FIND YOUR FEET ... EXPLORE
Parc Naturel Régional des Pyrénées Ariégeoises: we’re in the middle of it!
The Séronais: our local ‘region’ or pays. Green rolling hills and woodland, bucolic and pastoral.
The Petites Pyrénées: a neighbouring region straddling the north-west corner of Ariège and Haute-Garonne. Interesting villages ( for example St Croix Volvestre, Tourtouse) towns and architecture.
The dolmen around Le Mas d’Azil.
Viewpoints and cols where you can settle with a picnic – for example the Col de Portel, Col de la Crouzette, Cap Carmil, Prat d’Albis … and many more.
Quirky places – for example the stone garden of Alas, the Chemin de Croix at Raynaude and Notre Dame de la Goutte.
GO TO TOWN
The capital of the Couserans region, the 18 valleys that make up the western third of the department. Lovely situation on the banks of two rivers, with glorious mountain views, some wonderfully unreconstructed and faded old shop fronts, and a surprising collection of very individual shops. Lively atmosphere, especially at the Saturday morning market when you could be forgiven for thinking that the entire department is there, and some interesting festivals.
Five minutes away from St Girons, St Lizier is a listed medieval cité (UNESCO) with gallo-roman origins. The setting is truly magnificent with an expansive view of the Pyrenees. There’s a lovely Romanesque cathedral with beautiful cloisters and an 18th century pharmacy, a stone arcaded main square and narrow winding streets with some lovely half timbered buildings – it all still feels a very real and authentic place, without a hint of twee. The Bishop’s Palace has recently been restored and now forms a museum; as if all that weren't enough there's a second cathedral in the grounds with recently discovered wall paintings so lovely that it's become known (slightly optimistically!) as the Ariège's Sistine chapel. There’s a seriously good classical music festival every summer.
The smallest departmental capital in France. A medieval market town dominated by an imposing chateau, once the home of Count Gaston Phoebus, now open to the public (great views). Very attractive old quarter, good markets and festivals, and lots of cafés to while away the afternoon.
A perched village with stunning views to north and south; home of 17th century philosopher Pierre Bayle, now a colourful artists’ village, stuffed to the gunnels with galleries.
Abbaye de Combelongue, Rimont. One of the rare Premonstratensian abbeys in southern France, with lovely Mudhéjar-influenced Romanesque architecture and award-winning gardens. Open afternoons from July to September, or by arrangement at other times.
The Ecomuseum at Alzen; animals, a recreation of a house and farm of the previous century, activities and workshops and a ferme auberge make this a really interesting visit.
Arts and crafts workshops – for example the stained glass workshop at Clermont, La Maison Bleue at Brouzenac, pottery at Le Mas d’Azil.
Take a boat ride on the longest navigable underground river in France at Labouiche - great fun and not at all tacky.
Prehistoric caves and museum at Le Mas d’Azil.
Stroke a snake at The Reptile Farm at Brouzenac.
If snakes give you the shivers, stroke a goat at Le Moulis mohair farm at Camarade.
The Observatory at Sabarat, open every Friday evening for star gazing.
Go back to the past at Les Forges des Pyrène at Montgaillard, near Foix – an excellent ‘live’ museum of ancient crafts and iron working.
La Maison de la Chemin de la Liberté, St Girons – devoted to the escape routes over the Pyrenees during World War Two. Unmissable, especially if you've read Ed Stourton's book Cruel Crossing.
Get on a horse at Equizones in La Bastide de Sérou, part of the National Mérens Centre.
Play Golf at Unjat, an outstandingly beautiful 18 hole eco-golf course (there’s a 9 hole pitch and putt course too) – various ‘packages’ for visitors. Or try the 'alternative' golf course with 6 and 9 hole courses and an attached restaurant at Montardit.
Go walking – many kilometres of waymarked paths at all levels, including parts of Le Chemin de Saint Jacques (a few minutes walk from Grillou) and the Voie Verte.
Paragliding in Moulis.
Mountain/off road biking – there are lots of marked circuits; you can hire bikes, and even join a trip to be driven to the top, then cycle downhill only.
Take a trip in a hot air balloon, glider or small plane from St Girons.
Swim at the Lac de Mondély (bar restaurant in summer) or in one of the nearby swimming pools.
Fish for trout in the Arize.
Watch others get active - come and watch the Tour de France. It passes close to Maison Grillou almost every year and is a fantastic spectacle, even if you're not really into cycling.
Treetop adventure at Sequoia Vertigo near Carla Bayle.
Canoeing or kayaking around Foix and Haute Ariège, or La Bastide de Sérou.