There is no large scale agriculture here - at lower altitudes, small fields of maize, clover, millet, wheat and sunflowers are bordered with hedges made up of a variety of shrubs and trees, as is the rich pastureland where cows, sheep, goats and horses graze. Hills are naturally wooded with a mixture of deciduous and evergreen trees that changes according to altitude and underlying geology: ash, oak, birch, conifer, chestnut, beech, birch, walnut, willow, wild plum and cherry ... Higher altitudes see alpine meadows where animals are still led up to graze during the summer months, high level forest, grassy heathland alongside rivers, lakes and streams where azaleas and rhododendrons proliferate and, above the treeline, bare rock punctuated with just the occasional stunningly beautiful alpine plant.
All of this, along with the abundance of plants - over 3000 plant species thrive in the Pyrenees, of which at least 120 are endemic - makes the area particularly attractive, and it's not unusual for the air to be quite literally filled with clouds of butterflies, the biggest challenge being where to look first!
AN AUGUST WALK AROUND THE GARDEN - 46 SPECIES IN TWO HOURS
A simple wander round Maison Grillou's wooded gardens and along the track can be totally mesmerising from spring through to late autumn, particularly in the early morning just as the sun is warming, or late afternoon / early evening.
To give you a sense of the butterfly richness that is the French Pyrenees, this is what I noted in our garden (including on our large buddleia) and along 750 metres of our track during a wander of just two hours or so, late in the warm and sunny afternoon of 14 August 2013:
Swallowtail, scarce swallowtail, marbled white, clouded yellow, brimstone, purple emperor, map butterfly, southern white admiral, red admiral, peacock, large ringlet, gatekeeper,
southern gatekeeper, small heath, large white, small white, green veined white, cleopatra,
wood white, small tortoiseshell, large tortoiseshell, comma, common blue, small blue, chalkhill blue, silver studded blue, holly blue, small copper, sooty copper, latticed heath moth, spotted fritillary, silver washed fritillary, Provençal fritillary, meadow fritillary, heath fritillary,
queen of Spain fritillary, dark green fritillary, pearl bordered fritillary, dryad, meadow brown, Essex skipper, small skipper, large skipper, six spot burnet, speckled wood and hummingbird hawk moth ... all in all 46 species of butterfly and day flying moth.
OUT AND ABOUT IN THE ARIEGE - A FEAST OF BUTTERFLIES
You'll come across large numbers of butterflies on pretty much any walk, wherever you are in the Ariège - we can point you to some of our favourite spots too. The meadows and dry limestone grassland of the Natura 2000 site above Le Mas d'Azil (15 minutes away) is a particular favourite of ours - there's a lovely 15 kilometre walk around the periphery, though we frequently get so absorbed by butterflies in the first few kilometres that we rarely make it all the way round! The reserves of Orlu and Mont Valier are excellent for high altitude species; the walk from Col de la Pause up to the Port d'Aula is always a particularly good bet, as are the upper valley of the river Salat, the Ustou valley, the plateau of Beille, the gorges of Frau, the Col d'Agnès, the cliffs of Roquefixade, and - oh! so many places!
You'll stand a good chance of seeing apollo, clouded apollo, Camberwell beauty, geranium bronze, violet copper, long tailed blue, turquoise blue, great sooty and black satyr, adonis blue, cardinal ... and possibly Glandon blue, Rebeli's large blue, mountain and Berger's clouded yellow, piedmont and De Prunner's ringlet, purple (and black, green, ilex and other) hairstreak, bog fritillary and much, much more.