Transcript for Episode 488: Hidden Treasures of the Ariège Department

Categories: Occitanie, Off the Beaten Track in France, Toulouse Area

Discussed in this Episode

  • Pamiers
  • Foix
  • Mirepoix
  • Camon
  • Vals
  • Saint-Lizier
  • Saint-Girons
  • Ax-les-Thermes
  • Mas d'Azil
  • Lavelanet
  • Andora
  • Roquefixade
  • Mounjetade
  • Château de Montségur
  • La Vache
  • Parc de la Préhistoire
  • Mas d'Azil
  • Labouiche
  • Les Forges de Pyrène
  • Parc Naturel Régional des Pyrénées Ariégeoises
  • Lake of Bethmale
  • La Maison des Loups
  • Goulier
  • Ax Trois Domaines
  • Plateau de Beille
  • Couserans
  • Gabriel Fauré
  • Réserve d'Orlu
  • La Grotte de Niaux
  • Grotte de Bédeilhac (summer music)
  • Grotte de Lavelanet
  • Museum of History of Textiles


[00:00:16] Annie Sargent: This is Join Us in France, episode 488, quatre cent quatre-vingt-huit.

Bonjour, I’m Annie Sargent, and Join Us in France is the podcast where we take a conversational journey through the beauty, culture, and flavors of France.

Today on the podcast

[00:00:31] Annie Sargent: Today, I bring you a conversation with Elyse Rivin of Toulouse Guided Walks about the Ariège Department.

The Ariège is a lesser-known treasure trove of natural beauty, wonderful sites to visit and very good culinary offerings as well. It’s all the way south in France and it goes all the way to the Spanish border.

I think it’s a haven for adventurers, families, and anyone looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the more crowded tourist spots. Much of Ariège is not that touristy, but we’ve talked about it in several episodes, I list them in the show notes, you know, and why do we keep talking about this place? Well, because Elyse and I live nearby, we’ve gone many times and we wanted to do an episode where we do an overview of the entire department for people who are considering a visit.

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[00:01:23] Annie Sargent: This podcast is supported by donors and listeners who buy my tours and services, including my Itinerary Consult Service, my GPS self-guided tours of Paris on the VoiceMap app, including my brand new food tour of Paris, which I’m very excited about, or take a day trip with me around the Southwest in my electric car.

You can browse all of that at my boutique

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The Magazine segment

[00:01:59] Annie Sargent: For the magazine part of the podcast, after the interview today, I’ll discuss the ‘Night at the Museum’ or ‘Nuit au Musée’.

It’s coming up in Paris in May.

Exploring the Ariège Department: A Hidden Gem in France

[00:02:18] Annie Sargent: Bonjour Elyse.

[00:02:19] Elyse Rivin: Bonjour Annie.

[00:02:20] Annie Sargent: We have a fun conversation today, we’re talking about the Ariège department in our part of France. It’s beautiful, scenic, but not very touristy.

Touristy for outdoors things, mostly.

Right. So this is a haven for francophiles who are also people who love an active vacation, such as bike rides, hikes, nature discoveries, fantastic with people that have kids, it’s a part of France that normally doesn’t get super hot, but it could certain days of the year. You never know.

And of course it’s an area we know well, because it’s very close to Toulouse. And so we’ve been there many times, but we wanted to give you the rundown of all the great things to do in the Ariège Department.

[00:03:15] Elyse Rivin: It’s a department that is, it actually starts as Annie has just mentioned, very close to Toulouse. It actually starts about 20 kilometers away from Toulouse, technically, and it goes into the highest part of the Pyrenees Mountains. And it is fronted or bordered, if you wish, by Spain and the tiny little kingdom of Andora which is an anomaly, we can say, on the South side.

It’s fairly big. It turns out that 40 percent of it is considered to be a regional park, which in France means that it’s got a certain amount of preservation, but unlike big parks in the United States, for instance, it includes towns and villages and things like that. That doesn’t mean that it’s a park where there’s nothing in terms of commerce or building or anything like that.

It’s just…

[00:04:03] Annie Sargent: Right, because in the US I learned when we were visiting the Appalachia that the, I think it’s called the Big Smoky Mountains, there’s a park in there where they actually removed all the people that were there to create the park. And in France, they never do that. Right. They just, they kind of put strong restrictions on development, but they let the people who are there live there, you know.

[00:04:33] Elyse Rivin: Exactly. So it’s a department that is very varied in its geography because the part that’s the furthest north, closest to Toulouse, is relatively flat. It’s not completely flat.

It’s like little rolling hills and nice, very soft little valleys. And then you get into the part that’s the foothills, and that’s where there’s some very interesting things to do and see,and then you get into the high mountains. And it covers a vast territory because it really on the eastern side, the department to the east of it is the Aude, and you’re already in a more arid kind of climate. And then on the west, it goes into the highest and wettest part of the Pyrenees, which really top over 3000 meters.

The Rich History and Culture of Ariège

[00:05:15] Elyse Rivin: So it’s big, it’s not that developed, it is a department that historically had a massive emigration, at the beginning, in the middle of the 20th century, even before World War II, it was very poor. It was very rural, which of course it still is. And so there were masses, and masses of people who left.

[00:05:33] Annie Sargent: This is typical of most places, I guess, in the world anyway. And a lot of them went to the cities, and then a lot of them went to the United States. That’s ironic, but if you go to New York City, for instance, a whole lot of the French restaurants there are Ariègeois. I don’t think they went there being chef de cuisineto begin with, but a lot of the establishments that have come down through several generations are actually owned by families that left the Ariège to go elsewhere. Well, and it is true that if I had been born in the Ariège I might not have thought this was an excellent place to stay for the rest of my life. Yeah, I mean, it’s underdeveloped, it is very rural, there’s some fantastic attractions, but no big industry, no, you know…

Reviving Abandoned Villages and the Textile Industry

[00:06:23] Elyse Rivin: One of the few industries that did develop, and actually existed I think, for a couple of hundred years was the textile industry. But unfortunately after World War II, a lot of the bigger companies took over a lot of the manufacturing.

And so there’s a town, we’ll mention it when we talk about some of the museums and things, but there is a small town called Lavelanet, whichis where the center of all this textile manufacturing was. And now there’s one company left, and there’s a museum, butit is true that with the changing in the demographics and the people needing to go where there were lots of jobs, a lot of these little towns and villages wound up being pretty much abandoned. And it’s only when tourism really became important and agricultural green tourism really brought people back. Years and years ago I met someone who was with a group of people, this is my first traveling through France, this is my hippie days, everybody. I met a group of people who had bought a village.

[00:07:22] Annie Sargent: Wow.

[00:07:23] Elyse Rivin: In the Ariège. At the time, and I’m talking a long time ago, but this is like maybe 35 years ago, apparently there were these abandoned villages that the local government, I guess, was selling for a pittance for people to come and move back in and work on fixing up the houses as even country homes so that there would be life brought back into some of these valleys.

I don’t you can do it anymore.

[00:07:46] Annie Sargent: Well, perhaps someone who wants to start a commune or some sort of crazy cult, you could do it in the Ariège.

[00:07:52] Elyse Rivin: Oh, you can, you can, they’re actually, don’t, she’s laughing, but unfortunately the bad side of all this, this is talking about, this is not about tourism, so don’t be worried because it’s gone and over with. But about 15 years ago, there was a village that’s actually not far from some of the places we’re going to talk about, that not only was just taken over by a bunch of crazy hippies, but became a cult, you know, it was like it was run by some crazy guy.

No, it was aboutMassat.

[00:08:19] Annie Sargent: Massat.

[00:08:19] Elyse Rivin: Oh, the Bugarach is something else. Yeah. That, yeah, it’s in the Aude, right?

[00:08:24] Annie Sargent: So Massat…

[00:08:25] Elyse Rivin: M A S S A T. Yeah. Yeah. And I don’t know how they got rid of everybody, but it was one of those places where it was like out of one of those horrible Stephen King books or something like that. They’re not there anymore. Everybody don’t worry about it.

[00:08:39] Annie Sargent: Listen, I’m in the middle of listening to The Stand again. What a book!

[00:08:43] Elyse Rivin: Is that Stephen King? Yes. Oh, he scares me. I don’t read him.

[00:08:47] Annie Sargent: Most of it is not that scary. It’s just, it creates really weird situations, yeah.

[00:08:52] Elyse Rivin: Anyway, the Ariège is really homey. I guess I, since I have friends who have summer homes that they go to regularly, because it’s so, it’s really within an hour’s drive to get to a lot of the pre-Pyrenees, lots of people have nice little places that they’ve either worked on or, you know, that kind of thing, that go there even for weekends because it’s really not that far away.

A wonderful place for hikes

[00:09:14] Elyse Rivin: So it’s an area thatis kind of user friendly, I would say. It’s not spectacular in the, unless you’re into really high mountains and going hiking in the, you know, up above 2500 meters. And some people do. I mean, it’s just beautiful, you know? But otherwise it’s just, it’s nice, I like it there, it’s green most of the time. And it’s got lots of interesting little things to discover.

[00:09:37] Annie Sargent: Right, right. So we’ll talk about, I mean, maybe I should mention this right away, I looked in Komoot, which is the place to go if you want to look for hikes and bike rides in France, but I’m sure in many other countries as well, and they list something like,

I think it was 93 easy loop hikes in the Ariège. And there was something like 290 something intermediate and perhaps 70 or something that were expert hikes. So when they say expert, I think they mean thatyou need to bring equipment and things like that.

Lots and lots of hiking, lots and lots of mountain biking, and you can really find a gîte in the Ariège for not very much money. Okay? It’s an ideal place for people to go who enjoy just hikes and bike rides and having a good meal at the end of a long hike.

And nature walks, you know, we’ll talk a little bit about some of the places. It is a great, great, great area to go if you are doing a vacation with children and you want to have outdoor things to do, take them to places where they have what the French like to call animation for children, for, you know, showing how things are done, getting them to participate.

It’s that kind of a place. And the other thing is, French trails are well-marked.


[00:11:00] Elyse Rivin: It’s really comforting to know that even the easy ones generally are very, very well indicated. So, you can start out on a trail, they will show you usually a sign which shows you the route that you’re going to take, how long it might take, the distance and everything.

And it’s something that I think is very good in France,the trails and the way they’re taken care of.

[00:11:22] Annie Sargent: Right, and in the weeks when kids, French kids are on vacation, then they do animation, like you were mentioning. So they’re going to have stuff like, we have someone to show them how to do, you know, pottery like they used to, or do jewelry like they used to, or things like that. It’s not really hands on because you, but you watch someone doing it.

And I think it’s very fun for kids. You can find stuff like that year round, but it has to be during school vacations.

[00:11:51] Elyse Rivin: In the summer they have.

[00:11:52] Annie Sargent: In the summer, yes, but that’s school vacation, right?

[00:11:55] Elyse Rivin: Right, that’s true, yeah, that’s true. You’re right.

Discovering the Charm of Ariège’s Castles and Towns

[00:11:57] Elyse Rivin: But let’s start with the stuff that probably most people are used to visiting, which of course would be castles and villages.

France certainly has thousands, everywhere. Andeven though this is not the, there are not that many in the Ariège that are so super spectacular, there are a few that are really great.

[00:12:17] Annie Sargent: Right, so it’s not the Loire Valley.

[00:12:19] Elyse Rivin: It’s not the Loire Valley, and it’s not the Lot either in that sense, but it’s got its own claims to fame, we can say.

[00:12:27] Annie Sargent: Sure..

Pamiers, Ariege’s biggest city

[00:12:27] Elyse Rivin: As far as towns go, Ariège, the biggest city is 20,000 people. Okay? So put things in perspective. That is the City of Pamiers, which quite honestly is not particularly interesting from a touristic point of view.

[00:12:41] Annie Sargent: Right. No, I was there, I looked around a little bit, not that long ago.

Like all French towns, it has a few streets in the city center that are okay, but the rest of it… ehh. And they have one very famous composer, Gabriel Fauré, who was born there, his house is there, and they’ve talked forever about doing a museum to Gabriel Fauré. And it doesn’t seem to be gaining speed, which is unfortunate because he is, in my opinion, one of the very best composers out there. Just love everything he’s ever done.

[00:13:13] Elyse Rivin: Pamiers, it turns out, it’s interesting because it’s not the county seat of the Ariège, but it’s the economic center. It’s where there’s the most business, where there’s a certain amount of high tech business that’s set up there, and they have these huge shopping centers.

So, if you can imagine a huge, huge, huge county, where the biggest town is 20,000 gives you an idea of how rural it is, right?


[00:13:38] Elyse Rivin: And Foix, which is what we’ll talk about because it has some super things to see and do there, is further into the foothills of the Pyrenees, and that is the Prefecture.

So how did they work that out? I don’t know, but they didn’t give it to the biggest town, they gave it to the one that’s the most spectacular. I have no idea why. They fought over it. Who knows? They tossed a coin. I have no idea, you know? But Foix is the ancient capital of what was Counts, you know, whole area in the Middle Ages.

So it has a huge, huge, huge amount of history, medieval history going up through into modern times. And it’s famous for its castle.

[00:14:14] Annie Sargent: Right.

[00:14:15] Elyse Rivin: Which we went to last year with our bootcamp group. It’s fabulously spectacular when you come in driving a bus car. It doesn’t make any difference, actually, I think, even by train because it’s sitting up on the top of this rock, and you have a background of the landscape of the Pyrenees and it is really, of course it’s been restored and it’s visitable right now. It’s part of it is closed for making it accessible to handicapped, but it’s been very, very well restored and it is a perfect example of what was in the middle ages, a real fortified castle, with all of the accoutrements of a fortified castle to defend itself, you know, for fighting with everybody.

[00:14:56] Annie Sargent: Right, so the only reason why we’re not going back to Foix with the bootcamp in 2024 is because they, like you mentioned, they closed it to make it wheelchair accessible. And I think it’s closed until July?

[00:15:08] Elyse Rivin: I think it’s closed till the beginning of July.

[00:15:11] Annie Sargent: Right. But otherwise we would have gone back. And I just drove through there twice this week because I had to go back and forth to Spain and I always drive through Foix, well, not always, but usually I drive through Foix. And you can see the castle, but you know, blink and you’ll miss it. Like, from the road, you need to be looking out for it.

It’s like, from the freeway, the Cité de Carcassonne. You can see it briefly, but otherwise it’s hidden by trees. But at any rate, it’s a lovely, lovely place. And it’s also a fact that that side of the mountain, when you get to Foix is right when it’s going to start going up, and up, and up, and up across the Pyrenees.

And then you’re going to hit the two tunnels that take you through to Spain, which are the Tunnel du Puymorens and the Tunnel del Cadi on the Spanish side. Anyway, it’s a beautiful mountainous place, and if you want to enjoy the mountains rather than try and go, you know, fast, then don’t use the tunnels.

[00:16:12] Elyse Rivin: And that is the area where you start to really see the different levels of mountains. And that’s where a lot of the interesting things are, the valleys that go criss-crossing across East West in that part.

Château de Montségur

[00:16:23] Elyse Rivin: The other castle, of course, which is, I mean, it’s a castle, but let’s face it, it’s really just a pile of rubble, but it’s so famous that it’s worth climbing up to the top, and that of course is Montségur.

[00:16:35] Annie Sargent: Right. Montségur is a great hike. I wouldn’t say it’s an advanced hike, but you need to have good knees. It’s up, and up, and up, and up for a good 20, 30 minutes. So don’t do that if you have terrible knees. I did it several times when I was younger. Now I’m not sure if I would do that again, but it’s the sort of place where you pay a few euros to enter the site towards the bottom and then you hike up. And there are some tours that you can do there, but not year round.

You know, if you happen to be there when there’s a tour on, it’s worth doing.

[00:17:12] Elyse Rivin: Yes. It’s definitely worth doing. I know vaguely the guy who lives there, actually in the tiny village, there’s a village of Montségur, which is just down below, which is actually charming. It’s teeny weenie. It’s very pretty. It has a tiny museum with the history of the whole siege of Montségur, because Montségur is famous because it was the last stand of the Cathars.

And we’ve of course talked about the Cathars in several podcasts, but this is the place that was the final battleground where they stood off against the armies, and there’s a whole dramatic history attached to it. So you need to know that when you go up to the top, you’re really, you have to use your imagination to see what the castle might’ve looked like at the time.

But, it is a fabulous sight, and there were days when it’s shrouded in clouds, you never know ahead of time, unfortunately, this is that part of the Pyrenees, but if it’s a nice day, it’s really worth it. If your kids are not too small, they might also be able to make it up to the top, but it’s a good hike back and forth.

So anyway, this guy, his name is Fabien, and he does tours.

[00:18:17] Annie Sargent: In English, as well?

[00:18:18] Elyse Rivin: I don’t know.

[00:18:18] Annie Sargent: Yeah, I’ve heard him in French, but I don’t know if he does English.

[00:18:21] Elyse Rivin: And it’s his thing, you know, he’s written a couple of books about Montségur, I mean, he just sort of adopted the mountain.

[00:18:26] Annie Sargent: But he’s also a fairly good historian, like, he doesn’t bullshit people. I mean, there’s a lot of tour guides that they spew mostly bullshit.

[00:18:33] Elyse Rivin: There are a whole series ofrunes of castles that are theoretically part of the history of the Cathars that criss cross East West, basically from there going towards the Mediterranean, but this is the most famous and the most spectacular. Really.

[00:18:47] Annie Sargent: Yeah.

Château de Roquefixade

[00:18:47] Elyse Rivin: Now there’s another one on the other side of the valley, if you have a car, which you probably need to do this anyway, it’s called Roquefixade. And the biggest difference between the Roquefixade and Montségur is that Roquefixade, you can actually drive all the way up to the top.

Right. It’s pretty easy.

It’s pretty easy. And it’s on the Southern side, so even on a kind of gray day, you usually have a little bit more sun and warmth when you go to the side, Roquefixade, and you can see the top of the crenellation of Montségur from there, and it’s a ruin, but there’s a tiny little hamlet up on top with a place that has a refuge for hikers, and you can get a coffee there and everything, which of course at Montségur you cannot do, it’s purely the ruins. And it’s kind of neat if you do one, if you have the time to just go down and go up the other side and do the other, it gives you a perspective and try to imagine what it was like in the 900s, 1000s, when these people lived like this, oh my God, we would never be able to do this now, you know,

[00:19:42] Annie Sargent: It would be rough on us.

[00:19:43] Elyse Rivin: It would be really rough on us, huh?

Yeah. Where would we get our internet? I don’t know. It just wouldn’t work. I don’t think it really wouldn’t work. And then of course, there are two or three villages and towns that are really pretty. We mentioned Foix, which is interesting because it has this very old, very small city center, really tiny when you think about it, that’s just down below the castle, little windy streets with some restaurants and shops and things like that. And the rest of the town has sort of built up around it in a more modern way. But one of the prettiest towns, and I say town because I’m not sure where something stops being a village and becomes a town.

It’s like, it doesn’t matter, I guess, you know.


[00:20:25] Elyse Rivin: And that is Mirepoix, which is further north, in the flatter part of Ariège. Actually is not that far south from Carcassonne, if you’re going towards Carcassonne, you can do a detour and sort of veer off to the south and then come back up towards Carcassonne. It’s two thirds of the way there between Carcassonne and Toulouse.

[00:20:46] Annie Sargent: Right, so Mirepoix, in my mind, is more like Aude than Ariège, but it is in the Ariège.

[00:20:52] Elyse Rivin: It’s Ariège. Yeah, and it’s famous for its beautiful, beautiful colored medieval houses that have been very well taken care of and very well preserved. It’s a very good example of the medieval towns that were started actually in the 1200s because of the war with the Cathars, these towns that were called Bastide, and we’ve talked about a few others, but this one is incredible because it’s kept its original grid system, you know, straight rectangular, criss-crossing streets and it’s maintained, it’s well preserved houses on all of the streets in the old city center.

The market square is huge and it’s very famous. There’s this huge market one day a week. And then there’s this cathedral.

The cathedral, interestingly enough, is not one of the most famous ones, but it’s got some very interesting painting on the inside. I actually, the last time I was there, they were trying to do a little bit of restoration on a piece of it because, you know, they get kind of moldy on the inside from humidity.

And one of the problems with very old cathedrals is that if you don’t have a lot of money to fix them up, they start kind of crumbling on you, you know?

[00:22:02] Annie Sargent: Yeah. They do, Mirepoix does a fête médiévale every year. I think they also do a theater festival at some point. Anyway, it’s a lively town with some fun events if you happen to be there at the right time.

[00:22:16] Elyse Rivin: They even have an apple festival.

[00:22:20] Annie Sargent: There you go.

[00:22:21] Elyse Rivin: For people like me who love apples, you know, it’s like… Perfect.

In the fall, I think it’s in September, they have an apple festival.

[00:22:28] Annie Sargent: This is a small town, but it’s a very lively town and it’s not as wet as the rest of the Ariège.

[00:22:35] Elyse Rivin: And it is a center of tourism. This is a place, there are lots of people who have secondary homes in and around this area. It’s a place where it’s easy to find someone who speaks English, which some people find great. Lots of people don’t. But it is a good place to go to find out about a place maybe to stay, to rent a gite, or to rent something else, because it is a hub for this kind of thing, in the area, yeah.


[00:22:59] Elyse Rivin: And just to mention a couple of others that are very, very tiny, but are very pretty, that are very close by. One of them is this very pretty tiny little village called Camon, which is famous for having beautiful roses in front of every single house. People go there, there’s a rose festival at some point during the year. And it also hasthe remains of, I don’t remember now to be honest, if it’s the bishop who was living there, one of the bishopsof the cathedral in Mirepoix had a second home there. It’s only a few miles away. But it’s actually partly occupied still. It’s a renaissance house. It’s absolutely gorgeous. And there are a few days a year when it’s open to the public. So it’s very pretty. It’s just kind of off to the side. It’s just a couple of miles outside of Mirepoix.


[00:23:44] Elyse Rivin: And in the other direction, a very special place, which hopefully will reopen, called Vals, which is not even a village.

It’s, I think there are five houses there. It used to be a bigger village, but it’s famous because at the beginning of the 20th century, they discovered that there was a troglodyte church there. Troglodyte meaning, of course, it’s underground or carved out of the rock. And in the process of trying to reinforce it, they discovered that there are frescoes in there that date from the 900s or 1000s, so it’s very cool.

These are little spots that you can visit when you’re in that area going in and out of Mirepoix.

[00:24:24] Annie Sargent: And this year we’ll go with a boot camp to Mirepoix, and perhaps Vals if can ever catch the mayor who has the key to the church.

[00:24:32] Elyse Rivin: Catch the mayor, yeah, grab him by the arm, you know, it’s like either that or I go and make my own key, you know. But at this point I think what they’re doing is they’re reinforcing a little piece of rock. I think that’s what the problem was, so I have to…


[00:24:44] Annie Sargent: Okay.



[00:24:44] Elyse Rivin: And then there’s Saint-Lizier, which is on the other side of the huge department, it’s a fairly big department. I don’t know what to compare it with, but most of what we’ve been talking about so far has been more or less the southeast part of the department. Saint-Lizier is a very impressive little village, that’s perched up above the hills, but it’s on the southwestern part of the department.

[00:25:07] Annie Sargent: Right, so if you go to, if you drive to, what do you call it, uh, yeah, so Saint-Girons and Saint-Lizier is right after, and that would be on your way to Lourdes. Or Luchon. Or Luchon, yes. Yes.

[00:25:21] Elyse Rivin: And Saint-Lizier is a little jewel. It’s incredible. It’s this tiny, tiny little village perched up on top of this big hill.

It’s, we’re really in the foothills of the Pyrenees.


[00:25:32] Elyse Rivin: Down below is a relatively important town called Saint-Girons, which is really a commercial center. And Saint Lizier is famous for its cathedral with its paintings on the inside and for the Bishop’s Palace. And then it has a few, very, very well preserved little medieval streets.

All the houses have been fixed up. It’s impeccable. It’s clean. It’s very beautiful. It’s just the most amazing little spot. And it even has a couple of cafes, if I remember correctly, where you can actually sit and get a coffee or have lunch. And it’s really amazing to find.

[00:26:06] Annie Sargent: Right, so I’ve been in that area a few times because my brother’s country house is not far from there.Unfortunately, that stretch of road between Saint Gaudens andLourdes, for some reason, there’s accidents there all the time, terrible accidents. So if you drive it, just be careful.

I don’t know what it is with locals overtaking in dangerous places or things like that, but I’ve seen some really startling accidents in that stretch of road.

[00:26:31] Elyse Rivin: What a shame. The town down below, which is the main town, which is how you get, have access to Saint-Lizier, is actually, has a road that goes from there to Foix. It cuts across the bottom of the foothills of the Pyrenees. So rather than going south into the mountains for Lourde and Louchon, you can actually go from one side to the other, but if you’re in that area, it’s worth going up and stopping and seeing, you know.

Lavelanet and the Museum of History of Textiles

[00:26:54] Elyse Rivin: And then just one of the town that I just want to mention, but it’s closer again to Montségur,it’s actually somewhere on the road between Mirepoix and Montségur, and it’s not because the town is pretty, this is the town that was once the center of all the textile industry.

And it has, and there are very few, and Annie’s going to mention a couple of them, but it’s one of the few places that has an interesting little museum, and it’s a museum of the history of textiles, and I’ve been there twice, partly because I’m interested in that, and it has this collection of looms from the Middle Ages, up through the industrial times and it has a couple of rooms that they’ve, you know, reenacted or set up like what would peasants have looked, their houses look like where the people had the loom and it shows how they collected the wool as mostly, of course, wool from the sheep. And the whole history over several centuries of the development of the textile industry in this area.

So it’s kind of interesting. And I think, but I’m not as certain, that in the summer they have some days when they have little activities where especially kids can participate and stuff like that.

[00:28:00] Annie Sargent: You didn’t didn’t name it. It’s Lavelanet.

[00:28:02] Elyse Rivin: Lavelanet. Oh, sorry, I didn’t.

[00:28:03] Annie Sargent: Oh, you do this all the time, Elyse. You talk about a place without naming it. I’m like, give it the name!

[00:28:08] Elyse Rivin: I’m looking at the name of it. I didn’t name it, Lavelanet.

See, Lavelanet. Yes, I’m sorry. Lavelanet, which is really on the road between Mirepoix and Montségur.

[00:28:19] Annie Sargent: Very small place, but with a cute little museum, so why not?

[00:28:21] Elyse Rivin: Very cute little museum.

(Mid-roll Add Break 2 seconds split)

[00:28:23] Elyse Rivin: Okay, so that basically takes care of our castles and towns, in a sense.

Ariège’s Fascinating Caves

[00:28:30] Elyse Rivin: There are a couple of other places that we can talk about, but let’s go to one of the things that’s one of the most important attractions in the Ariège, and that is, it’s caves!

[00:28:41] Annie Sargent: Definitely. The painted caves or non-painted caves. There are some both.

[00:28:46] Elyse Rivin: Yep, painted or non-painted. So, the Ariège, of course, because a section of the mountains is limestone, like in the area around the Lot in the Dordogne, has lots, and lots, and lots of caves, lots of spaces like that.

La Grotte de Niaux

[00:29:01] Elyse Rivin: And one of the most important of the decorated prehistoric caves, is in the Ariège, and that is the cave of Niaux.

[00:29:11] Annie Sargent: Yeah, La Grotte de Niaux.

[00:29:15] Elyse Rivin: And one of the reasons why this is so special is because there are very few of these caves left where it’s the original work. It’s not a reproduction.

It hasn’t been fixed up. And to add to that, this particular cave is only for the hardy because it’s over a kilometer inside on uneven territory. There is no electricity. You walk through with a miner’s lamp on your head.

[00:29:41] Annie Sargent: It’s in your hand.

[00:29:42] Elyse Rivin: Oh, I went with it on the head. You had it on your hand? I had my head.

And you go, it’s relatively uneven territory, I mean, you just have to watch your footing. But what you see along the way is lots of little marks and indications of human activity. And then you get to this very special place called the Rotunda, which is where you have the drawings, that are so famous, and which of course are,there is a certain concern that eventually they will start to be covered with calcite and then eventually it will stop bringing people inside.

[00:30:14] Annie Sargent: Right, so they limit the number of visitors already. This is one that you have to book in advance, you won’t get in at the last minute, and they do one or two tours in English each day, it just depends on the time of year. And they have a whole website, the Ariège has a whole website where you can reserve all of these things on the same website, which is a clever way to do it.

Because the, you know, not every one of these venues has what it takes to maintain a good website.

[00:30:46] Elyse Rivin: No and this one, I went back to the website the other day and it’s interesting because they have what in French would be an avertissement, it’s a warning, it just tells you if you are not able to do a certain kind of walk on your own, you do not go in. I went in quite a few times when I was working with different groups and I knew one of the guides that there are specialty guides that work in this cave. And this is one of those caves where they’re ultra, ultra serious. If anybody does anything wrong, they just take the whole group and take them right back out of the cave.

[00:31:19] Annie Sargent: Right, and there are some minor difficulties, like when you, there are places where you have to bend down and step up at the same time. Which is not something most of us do, so if you’re not super coordinated or if you have balance problems, it’s not something I would recommend.

[00:31:38] Elyse Rivin: However, if you are able to do this kind of walking, it’s fabulous. Because it gives you an idea of what it must have been like for the people, this is late prehistory, so we’re talking ten, twelve thousand years ago, the more recent part, if you want to call it that.And the fact that they would go in this far into a cave, to do these drawings and they did it apparently with a ceremony because the guide will have you make sounds because there’s perfect acoustics in this enormous underground cathedral, that’s what they like to call it.

So clearly, there was some kind of ceremonial aspect to do all of this. So it’s really wonderful if you’re able to get into this cave.

[00:32:16] Annie Sargent: Right, and they don’t, they didn’t live in the cave, they just went in to paint, we don’t know why, but they did. I think it was their church, I don’t know, that’s my idea. Perhaps, perhaps.

[00:32:26] Elyse Rivin: Something like that. Across the valley is something that most people don’t know about, it’s the corollary to it, it’s called La Vache, the cow. I’ve been there!


And it’s neat because it’s a small one, and this is one where they found remnants of the fires that they made, because most of these groups lived not deep inside a cave when it was wintertime, but they lived at the openings, you know, they took shelter in some of these other kinds of caves. And then, of course, they were nomads because they went with where the herds of animals were, but it’s fun because they have a small collection of the objects that were found at the time.

So it, they assume it was the same group of people that in fact went across the way to go to their ceremonies, you know? Right.

[00:33:06] Annie Sargent: Right, so they found a ton of, so they found tiny bones, I’m pretty sure it was in La Vache that they have lots and lots of thickness of snails, because they ate snails. I mean, you could catch snails, right? They’re easy food.

[00:33:20] Elyse Rivin: Snails and rabbit bones, if I remember correctly.

[00:33:23] Annie Sargent: Rabbit bones, I think so as well. So it’s an interesting place to visit and it’s, you need to do a tiny little walk up the hill to get to the entrance. It’s not open year round, so check the website and all that, but it’s a fun little visit.

[00:33:40] Elyse Rivin: And in conjunction with all of this, and by the way, if I remember correctly, you can do this on the same ticket.

Parc de la  Préhistoire

[00:33:46] Elyse Rivin: You can get a ticket for the Parc de la  Préhistoire

[00:33:49] Annie Sargent: Which I’ve been to as well.

[00:33:50] Elyse Rivin: And this is really wonderful if you have children, because it’s not only have they reproduced inside in a way that’s to get an idea of the size and the layout, they have reproduced what we could call a miniature version of the whole cave of Niaux, but of course it’s big, you know, anyway, you walk through these hallways.

But outside they have acres where they have all of these activities, you know, and they show how people lived in the prehistory and how they madetheir food and how they prepared the leather for clothing and how they made fire and all of this kind of stuff.

And it’s really fun.

[00:34:26] Annie Sargent: This is where you realize they were hardy. We are not. Well. Maybe if we had to be, we would be, I don’t know.

I suppose.

[00:34:36] Elyse Rivin: Necessity, right? But it’s really a lot of fun. There’s even a cafeteria there. You know, it’s a place you can stop and have a quick bite to eat. It’s very, very well done. And it really goes in conjunction with a visit to the caves. And if you can’t for whatever reason, go actually into Niaux, go there, because it will give you a good idea.

[00:34:55] Annie Sargent: Yeah, it’s a fun visit, especially with children. But I went, I don’t remember if I don’t remember if I went with my daughter when she was, maybe she was 15 or something, you know, we still loved it.

[00:35:06] Elyse Rivin: It’s fun.

Mas d’Azil and Its Surroundings

[00:35:06] Elyse Rivin: And then, on the other side of the Ariège, on the southwestern side, we have Mas d’Azil

[00:35:12] Annie Sargent: Ah, yes.

[00:35:14] Elyse Rivin: And,Mas d’Azil is also very well known, but of course it’s a little bit different. It’s, I don’t even know exactly how the correct word from a geological point of view, it’s an enormous opening in the mountain.

[00:35:26] Annie Sargent: The river dug it through.

[00:35:29] Elyse Rivin: The river dug it, right? So it’s this huge, huge, huge opening. I was just back there two weeks ago. We were, I was checking it out for us. It’s a site that’s visitable and it is a site that the people in prehistory lived in. But to be honest, it’s interesting to do if you’ve already seen some of the decorated caves because basically the visit inside just shows you the different levels of this enormous cavity and where the different groups may have lived and things like that. But there’s nothing, there’s no decorated walls. There’s no painting or designs or of marks or anything on the walls. And they simply have reproduced a few, they’ve made some photos to give you an indication of the objects that may have been found. Because this was a place where a lot of these different groups actually lived.

And the town of Mas d’Azil, which is very cute, actually, a very nice, charming little town, which is a mile away,it has a small museum that is open in the high season, and that is where they have put many of the objects that they have found inside the cave of Mas d’Azil.

[00:36:36] Annie Sargent: Yeah, so you can actually drive through that, and I think that’s one of the problems is they need to get rid of the cars again, because when you’re inside, what’s left is a river with a sidewalk and a road.

And I think they should just get rid of the cars and it would be much more pleasant to just enjoy the river without cars zooming by.

[00:36:59] Elyse Rivin: Yeah, well, they can’t because it’s the access to the town.


But this time when I was there two weeks ago, they take you up all the way up to the top, they show you the different levels because apparently at the time that the people lived there were talking again, 10, 12, 15,000 years ago, the access in was not exactly the same as it is now. But it was interesting, but it’s certainly nothing like going to a Niaux or something like that.

[00:37:22] Annie Sargent: Right. Yeah, it’s a secondary, yeah.

If you’ve seen everything else, perhaps.

[00:37:26] Elyse Rivin: Yeah, exactly. It has a nice little picnic area along the river, I mean, it’s just, you know, it’s that kind of a stop.

But if you’re looking for something to get an idea of what we talk about when we talk about the decorated caves, no, you need to go to Niaux.

Adventures in Ariège: Caves, Rivers, and Crafts

[00:37:40] Elyse Rivin: And then Ariège has other caves. So I’m just going to mention two. One is Labouiche, which is not far from Tarascon-sur-Ariège, which is the town you go through to get to Niaux.

And also the Parc de la Préhistoire is right there.

And it has an underground river. And it turns out that this is the longest underground river gallery in, so far, that has been discovered in Europe. So we mentioned the one up near Rocamadour.

[00:38:10] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Le Gouffre de Padirac.

This one is similar in that you can go in and take a boat ride on the underground river, and it has these absolutely gorgeous, you know, formations and things like that.

And it’s pretty cool. I’ve done it, it’s very cool. I recommend it.

Yeah. One of the things about this is that it’s great to decide to stay in this area for a few days, and then there are lots and lots of different things you can do.

Yeah, you do one a day.

And then the rest of the time you hike or you do nothing.

[00:38:39] Elyse Rivin: And you eat, which is great too.

Yeah, we like that.

Grotte de Bédeilhac

[00:38:42] Elyse Rivin: And then there’s one other cave in this area that I’ve actually visited called the Grotte de Bédeilhac.

And this isknown for its formations, for its stalagmites, stalagmites, stalagmites. It’s close to Foix, both of these are pretty much in the same, just general area. It doesn’t have, it has a few marks left by, you know, handprints from prehistory, but basically it’s a very beautiful cave.

In the summer, they have concerts in there. It’s kind of neat. It’s not the kind of place you have to feel claustrophobic because there’s a really big, big, big, big open space inside, but it’s kind of neat to go to listen to some music that echoes off of the walls in the summertime. And I remember, this is quite a number of years ago, going in there and somebody was telling me that because the opening is so enormous, that in World War II, there were a few planes, you know, this is the beginning of the World War II when they just had these small little planes.

When the Allies came into this part of Southern France, they hid some of these little planes in there before they used them to take off and give supplies to people. I’m not even sure what they did.

But, you know, I mean, little histories that are attached to places like this.

Les Forges de Pyrène

[00:39:49] Elyse Rivin: Yeah. And then a place that’s one of your favorites, Les Forges de Pyrène.

Les Forges de Pyrène: Great for Families

[00:39:52] Annie Sargent: Yes, so I really like that place. It’s kind of a, a park where they try to, so they had a forge,

they have a massive hammer, that still works, you can see it in action, and what they do is they, they block off the water in the stream that runs by the house, and then they let go of the water all of a sudden.

And it activates this huge hammer that can shape anything into anything. And it’s, it’s a very beautiful place. It’s a place where they explain how people used to,all the paysans, all theagricultural workers would bring their tools to be sharpened or fixed to this area. And they also have workshops for kids where they show you things like pottery and all different things.

It’s fantastic with kids, I think, because, and again, it’s not open year round. It’s not open every day. You know, you have to go to the website and make sure it’s open, but I thought it was a great visit because it helps you see what it was like. And it’s the sort of place where you do, you go, you spend two or three hours, you bring your picnic and then throughout the… they give you a schedule.

So at this time they do this workshop and then half an hour later there’s another one, etc. And so you want to stay a little while to enjoy all the workshops.

I thought it was great.I remember, I’ve only been there once, I think, but my husband loved it, you know, it was like, it was all this kind of metalwork and then woodwork and, you know… It is, it really shows you the inventiveness of humans before we had, you know, hydraulics and all this stuff that we use today that makes life a little bit easier for things like that, you know, it is pretty impressive.

A lovely place to visit, really. And you don’t get to see metal work up close like that very much, but there you can see it. They actually work the giant hammer.

[00:41:48] Elyse Rivin: Do you remember if they sell any of the things that they make? I don’t remember.

[00:41:52] Annie Sargent: Probably because they, I remember them explaining about nowadays, you know, if you’re…

If you, how do you say pioche in English?

[00:42:02] Elyse Rivin: Anyway, you used to get them fixed and to get them fixed you had to go to a place to a place like this, but nowadays you just buy a new one, right, which is kind of unfortunate.

[00:42:10] Annie Sargent: I think the only ones, the only forgerons and forgers that still exist are for making horseshoes, I think.

It’s a pickaxe.

[00:42:19] Elyse Rivin: Oh, pickaxe. It’s a pickaxe. Oh, wow.

Embracing Nature and History in Ariège

[00:42:22] Elyse Rivin: Okay, talking about houses and things like that, we’re going to… now, basically everything from now on in is really about nature, and a town that I actually didn’t mention, cause I was going to, I guess include it in the part that talks about hiking and skiing, there is another town in the Ariège called Ax-les-Thermes.

Ah, yes.

It’s up in the mountains on the way to Andorra. It’s fairly high up. It’s famous for its thermal baths. That’s why it’s called the Ax-les-Thermes. And for being basically the hub of all the skiing andthe serious hiking in the southeastern part of the Ariège.

[00:43:03] Annie Sargent: And last time I went through there, it was snowing.

[00:43:05] Elyse Rivin: Yes, it gets lots of snow. It’s really, we’re in serious mountain country. It’s very interesting, it’s, I don’t know, I mean, you can’t really say it’s beautiful, but it’s typical of a really nice, lively mountain town. There’s one day a week that has a market which I’ve been to, it’s really fun. It has lots of hotels. It has the thermal baths. It has lots of shops for people who need to get stuff to go hiking or skiing. It’s a major center for all of this.

La Maison des Loups

[00:43:33] Elyse Rivin: And if you go from there on this very windy road, you get to a park that’s called La Maison des Loups.

There you go. I went with my husband once, you know, he takes me on these roads and I go, Oh my God, where are we? And we’re going to fall off this cliff and that’ll be the end of it, you know, and lo and behold, at the end of it is this nature preserve, and it’s an interesting center. It’s actually a center that’s for preserving wolves from all over the world and for doing research on them genetically.

But at different times of the year, during the holidays and everything, it is open, and it’s a great place to go with children, and not just by, you know, I love, I am fascinated by wolves, so I want to just go up and say hi, you know.

But it’s great, it’s a whole big park, with, you know, a whole bunch of acres, and it’s a fascinating nature site to visit.

[00:44:22] Annie Sargent: I haven’t been, so this is when I should go, because,

[00:44:25] Elyse Rivin: It said, you know, it’s got educational things and it explains about the lives of wolves and how they’re not these big bad animals and stuff like that. And they’re kind of neat because they have wolves from all over, and the Canadian, and American wolves, and the Siberian wolves, and I don’t know if they get along with each other. I hope so.

Parc Naturel Régional des Pyrénées Ariégeoises

[00:44:43] Elyse Rivin: And then we get into, of course,this is the other half of what it is to be in the Ariège. Just mentioning a few things. I mentioned very quickly at the beginning, 40% of the department is this regional park called the Parc Naturel Régional des Pyrénées Ariégeoises which means it’s got a certain amount of protection. It’s kind of like the Bureau of Land Management would be in the States. There are villages, there are gites, there are all kinds of things inside this area, but it’s a vast area. It’s got some of the skiing sites, it’s got some lakes, it’s got valleys, and it goes high up into the mountains.

Just to mention very quickly, there are two lakes. One of them is the Réserve d’Orlu, which also has hiking trails and an animal sanctuary and a few tiny villages, andsome gîtes that are inside this area. It’s a really beautiful part of the higher part of the mountains, but it’s not inaccessible.

And in the summer, there’s actually a shuttle that can take you, if you want to go and do some serious hiking, they actuallyare nice enough to take you to a starting point higher up. And then there’s the area around the lake of Bethmale, which is in the region called the Couserans, on the southwestern side of Ariège, and the Bethmale is famous for its cheese.

[00:46:02] Annie Sargent: Oh!

[00:46:03] Elyse Rivin: Oh, I expected you to say cheese away

[00:46:05] Annie Sargent: No, I didn’t.

[00:46:06] Elyse Rivin: You know, Bethmale is one of my favorite cheeses. It’s a cow cheese from the Pyrenees. That’s a hard cheese, but not super, super, super, super hard, like a Conté.

It’s a little airy inside. It’s very delicious. I really love it a lot. And it’s madein the town, the little village of Bethmal, which is right on the lake. It’s very pretty. I’ve walked the lake a few times. What’s nice here is that, if you go, you can do a cheese tasting, you can see how they make it, but also it gives you an idea of what a typical Pyrenees town or village looks like. Because they have a special kind of architecture, which of course, you know, from your brother’s house and area too, that’s very specific to the Pyrenees.

[00:46:47] Annie Sargent: So. I’ve had Bethmale cheese. It’s just not one of my favorites. It’s like a Tomme kind of cheese.

[00:46:53] Elyse Rivin: It’s like a Tomme, but with a bit more taste. And now, maybe because there’s more demand for it, they also are making a Bethmale that’s made with sheep’s milk, not just with cow’s milk, you know, which…

I might like that better.

Sheep’s milk is always sharper. It’s always a stronger taste in the end, but it’s a very nice little area and this is a place where if you go down into this valley, because it’s, you go up and then down into the valley where the lake is, you have two or three very cute little villages and then these little chapels that are very old.

It’s just very picturesque and a very sweet area to walk around in if you’re not into going to the higher part at 3000 meters.

[00:47:29] Annie Sargent: Yeah, this is easier to do, this is for most people can do this.

Short season for skiing

[00:47:33] Elyse Rivin: Yeah, this is really nice. And then you have skiing. Believe it or not, of course, this is not as famous as the Alps, but there’s a lot of skiing in the Pyrenees, a lot.

[00:47:43] Annie Sargent: But the season is short.

So like it’s been like it started snowing 10 days ago and they’re probably going to have snow for a month and that’s it.

[00:47:53] Elyse Rivin: This year, there was no snow earlier. I think that was the problem, right?

[00:47:57] Annie Sargent: The season is short. This is not a place where you can, you know, book a vacation a year early to go ski there. This is not the Rockies, okay? We have snow sometimes. And if there’s snow, locals go skiing. But you wouldn’t come from across the world just to go skiing there, because you would never be sure if there’s any snow be snow or not.

But I think it depends because to the part that’s Haute-Garonne and to the west, the stations are higher up and they are more permanent ski stations.

The Ariège, it’s more, there’s a lot of cross country. There are smaller stations. They’re not stations for people who are super expert skiers, I think. There are two or three close to Ax-les-Thermes, Font-Romeu is, I think it’s technically in the Aude, but it’s that whole area.

And yeah, and it depends on the year. Like this year, you’re right, there was no snow until recently, but now there’s oodles, and oodles, and oodles of snow. So there’s high avalanchewarnings at this point.

Okay, so there’s a meter of snow, but in the Rockies, you have five, six meters of snow.

So it’s not the same. Of the ski stations you mentioned, as you mentioned, Ascou, Goulier, Méjean, Donnezans, Les Mondolmes, and Guzé. I’ve skied at Les Mondolmes and Guzé. The other ones,I’ve never even heard of them.

[00:49:09] Elyse Rivin: And Ax Trois Domaines, no? That’s the biggest one, well that’s the big one, that’s the big one, that’s near Ax, yeah.

And then there’s the Plateau de Beille,which is very close to where my friends have a small country house, which is great for doing a little cross country skiing. It’s really pretty. It’s a nice plateau high up, you get to see some of the mountains. It’s family skiing. This is, you know, it’s not super serious. You know, my stepson is a ski monitor in Courchevel. I don’t talk about the Rockies, I talk about the Alps because that’s what I know.

[00:49:39] Annie Sargent: Right, but there’s more snow in Courchevel usually.

[00:49:41] Elyse Rivin: Oh, well, the Alps, you know, usually gets a lot more snow and it’s a lot more serious, serious, serious, you know, downhill. Although there are some stations on the western side of the Pyrenees thathave more skiing than these stations do, but it’s kind of nice. It’s just all, I would say it’s all very low key.

If you’re around in the wintertime and you want to get a little feel for these kinds of things in the Pyrenees, and you’re not here on a vacation, that’s just for skiing, you know, you’re not going to go to these places for that.

Culinary Delights and Leisure in Ariège

[00:50:08] Annie Sargent: All right, we got to get back to the food and then call it a day, woman!

Food, food! Talk about food! Okay.

The Bethmale and the cheeses, the Le Moulis, which you probably would like more because it’s a little bit sharper than the Bethmale. Again, you’re not, these are not your favorites.

Mountain cheeses, not so much.

I like them, see, I like them. It’s like the Comté, I like. Though the three mountain cheeses that are harder are the Bethmale, Le Moulis, and the Tomme des Pyrénées , which is very creamy and very, very mild.

It’s the least tasty in the sense of it’s the creamiest, really. And then you have La Croustades.

Yes, I like that.

Yeah. Well, you know, we both do. What can you do? It’s sugar, you know, it’s…

[00:50:46] Elyse Rivin: And then,they have, I didn’t know, I’ve never had it, I wonder if it’s good, it’s called a “velouté de chataignes”. Have you ever had it?

[00:50:53] Annie Sargent: I’ve not had it, but I’m sure I would like it because I like everything chestnuts.

[00:50:56] Elyse Rivin: Oh, you like everything chestnut? Okay. See, you have to like everything chestnut. That’s not my thing. Yeah. I just, I don’t know why I’m just, okay, I can take it or leave it.

And then the last thing, I don’t know how to pronounce it, it’s the Ariège version of cassoulet.

[00:51:09] Annie Sargent: Okay. It looks like Mounjetade to me.

Okay. But Mounjetade is what I would say.

We’ll call it Mounjetade if you want, that’s fine.

It’s exactly that. It’s the Ariège version of a cassoulet. Don’t ask what the difference is. I haven’t figured out. I don’t either.

[00:51:23] Elyse Rivin: No, but it looked pretty good when I was looking at the pictures of it yesterday.

[00:51:27] Annie Sargent: So in summary, in summary, my friend, lovely place to go for a leisurely vacation, especially for families, especially for people with young kids that want to have a little something to do every day. You know, an outing that we can go do as a family every day, but that also wanna take it easy. And perhaps enjoy your swimming pool time or some good meals or make crepes together, or something, you know, like the sort of low key vacation that we enjoy in the Southwest that I think would suit lots of people as well, but not the sort of place you go because, you know, you need to check things off your list. This is a low key, lovely area.

[00:52:12] Elyse Rivin: Absolutely, and it’s less expensive than a lot of other parts of France.


And lots and lots and lots of places to rent.

[00:52:21] Annie Sargent: Right, lots of these places have, because lots of French people have a family home of some sort, and sometimes they don’t use them very much, and sometimes they rent them out.

[00:52:33] Elyse Rivin: And they have gîtes and they have Airbnb, and all that kind of stuff, you know, pretty much everywhere.

[00:52:36] Annie Sargent: Yeah, not a lot of hotels – hotels. This is a sort of place where you should plan on cooking for yourself, going to the local stores, making your own stuff.

There are some restaurants and some hotels, but not lots of them, you know. If one of the things I have done is look at how many visitors does the Ariège get every year? Well, of all the departments around here, it’s the one that gets the least. Yes, it gets the least because, you know, Haute-Garonne gets the most, surprisingly, because of Airbus.

There’s a lot of visitors that just come for work.

Aude gets quite a bit, Pyrénées Orientale gets a bit, but the Ariège not as many. I think you should go, I really think it’s a beautiful place to go spend a leisurely week or so.

[00:53:25] Elyse Rivin: Absolutely.

Merci Elyse!

De rien, Annie.

Au revoir.

Au revoir.


Thank you Patrons

[00:53:37] Annie Sargent: Again, patrons get the episode as soon as it’s ready and ads are free because I want to thank them for giving back and supporting this show. There are several exclusive rewards besides the episode ad free, and you can see all of that at

New patrons

[00:54:02] Annie Sargent: And a shout out this week to new patrons: Kalena and Janet, and welcome back to John Schoenlein and David Whitehead, and to all of my current patrons, it’s wonderful to have you on board in the community of francophiles who keep this podcast going.

Patreon just added a messaging feature, so we’ll be able to message back and forth when there’s things happening. So that’s going to be exciting. And you can get to all of that through the Patreon app, you log in and a lot of things are going to appear that you can enjoy as patrons.

How to Support Elyse

[00:54:39] Annie Sargent: To support Elyse go to and when you do, please don’t click on ‘Join for free’ because if you do, you won’t help me, or you, or anybody else. Instead, choose your membership level of support. And it starts at $2 a month.

Thank you, Isabel Colescott for your one time donation. Let me remind everyone that you can tip your guide on, look for a green button.

Isabelle wrote: Annie, I really appreciate your podcast knowledge and wonderful conversations with the many people you’ve had on your show. You do an amazing job and have found your calling. Your podcast has been so helpful to me in so many ways. Thank you. Thank you, thank you for the kind words Isabel, and thank you for supporting this show.

Reviews for the Latin Quarter Tour

[00:55:27] Annie Sargent: Somebody left this review of my Latin Quarter Tour this week. Very nice way to explore the city. Highly recommended. The narrator is just perfect. Well, thank you. With the amount of information to keep one interested, and we actually pause in so many places to go inside churches and the garden, just how we wanted to explore the neighborhood.

Well, thank you very much, whoever you are.

And you know what? I realize that most of you don’t ever think, Oh, yippee, I’m going to the museum and I will listen to the audio guide. No, you won’t. If the last audio guide you listened to was 20 years ago and it was boring as can be, I hear you. I know that audio guides can be boring.

I do not write boring audio guides, okay? I just don’t. So, try one and I think you will have a good time.

Another review of the Latin Quarter, this person knows me from the podcast probably. He says: Annie is just wonderful to listen to while walking the city. We would have missed so much had it not been for her. My wife and I are blown away.

Well, thank you very much for posting that review.

And if the podcast is leaving you wanting more, I offer two levels of itinerary consultation on Zoom. It’s all explained on But yes, I’m still offering this service and still doing Zoom calls with people who need a consult about their trip just about every day, and that’s a wonderful thing for me to do, I really enjoy my time talking to my listeners.

Night at the Museum

[00:57:00] Annie Sargent: The Nuit des Musées, Night at the Museum, it’s back for its 20th edition, and it will take place in Paris and in a lot of cities in France and throughout Europe, as a matter of fact, on May 18th, 2024. Some places will have special conferences, some will have shows, concerts. Most of them will be free and open to the public, but many require a reservation, so make sure you visit their website to see what’s what.

Here are a few of the museums that are participating in Paris: La Conciergerie, so that’s next to Notre Dame, l’Orangerie next to the Louvre, L’Hôtel de la Marine, also not far from the Louvre, on the Place de la Concorde, La Bourse du Commerce, now we’re on the other side of the river, Les Halles, and that’s actually if you walk my food tour, you’ll walk right to the Bourse du Commerce.

In the Marais, they have the Picasso Museum, the Museum of Jewish Art and History, the Swedish Institute, which is also in the Marais, the Centre Pompidou, Archives Nationales, Maison de Victor Hugo. And in Saint Germain des Prés, they have the Polish Library, which I didn’t know was there.

The Latin Quarter, there’s the Curie Museum, and that’s not open very much, so it’s fun that it’s going to be open on that Saturday.

Grande Galerie de l’Evolution, which is a marvelous, marvelous place that I think anybody should go to. The Museum of the Paris Prefecture has a special event planned. I think it’s going to be just spooky because it’s about the, it’s about big thieves in Paris and murders and things like that. I’ve been to that museum. I should really do an episode about it. It’s a very fun museum, but it’s not open all that much.Le Musée du Service de santé des l’armées at the Val-de-Grâce, so Val-de-Grâce is another beautiful, beautiful place, not open very much, so it’s, it would be a great place to go, I think, if I were in Paris that day, I might try that one, or, oh, I’m not sure, maybe I would go to the École des Mines.

So that’s by the Luxembourg Garden. Yes, oh, I’ve been wanting to go to that one. They also have the Musée du Luxembourg is going to be open, the Musée de l’Histoire de la Médecine, Maison Auguste Comte, who was a philosopher. So philosophers have museums in France. How about that? The Orsay Museum is going to be open.

Le Musée des Plans Reliefs, the Legion of Honour Museum, the Musée de l’Armée, where Napoleon’s tomb is. The Canadian Cultural Centre is going to be open. The Museum of Freemasons, didn’t know it was there, but there you go. Gustave Moreau, who was a painter. Anyway, I didn’t list all of them, if you can believe it.

Lots and lots of places are going to be open in Paris on May 18 in the evening. So most of these things start at 6 p.m and they go till 9 typically, okay? So I hope you get to go, and if you are in Paris on May 18, look up the websites, try to get a ticket as soon as possible because they sell out, they will only hand out so many tickets for these events.

My thanks to podcast editors Anne and Cristian Cotovan who produced the transcripts.

Next week on the podcast

[01:00:25] Annie Sargent: Next week on the podcast, the trip report with Joel Jocelyn. He spent 21 days solo in France. He went to a lot of different places and some of it worked out great and some not so much, and it’s important to keep it real, so we discussed his highs and his lows on this trip. And I think you will enjoy hearing all about that.

Thank you so much for listening, and I hope you join me next time so we can look around France together.

Au revoir!


[01:00:53] Annie Sargent: The Join Us in France travel podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Annie Sargent and Copyright 2024 by AddictedToFrance. It is released under a Creative Commons, attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives license.



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Categories: Occitanie, Off the Beaten Track in France, Toulouse Area