What makes for a perfect holiday is different for everyone, but the Ariège can cater to some diverse demands. Here, you can relax by the pool, cycle into a village for croissants, discover magical walking trails, try adrenalin sports, admire exotic wildlife and rare flowers, take a dip in a mountain river, eat in fabulous restaurants, sit on a shady café terrace, wander around colourful markets, take in a bit of local culture and spend your evenings watching the sun set, glass of chilled rosé in hand.
To be able to offer all this would be asking too much of most holiday destinations, but in the Ariège, all of this (and more besides) is to be had every day. The Ariège must be one of France’s best kept secrets and we are spared the excesses of summer overcrowding, unlike many other holiday regions. The unspoiled beauty of the countryside and empty roads means there is space to explore while the towns, villages, churches and chateaux have as rich a history as just about anywhere. The food, local produce and farmer’s markets are some of the best you will find anywhere in France.
This region also has quite a different feel compared with much of France. Maybe this is because of the ever-present and always-changing picture postcard backdrop of the Pyrenees; surely Europe’s most dramatic mountain range. Yet, for some reason, these peaks are not dominating in the way the Alps can sometimes be.
Quite the opposite in fact; the landscape here almost feels protected by the mountains, which gently encircle the valleys without being suffocating. They also make for the most perfect natural adventure park; almost every sport and activity is on offer from tennis and golf to canoeing, horse-riding, paragliding and hot air ballooning as well as skiing and snowshoeing in winter.
And if you start craving some city culture, just an hour away is the lovely city of Toulouse. Although this is one of France’s fastest growing and wealthiest cities, it manages to retain a charming laid-back ambience, perfectly suited to its status as the capital of South West France. There are plenty of very smart (and expensive) shops, world-class restaurants and chic ‘Toulousains’ but there is also a large student population and a strong Spanish influence giving the city a vibe all of its own.
You can easily spend a day just wandering from one café-lined square to another or you can take in some more serious history and culture at some of the excellent museums and galleries; my favourite is Les Abattoirs, a contemporary art gallery that easily rivals Tate Modern.
Mostly I write about how this lovely part of South West France is the perfect place to live. If however, you are looking for a retreat from everyday life for just a week or two, this is a holiday destination that is hard to beat
for just about everyone. And, if you fall in love with the region while you are here, I am certain I will be able to find you your dream French property so that you can come back every holiday.