Holidays in the Ariege

You would need many more than 2 weeks to take in all the tourist attractions the area has to offer

Falconry Display ;-  The Eagles of Lordat .This is a must. It is an exceptionally good interactive falconry display.  This is located in an old cathar castle above Luzenac, this side of Ax les Thermes. It is possibly worth having an excursion to  Ax les Thermes in the morning and having lunch there and be sure to be at Lordat by 2.30 pm. Otherwise you would need to leave the Moulin by 1.15 pm to be there in time for the afternoon performance. Luzenac is also the location of the largest Talc mine in the world, there is a 1 hr guided tour once you have taken a 30 minute drive up the mountain to the entrance of the quarry. Also in the Ax-les-Thermes area is the La Maison des Loups where you can observe packs of wolves in a natural environment. On a wet day, why not treat yourself to a 2 hour visit to the Thermal Baths at Ax-les-Thermes to enjoy saunas, hammans, jacuzzis, swimming pools, massages etc

La Forge de Pyrenees is located just south of Foix. It is an excellent museum of hand crafts. It includes demonstrations of hand forging, tilt hammer forging, clog making, bread making and an incredibly extensive museum of old craft tools. Well worth a visit.

Grottos. 4 are in the Tarascon area. Niaux, Lombrives, Bedeilhac & La Vache.  Niaux is best known for its cave drawings. There are more cave drawings in this part of France than anywhere in Europe.  For the time being you also visit the actual cave system and not a replica as at Lascaux in the Dordogne or Artimera  in Northern Spain.  Lombrives is best known for being the largest grotto in Europe. Whilst in the Tarascon area, it is worth visiting Le Parc de Prehistoire, that includes various live demonstrations of prehistoric man’s life style, a wonderful place to entertain children for 2 – 3  hours (Take a picnic)

Closer to the Moulin is the recently improved visit with guide to the cave system at La Grotte de Mas d’Azil. Your entry ticket includes free entry to the museum in Mas d’Azil. Between the two sites are an excellent pottery and a demonstration of glass blowing.  Also in the Mas d’ Azil area is  Xploria, Affabuloscope & Bungy Jumping in front of the Mas’d’Azil grotto entrance. Mas d’Azil has 2 inexpensive restaurants, an interesting Village to visit, particularly for the Wednesday morning market.

The other side of La Bastide de Serou is  the Riviere Souterraine  Labouiche. This is the longest underground river trip in Europe, A good visit on a dull day, but be prepared for a 100 step descent to reach the underground river system. You will see some interesting stalactites and stalagmites and cascades, take a sweater as the temperature remains 16 c all year round. This applies to all the cave systems.

From Mas d’Azil you can visit the lovely art Village of Carla Bayle, including the house of the famous philosopher Pierre Bayle. You can eat at the Restaurant Pierre Bayle. There are wonderful views of the Pyrenean chain from Carla Bayle. Nearby, there is the Sequoia Vertigo Park, a very well organised and safe experience, where all ages can climb through the tree tops, shoot down airial runways etc. You can take a picnic and enjoy the grounds.

Butterfly Farm – Les Papillons d’Amarante is located off the D117 near Belesta. At Belesta there is also an amazing natural phenomena, a natural syphon – Le Syphon de Fontestorbes – that dramatically varies the flow of the water coming out of the rock every 30 minutes. Also close to Belesta is Montsegur, worth a visit to absorb the history of the Cathars , the mystical qualities of the site and the amazing views.  It was the site of the last stand of the Cathars against the Papal forces. 600 believers, good men and women were burned to death for not recanting their beliefs. Further along the D117 takes you to Peyrepertuse and Queribus, both impressive Cathar castles. (Particularly Peyrepertuse if you only have the time to visit one). If you visit these be sure to take the route along the Gorge de Galamus, a spectacular deep gorge, not for those who are afraid of heights. ( Turn left in St-Paul-de-Fenouillet )

St Lizier is located the other side of St Girons. A UNESCO World Heritage site unusual in that it has two cathedrals. It is the medieval town, Designated as one of the most beautiful village in France. It includes Le Palais des Eveques, Cathedral,  Ancient Apothicaries Shop and many narrow streets to meander around. There also 2 good restaurants where you take a coffee or lunch. Consider visiting it after going to the Saturday Market at St Girons, This is a proper French Market, full of producers selling organic vegetables, cheeses and meat alongside more conventional producers, suppliers of fresh Moules from the Med. Various cooked dishes etc. It is also the meeting place of most of the hippies from the area, who hang out drinking funny teas and smoking some funny stuff as well. Its their weekly visit to civilisation from the mountains. But don’t let it put you off a wonderful visit. There are 3 Cafes where you can watch the world go by and enjoy a large Cafe Creme, beer or Pernod.

Markets

Saturday – St Girons, the most interesting in the area

Sunday – Montbrun Brocage,  A very alternative smaller version of St Girons, but with a few local artisans. An interesting village to visit. Close by there is a good restaurant in Daumazan. –  Jardin de Tomate

Monday – Mirepoix, a beautiful medieval town and an excellent market. Rather a lot of English being spoken though, being so close to Carcassonne there are lots of Brits with second homes in the area. If you go to this market, we recommend you call in at the Eglise Rupestre de Vals on the way back. An interesting medieval church built into the rocks. it would involve a 15 minute detour off the main road.

Tuesday – Pamiers & Ax-les-Thermes, Pamier is well known for its three clock towers.

Wednesday – Mas d’Azil, a small market with lots of local produce.

Thursday. – Bastide de Serou. A very small market, hardly worth visiting except to enjoy a coffee on the deck outside the Cafe de la Marie.

Friday Foix – A large market fairly commercial, lots of clothes, however a good vegetable market round by the Church.

Fetes in the Area

April :- Castillon – Vocal Festival

2nd half May :- St Lizier – Festival d’Art Sacre du Couserans de l’Ariege

1st & 2nd week of June :- Transhumance  en Couserans. An ancient tradition that involves taking 4000 cows, horses and Sheep up to the summer pastures to be returned to lower levels in late September.

1st & 2nd week of June : – Summer Soltice festivals throughout.

Music Festival of Mid Summer. This takes part all over France, but is particularly good in St Girons that attracts about 20 bands and dance groups of all descriptions.

Last week of June :- Cyclosportive Ariegeoise – A non competitive race starting in Tarascon, 160 kms long with total vertical climbs of 3600 metres.

2nd Week of July :- Festival Latino at Pamiers. A free latin music & dance festival in the Evening.

Bastile Day 14th July – Celebrated all round France. However the firework display around the Chateau at Foix is spectacular. Even more spectacular is the world reknown celebration from the ramparts of the Cite de Carcassonne.

Around 15th July – Chemin de la LiberteA  4 day escape over the Pyrenees to celebrate the escapes from the Nazis during the war.

1st Weekend in August :- Autrefois le Couserans – St Girons. Festival of rural traditions, including old agricultural machinery, horse drawn carriages, music and dancing.

1st week of October :- Fetes de Figues – Mas d’Azil 

3rd week of October :- Fetes de Pommes  – Mirepoix –