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Coordinates: 43°00′N 1°30′E / 43°N 1.5°E / 43; 1.5

Coat of Arms of Ariège
Location of Ariège in France
Department number: 09
Region: Midi-Pyrénées
Prefecture: Foix
Subprefectures: Pamiers
Arrondissements: 3
Cantons: 22
Communes: 332
President of the General Council: Augustin Bonrepaux
Population Ranked 96th
 -1999 137,205
Population density: 28/km2
Land area¹: 4890 km2
¹ French Land Register data, which exclude estuaries, and lakes, ponds, and glaciers larger than 1 km2.

Ariège (Occitan: Arièja) is a department in southwestern France named after the Ariège River.



Ariège is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution on March 4, 1790. It was created from the counties of Foix and Couserans.

Foix is the administrative capital of the Ariege and 2 other major towns are Pamiers and Mirepoix. Foix is an ancient medieval town with a fine fortress perched on a hill above the town, called Chateau de Foix. The fortress has been attacked many times, including by Simon de Montfort, without anyone succeeding to capture it and it has also been used as a prison. The names of English Prisoners of War can still be seen on the old cell walls. Another famous chateau is Montsegur, spectacularly located on a rocky outcrop at a height of 1200 metres (3900 ft). The present ruin at Montségur is not actually the work of the Cathars. During the siege of 1244 the chateau was largely destroyed and the fortress was largely rebuilt in the second half of the 13th century. The chateau has a painful past for after the fall of the chateau in 1244, more than 200 Cathar priests were burnt at the stake as heretics due to their alternative Christian (Cathar)faith.

Of the other towns in the Ariege, Pamiers offers a large commercial centre and 3 fine churches, Mirepoix is a beautiful medieval town, Saint-Girons is a fine agricultural centre with one of the best markets (on Saturdays) in south west France. Saint-Lizier is a very picturesque medieval hilltop town with winding streets and fine views. The cloisters in the church are definitely worth seeing.


The department is part of the current region of Midi-Pyrénées and is surrounded by the French departments of Haute-Garonne, Aude, and Pyrénées-Orientales, as well as Spain and Andorra on the south.

The geography is dominated by the Pyrenees mountains, which form the border between France and Spain. There are hundreds of miles of well marked paths which lead you to explore the magnificent Pyrenees mountains. The high mountains are easily accessible via good roads, cable cars or by foot. There are a number of lodges providing high level mountain accommodation that is comfortable, warm with good meals, at 2000 m!

There are also a number of fresh water lakes which provide a variety of activities including, walking, swimming, fishing, canoeing, sailboarding and also picnicing.

The Ariege has several of its own downhill ski resorts, the three largest being Ax-Bonascre, Les Monts D'Olmes and Guzet. There are many cross country ski-ing resorts, one of the best being at Plateau de Beille, near Les Cabannes.

The Pyrenees mountain range forms a fantastic backdrop to the entire Ariege Department, rising some 10000 feet (3000m) along the border with Andorra and Spain. The highest peaks are clearly visible visible from Toulouse in the Haute Garonne. It is one of the least populated and most unspoiled regions of France. The locals enjoy keeping old traditions alive, especially farming techniques. Consequently, as less insecticides, for example, have been used, the flora and fauna of the area are rich in diversity and number. Butterflies are seen in huge numbers, birds are numerous, particularly noticeable are the large birds of prey, including the magnificent Griffon vultures.

There are also many unspoiled villages and hamlets tucked away in the valleys close to the department's border with Spain, such as Seix, Cominac and Aulus Les Bain, and picturesque mountain villages, most notably Aleu which comes alive in the holiday season.


Mont Valier seen from the road to Port d'Aula in the Haut Couserans

Ariège stands on the eastern limit of oceanic dominance over rainfall, but other influences are felt:

  • Mediterranean - particularly visible in the vegetation of the foothills, of the valley of the Ariège river towards Tarascon, and in the Pays de Sault;
  • Continental - in the Pyrenean valleys, with many storms and big differences of temperature between day and night.

There is no great tendency to summer drought as the flow of air from the north-west brings rain throughout the year. Rainfall is moderate on the foothills and in some sheltered valleys, measuring 700 to 1,000 mm per year, but increases significantly in the higher valleys with levels between 1,000 mm and 1,800 mm. The slopes exposed to the north-west, such as Aulus and Orlu, are, as one would expect, the wettest, together with the frontal ridges that meet air flow from the southwest (giving rise to the Foehn effect). Snow cover is common over 1,000 metres, lasting several months above 1,500 to 2,000 metres. Some periglacial areas exist over 2,500 m but the only true glacier in Ariège is that of the Mont Valier, near Castillon-en-Couserans.

Temperatures are mild in the foothills: at Foix the average is 5°C in January and 19°C in July. However, they decline rapidly with altitude: at l'Hospitalet (1,430 m) it is 0°C in January and 14°C in July.


The castle at Foix
Cathedral of Saint-Antonin at Pamiers
Covered shopfronts at Mirepoix

The inhabitants of the department are called Ariégeois.

The department has 151,477 inhabitants, or 146,289 as the population without double counting.

The populations of the arrondisements (double-counting) are :

  • Foix – 53,595
  • Pamiers – 69,664
  • Saint Girons – 28,218

The populations of the principal towns (double-counting) are :

  • Pamiers – 15,702
  • Foix – 9,994
  • Lavelanet – 7,068
  • Saint Girons – 7,019[1]


The Ariege department is a largely unknown department which is situated next to the Aude in the most southern part of the Midi-Pyrenees region and shares its borders with the Aude, Andorra, Haute Garonne and the Pyrenees Orientales. This is predominantly a farming area as the soil is rich and fertile and yet more than 50% of the Ariège is mountainous, with 490 965 hectares is covered by forests.

Economic activity
Data Value Date
Businesses created 814 2005
Number of businesses 19 750 15 November 2006
Rate of business creation 10.4 % (Ariège) 9.3 % (Midi-Pyrénées) 9.3 % France) 2003
Unemployment rate 10.4 % (Ariège) 9.1 % (Midi-Pyrénées) 9 % (France) September 2006
Value of Exports 450 M€ 2005
Value of Imports 368 M€ 2005
source : Ariège Expansion

The Ariège Chamber of Commerce and Industry is situated at Foix. The department’s Economic Development Agency (ARIEGE EXPANSION) is at Verniolle.[2] The department has established three ‘business incubators’ to support enterprise in Ariège.


The department has two parliamentary constituencies and twenty-two cantons. Broadly speaking, Ariège has been firmly held by the Socialist Party since the days of the Third Republic, although in recent years the right has managed to make some inroads.[3]

Nevertheless, the department remains one of the most left-wing departments in France, and the left holds all but three of the department's 22 cantons.

The President of the General Council is Augustin Bonrepaux of the Socialist Party.

Party seats
Socialist Party 18
Union for a Popular Movement 2
Miscellaneous Right 1
Miscellaneous Left 1


The region was originally part of Aquitaine and has retained many hallmarks of the Gascon culture and Gascon language.

Ariégeois gastronomy is based on the cooking of Pyrenean regional food, such as cheese or charcuterie from the mountain country. The department is also well advanced in the field of organic farming.


According to the general census of the population of 8 March 1999, 26.5 % of available housing in the department consists of second homes.

The following table indicates the main communes of Ariège in which the number of second homes amounts to more than 10% of total dwellings.[4][5]

Year Town Population without double-counting Number of dwellings Second homes  % of dwellings being second homes
2007 Suc-et-Sentenac 0 0 0 060 0 0 0258 0 0 0225 87.21%
2004 Ustou (Guzet-neige) 0 0 0355 0 01,267 0 01,027 81.06%
2004 Couflens 0 0 0 080 0 0 0275 0 0 0221 80.36%
2006 Boussenac 0 0 0187 0 0 0469 0 0 0363 77.40%
2005 Quérigut 0 0 0137 0 0 0322 0 0 0243 75.47%
2007 Ascou 0 0 0127 0 0 0221 0 0 0163 73.76%
2004 Ax-les-Thermes 0 01,498 0 02,966 0 02,179 73.47%
1999 Aulus-les-Bains 0 0 0189 0 0 0369 0 0 0269 72.90%
2007 Saint-Lary 0 0 0153 0 0 0345 0 0 0246 71.30%
2007 Sentein 0 0 0144 0 0 0363 0 0 0257 70.80%
1999 Biert 0 0 0284 0 0 0456 0 0 0301 66.01%
2005 Montferrier 0 0 0649 0 0 0922 0 0 0604 65.51%
2007 Soulan 0 0 0340 0 0 0453 0 0 0279 61.59%
2004 Rabat-les-Trois-Seigneurs 0 0 0279 0 0 0385 0 0 0237 61.56%
2007 Seix 0 0 0806 0 0 0961 0 0 0560 58.27%
2005 Massat 0 0 0685 0 0 0864 0 0 0502 58.10%
2004 Ercé 0 0 0537 0 0 0581 0 0 0335 57.66%
1999 Saurat 0 0 0592 0 0 0844 0 0 0482 57.11%
1999 Auzat 0 0 0593 0 0 0676 0 0 0381 56.36%
2005 Soueix-Rogalle 0 0 0359 0 0 0424 0 0 0235 55.42%
2004 Les Cabannes 0 0 0344 0 0 0344 0 0 0173 50.29%
2006 Castillon-en-Couserans 0 0 0399 0 0 0403 0 0 0192 47.64%
2005 Savignac-les-Ormeaux 0 0 0396 0 0 0394 0 0 0181 45.94%
1999 Oust 0 0 0515 0 0 0479 0 0 0219 45.72%
2004 Vicdessos 0 0 0444 0 0 0441 0 0 0200 45.35%
2007 Serres-sur-Arget 0 0 0778 0 0 0593 0 0 0248 41.82%
2006 Daumazan-sur-Arize 0 0 0697 0 0 0542 0 0 0200 36.90%
2006 Moulis 0 0 0796 0 0 0572 0 0 0172 30.07%
2007 Bélesta 0 01,105 0 0 0825 0 0 0217 26.30%

Famous people

See also


  1. ^ Census 2009, French National Institute of Statistics
  2. ^
  3. ^ Political atlas of Ariège (in French), consulted 30 June 2009
  4. ^ Census site, INSEE,figures as at 8 March 1999
  5. ^ Estimates of the intermediate census, INSEE, figures as at 1 July 2005

External links


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Ariège is in the Midi-Pyrenees region of France. Midi Pyrenees is a little known area that stretches from Comminges in the west, to the Principality of Andorra in the South, and then borders the Aude and Rousillon in the East. It is a stunning area, well worth visiting for a huge variety of outdoor activities as well as sightseeing and exploring Cathar History. Neil Lands, author of 'History, People and Places in the French Pyrenees' (1980), wrote that Ariege was probably his favourite region in the whole Pyrenees, "mainly because it is full of little hidden valleys with those castles and towers which I happen to like very much". It remains generally very under visited (except for July and August when the French are on holiday) and fairly under populated, giving those who come here a great feeling of space and tranquility.

Cities, towns and villages

The regional capital is the medieval town of Foix, whose 10th century, 3 turreted castle sits atop of a rocky outcrop and lords over the town. This is the ancestral home of the Counts of Foix who at one time controlled the fortress of Carcassonne, as well as sharing responsibility, with the Bishop of Urgel (in Spain), for the running of Andorra for 7 centuries, until 1993 when it was established as an independent democratic parliamentary co-principality. The castle was once a prison but today is a museum of prehistoric and medieval archaeology. It is open from W - Sun from October to April, but closes over lunch. The streets of Foix are very pleasant to wander around- lots of cafe's and small shops. Market day is on a Friday and apart from it being difficult to find a parking space, is well worth going to for delicious cheese, saucisson, fresh veg and bread.

Another town worth visiting for the Saturday market is St Girons, as there are many craft stalls, and homemade wares for sale.

The spa resort of Ax les Thermes is about 40 mins drive from Foix, towards the Andorran border. It is a good base for walkers and cyclists alike, plus gives telecabine access to the ski town of Ax Bonascre and its ski slopes (le 3 domaines). Ax still has thermal waters flowing through the town, and the spa centre is currently under renovation. You can however dip your feet for free in the open air Basin des Landres which is a very pleasant way to spend half an hour or so.

  • Orlu - a very small settlement to the left from the road from Ax les Thermes to Andorra with a very good peaceful camp site and great walks and mountain scenery.
The Dent d'Orlu
The Dent d'Orlu


The Ariege is not a wealthy region, having historically been based around the farming industry and mining iron ore (the Vicdessos valley). The villages are generally small, and many are fairly run down and in need of a bit of TLC. The population is an ageing one as, apart from the Tourism industy, and the mining of talc (Rio Tinto has a talc quarry at the town of Luzenac), there are few employment opportunities. Younger generations seem to head off for Toulouse, but return here to their family homes for holidays, and eventually to retire.

Get around

You really need to have a car to explore the Ariege properly as there are so many little valleys and small villages to see. The place to hire a car is probably when you fly in, either to Toulouse or Carcassonne. Foix does also have rental places though, as does St Girons. There is a very good train service from Toulouse to Ax les Thermes, stopping first at Foix, which does in fact go on to the Spanish border town of Latour de Carol, where you can change trains and continue on into Spain (the line goes to Barcelona). Also, there is a possibility if you are in Toulouse to take a day tour that will take you to the most famous sights in the region and that is organised by Ophorus


Ariege houses the famous castle of Montsegur, with its rather bloody history of the Cathar massacre. The chateau stands on a high pog, 1000 m above the valley, and high above the village of Montsegur. The Albigensian Crusades, that had started in 1208, continued into a second generation of crusaders, who, led by Simon de Montfort junior, began a siege against a group of Cathars living and hiding behind the walls of Montsegur (see Cathar history for more background info). After 9 months under siege, the Cathars were defeated and given 2 weeks to surrender and convert to Catholicism. Over 200 knights and their families were burnt alive when they rejected these terms, and the place is still called 'The Field of Burning'. Now the castle is only a shell, but it is worth climbing the 150 m (ascent) to walk around the ruin, as it is very atmospheric, and the views across the valley are stunning. It is open all year round apart from in Dec/January. The walk is fairly steep and takes about 35 - 40 minutes. Good walking shoes are ideal as it is rocky and can be slippery in places.

While you are in the area, go and visit the medieval town of Mirepoix, which used to be a Cathar stronghold before being destroyed and then rebuilt as a bastide in 1279. The main square is very pretty, with many overhanging walkways and historic buildings. It is a little bit touristy, and almost every other resident is English (there is a big English settlement here), but that certainly helps those who don't speak too much French.

Caves: The area has numerous "grottes" to visit including Labouiche, near Foix, which has a underground river boat ride (3 km long), and the Grotte de Niaux, where you can see some fantastic cave paintings of bison, horses etc dating from 10,800BC. The nearest town to Niaux is Tarascon sur Ariege. Also worth driving through is the famous Mas d'Azil, one of the most famous prehistoric (Paleolithic) sites in the world. The Azilian Age (app. 8000 B.C.), characterized by small flint tools, colourfully decorated pebbles, and finely carved harpoons, borrows its name from the cave. The area was excavated by Edouard Piette in the 19th Century and he interpreted his findings of bone carvings as indicating that man had domesticated reindeer and horses. Occupations at the site range in date from 17,800 to 6500 years BC.


There are several activity holiday companies in the area that have week long group holiday itineraries - search under the relevant activity and the pyrenees, as your keywords for the search.


The Ariege is a haven for outdoor mountain activities. The walking and trekking options are almost endless, and whilst there are not the highest Pyrenean peaks in this region, there are some stunning routes that keen walkers would be foolish to miss. One advantage of the Ariege is that the road network goes fairly high, allowing people to walk to the highest peaks in a day trip. There are some good guide books available eg 'L'Ariege... a pied' which you can buy locally and costs about 12 euros. The GR10 also runs through Ariege, as well as the Chemin de Bonnes Hommes and many others. For those who want to explore the area with an English speaking guide, you might try as they organise week long group holidays in the area. They cover different levels of walking, plus other activity holidays such as mountain biking, road biking and cross country skiing in the winter.

For cyclists among you, the Tour de France come to Ariege almost every year. This year Stage 15 ended up at the Plateau de Beille, an infamous 16 km climb from the village of Les Cabannes up to what is a fantastic cross country ski station in the winter, and a great place for some walking in the summer. At 1800 m it has fabulous views of the Andorran / French border mountains and in summer is normally a fantastic temperature (a few degrees cooler than the valley). There are numerous other cols for cycling up for keen road cyclists.

Cross country skiers are spoilt with a choice of two ski stations, the one at Plateau de Beille (60 km of pistes) and the Domaine du Chioula (another 50 km or so of tracks). The altitude of Beille means that it has an excellent snow record.


The local mountain cuisine is easy to find in the local restaurants: some excellent tartiflette, cassoulet and catalan influenced dishes. The local cheeses, moulis and bethemale (both hard cheeses) are delicious.


The Ariege is not a wine growing region, so it brings in wine from the nearby Aude. Most local are Corbieres, Cahor and Fronton wines. There is not much white wine available in the area, but plenty of very good red and rose. Limoux, just over into the Aude, is the home to Blanquette de Limoux, which is a fantastic bubbly and very economical (about 6E a bottle)



Polfages Self-Catering Gites [1] , Polfages 11420 Villautou (Aude) , Fully modernized self-catering gites , secluded gardens with panoramic views, table tennis, swimming pool. Horse riding available for experienced riders. Children welcome. Weekly Rates from £295.

Get in and out

Toulouse airport (Blagnac) is the main site for travel in and out of Ariege. Foix is only an hour's drive from Toulouse and the fact that Easy Jet and British Airways both run flights in and out, mean that there is a lot of choice of destination to come from in the UK. Carcassonne airport (Salvaza) is also only about an hour and a half from foix and is used by Ryan Air who also offer budget flights.

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