Tarascon-sur-Ariege, a peaceful little town tucked away in the Ariege countryside, in the midi-Pyrénées, on the road to Andorra was not a place we expected to spend a long time in when we arrived in early November 2014. In the end we spent more than 2 weeks there, soaking up the calm atmosphere amid the tree lined Pyrenean foothills and ancient cliff faces surrounding the town. Plus, in addition to the tranquil setting there were plenty of activities and places to visit to keep us occupied. We've listed 7 activities below that makes Tarascon-sur-Ariege, in the midi-Pyrénées, definitely a place to visit and maybe even stay a while.....
1. Discover a Prehistoric Heritage at the Parc de la Prehistoire
The Ariege Department in France is a mecca for visitors and researchers interested in studying the history and culture of Europe's neolithic and paleolithic settlers, particularly in the Magdalenian era from 17,000 - 12,000 BC. The Prehistoric Park is a museum complex just a couple of kilometres outside of Tarascon-sur-Ariege centre. The audio tour of the main museum building (included in the entrance price) is both interesting and engaging, introducing the vast amount of archaeological evidence of prehistoric settlement found in the surrounding area along with life size reproductions and scale models of the many cave drawings found nearby. Set in 13 acres of parkland, the visit also includes outdoor exhibits and workshops such as spear throwing and cave painting.
We were actually a little sceptical before our visit, but decided this was one of the best attractions we paid for all year. The Prehistoric Park really is a fantastic attraction to spend an entire day at for all ages.
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2. See Original Prehistoric Cave Art Deep Underground
The Ariege has more prehistoric caves than any other Department in France. We visited the Caves at Niaux, approximately 6km outside of Tarascon-sur-Ariege. This is one of the few major historic sites still open to the public and contains many examples of Magdalenian era cave art set within a huge underground network of stunning caverns. The tour groups are limited to just 20 people a time who travel by torchlight half a mile into the caves to visit the famous 'Salon Noir' to see the bison, deer and horse depictions. We found it a very moving experience, especially couple with our visit to the Prehistoric Park. There are also other Prehistoric caves that you can visit in the region such as at Lombrives (the largest such cave in Europe, just up the valley from Niaux), Bedeilhac and La Vache.
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|N.B. This photo is of a replica of the Niaux Cave's 'Salon Noir' from our time |
at the Parc de la Prehistoire as photos are not permitted in the actual caves.
In addition to the prehistoric heritage, Tarascon-sur-Ariege is also surrounded by an wealth of medieval history which is equally impressive. Foix, just a 15 minute drive north of Tarascon-sur-Ariege, is the Prefecture (administration centre) of the Ariege Department. With a population of around 10,000, it is the least populous administrative centre of a department in all of France, but is full of historic buildings and other interesting places to visit. In addition to providing a larger town centre for shopping (with a big weekly market on a Friday!) there is a botanical garden, 19th century granary, Castle (12th-14th century), 17th century Abbey, Chateau and Medieval Old Town that make for a very pleasant time spent here.
4. Cycle up a Tour de France Climb
Tarascon-sur-Ariege sits directly upon the Route des Cols, a single cycle route running through the Pyrenees from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The Tour de France is a regular visitor to the area as well, with nearby Foix hosting a stage start or finish in 2007, 2012 and 2014. Some of the highest, longest climbs (such as Plateau de Beille, 1790m and Col du Pailheres, 2001m) start in villages a few miles south of Tarascon in the higher Pyrenees, but there are rides right of out Tarascon as well, such as the Col de Port (1250m), Port de Lers (1517m) and Col d'Agnes (1570m). Or, if you don't feel like a strenuous uphill challenge, there some other flatter rides along the river heading out of Tarascon along to Foix as well.
More Information about Cycle Climbs in the Ariege-Pyrénées
Tarascon-sur-Ariege nestles in the Pyrenean foothills and has lots of opportunities to hit the trail, offering both low level hikes nearby or more strenuous trails a little further south. We completed several stunning mountain hikes in the high Pyrenees a little to the south of Tarascon-sur-Ariege near the Andorran border. There are also numerous huts for overnight stays and several long distance trails such as the GR10 (Pyrenean Way) and the Haute Route Pyrenees (HRP) passing nearby for any visitors interested in a multi-day hike.
More Information about Hikes in the Ariege-Pyrénées
6. Ride on an Underground River
The Labouiche Underground River, a 20 minute drive north of Tarascon-sur-Ariege, is Europe's longest, navigable underground river open to the public. Guides take tour groups on a 1.5km boat ride 60m underground to appreciate the magnificent rock formations and underground waterfall.
7. Visit Montsegur Castle
A site we didn't manage to visit this time, but a place that was strongly recommended by several people we met during our stay in Tarascon and now marked on our map for a future visit. Although a little further away than some of the other activities above (40 minutes by car), the castle at Montsegur perched at 1207m, was once the stronghold of the Cathars, a Gnostic Christian denomination hunted by the Inquisition. In 1244 the Royal Army took the castle after a 10 month siege burned alive over 200 Cathars who refused to renounce their faith. The castle today is a museum tracing those event and the history of the site and Catharism displaying many of the archaeological finds discovered at the castle.
Other Related Posts:
3 Big Hikes in the High Mountains of the Ariege-Pyrénées, France
Tackling 4 Amazing Cycling Climbs in the Ariege-Pyrénées, France - and 4 for the Future!
The Niaux Caves - A Walk Inside The Mountain to a Prehistoric Art Gallery
Parc de la Prehistoire - Connecting with our past in Tarascon-sur-Ariege
Road Cycling in the Hautes-Pyrénées - The Most Famous & Difficult Climbs of the Tour de France
See all Our Hikes in the Pyrenees
See All Our Cycling Climbs in the Pyrenees
|Weekly Market in Tarascon-sur-Ariege on a Wednesday|