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In the southwest of France, nestled in the Midi- Pyrenees is The Ariege Department, one of the least populated and unspoilt regions of France.

Countryside in Ariege Midi Pyrenees France

Reasons to Visit Ariege Pyrenees

The region is awash with natural beauty, history and fairytale-inspiring medieval villages. Ariege also boasts some of Europe’s most impressive subterranean rivers and cave systems which still bear paintings from a prehistoric past.

Ariege Department Midi-Pyrenees

Stunning landscapes rise to meet the magnificent Pyrenees mountains making the region a perfect destination for hiking, skiing and climbing.

Add to this a very agreeable climate and superb local cuisine, a legacy of fiercely protected traditions, and you may want to stay forever.

Mirepoix Ariege France

If you are planning a holiday in the southwest of France, here is a small taste of why the Ariege in the Midi-Pyrenees should not be missed.


Foix – The Capital of Ariege

Chateaux de Foix – Foix Castle

What better place to start than in the capital of the Ariege; Foix. You can see the main attraction of Foix long before you reach the town itself; the magnificently restored Chateaux de Foix. Built before the seventh-century; the fortress dominates the town from high on the hill and is the jewel in the Foix crown.

Foix castle Ariege Midi Pyrenees

Once home to one of the great barons of 14th century France, Count Gaston Phoebus, the castle with it’s three prominent towers is an indication of the power the counts of Foix must have yielded in the day.

Chateaux de Foix is one of the last remaining intact castles in the Ariege, a perfect starting point for exploring other Cathar Castles in the region.

Foix Ariege Midi Pyrenees France

Wander through the castle and visit the chamber of Henry IV who later became King of France in the 16th century. From the towers, you will be rewarded with magnificent views over the surrounding countryside and the Pyrenees peaks in the distance.

Visiting Foix Castle

Entry to the Castle of Foix:
  • Adults – €6.70
  • Children – €4.50
  • Family – €21
Opening Hours:

Opening hours of the castle vary according to the season, and the castle is often closed at lunchtime. Expect the castle to open between 10.00 and 10.30 and close around 5.00.

Check the official website for current opening hours before planning a visit.

Foix castle Ariege Midi Pyrenees

Medieval Town of Foix

Spread below the fortress steps; the original medieval town weaves a beautiful web of tiny streets to be explored filled with traditional restaurants and boulangerie’s, guest houses and boutique stores.

The Old Town also has a lovely display of half-timbered houses dating from the 16th and 17th centuries.

Foix Ariege Midi Pyrenees France

Out on the town square, you will find a mix of traditional and modern with plenty of pubs, cafes and a lively scene that makes Foix a town you will want to revisit.

Where is Foix

Foix is approx 85 km south of Toulouse, just over an hours drive. 100 km north of Andorra, under 2 hours driving.

Visit Spain Without Leaving France – Discover Llivia, a Spanish Enclave in France

 

Foix Ariege Midi Pyrenees France


Camon – One of the Most Beautiful Villages in France

Sometimes known as “Little Carcassone” the fortified village of Camon is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France.

Camon Abbey

The village grew from the Benedictine abbey which dates back to the 10th century. The abbey has been a private residence since the French revolution, and now, part of the ancient building is a beautiful hotel and restaurant.  L’Abbaye Chateau De Camon has been voted one of the top 5 castle hotels in France.

Tours of the abbey can be taken only by arrangement with the Camon tourist office in the centre of town.

Camon Abbey Ariège Midi-Pyrenees France

Where is Camon

Camon is a 15-minute drive from Mirepoix (13 km)  or 45-minute drive from Foix ( 48km).

Camon Ariège Midi-Pyrenees France

Lake Montbel

570 hectares of clear turquoise water set against the Pyrenees mountains, Lake Montbel, is the perfect place to chill out.

There are a number of organised beaches offering supervised swimming during the peak summer months, restaurants and bars, a sailing school and plenty of water sports activities.

Lake Montbel Ariege Midi Pyrenees France

Walking and Hiking at Lake Montbel

Mostly undeveloped, Lake Montbel is also an excellent spot for hiking and walking. There are plenty of marked walks all around the lake where you can find a quiet place for picnics or fishing.

Where is Lake Montbel

Lake Montbel is a 30-minute drive from Mirepoix (26 km)  or 1 hr drive from Foix ( 48km).

Lake Montbel Ariege France


Lagarde

Although probably more impressive from a distance, the ruins of the Chateau de Lagarde are still worth a visit up close

Lagarde was initially built as a medieval fortress in the 10th century. Over time, it was expanded as a renaissance palace, eventually becoming a classical home, a factory, and even a storehouse.

Château de Lagarde Ariège France

Partially destroyed during the French Revolution it did not take long for the grand chateau to become a ruin. Although in ruins, the chateau still cuts a dramatic silhouette when viewed from down in the valley.

Château de Lagarde Ariège France

While the structure is no longer stable enough to allow visitors inside the fortified walls, the pretty medieval town of Lagarde is worth a stroll through.

Lagarde Ariège France

Take the Lagarde Walking Route

Starting from the town of Lagarde, outside the castle walls, there are some very scenic walks, part of the GR 7 walking routes that run through Spain, Andorra, and France.

A circular walk will take you from the village, through spectacular countryside, with, of course, the Pyrenees always in sight, returning again to Lagarde from the other side.

Pack a picnic as there are many beautiful places to stop and enjoy the Ariege countryside.

Planning a Walking Holiday in the Pyrenees? Read our Walking Holiday & Hiking Packing Guide Before You Go.

Where is Lagarde:

Lake Montbel is a 10-minute drive from Mirepoix (9 km)  or 43-minute drive from Foix ( 43km).

Ariege Midi-Pyrenees France


Mirepoix

Mirepoix is one of the prettiest and best examples of a medieval town in the Ariege. As you have seen already, that’s saying something. The bustling little market town is nothing short of a delight.

Mirepoix Ariege Midi-Pyrenees France

On a Monday morning, you will find the weekly outdoor market in the central square. Every food lover’s dream, stalls overflow with French gastronomic delights.

Mirepoix Ariege Midi-Pyrenees France

You will find incredible local produce and regional delicacies such as the regions famed foie gras and confit de canard, saucisson, and locally made cheeses.

Mirepoix Ariege Midi-Pyrenees France

Visit Saint Maurice Cathedral in the centre of town. The second largest single-naved church in Europe, the gothic style cathedral is a classified Historic Monument.

Relax in one of the many cafes in the Place des Couverts and enjoy the atmosphere of the beautiful medieval town. Or, indulge in some regional cuisine from any of the towns wonderful restaurants. Mirepoix is the perfect place to position yourself for exploring Ariege and the Midi-Pyrenees.

Where is Mirepoix:

Mirepoix is a 50-minute drive from Carcassonne (47 km)  or 40-minute drive from Foix ( 36 km).

Visit la Cité de Carcassonne from Mirepoix

 

Mirepoix Ariege Midi-Pyrenees France

Vals

The tiny village of Vals may only have a population of less than 100, but it packs a punch when it comes to religious architecture of the middle ages.

Vals Ariège Midi Pyrenees France

The church of Sainte Marie is especially interesting as it’s three levels have been partially carved from the rocks. A small, hidden cleft in the rock reveals a stairway leading to the church’s entrance.

Vals Ariège Midi Pyrenees France

Once inside you will be treated to beautiful eleventh-century Romanesque frescoes depicting the life of Christ. The church also has a terrace offering spectacular views of the Ariege Pyrenees.

Vals Ariège Midi Pyrenees France

Hiking Around Vals

Vals is another great starting point for the GR 7 tracks. Perfect for some lovely day hikes or a picnic.

Where is Vals

Vals is a 15-minute drive from Mirepoix (13 km)  or 30-minute drive from Foix ( 25 km).
Ariège Midi Pyrenees France

Discover More of the Ariege

These eight beautiful destinations in the Ariege may be highlights but are only a small sample of what this beautiful region has to offer. Here are just a few more reasons to visit Ariege.

Subterranean Adventures

Take a boat journey 60 meters underground to explore Rivière souterraine de Labouiche, a series of subterranean rivers and caves.

Palaces and Castles

Visit Château de Gudanes to see firsthand the restoration of what was once a thirteenth-century fortress, then a fifteenth-century castle, and an eighteenth-century palatial castle.

Outdoor Adventure

Much of the Ariege territory has been a Regional Park since 2009 so is an ideal destination for the outdoor enthusiast. Ariege is the perfect destination for hiking, mountain biking, skiing, fishing and whitewater sports.

The Ariege region boats –

  • Over 5000 kilometres of marked trails.
  • 300 kilometres of rivers
  • Ten ski resorts.

Once you have done all of that, there is still an endless number of beautiful French towns to explore and then there’s the rest of the Midi-Pyrenees.

Ariège Midi Pyrenees France

How to Get to Ariege and the Midi Pyrenees

Flights to Midi Pyrenees

Despite the Ariege being so rural, it is very well connected by air. Toulouse (Blagnac) and Carcassonne airports are both only 1 – 1.5 hrs depending where in the Ariege you are going.

However, at the moment the most popular way to reach the Ariege Department and the Midi-Pyrenees is from the city of Toulouse as there are currently more flights and low-cost airlines servicing this airport.

Tarbes-Lourdes is also less than two hours away although has limited flight schedules.

Trains to Ariege

There is a train station in the Ariege capital of Foix, however, it may be more convenient to travel to Toulouse. From Toulouse, you can collect a hire car directly from the station.

There are regular trains from Paris as well as evening sleeper trains. Sleeper trains leave at approx 22.00 hrs and 23.00 which is perfect for those want to spend an entire day in Paris.

The train will take between 4.5 – 6.5 hrs depending on the service.

Tip for Train Travel in France

Train reservations usually open 90 days in advance of travel and often offer very good deals on tickets if you book early.

If taking a sleeper train, ladies travelling alone should look for the “Solo Lady” option which offers a space for women who wish to travel at night in peace. The service is free.

Check Oui.sncf for latest train deals and schedules

 

 


The Ariege region in the Midi Pyrenees, France
Lagarde Ariege Midi Pyrenees France
Lagarde Ariege Midi Pyrenees France
Roquefort Les Cascades Ariege Midi Pyrenees France
Camon Ariege Midi Pyrenees France
Camon Ariege Midi Pyrenees France

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