But heat waves happen, and pretty much every year we'll see a period where the thermometer rises up and over 32°C for a few days, which if you're not used to heat can quickly put paid to plans for long, steep mountain walks. Here are a few cool things you might want to do instead.
There are several swimming lakes in the Ariège, the best of which we reckon is the Lac de Mondély - which just happens to be the nearest, half an hour away from Maison Grillou, hidden in the hills above La Bastide de Sérou. There are lots of trees for shade (get there early though!), a sand beach, and a small bar-buvette for cold beer and snacks. If you enjoy swimming you'll love it here as you can spend hours in the water and once you've left the main beach area behind you won't see a soul.
Other places to get wet include Lac Montbel, south of Mirepoix; the lake below the artists' village of Carla Bayle and the one in the village of Ste Croix Volvestre. There are plenty of places for river swimming in the Ariège too. If you prefer things to be a little more civilised, the outdoor pool at the aquatic centre in Foix isn't half bad, with a grassy area to relax in and a big pool with wave machine (though don't expect to do any serious swimming).
Drive to Ax les Thermes and take the cable car from the village up to the ski resort of Bonascre, and from there the chair lift up to Le Saquet. Here you'll be at 2100 metres; the air will be fresh and the views will be fantastic. There are walking paths, places to eat and grab a beer, and there's even a high altitude swimming pool. July and August only.
Visit one of the Ariège's many prehistoric caves. The nearest to Maison Grillou is in Le Mas d'Azil, 15 minutes away, where there's also a small prehistory museum that you can visit on the same ticket. There are several caves around Tarascon sur Ariège: Niaux, the most famous, is the largest decorated cave in France still open to the public and is highly protected - only a small number of groups of limited size are permitted each day and so booking is essential, even outside the summer months. Lomberives is the biggest cave system in Europe; you can choose from over 20 different visits ranging from 1 to 7 hours. Bedeilhac: very large caves with stalagmites and amazing Magdalenian art. Grotte de la Vache is the smallest of the caves, but one that’s yielded a very large number of everyday objects; the Salle de Monique near the entrance has preserved traces of an encampment. Beware - however hot it is, you'll need to take very warm clothing with you - the temperatures inside the caves usually hover between 12 and 15 degrees!
If you're caved out, you could take a boat trip on the longest underground river in Europe, instead. Not far from us, around 25 minutes, at Labouiche near Foix.
Go canoeing, rafting or kayaking from Seix, Foix, Vernet d'Ariège or a bit further upstream on the Ariège river at Ornolac, where you can book a descent with pick up back to your starting point. The base nautique at Mercus, between Foix and Tarascon, offers various forms of water-ski and water-boarding, stand-up paddle, and pedalos for the fainter of heart. Dinghy sailors can hire one on Lac Montbel, near the campsite at the Léran end of the lake; there are pedalos and canoes for hire at the other end, near the buvette La Guinguette.
We can give you lots of ideas about where you can walk in the shade; one walk we often suggest is that to the Cascade d'Ars, a gorgeous waterfall near Aulus les Bains. The walk takes around 4 hours and is mostly through woodland with shade and dappled sun. You'll climb just over 300 metres to get to the foot of the waterfall, where you can stretch out on the flat rocks with a picnic and enjoy the spray from the 110 metre high falls. There are longer versions of this walk too, but this one is straightforward and accessible to pretty much everyone.
It's not often that you get the chance to get close up and personal with wolves, but at La Maison des Loups wolf sanctuary deep in the Orlu valley you will. It's cool there, because it's hidden in woodland. Don't be put off by the idea of seeing wolves in a park - this is their natural habitat and a lot of thought has been put into viewing them, with platforms hidden around the area. Try to be there at feeding time, and binoculars are useful too. After your visit, there's a lovely shady picnic area close by, down by the river; if things cool off a bit you might want to drive up to the parking area above the valley and walk along the well marked path: this is one of the best spots in the Ariège to see marmots.
Drive to the Etang de Bethmale, at the end of the Bethmale valley. It's a small but particularly lovely mountain lake with some fabulous trees and a particular light that you find nowhere else, which means that the reflections on the lake are amazing and change constantly with the movement of the sun. There's lots of shade, and various picnic tables scattered around, so there's no better place to spend a cool, lazy afternoon with a picnic and a good book.
Spend a cool day in St Lizier, 15 minutes from Maison Grillou. In the morning, wander the medieval streets of the old centre, and explore the Gallic-Roman ramparts that date all the way back to the 4th century. Visit the Romanesque cathedral in the central square; the frescos here are beautifully conserved and amongst the oldest in the Pyrenees (11th century) and the cloisters are beautiful too. Pop into the tourist office and book a visit to the Old Pharmacy next to the church: it's a perfectly conserved apothecary dating from 1764 and is quite fascinating! Take a long lunch: sit out under the shaded arcades of the central square at 11, Place des Arcades, a lovely simple café/salon de thé/restaurant where the food (local, fresh) is just what you want on a hot day.
After lunch, wander across to Le Palais des Evêques (Bishops' Palace). Start by visiting St Lizier's second cathedral, Notre Dame de la Sède, where astonishing paintings and frescos dating back to the 15th century have only recently been discovered (and now sensitively restored) following renovation work in this whole area. It's now considered to be one of the most beautiful religious buildings in the whole of the Midi-Pyrénées and is sometimes referred to as the 'Little Sistine chapel'! Afterwards, spend a couple of hours in the Bishops' Palace itself; the departmental museum is here, and there are lovely gardens. If it's cool enough to walk by now, take the easy stroll to the neighbouring village of Montjoie-en-Couserans to see the early Romanesque fortified church and enjoy some lovely views in the process.
Start the day with a leisurely coffee at La Maison de la Grotte, on the grassy meadows at the entrance to the prehistoric caves, then take a trip into the caves themselves (see above); it's worth booking your ticket before you have coffee to save yourself a bit of queuing. After your cave trip, wander down into the village and visit the prehistory museum (on the same ticket) to learn more about what you've just seen, maybe stopping at the pottery and glass blowing workshops en route. Buy yourself a picnic - the boulangerie in the village is one of the best for miles, and there are two small supermarkets as well as some smaller shops for supplies - then amble back to the river bank and find yourself a shady spot by the water to hole up for a couple of hours. You can swim here too - or at least get into the (chilly!) water to cool off.
After lunch, head off to Xploria, on the way out of Le Mas d'Azil towards Sabarat: in the 3 hectare forest of Castagnès, where dinosaur fossils were found 20 years ago, you can explore evolution and the origin of life on earth, from the beginnings of the universe to the present day. A visit here can be as serious (or not) as you want it to be: serious scientists are behind its creation, but it's set up in such a way that grown ups and children alike can enjoy and learn from it. Take the ticket from your cave visit for reduced entrance charge.
By now it's almost certainly getting cooler, so finish the day with an easy walk to one, two or all three of the dolmen (prehistoric burial mounds) above the village. The terrain above Le Mas d'Azil is a Natura 2000 nature reserve, known for its orchids and butterflies, so this is a great place to be at around 5.30pm when the butterflies are particularly active.
If you've come from a northern European country it can be difficult to know the best way of managing extreme heat ... and the normal holiday pattern of going out around 11am and coming back around 5pm just doesn't work. What you need to do is - with the greatest of respect! - stop 'being British', rethink how you organise your day, and start living as the locals do!
Get up early and be out and about by 9.30am when it's still cool, then take a siesta in the hottest part of the day, between 1pm and 4pm: find somewhere shady to hole up with a picnic lunch, or come back here and cool off behind the metre thick house walls or on one of our shaded terraces. Then go out again for a late afternoon walk - there are plenty of walks you can do in summer if you start at 5pm, which gives you a good four hours of walking in the very best part of the day. We might suggest, for example, the short walk to the Cirque de Cagateille at the end of the Ustou valley: easy, but beautiful and relatively shady until you reach the grassy river banks leading to the cirque. I guarantee it'll be hard to leave this extraordinary spot, but tear yourself away and you can have dinner in the large village of Seix on your way home!