The 4 regions of Ariège

The Couserans

 

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The 18 valleys that make up the western third of Ariège are historically and culturally part of Gascony, while the rest of the departement more closely has closer ties to the Languedoc region.

The Couserans is a land of mountains, foothills, prairies, lakes, waterfalls and forests and is entirely contained within the Parc Naturel Régional (Region Natural Park) of the Ariège Pyrenees.

The town of St-Lizier is celebrated for its Roman art and architecture. Its neighbour, St Girons, is the capital of and gateway to the Couserans.

The Gates of Ariège (foothills)

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The Lèze and Arize river valleys:
If you take the scenic route from Toulouse the tranquil Lèze River valley is your first introduction to Ariège. Stop at the medieval hilltop village of Carla-Bayle for a sweeping view of the countryside and the mountains. The birthplace of the protestant philosopher Pierre Bayle, it is also home to many artists and craftspeople. This area is a good base for visitors who want to divide their time between the the charms of Toulouse (30-45 minutes away) and the pleasures of the mountains (45 - 60 minutes). Also good stopping point if you've just arrived by air and don't want to drive too far the first day.

The Pays d'Olmes and Cathar Pyrenees

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This far eastern corner of the département is particularly rich in historically and architechturally important sites, including the cathar castle at Montségur (in photo). There are several interesting museums, including a museum of textiles (an important local industry) and horn combs ("peignes de corne"--horn comb fabrication was established by returning Protestant exiles in the 18th century).

Foix and the High Ariège

foixThe departmental capital is dominated by the Foix Castle, once the home of Count Gaston Phoebus, one of the great barons of 14th century France. It is the one intact castle remaining in Ariège and well worth a visit, as well as a good starting point for visits to other Cathar castles. In Montgaillard a few kms out of town is a large indoor and outdoor museum devoted to the traditional occupations of the Ariégeois over the centuries. The heart of the complex is a functioning forge, a replica of the Catalan-style forges that were once emblematic of the region. The vast plateau of the Prat d'Albis high above the city is a popular destination for mountain bikers, paragliders, walkers and picnics. In the summer months it has a very pastoral ambience with cows grazing the high pastures.

Many thanks to these photographers

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