and circuits available for all levels of ability. Panoramane is a family run company offering day treks or multi-day circuits from the Ariège area. Alternatively, the whole family can enjoy the longest navigable subterranean river in Europe, at Labouiche. The boat tour, running between Bastide-de-Sérou and Foix, lasts approximately 45 minutes.
Food and Drink
Eating is one of the main attractions of French travel, and each region's cuisine often reflects its own particular culture, history and geography. The open-air markets in Ariège provide the perfect opportunity to sample the traditional cuisine of the area. The ropes of dried sausage, cured ham and duck legs serve as quintessential elements of the fresh food markets.
The cheeses produced in Ariège - Bethmale, Bamalous, Moulis and Rogallais to name but a few – are soft, pale and mild. Some restaurants in the area offer a cheese course consisting entirely of local cheeses. Naturally, wine is an essential facet of any French meal, however local wines are uncommon. Some former vineyards in lower Ariège are currently being replanted, so this situation may soon be altered.
Much of Ariège is mountainous, and consequently winter sports are a popular attraction in the region. With 10 ski stations the slopes of the area can satisfy skiers of all abilities and ages, from beginners to experts. The biggest cross-country ski station in the Pyrenees offers excellent conditions well into spring.
The sunny climate and beautiful location of Ariège makes the area a walker's paradise. The countryside is wild but accessible, with way marked trails leading to 3000 metre peaks, where marmots and even bears roam.
Keen walkers could enjoy a long walk over a period of a few days, such as Tour du Massif des Trois Seigneurs or the Tour du Biros, staying in the various guest houses or small hotels along the way. Alternatively there are many day walks such as the ramble up to the spectacular Ars waterfall.
Other Sports and Activities
For the thrill-seeking visitor, Ariège offers a variety of exciting options. A wealth of torrents and rivers provide the perfect location for water sports. Visitors can choose from activities including canoeing, kayaking and white water rafting. Alternatively, visitors can enjoy caving in the extensive subterranean networks of the area, or explore one of the 1800 rock climbing routes which make Ariège one of the must-visit locations for keen climbers. For more sedate activities, why not make the most of the vast array of fishing opportunities in the Ariège area. Ranging from small mountain streams to fast flowing rivers, tourists with a penchant for fishing will not be disappointed.
Horse-riding is another popular option in Ariège, and visitors can choose day-long treks or longer trips lasting over a week. The many 'fermes equestres' and riding centres dotted around Ariège offer a fantastic way for visitors to enjoy the surrounding countryside.
Ease of Access
Ariège is easily accessible by air. The nearest international airport is Toulouse, a 1-2 hour drive from St. Girons and Foix. It is highly advisable that visitors hire a car for their stay, as public transport is minimal. From Toulouse Ariège can be reached by train or bus.
The region of Ariège is ideal for a variety of visitors. Whether you're in search of a cultured, relaxing holiday or an action-packed stay, this sunny and beautiful region can offer visitors everything from ancient history to snowboarding.