We specialise in putting together memorable activity days and mini-programmes for families who are looking for adventure, culture and local attractions in the Ariege. Using our working knowledge and practical experience, we provide the relevant information and discuss ideas and options that help our clients plan their family holiday.
All the activities and visitor attractions listed below come recommended and are based in the Ariege. We have worked with many of the providers and know them personally. See map to locate the site for your chosen activity or visitor attraction.
Please note, we don’t offer tourist information or answer general tourist enquiries as our information is specific and relevant to our clients only. For Tourist information, please contact your local tourist information centre.
Our Adventure Safari offers a unique family holiday experience set in the Ariege. We combine a range of exciting activities listed below, that overlap with visitor attractions, cultural interests and festivals in the area. Adventure Safaris can be for 2 – 4 days, see Adventure Safari drop down under Family Adventure.
Cycling the Voie Vert (St. Girons – Foix)
The Voie Vert a national cycle route system that follows converted railway lines. We follow the section from Foix to St. Girons, a distance of 45 km. It is suitable for individuals and families who want to explore the area by bicycle and not be on the main roads. You can be independent or we can support your journey, dropping off and picking up at various entry /exit points. You can choose the distance you want to ride and go at your own speed. We can organise bike hire.
In St Girons the Saturday market is an experience not to be missed.It is lively,colourful and fun,with a wide range of market stalls, music, food and good market banter.The City of Saint Lizier is close to St.Girons and is also worth a visit. In Foix you cannot miss the Chateau du Foix, perched high on a rocky outcrop, as it dominates the towns skyline. Also see Visitor attractions below.
Route map of Voie vert
Bushcraft & Camping
We organise bushcraft and camping days/nights for families who are staying locally. This includes Camp montage (setting up camp) a forage walk to gather wild foods, collecting materials to building a fire, fire lighting, cooking and demonstrating key camping and bushcraft skills. For the independent camper, we also provide traditional camping equipment for hire (tents, cookers, sleeping bags. etc) and can recommend good campsites.
There are two high rope courses we use and recommend. One close to the artist village of Carla Bayle and the other in the foothills of the Pyrenees just outside St. Girons. The course at Carla Bayle is better suited to beginners and intermediates, while the other is located in a limestone gorge in the mountains and is quite simply in a class of its own and provides an unforgettable experience.
White Water Rafting
White water rafting is an adrenaline pumping, all action water sport. Foix, which is the regional center for rafting and kayaking, but we also use other companies in the area that also offer excellent rafting adventures. Rafting is a seasonal activity,being dependent on water levels; too much and it can be dangerous and too little, then you can’t get very far.
We work with the local kayak clubs and operators who run morning or afternoon kayak journeys on the local lakes and rivers. You can run a section of the Ariege river from Bonac to Saverdun that is suitable for families with beginners. There is no need for previous kayaking experience, but you will need to be able to swim at least 50 m confidently. Buoyancy aids will be provided. If you have kayaked before and wish to hire one of our kayaks, then see below for details. Seasonal water levels will determine if it is suitable to kayak.
We hire sit-on top (SOT’s) kayaks and stand up paddle boards (SUP’s) for use on local lakes. Buoyancy aids, paddles and helmets will be supplied as part of the hire. Wet suits and wet shoes are available at an extra cost. See PAC Kayaks on the title bar or contact us for details.
The foothills of the Pyrenees are well known for their amazing limestone cave systems. There are the Grottes du Maz d’Azil, Lomrives and Niaux which are huge walk-in arenas and major tourist attractions. Other cave systems are smaller and buried deep into hill sides and make for great a adventure day out. We can arrange for a caving adventure using a local Cave guide or reserve places on a tour of the famous local caves.
Due to the Limestone rock in the area, there are some great climbing sites to choose from. Most climbing sessions are for groups, but individuals with climbing experience, can hire a local guide or go off on their own to find some challenging routes. Contact us to find out more details of suitable sites.
We have extensive knowledge of the local cycling routes and can arrange a bespoke tour* for a day or more. See our Cycle tour page for route plans, e.g. La route des Cols or Le Weekend. Le Weekend takes in the mighty Col du Tourmalet (2015m) and the Port de Pailheres (2001m), these two being the highest cols in the Pyrenees. We offer a back up vehicle and support, local knowledge, can arrange accommodation and good quality bike hire. (*minimum 4 people).
Walking / Trekking
There is a wide range of superb walking options that are suitable for all levels and experience.We can advise the independent walker on local routes and mountain trails or organise a guide. You can combine walking with a night in a manned refuge or camping, followed by an activity the next day, e.g. rafting, high ropes, climbing or caving. See Adventure Safari
We are lucky to have an international Karting circuit close by that offers an exciting experience for beginners and experienced drivers. Great place to learn as well as the chance to push the limits on a large circuit. Recommended by my children aged 15 and 12 yrs !
Other Attractions and Festivals
There are plenty of other non-outdoor activity events, attractions and festivals going on in the Ariege and information can be obtained from your local Tourist information centre. There are Museums and gardens to visit, the Eco -Golf range close to La Bastille de Serou, The Reptile Farm, Butterfly centre, The house of Wolves (not the football team) the Animal park in St Michel, Mountain bike trails, fishing and numerous farms to visit (all part of the Bienvenue a la Ferme programme).
All the above can be factored into your programme, but unlike a tourist centre, a small charge will be made by us for arranging the visit and will be included in the over all price of the programme. All part of the service we offer.
Lakes For Swimming, Fishing And Water Sports
There is nothing like swimming and taking part in water based activities in lakes and rivers that are clean and safe. Below are some lakes in the area we can recommend. We offer kayak hire, and wetsuit hire for those who want.
Lac de Carla Bayle…
is an 11 hectares reservoir which has swimming (with a life guard in the summer) hiking, fishing, but no equipment rental. If you wish to rent sit on top kayaks then please ask us for details as we have our own hire fleet.
Lac de Mondeley…
is a 50 hectare lake close to Maz d’Azil that is open year. There is a sand beach, snack bar, and a picnic area. A life guard is on duty in the summer. The lake is also good for fishing and bird watching.
Lac du Filheit…
is a 63 hectare lake close to Lac de Moneley. It is known for its large Pike and Perch as well as trout, that you can now fish for from a boat or kayak.
Lac du Montbel…
is a 550 hectare reservoir outside the village of Léran, near Mirepoix. It is a popular swimming and water sports site, with a small beach and a marina for sailing boats and a restaurant. There is also a three star camp site, where bicycles can be hired if you want to cycle round the lake. In the summer there are horses which offer rides on the bridle paths.
Thermes (Thermal Baths / Hot Springs)
Ax-les-Thermes is the best known thermal spa resort in the Ariege. Its thermal mineral water rises from the ground at a temperature of 77°C, making it the hottest thermal baths in the Pyrenees. It is a large, clean, spa which is well designed and offers a range of pools, water features and steam rooms. The experience is relaxing and pleasurable to say the least. Children aged 5 years and above are welcome. Take swimming costumes and towels/robes, or you can buy/hire at the thermes. They allow all types of swim wear unlike public swimming pools in France. Massages can be reserved for adults.
Visitor Attractions In The Ariege
(Caves, prehistoric sites, Chateaux and historical monuments) The Ariege is well known for its unspoiled and diverse natural environments. Below are some of the well known and easily accessible visitor attractions in the area.
Chateau De Montsegur
The Chateau is positioned on a rocky outcrop 1200 m above sea level, with the village laying below it. The history and significance of the surrounding area as a site of human activity can be traced as far back to neolithic times. The Chateau is known as a centre for Cathar activities in the 13th century. In 1242 the Chateau was besieged by papal armies who out numbered the inhabitants by 100:1. The Chateau finally surrendered in the spring of 1244, which was followed by the death of over 200 Cathars who refused to give up their religion and were thus burned as a result. You can access the Chateau from the village by walking up the “pog” which will take approx 30-45 mins.
Cite De Saint Lizier ( near St Girons)
The city of Saint Lizier is an old Gallo-Roman site and is steeped with monuments that define its rich and prestigious history. It boasts numerous monuments including an 11th century cathedral with its roman frescoes, a Romanesque cloister with a gallery that was added in the 14th century, the treasure of the Bishops of the Couserans and an 18th century pharmacy. The treasure of the Bishops of Saint Lizier is a collection of high-value gold and silver work, the centrepiece of which is the Saint Lizier bust which is made from chiseled silver and which dates back to the Renaissance. Saint Lizier is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its significance on the ancient pilgrimage route across the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in Spain (along Saint James’s Way).
Chateau De Foix
The Chateau dominates the town and was principally known as a centre and refuge for the persecuted Cathars. Built on an older 7th-century fortification, the castle dates back to 987. In 1034, it became capital of the county of Foix and played a decisive role in medieval military and social history for the following two centuries. It was often besieged, resisted assault and was only taken once, in 1486. From the 14th century, its importance as a residence for the Counts of Foix declined as they spent less time in the uncomfortable castle, preferring the Governors’ Palace. From 1479, the Counts of Foix became Kings of Navarre and the last of them, being made Henry IV of France, who annexed his Pyrenean lands to France. Since 1930, the castle has housed the collections of the Ariège museum.
The village of Carla-Bayle is located 400 meters above sea level on a ridge between the valleys of the Arize and Lèze, It is an ancient medieval fortress as well as the the birthplace of Pierre Bayle (1647–1706), a Protestant philosopher and writer known for his works on religious toleration and his early encyclopedia. The village was originally named Carla-le-Comte, and was a center of Protestant activity in the 16th century before the government suppressed it. The commune was later renamed Carla-Bayle in honor of Pierre Bayle. Today the village is better known for the range of arts and crafts and is the home to painters, sculptors, potters and other artisans.
Bastide De Mirepoix
Mirepoix is an historic town with medieval architecture and a history that dates back to the 12th century. These days it is also well known for its lively Monday morning market, which provides tourists, visitors and locals with the opportunity to buy a wide range of fresh local products, while also taking in the atmosphere of this traditional French scene. Buskers play their music, cafes are full of on lookers and people generally enjoy the event and soak up the atmosphere. Mirepoix is also known for its fetes and festivals throughout the year, notably a jazz festival in April, a brocante and flower fete in May, the famous Medieval fete in July, a marionette festival in August and the ‘Fete de la Pomme’ in October.
Parc De La Prehistorire (Tarrascon sur Ariege)
The park of prehistory is a man made site that allows you to travel through time and see reproductions of caves in the area that are now inaccessible to the public. The park is open from April – October and visits can lasts from a few hours to the whole day. There are descriptions and drawings of the Salon Noir in the Niaux cave that are reproduced in their entirety, so if you are unable to visit the Grotte De Niaux, you can get to see the famous drawings here. Outside there are examples of the types of shelters constructed by Magdalenian people (17,000-12,000 years ago…approx !) and demonstrations of flint sharpening and fire building.
Grotte De Niaux (near Tarrascon sur Ariege)
Grotte de Niaux is one of the most famous Paleolithic sites in Europe and one of only a few decorated caves still open to the public. It is located in the village of Niaux, along the Vicdessous valley, approximately 15 minutes from Tarrascon. You will need to reserve a place on a tour, as numbers are limited to 20 at any one time. This is to ensure that the impact on the underground environment is limited and to preserve the drawings. A tour lasts aprox’ 90 minutes and will take you through impressive underground galleries before entering the Salon Noir, a monumental natural rotunda whose walls are covered with detailed paintings of bison, horses, ibex and deer.
Grotte Du Lombrives (Ussat Les Bains)
La Grotte de Lombrives is the largest cave in Europe, covering approximately 39 kilometers of subterranean passages spread over several levels. There are numerous guided tours available ranging from 1 – 3 hours, with various activities for children to take part in. According to legend the cave contains the tomb of Pyrene, Hercules’ lover, whom the Pyrenees mountain range is named after.
La Grotte Du Mas D’Azil
The cave/grotte of Mas-d’Azil is a large, 500 metre long tunnel fashioned by the Arize river that runs through a wall of the Massif Plantaurelin, all part of the Ariege Pyrenees. The cave consists of a 51 m high and 48 m wide hole in the massive limestone wall with a main road, the D119, passing through the central section of it. Secondary caves leading off the main tunnel were occupied at various prehistoric and historic times over a period of 20,000 years. Objects found in there gave the name of the cave to a prehistoric culture, the Azilian. The cave was excavated by Edouard Piette in the 19th century, who interpreted the halter-like marks on animal heads as being evidence of the domestication of reindeer and horses. There is a museum in the village of Mas d’Azil that houses many of the artifacts found in the cave.