1. Route des Cols
The ‘green road’ or route des cols takes the long way round between Foix and Rimont, running along the ridge at the top of the Massif d’Arize and offering several stopping places with spectacular views over the high peaks. To reach the road from the house, take the main D117 in the direction of Foix, then the first right – by the garage – in the direction of the Col de Rille. At Col de Rille continue in the direction of Col de la Crouzette; you’ll find picnic tables at la Crouzette, but we prefer to go a little further on and settle down either at the Col de Portel (alt 1432m) or at the Col de Peguère / Tour Lafont, where you’ll also find an orientation table.
2. Prat d’Albis
The Prat d’Albis is a huge and stunning area of alpine pastureland (alt 1400m) above Foix, with panoramic views in all directions. There are no tables or shade, but lots of grassy areas to spread out and enjoy a picnic, and easy ambles along the ridge to walk it down afterwards. It’s popular, but so huge it never feels crowded; you’ll almost certainly enjoy the company of horses, cows and sheep, all of which roam free here during the summer. From Foix take the D21 towards Ganac, turning left at the roundabout by the university; follow the road upwards and drive until it becomes piste and then runs out; park along the edge on the grassy verge.
3. Col de la Core
Superb views from this high mountain pass (alt 1395m) that links the Bethmale and Salat valleys. Park and walk up the huge grassy bank: there are several picnic tables, though no shade or water – on a very hot day you’d be better to head to the Lac de Bethmale (see below), not far away. To get there, either drive to Castillon en Couserans, on to Bordes sur Lez then left onto the D17 in the direction of Seix, or drive to Seix then from the village take the D37 right towards Sentenac d’Oust.
4. Lac de Bethmale
Simply gorgeous, atmospheric lake tucked under the Mont Valier reserve,
with various picnic tables and benches discreetly concealed in the woodland.
It’s an especially lovely spot in the autumn when the colours and reflections are stunning, and heaven for photographers and artists; if you're going in late September or October, morning is best for light. Drive to Castillon en Couserans, on to Bordes sur Lez then take the D17 left along the Bethmale valley and follow signs to the lac.
5. Col d’Ayens
A favourite site for people living in St Girons, this nicely organized picnic area has 5 tables, all with varying degrees of shade, and lovely views. Various walks start here and it’s a lovely place to spend a hot day. From St Girons, take the first road left towards Seix (D3), keeping the river on your right; at Lacourt take the little left turn towards Erp, then Cap d’Erp, then finally take a left towards Clausatx and Col d’Ayens - it's a bit of a rough road but quite safe to drive though it may take you longer than you think! Alternative access via Castet d'Alau, though this is a bit further.
6. Le Pla de Lau
At the end of the road that runs along the Riberot valley towards the Mont Valier nature reserve, this superb natural site is sometimes referred to as the Ariégeois’ swimming pool! It’s true that it can get very busy in July and August, but outside these times you’ll find it perfectly peaceful. Along the grassy shores of the Riberot you’ll find ten or so tables plus a barbecue area – a perfect spot to spend a day with a long picnic and a good book. If the urge to walk takes you, you can follow the GR10 along the river bank, or just amble around the recently created accessible path, the ‘sentier pour tous’. To get there, drive to Castillon en Couserans, then Bordes sue Lez; continue straight on on the D4 for 1.5 kilometres then turn left to Ayer (signed vallée de Riberot) and continue on to the end of the road, where you’ll find a large parking area.
7. Soulcem – Les Orris de Carla
High above the valleys of Vicdessos and Auzat, at 1650m, is this remarkable site which more than merits a day out. Here you’re in high mountain terrain, but with easy road access: fantastic scenery and the lovely stream of Soulcem awaits. You can amble among the orris – structures built of dry stone that formed shelters for the shepherds and their families who used to spend summer up here – or just chill out by the water. To get here, head to Tarascon, then onto the D8 to Vicdessos and Auzat. At Auzat, continue to the hamlet of Marc, then Mounicou – there is a picnic site here, at the end of the tarmac road at the huge Pla de l’Isard, with tables and barbecues, but we prefer to continue onwards and upwards to reach the Soulcem dam and then go on a bit further to a flat area close to a stone hut, where we park. From here you can walk as little or as far as you like. Busy on Sundays and in July and August, for the rest of the summer months you’ll meet only a few odd camper vans and walkers up here.
8. Orlu – the Sentier des Cascades
Just on the edge of the national reserve of Orlu, you’ll find this rather special place to spend an afternoon over a picnic – perfect in hot weather because the beech woodland offers welcome shade. It’s a fair trek from Maison Grillou – some 90 minutes drive – but well worth the journey to explore this lovely valley, so very different from those of the Couserans and the Parc Naturel Régional. To get there, drive south from Foix to Tarascon on the N20 then on to, and through, Ax les Thermes; as you leave the town take the D22 left towards Orlu, and continue on in the direction of Les Forges d’Orlu. You’ll arrive at a large parking area at the end of the road. Leave the parking area and walk towards the Maison des Loups; you’ll pass the Observatoire de la Montagne and the Akro’Branch centre. You’ll spot some picnic tables here; however, we suggest that you continue across the little bridge and turn left onto the Sentier des Cascades (easy) where you’ll quickly spot some large stones by the water’s edge that might be made for picnicking.
9. Etang de Lers
At an altitude of 1274m, this is one of the rare mountain lakes that can be reached by car; it’s a peaceful and bucolic spot where you can while away your time on the grassy verges of the water. Cows amble by, griffon vultures fly over Mont Béas alongside the lake, and for a moderate sum you can buy a day’s fishing permit, hire rods and fish for trout. Various walks start from here too but it’s difficult to move from this lovely setting! To reach the lake, take the Massat road from St Girons (or from Rimont drive to Col de Rille and Col de la Crouzette then downhill to Biert, from where you pick up the Massat road); from Massat, take the D18 through Le Port, then follow signs for Aulus les Bains / Etang de Lers. This is a cross country ski station in winter so there’s a large parking area.
10. The cascade of Ressec, Rabat-les-3-Seigneurs
Another emblematic spot for numerous locals, this lovely picnic spot at the end of the road that follows the valley of the Courbière is best visited at quieter times if you like total solitude with your picnic! It’s very lovely here though, up at 970m with only the sound of the river to disturb the peace; there’s a marked path that will lead you on to the waterfall, and numerous other walks depart from here too. There are picnic tables, or you can walk fifty or a hundred metres further on and find your own private spot by the water’s edge. To get there, take the N20 from Foix to Tarascon then follow signs for Saurat (D618); at Surba, turn left towards Rabat. Go through Rabat and follow signs for la Freyte and Carnies, keeping the river on your left. Continue on the D223, keeping left and following signs for Gourbit, until you reach the end of the road and the parking area.
I did try to stop at ten, I really did ... but I just couldn't leave this one out! Not many people get to discover the extreme north-western corner of the Ariège, west of here and north of the road from St Girons to Salies du Salat – which is a shame because not only is it not very far from here but it’s a delightful area of quiet villages, rolling hills and fantastic views. We hope that this picnic site will entice you to explore somewhere new and a bit ‘off-piste’. There are several ways to get there, either by going to St Lizier from St Girons and taking the D3 that runs along the river, just over the bridge, then the D335 panoramic road; or ‘the back way’, by driving from the house via Montesquieu-Avantes and Bardies, driving north on the D627 then turning left towards Lasserre and Barjac. Whichever way you go, you’ll need a map! Once arrived at Bagert, head for the church and park; you’ll see the picnic table facing a stunning view just in front of you, and a 360° orientation table so that you can find out what’s what.
Not far from here, there’s another site with a couple of picnic tables and equally stunning views, up on the plateau de Barjac: you’ll find it on the D303a south of the village of Barjac, just after the junction with the D303.
Both sites are marked on the IGN maps with a pink star.
Plus … 5 more places to picnic by water
12. Lac de Mondély, near La Bastide de Sérou.
13. By the river at the Aire de la Grotte, Le Mas d’Azil.
14. Lake at Bonac-Irazein, in the Biros valley just beyond Bordes sur Lez.
15. Lac de Montbel, in the east of the Ariège to the south of Mirepoix.
16. The lake in Sainte-Croix-Volvestre.