The Ariege-Couserans ( the 18 valleys converging on St Girons) contains some of the wildest, most remote and most spectacular scenery in the Pyrenees, as well as the gentler beauty of its lower valleys and slopes. You can walk for miles even in high season with only the sound of birds, the rustling of leaves and the sound of running water to keep you company.
Mt. Valier
Walking in the area is superb, whether you choose to go directly from Miramont, locally in the stunningly beautiful valleys of the Garbet, Ustou and Salat or to the more challenging peaks reachable from within an hour's drive. There are walks of all lengths to suit all abilities- from gentle afternoon family strolls to those requiring “Randonneur experimente” status.

The area is extremely well served by waymarked trails- the GR(Grande Randonnée)10 which runs the full length of the Pyrenees, passes at several points within  10 miles of Le Pichet and is easily accessible. The Commune d’Oust has produced a comprehensive map/guidebook of at least 20 “GR Pays” walks in the locality, and a number of more strenuous walks lead to the Spanish border, such as the wartime escape route, “le chemin de la liberté”, and those to the Ports (passes or gateways) de Salau, Aula, Couillac and Marterat. You can also arrange longer walks involving staying in mountain refuges. Le Pichet has an extensive range of guide books and maps for your use.

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We are happy to help, should you wish, with any aspect of your walking holiday; to point you in the direction of suitable walks, according to length, difficulty and local weather conditions.We originally bought Le Pichet as a base for our own walking holidays, and consider it both a joy and a privilege to share what we know of  this beautiful region with others),
For those requiring the services of professional “accompagnateurs de montagne”,  there is also an office of mountain -guides based in Seix.                          
The  wonderfully family-orientated resort of Guzet-Neige is 30mins drive away. Prices are very reasonable compared with the Alps, queuing for the lifts is rare, group sizes for lessons are small and the instructors from L’Ecole du Ski Francais” are second to none. (We speak from personal experience – our son William's enjoyment and progress is proof in itself!)

Guzet is known as the prettiest resort in the Pyrenees- it has 29 pistes totalling 40k in 3 secteurs, and an immense variety of off piste, as well as an excellent snow parkand raquette trails. The pistes range from green ( an excellent beginners area at Prat Mataou) to some of the most difficult blacks in the Pyrenees in the challenging  Freychet secteur.

CYCLING (road/touring)
For keen cyclists we are right in the middle of some of the Tour de France's most exciting cols - the 100th anniversary in 2017 featured a stage "100% ARIEGE -100k St GIRONS- FOIX" through the nearby Vallée d'Ustou over the Cols de la Trappe, D'Agnes and the redoubtable Mur de Peguere before descending into Foix -all of which are within easy reach of Le Pichet.

These, plus the Cols de la Core, de Port, de Portet D’Aspet – are all names which thrill lovers of the Tour - with gruelling ascents and exhilerating descents. Not far away either are the lesser known Cols de Saraillé, Marrous and la Crouzette, and over the Col de Portet d’Aspet takes you into Haute Garonne with the Cols de Menté and d'Ares as variants on the way to the renowned Col de Tourmalet. St Girons often features in departs and finishes, and the Plateau de Beille near Foix is a famous finishing line.

This part of the Ariege Pyrenées is a favourite haunt, clubs and individuals come from miles away to train on our beautiful- and remarkably traffic-free roads- so why not use it, too, as a base for your cycling holiday. Numerous circuits over the Cols can be made from the Vallée du Garbet -and for cyclists of a less energetic nature, it is possible to find shorter, more leisurely routes along pretty lanes in and around the valley bottoms.

While  a couple of Cols may remain open all year, many are shut over winter. Please enquire for details.

A little further afield to the north of St Girons you will find the gentler countryside of the “Petites Pyrenees” and the Volvestre, with less demanding routes, rolling countryside and again very little traffic through beautiful scenery- perfect for an afternoon or day long excursion.

La Voie Verte is a made up cycle track along 42k of a former railway between St Girons and Foix. It has only gentle gradients and along its way you will experience different aspects of the beautiful countryside running along the piedmont of the Pyrenees. Parking places along its length also enable you to cycle its length in leisurely stages. A number of routes have been opened up in the Couserans over the past couple of years, and are within very easy reach of here. This "Espace VTT Couserans-Pyrenees" boasts 475k of marked tracks  ranging from circuits of 3-13 km , and are well within the capabilities of any reasonably fit person. Maps are available in Le Pichet.
To the north of St Girons, numerous circuits await you in the “Petits Pyrenees”- in the Volvetre Ariegeois, the Couserans Volvestre and the bas (lower)Couserans, 13 circuits covering 287k and 6000m of ascent-let yourself be lead along river banks and valleys, from sunbathed ridges to shaded leafy forests, through the valleys of the Salat, Volp and Lers…….
A downhill –bike park has recently opened during the summer months at  Guzet, and is proving extremely popular (7 downhill tracks, 1 "zone d’initiation", 2 endurance descents, and 3 k of “Marathon tracks”.) Specialist bike-hire and protective clothing is provided.
If you are coming without your own bicycles, we can put you in touch or arrange hire for you both locally in Seix and in St Girons. Please do ask in advance if you would like copies of the leaflets published about any of these circuits - we will be happy to help!

 There is an excellent “Centre Equestre” at Coumariaou near Oust, visible from our garden (although you cannot hear the laughter!) where you can enjoy lessons either in the covered school or the outdoor manege. The owner, Lorenna Sala, BEES, trained with the Cadre-Noir of Saumur- she has some splendid horses, of all shapes and sizes and to suit all abilities. A huge favourite with children is "Ernest", (pictured); younger children start with "Daphné" and more experienced riders can try the paces of Gin- Fizz, Jamaique and Harmonie.  Other nearby centres, such as "Guzet Cheval" in the Ustou Valley and "Le Galop du Haut Couserans provide balades (hacks) through beautiful scenery. Smaller or younger members of the family may prefer the same thing but on the back of a donkey, which is also very popular round  here. (Balad'Ane at Le Port, Massat, and Ferme Ros'ane at Biert).

Another passion round here. People come from far and wide to fish in  the rivers Garbet and Salat  which are excellent for trout; long and short term permits are available from Seix at very reasonable rates (details on request). There are also a number of fishing lakes within an hour’s drive  e.g. l'étang de Bethmale, L'etang de l'Hers.
The River Salat above Seix is a favourite haunt for lovers of watersports, the Haut Couserans Kayak Club based at Moulin Lauga offers kayak, rafting, hydrospeed and canorafting - a "base d'eaux vives avec des sensations garanties!" Also available at Engomer 20mins on the other side of St Girons, and in the Ariege Valley numerous possibilities exist between Foix and Tarascon.. WATERSKIING is also available in the lakes at Mercus and Foix.

Ariege is home to some of the wildest and most remote scenery of the Pyrenees-including magnificent canyons and gorges often hidden away from the marked walking routes. You can discover these amazing environments by means of canyoning-whereby you descend the rivers and waterfalls by means of a mixture of swimming, sliding and absailing, and in complete security accompanied by the experienced specialised canyon guides of Ariege.
In the valley of the Vicdessos, just over an hour's drive away, The Parc d'Aventure de Montcalm invites you to discover the Artigue,Marc, Escales and Argenson canyons, and others in even wilder scenery.
Horizon Vertical at Moulis (also about an hour away) offers days and half day courses from beginner to advanced level.
If you love water, nature, and thrills ("sensations forts") then these activities are for you. A further plus is that the journey to either of these places is a stunning route in its own right.

Ariege is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of the best rockclimbing areas of France, with some 2400 routes covering 50 crags. There is something for everyone -ranging from sport climbing and bouldering to ice, via ferrata,trad, and high mountain routes. The venues are spectacular and pretty accessible-the nearest in the Haut Couserans are the Port de L'Hers area and Gerac/Turgila above Guzet; others include Bedeilhac, Niaux, Sinsat, Vicdessos, Ariege/Aston Valleys, Ax les Thermes and the Haut Couserans. Horizon Vertical and Montcalm adventure park cater for all levels.(see adventure parks below).

Offering a variety of activities and thrills for individuals or all the family, these centres are all situated in areas of great natural beauty and varying degrees of rugged/wildness. Some of these have only recently opened up, and we have not had time to try them out ourselves, other guests have come back with excellent reports.
They include:
Montcalm Aventure (Vicdessos) Horizon Verticale (Moulis) Accro'branch (Aulus - les-Bains) Akro'branche D'Orlu (orlu) Crapahut Aventure (Belesta) high level tree trails Seqouia Vertigo (Carla Bayle) zip wires, tree trails. Arbre et Compagnie (Ascou). Please enquire if you would like further details of any of these, and we will endeavour to find out.

VIA FERRATA (iron ladders)
Montcalm Aventure and Horizon Vertical.

Opened in 2018. this toboggan ride on rails starts at an altitude of 1700m and descends 357 metres through 1.5k; one of the longest in Europe. It has already proved immensely popular. The Picou telesiege takes you up to the top of the run.

After all this activity, you may well feel like  a little relaxation and pampering, and deserve a visit to the Centre de Bien-etre et Detente at Aulus-les-Bains at the head of the Garbet Valley. (12 k from le Pichet). Originally a spa town specialising in the reduction of cholesterol (it has four springs each with its own therapeutic qualities) Aulus is now also re-emerging as a quality "Bien -Etre" destination, featuring warm indoor pool, hamman,jacuzzi and water jets as well as therapeutic and beauty treatments. A range of  cosmetic products based on the "Armagnac" spring are also available.

The region is rich in historical associations, of which the Ariegeois are justly and fiercely proud. The beautiful Gallo-Roman town of St. Lizier adjoining St Girons is a UNESCO site; mediaeval  Foix (the departmental capital) with its commanding chateau and  winding streets and alleyways is  one hour’s drive away, and the numerous castles associated with the brutal 13th century period of the Cathar heresy are within 2 hours drive, as are the fascinating cities of Carcassonne and Lourdes, not to mention Toulouse, "la ville rose". Europe’s largest area of prehistoric caves with associated cavepaintings at Niaux/ Lombrives and   Tarascon's prehistoric park are both within 1h30 by car, and can be combined with a visit to "Les Forges de Pyrene" a fascinating exhibition of old-time jobs and tools in Ariege. As well as these major sites you will find dotted around the countryside numerous cultural and architectural gems- the Chateau of Seix with its Musee de Patrimoine,, the Jardin du Curé (also  in Seix) la musée des Colporteurs (Soueix Rogalle) the 11c Romanesque church of Notre Dame de Vic (Vic d'Oust), the gardens and Abbey of Coumbelongue (Rimont), to mention but a few.

Apart from the caves of Niaux/Lombrives, la Vache and Bedeilhac, you can also visit "Le Mas d'Azil"(an enormous drive-through cave with its associated museum)  and take an awe inspiring underground boat-trip through some amazing caverns at "La Riviere Souterraine de Labouiche", both within an hour's reach from here. The Cirque of Cagateille, less well-known than that of Gavarnie is nevertheless magnificent- a tough 8h hike up and around the walls of the cirque will reward you with seeing its glacial lakes of Alet and Hillette, and tremendous views down the Ustou Valley.

This part of Ariege is untouched by light pollution, and the night skies are pheomenal. If this awakens in you an interest in astronomy, the Observatory of the Pic du Midi de Bigorre has been recently opened to the public, and can now be reached by cable car. Something we can't wait to try! Again, it is about 2h by car, easily accessible from the Pau-Lourdes/Tarbes autoroute A64.

Golf de L’Ariege is about 45 mins drive away.

For anyone wishing to improve their French, whether in conversation or written work, Eleri will be delighted to help as she teaches both English and French locally.  Lessons are charged at 20€ for a very generous hour.
Finally, many of our guests simply love to relax in the garden, soaking up the view, to enjoy a book or the chance to do some embroidery. Eleri does not paint, but does love embroidery and would be delighted to share ideas and projects with you.

The villages of Oust and Seix are respectively 4 and 6k away supplying all needs. There is a doctor in Oust and pharmacy in Seix. For provisions, we particularly recommend the butchers in Oust, and the family bakers in both places. Seix has a small but very well stocked supermarket. For those wishing to eat out, the Restaurant/Bar du Garbet in Oust is outstanding, also excellent is the Auberge du Haut Salat  and La Gourmandine in Seix, Le Martert in St Lizier d'Ustou and the Auberge des Deux Rivieres at Pont de la Taule. The town of St. Girons, with a wide variety of shops, supermarkets and restaurants, not to mention a wonderful Saturday market, is about 20k away. For gourmet bargain–hunters, Andorra and Spain  are respectively within 3 and 2h reach by car.

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Copyright © 2014 by Rodney Munday


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