Nestled in the heart of South West France, Ariege is a green and rugged department that remains one of the region's best-kept secrets. This relatively undiscovered gem boasts an unspoiled landscape of dramatic mountains, slightly less formidable than some parts of the Pyrenees but equally stunning. These mountains form a breathtaking backdrop to steep valleys, plateaux, and vast lakes, creating a paradise for nature enthusiasts.
Ariege is home to a diverse range of wildlife and flora, including eagles and other birds of prey. Near Ax-les-Thermes, you'll find La Maison des Loups, where you can observe European Wolves living in the heart of the forest. The department's untouched wilderness offers opportunities for hiking, cycling, fishing, and kayaking, making it a haven for outdoor adventurers.
For those intrigued by prehistoric times, Ariege offers a treasure trove of sites to explore. The caves of Niaux, dating back 13,000 years, still contain their incredible wall paintings, believed to date from 11,500 to 10,500 B.C. In Tarascon, visit the 'Parc de l'Art Prehistorique' to learn how caves were formed by water flowing over rocks. Here, you can also discover the art of making prehistoric tools from flint and the development of spear-throwing and fire-making techniques. Ariege boasts the highest concentration of prehistoric caves or "grottes" in France. The Grotte de Lombrives is the largest in Europe, and Labouiche offers the opportunity to explore the longest navigable subterranean river in Europe.
Ariege is steeped in Cathar history, with the Count of Foix's castle remaining intact. The ruins of Chateau de Montsegur, perched at an altitude of 1207 meters on a rocky outcrop known as the 'Pog,' hold a significant place in history. The Crusaders laid siege to the castle, leading to the tragic end of the Cathars. Today's visitors can explore the ruins of the third stronghold, built following the siege, which was also part of the French defenses against the King of Aragon.
The department boasts charming historic towns like Saint-Lizier, an old Roman town listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France. Set at the foot of the mountains on the route to St. Jacques de Compostela, Saint-Lizier hosts an annual Music Fair. Mirepoix, with its attractive arched market square, half-timbered houses, and ancient Gothic-style Cathedral of St. Maurice, is another must-visit. The cathedral features the largest nave in France and the second largest in Europe. The town also retains one of its four gates from the 14th century.
Market life is essential in Ariege's culinary tradition. Families traditionally raised pigs and ducks, preserving and curing the meat for year-round consumption. This tradition has given rise to excellent regional delicacies like 'saucisse sèche' and 'jambon du pays,' as well as the beloved 'confit de canard.' While the region may not produce wine, it perfectly complements the excellent regional wines of the Minervois and Corbieres.
Ariege offers a wide range of properties, from charming farmhouses to modern villas and rustic cottages, making it an attractive destination for property enthusiasts.
Getting to Ariege is convenient, with Toulouse-Blagnac Airport being the nearest international airport.
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