Last summer we had a chance to spend some time with Steven’s parents in the South of France, where we all had a lovely holiday. During our stay, we discovered some beautiful places in Ariège in the Midi-Pyrénées (now merged with Languedoc-Roussillon into the Occitanie region), which turned out amazing! We did trips as a family, and sometimes Adeline stayed with her grandparents at home which was a win-win – they could enjoy her and we went just the two of us somewhere. At the end of each day, there were long warm evenings were spent on a terrace with bottles of wine, listening to the cicadas, the typical sound of summer evenings in the South of France. All this felt incredible especially after the long lockdown in Belgium (when families couldn’t get together for a long time) so we were of course very grateful for this time!
If you haven’t heard of Ariège before, this is a Southern department of the Midi-Pyrénées region. They say and it seemed to me too, that it has kept its traditions, authenticity, and preserved nature. You can walk here in the steps of history and culture (discovering medieval cities and towns, Cathar castles, or prehistoric caves). But you’ll find incredible nature (a large part of the land is a Natural Park with a big variety of fauna and flora, and the Pyrénées reach up to 3000 m above sea level at some points.
Here below I list some beautiful places in Ariège that we visited, although it is not a full list of what to see and do as there is much more in this lovely department – from castles, prehistoric caves, to some other larger towns such as Foix (the capital of Ariège), as well as hikes in nature/mountains. You can also read about our hike in the Pyrénées here. And for more inspiration, check out the website of the tourist office of Ariège.
Mirepoix is an old medieval town situated in Cathar Pyrenées, one of the Big Sites of Occitanie. It features a cozy historic center with the finest surviving arcaded market square and half-timbered houses and retained its layout since the 13th century. Another interesting point here is the Mirepoix Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Maurice de Mirepoix) from the end of the 13th century which has the second widest Gothic arch in Europe (after Girona). There are also some restaurants, coffee places, and little boutiques – we loved the antique shops! On Monday morning, there is a market where you can get some fresh local fruits and vegetables! I’d say, your visit to Ariège would not be complete without stopping by in this town!
Lagarde is a small and quiet village close to Mirepoix. There are ruins of a castle that you can explore or if you are lucky, enjoy a nice fair or concert in the summer months. We loved to wander around in the empty streets, and surrounding landscape, enjoying the silence and lovely authentic French village.
Camon is such a small and lovely village! Flowers are decorating almost every house, there is also an Abbey Castle which functions as a bed and breakfast and restaurant. We loved it here! For sure one of the most beautiful places in Ariège! Tiny but cute!
Montbel Lake (Lac de Montbel)
During the hot weekdays, we escaped here for a swim. I saw pictures of Lac de Montbel on Google but wasn’t impressed. But then we arrived… Such amazing colors! When the sun was shining on the lake, it was like 50 shades of turquoise. There is a marl ground, apparently typical of the Ariège, so it quite slides when you go in the water and it goes quickly deep in some places. The artificial lake is surrounded by forests and wild beaches – if you are lucky, you can even find a private spot! It is a nice place to relax, but also enjoy a nice swim or practice other water sports. And if you are lucky with a clear sky, you can see the Pyrénées in the background.
On one of the last days, we did a road trip through several villages listed as some of the most beautiful places in Ariège. The first stop was in Carla Bayle, a poetic village sitting on a top of a hill. You will notice that this is a paradise for art lovers here as you’ll discover galleries and workshops walking through the streets. Despite not having any expectations, we were nicely surprised. It feels very cheerful and colorful here!
Saint-Lizier has a rich history dating back to pre-Gallo-Roman times and thanks to its unique charm it is nowadays among France’s “Most beautiful villages” and definitely one of the most beautiful places in Ariège. I expected this place to be another highlight and was not disappointed. This village was really impressive. Once we passed through a marriage procession gathering around the cathedral, we walked up the hilly narrow cobblestone streets lined with old houses towards the former bishop’s palace. The view of the little village with its Gothic cathedral and the mountains behind was gorgeous! It was really worth stopping by to enjoy this village!
Arriving in Seix, we could feel we are getting closer to the winter sports area. We had a short stop here as it started to rain and there were dark clouds that did not feel inviting. It was a little mystical though but we wanted to arrive in Andorra before the sunset so we then continued through to the Pyrénées.
From there just one step to Andorra
Luckily at one point on our way to Andorra, the clouds made way for the sun and it was so cool to drive through the mountains with marvelous views! (We also did a hike in the Pyrénées the other day and you can read about it here.)
So this was our wonderful holiday that we could have enjoyed mainly thanks to the parents of Steven. Have you been to this region? Which other beautiful places in Ariège did you visit? If not, will you consider visiting this part of France? Don’t hesitate to share your thoughts, tips, and experience below in the comments!
And if you plan to visit the South of France but you prefer the seaside and don’t feel attracted to the busy coast of Côte d’Azur, check out also Languedoc-Rousillon!