My son commented this week that the Ariege is France's Scotland. It was an astute observation. He recently arrived from his hyper-busy world of Surrey. The contrast is enormous. The pace of life in the Ariege is gentle, nothing is ever rushed and can lead to occasional exasperation. Yes, the villages are timeless; to an adult eye we see rustic charm, character and opportunities. To a younger view all should make way for utility and ease. There are certainly comparisons to be found with our friends the Scots and the Welsh & Irish, for that matter. All mountaineous rural communities share common sentiments; proud traditions, self-sufficiency and an often rebelious nature. Through time this region of the Pyrenees has resisted Kings, Crusaders, modern occupiers and change as a whole. It has welcomed the persecuted. A recent painted message on a local wall reads "Refugees Welcome". Yes, the Ariege is unfinished business and in many ways I hope it remains that way for many years to come. It's charm is it's simplicity. That said, fine local cuisine is aplenty. Charming villages & hamlets are set atop nearly every hilltop. It is a lush, green landscape reminiscent of the Cotswolds with more than a hint of Tuscany. Vineyards face to the south & west to capture the most rays. And standing in the backgroud, sometimes unseen, sit the magnificent jagged peaks of the high Pyrenees. Walking, cycling and bird watching are very popular but yet there is so much more; the history of the Cathars, their castles & stories, extensive caves, pre-history art, markets and galleries. The Chemin de la Liberte WW2 Freedom Trail merits an entire library. Only 1 hour south of Toulouse and with Andorra at the other doorstep, the Ariege provides a timeless escape, just like the Highlands or the North Antrim coastline. Where the comparison with our Celtic friends ends is with the weather. With Autumn fast approaching, so does the finest time for visiting the Ariege Pyrenees. September and October often produce the longest, most sustained periods of clear, sunny weather with temperatures ideal for walking in higher reaches in particular. Couple this with amazing low cost flights to Toulouse from 10 Euros and you have a marvellous short or long autumn holiday opportunity.
The snowy picture at the top of this piece is supposed to be eye-catching and indeed snow has fallen on the high peaks at the time of writing, 11th Aug. Once the balmy days of Autumn have passed we can then begin to look forward to such bright days of deep fresh snow from November through to March. This photo was taken near the Mur de Péguère (1375m) the intriguing climb of this year's Tour de France. We snowshoe frequently in this area. Apline ski slopes are an hour away. Something for everyone at any time.