An ambition to live in France for whatever reason, immediately brings a much bigger question, Whereabouts? It’s a very big country!
Would you prefer to be near a city or large town?
Do you want to be near to the sea?
Do you want the summers to be the sunniest, and hottest?
Are you hoping to find employment in France?
For any of these requirements, look elsewhere!
However, if you want a peaceful, country retreat, with fantastic mountain views, good local food, friendly neighbours, and reasonably priced properties with very large gardens, then look no further than Ariege.
The department of Ariege is in South West France, being part of the Midi-Pyrenees, south of Toulouse. To the West is St. Girons, Pamiers is to the north, the medieval town of Mirepoix is to the east, and south are the Pyrenees mountains and Spanish border.
Ariege has a population of less than 150,000, so is the least populated department in France. However, it is well served with shops and supermarkets, together with local shops and numerous weekly markets.
An abundance of space, no traffic, no parking problems, and un-polluted air are further benefits of the region. Farming is the main occupation, normally livestock or crops.
A quiet time is enjoyed in the winter months, apart from the ski resorts at Ax Les Thermes and Guzet, and the hunting of wild boar and deer. The winter season is colder than some parts of France, but strong winds are rare, although there may be a sudden heavy snowfall perhaps twice between January and March.
The whole area comes to life in the summer. The holiday gites and Chambre D’Hotes will be full, as this is a fantastic and popular holiday destination for all ages, both for French families and overseas visitors. Almost every weekend there will be a fete with dancing, music and other entertainment for the local villagers and tourists to enjoy. Many towns hold a music festival on midsummer’s day.
There are underground rivers and pre-historic caves to explore plus the longest show caves in Europe at Lombrives. Climb up to the Chateau Montsegur, perched on a high rock, 1200 metres up, which was the last stronghold of the Cathars. Centrally, and high up overlooking the historic town of Foix is an enormous chateau, now also a museum. Take a country drive to reveal the beauty and excitement of the area.
A large central part of Ariege has recently been declared a French natural park. Enjoy here the dedicated cycle tracks, horse riding, fishing, mountain walks, or swimming in rivers and lakes. There are many species of birds, butterflies and all manner of wildlife.
Although Ariege enjoys its peace and quiet, it is not remote. Close by is Toulouse to the north, with its major international airport, and Carcassonne to the East. Both the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, Andorra and Barcelona are easily accessible by road.
So if Ariege seems to tick the boxes in your wish list, then pay a visit before too long, as many ex-pats have already discovered its secrets, and have taken the plunge.
'by Tony Butcher who owns Le Chateau de Rhodes, a French holiday chateau in the Ariege region'