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It hardly needs to be said that these are two of the best reasons for taking one's holiday in France. The Ariège is at the extreme western side of the Languedoc and thus is at junction point of the two great areas of the Gers and the Languedoc. In many ways it enjoys the best of both.


To the west you will find Madiran (red), Jurançon (white, sweet or dry - the sweet is often drunk with foie gras) and Armagnac. To the east there is Corbière and Fitou and a sparkling wine, said to be older than Champagne, from Limoux. Further afield to the north west is Bordeaux itself. All of these wines can be bought locally - or you may like to visit the chateaux.


This is a part of the world where it helps to like duck. It almost always turns up on menus and is readily available in many delicious forms - foie gras (preserved liver - a great delicacy), magret (breast), confit (preserved duck, usually the leg), sausages and giblets. Other regional specialities are the great cassoulet, salade de gésiers (salad with giblets - much more appetising than it sounds), Toulouse sausages, croustade (an apple cake/tart) and prunes in Armagnac. Of course, the other French classics are there in abundance too and fish (from both Mediterranean and Atlantic) is plentiful and very good.

Inevitably, one is spoilt for choice where cheese is concerned. The big names of the area include Tome de Pyrénées, Bethmale and Roquefort but in the shops you will find cheeses from all over France. You will also be able to buy very interesting and frequently quite delicious cheeses direct from local producers.

One of the many great things about French food is that it is often locally produced, which means it is fresh and also that there is far more emphasis on seasonal produce than, for example, in England. Spring means wonderfully tender asparagus; when the cherries ripen the French will gorge themselves for two or three weeks; autumn is the time of mushrooms (particularly ceps) and so on. A lot of farms sell produce direct and at the chateau you will find information about local suppliers. Sometimes they are willing to show you round their establishments, which can be very interesting.


It is important to bear in mind that this is an area which is relatively unspoiled by tourism. You will therefore not find a restaurant around every corner as you might in Provence or parts of the Dordogne. However, there most assuredly are some seriously fine restaurants and numerous others where a good meal can be had for an astonishingly reasonable price. One local restaurant is the Auberge Pierre Bayle - a pleasant family-run place in an enchanting small town (10-15 minutes drive). Try to get a table near the window to enjoy a glorious view of the Pyrenees.

If you are prepared to travel a little further a few of the stars are:

La Grignotheque at Saverdun 10-15 minutes drive, Modern French cooking.

La Commanderie at St Sulpice (on the road to Toulouse). A lovely old house behind a spectacular brick collonade. Good food in a pleasant dining room. There is a lovely garden at the back if you want to eat outdoors.

La Tomate du Jardin at Daumazan-sur-Arize

Restaurant Deymier in Pamiers

Au Gré des Saisons in the Hotel de France in Pamiers

L'Hotel Modern et Pigeon (truly!) in Limoux where they make sparkling wine which combines well with a visit to the wine producers' caves.

L'Auberge de Poids Public at St Félix Lauragais - not to be missed if you are over to the east of Toulouse - Michelin starre, delicious food and lovely views.

There are, of course, excellent restaurants in the big towns, particularly Toulouse, Albi and Carcassonne.

Having said that, our favourite evening meal is locally bought food eaten on the terrace at the back of the house on a fine early summer evening while we watch the play of the setting sun on the hills behind the chateau and listen to the cries of the buzzards. Invariably delicious, relatively cheap and no one has to drive home afterwards!

© Chateau St Martin, 2010 Site by: Wizbit