We hadn’t been abroad together since our last climbing trip to Kalymnos over two years ago, so we were very happy to accept my parents’ invitation to join them in their gîte in the French Pyrenees a couple of weeks ago. The Ariège region isn’t a big tourist destination and life there seems quite slow and simple, but the hills, forests and streams are very beautiful.
The first evening saw Mum and I swimming in a river near Tarascon-sur-Ariège, followed by a picnic on the river bank accompanied by beer and wine.
The next day started hot so we explored Montferrier, the village we were staying in, and walked to waterfalls and a previously abandoned village that has now been restored and reinhabited, higher up the valley in the forest.
The following day was much cooler and wet, so we decided to leave the mountains and visit Carcassonne. Out of the hills, it was actually very hot, but we enjoyed a lovely meal and a wander round the old town, which is a restored medieval fortified village with many turrets and battlements. We also found crepes with Nutella in a lovely market square in Mirepoix on the way back, which made me happy.
On Friday it was again cool, so we went to a market in Foix and to investigate some tuffa waterfalls, which were incredible; the limestone has left deposits over the moss and vegetation creating strange formations around the streams and waterfalls.
On Saturday we went up to the local ski resort but it was too cloudy to get any views if we walked higher, so Chris and I took a long walk back down to the village. The mixed forest is amazing, with more natural tree regeneration than I have ever seen in the UK. Every clearing was full of a huge diversity of flowers and insects. About 30 minutes’ walk from the road was a well-equipped refuge, complete with barbecue and picnic benches. As we climbed higher, we moved through more stunning forest and out into wild flower meadows. Navigation was easy thanks to regular coloured markers and even sign posts! Despite much of the walk being higher than Ben Nevis, it felt like a stroll in the woods. It made me wonder whether this is what Scotland may have felt like before the deforestation.
On our penultimate day, we drove east to the Mediterranean and a fortified port, Collioure, which was very busy but very pretty too. The small pebbly beaches were packed but the sea was lovely to swim in, with fish visible below you in the clear water. There was a great atmosphere later in the day; after not too much sun burn, a delicious meal on a terrace and a few tunes from a traditional French band, it was time to head back to our gîte.
We made a final push to get into the mountains on our final day, but it was still cloudy and the chairlift from which we had planned our summit route turned out to be closed on Mondays! We salvaged the day with a lovely walk up to some small lakes, which took Chris to his highest ever altitude of approximately 1730m, followed by beer, wine and a delicious barbecue.
We thoroughly enjoyed our trip and thank Mum and Dad for inviting us to explore this new corner of the world.