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Foix and the High Ariège

foixThe departmental capital is dominated by the Foix Castle, once the home of Count Gaston Phoebus, one of the great barons of 14th century France. It is the one intact castle remaining in Ariège and well worth a visit, as well as a good starting point for visits to other Cathar castles. In Montgaillard a few kms out of town is a large indoor and outdoor museum devoted to the traditional occupations of the Ariégeois over the centuries. The heart of the complex is a functioning forge, a replica of the Catalan-style forges that were once emblematic of the region. The vast plateau of the Prat d'Albis high above the city is a popular destination for mountain bikers, paragliders, walkers and picnics. In the summer months it has a very pastoral ambience with cows grazing the high pastures.

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Tarascon-Vicdessos

This is the favorite destination of those interested in prehistory as most of the important caves of the region are located near Tarascon, including the caves of Niaux, Bédeihlac, Lombrives and La Vache. The Parc de la Préhistoire features replicas of cave art no longer open to public viewing as well as of drawings from the Salon Noir in the Niaux cave.

The Ax valleys
Ax-les-Thermes is the largest thermal spa in Ariège with 60 natural springs of temperatures varying between 17 and 77 degrees (C). It specialises in the treatment of rhumatism and problems of the respiratory tract. Visitors to Ax can soak their feet in a hot spring-fed basin in the town centre.

axAx-Bonascre is Ariège's largest downhill ski station. The cross-country ski station at the Plateau de Beille (nearest village: Les Cabannes) is the largest in the Pyrenees.

On the road leading to Andorra you'll find the village of Luzenac, famous for its open air talc quarry, the largest in the world, which can be toured between April and October.

Walkers and nature lovers will want to explore the Orlu nature reserve.

The Donezan

This lightly populated far southeastern tip of Ariege is heavily forested and surrounded by peaks of 2300 to 2880 m in altitude. Not surprisingly it's an area rich in plant and wildlife, and popular with hikers. In winter head for the ski station at Mijanes.

Many thanks to these photographers

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