Created in 2009, the Pyrénées Ariégeoises Regional Nature Park has a population of some 43,000. It covers an area that includes the high valleys and soaring peaks along the border between Ariège and Andorra. The summits, including Mont Valier, Montcalm, and the Pique d’Estats, rise to 3,000 metres. The Park also includes the Pyrenean foothills of Ariège and the Plantaurel region, recognisable by its limestone ridges frequently topped by Mediterranean-type vegetation.
This vast area of extremely varied atmospheres, terrains and vegetation is very popular with experienced hikers, who love to explore the areas around Mont Valier and the Étangs de Bassiès lakes. But these valleys and summer pastures, forests and paths are accessible to everyone else too. There are 38 remarkable viewpoints accessible in less than 20 minutes on foot, like the Col de la Core, the viewing table at Balacet and the Rocher du Lauradou Orus near Auzat.
The Pyrénées Ariégeoises Regional Nature Park is also home to a prehistoric heritage unrivalled anywhere in Europe. Must-sees are the decorated caves at Niaux and Le Mas d’Azil, which are Great Tourist Sites in Midi-Pyrénées. They are both part of the 'Ariège, 14,000 years of history' collection, along with the castles at Montségur and Foix and the ancient towns of Saint Lizier and Mirepoix.
One accommodation option is to stay in one of the Park's many 'Terre et Nature' gîtes or chambres d’hôtes, a great base from which to see the local flora and fauna. Indeed, the park helps to protect many endemic species, including the izard, bearded vulture, capercaillie and Pyrenean Lily.