After the buzz and bustle of the city – whether Paris or Lyon, Marseille or Nice – consider a visit to one of France’s most unspoiled regions. Imagine the majestic Pyrenees dissected by rushing rivers and overlaid with valley upon valley. Next to Andorra, the Department of Ariège hugs the central Pyrenees, where every imaginable outdoor recreation is available – kayaking, cycling and hiking along parts of the ancient pilgrimage route across the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Now you can take in the extraordinary views enjoyed through the centuries by Gallo-Romans and bishops at the beautifully-renovated Domaine du Palais. A virtual ‘sea of mountains’ is your backdrop for dining on the terrace, and the 3-star apartments combine comfort and hospitality with authentic preservation of the remarkable palais.
If you are drawn to magnificent Gallo-Roman sites, the citadel of Saint-Lizier is a fountainhead of monuments – the ramparts, the 11th-century cathedral with Romanesque paintings and the 14th-century gallery of the cloister. One of the many treasures of the Bishops of Saint Lizier is the collection of gold and silverwork dating back to the Renaissance. As one of the renowned stops along the pilgrimage route to Spain, Saint Lizier is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Prehistoric caves, Cathar chateaux and escape routes used during World War II bear out that Ariège has long been a place of refuge and resistance. With the help of locals, over 33,000 French and 6,000 servicemen fled from the Germans along secret escape trails that brought them safely across the border. Apparently Franco ‘turned his head’, as members of the French resistance and downed Allied airmen escaped to Spain.
Beyond the spectacular natural setting and fascinating historic routes, the innate charm of the region is captivating – narrow lanes flanked by ancient stone walls, promenades along shaded river banks, picturesque streets and plenty of wide open green land. Colorful local markets draw the mountain folk to area villages to sell their livestock and re-supply their pantries.
Is it any wonder that the Tour de France always makes annual treks through this astounding region?
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