The Ariege department sits in the Pyrenees next to Andorra. it is one of the most unspoilt areas of France populated by people who have held on to their traditions, some still farming in the way their ancestors farmed 100's of years ago. The countryside is wild but easily accessible with numerous species of butterflies, almost 60 species of orchid and birds of prey and where chamois, wild sheep and even bears roam.The mountains harbour trout streams (the fishing season running from March to September) and rivers perfect for kayaking. The Tour de France enters the Ariege on Saturday July 17 2004 just west of Axiat and goes through, Les Cabannes, Tarascon, Vicdessos and Aulus-les-bains as it heads west.
The Ariege is Cathar country and for almost 200 years the area endured sieges, massacres and the Inquisition. The forces of the pope and the French monarchy eventually crushed the Cathars ending in the famous siege at the fortress of Montsegur where over 200 followers of the Cathar faith chose to burn rather than renounce their faith and convert to Catholicism.