On Monday 14th March 2016 a friend phoned me to ask if I would help him collect some large gate posts from a local farm to use on the new public footpath we have created around the village of Sieuras. The farm was a 20 minute drive away; on arriving we immediately saw a Short-toed (Snake) Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) above the farmyard, a magnificent spring arrival and a relatively familiar sight in the area. On the way home we made a small detour to see an Eagle Owl in a local quarry; sure enough he was there, sleeping and occasionally preening. He is a permanent resident. As time was becoming short we did not visit our nearby orchid field to monitor progress; the first flowers have appeared in recent days. Swallows & Black kites have been oberved since the 10th. The great surge of life has begun again.
This photograph was taken on Sunday 13th March 2016 in the Pays D'Olmes area of the Ariege, SW France at an altitude of 1600 m. There is at least 1m of snow at this level, with significantly more at higher levels. The temperature during the day at lower levels is a pleasant 14-15 degrees C. A perfect combination of high snow and early spring sunshine! Over the next few weeks it is easier to access the higher areas as the roads become clearer. A great time to visit the Pyrenees.
The Pyrenees rise to 3100m at their highest point in the Ariege. Each year, this being later but no exception, immense amounts of snow acumulate above 2000m, closing all high-level paths, particularly due to the threat of avalanches, just as in the Alps. The high level routes do not become safely accessible until mid-July. However, there are many options on lower slopes not threatened by avalanche. Here, such as at Mont D'Olmes, you can enjoy early spring sun and snow into early May. Nordic ski areas such as Plateau de Beille provide an excellent opportunity to try out snowshoeing.
The beauty of the Pyrenees is that there are always opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors at any time of the year, in generally uncrowded places that are inexpensive.
The World has always been a big place...in a physical travel sense it has got smaller, more accessible, although aircraft now fly slower than they did 50 years ago. Non-stop travel seems to be the way ahead; 17 hour flights to become the norm. Is that for you? No, me neither. I like my travel plans to be smaller scale, more intimate and personal. I have exacting needs. My attention span is short. That is one reason why I live in the Ariege. I have everything I need within 3 to 4 hours to enthrall and entertain. Ocean, mountain, mystery and grand design all at my 'fingertips'. That is to say the rolling, thundering Atlantic or the more soothing Med, the Pyrenees chain with volumes of history and Barcelona a pleasant drive away through snow-capped mountains.
My shopping needs are small but if the inclination arises, Toulouse fulfills. Andorra offers duty free enticements and fine skiing. I don't like mass tourism; that is another reason why I like the Ariege, although contrary to running a travel business. Real life, real food, real villages & real humour. Pretty and authentic. Sometimes wild but shelter & a warm welcome are at hand. Expect the unexpected. This is a different France, a unique character fashioned from a hard environment, harsh history, rebellious nature but from a warm heart. Catalan & Occitan still influence, culturally & in the kitchen. Everything stops for lunch. Good wine is here. And this is still a wilderness. Bears roam, vultures soar.
So why not join me in my smaller World? What we offer is a chance to taste, to explore, to experience. We can point, encourage as much as you need...but the choice is yours. We know here, we love here. We think you will too. And indeed, you may feel that 17 hours is a small price to pay for finding a new World at the end of your finger tips!