WALKING / HIKING
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
CANOEING, KAYAKING AND RAFTING
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
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.
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.
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.
WELL-BEING AND RELAXATION
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
CULTURE AND HISTORY
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
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Copyright © 2014 by Rodney Munday