Our Holiday Apartments and Chalets in Arinsal, Pal and in Encamp, Andorra
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Exploring the region near Andorra  


Apart from the many things you can do near your holiday apartment or chalet, here are a few suggestions if you would like to visit the area near Andorra.  Barcelona, Carcassonne and Toulouse are, of course, well worth visiting but it takes about 3 hours by car to get there meaning a long day trip.  There other things to visit, closer to Arinsal.

Important: If you are interested in visiting the region, we strongly advise you get as much information (opening times and dates etc) off the internet before you arrive.  This page is just for general information on what you can do near your holiday apartment or chalet in Arinsal.  You will notice that many of the places to visit are in neighbouring France.

The market at la Seu d'Urgell, the cathedral and rafting centre in Spain
Located just 45 min by car from your holiday apartment or chalet lies the town of "La Seu d'Urgell" in Spain.  It is the home of one of the two co-princes of Andorra.    The cathedral of  "second Romanic" or "international" style was built in 1116 AC by St. Ot. There is no entrance fee unless you want to visit the cloister and the romanic museum.  We suggest going to La Seu d'Urgell either on a Tuesday or Saturday morning as the cathedral is surrounded by a typical Spanish market where you can find almost anything, from underwear to flowers via Spanish hams, wild boar sausage and salt cod.

Just behind the cathedral lies the "Parc Olimpic" where the white water kayak events were held during the 1992 Barcelona olympics.  The park is now open to the public (free entrance) and you can go canoeing, rafting and even do hydrospeed there.  The cathedral and the olympic parc are located right in the middle of town are well signposted. 

For more information on la Seu d'Urgell, the rafting, canoeing and kayaking and where to go for lunch afterwards, click here.

The market at Seu d'Urgell
Lunch at Os de Civis (45 min. by car from Arinsal):
Os de Civis  is a pretty little village located in Spain at 1.500 metres above sea-level but only
accessible from Andorra through the gorges of Os. 

The view over the village from its  XII century church is worth the short climb, the houses are well kept and the people are friendly.  You can also enjoy free food and wine tasting in the little shops in the village.  If you decide to stay for lunch, we suggest going to the restaurant "La Font" which is run by the wife of the mayor and makes sure nobody goes hungry.  The typical menu consists of Catalan peasant soup, followed by "pan con tomate", followed by cold-cuts and mixed salad, barbequed chicken, rabbit or lamb, Spanish sausage, blood sausage, french fries, "crema Catalana", coffee and a home-made liqueur.  Phew!!!  Price: about 17,00 E.  Other menu available: paella. 

The village is easy to find.  Drive down towards Spain.  After Andorra-la-Vella, take the first right after the Mercedes/BMW garage just before entering the village of St. Julià.  Follow for Arixovall and Bixessari.  Drive up trough the gorge until you reach Os de Civis.

Os de Civis
The mountain zoo in "Les Angles", France (about 2 hours from Arinsal, sign posted Parc Animalier):
A very interesting place to go, especially with children.  The animals live in very large enclosures and the visit takes about 1h30.  You can see bison, marmots, wolves, bear, elk, reindeer, mountain goats as well as a large range of beasts that you normally don't see in zoos.  The village of Les Angles is nothing special although the ski resort is good.  After visiting the "Parc animalier", we recommend driving down to the lake of "Matemale" (10 min.) where you will find beaches, horse-back riding, sailing, kite flying and a restaurant.

The isard, a relative of the chamois
The solar power plant in Font-Romeu, France (about 1h30 from Arinsal)
The largest solar power plant in Europe.   A permanent exposition explains recyclable energy, the transformation of light and the energy plant itself.  A simulator reproduces the fusion of metal and there is a film presentation which explains how the power station functions.  This gigantic plant  is one of the technological wonders of France and is a European research centre for high temperature studies where experiments are made to study the physical and chemical reactions of materials when exposed to extreme heat.  Over 70 researchers work there, elaborating new heat-resistant materials (airplanes, weapons, tools,  space craft etc.).

The solar power plant
Villefranche de Conflent, France (about 2 hours by car from Arinsal)
A medieval garrison town suffering from arrested development, Villefranche de Conflent is a tourist classic and lives off it, but it is nevertheless an interesting place. Founded around 1100 by the counts of Cerdagne to bar the road to Moorish invaders, remodeled by Vauban in the seventeenth century after rebelling against annexation by France, its streets and fortifications have remained untouched by subsequent development. Worth a look is the church of St-Jacques , with a primitively carved thirteenth-century baptismal font just inside the door, and you can walk the walls for a fee. If you do so, you will see why Vauban constructed the Libéria fortress on the heights overlooking the town to protect it from "aerial" bombardment. There's an excellent restaurant next to the church called "Auberge de St. Paul". Getting up to the Libéria involves climbing a stairway of a thousand steps beginning just across the old bridge and rail line at the end of rue St-Pierre. If you don't fancy the climb, look for the free minibus leaving from near the town's main gate.  There is also an interesting cave called "Les Canalettes" right next to the village that one can visit.  On your way back, we recommend stopping off at the natural hot springs of "St. Thomas".

Villefranche de Conflent
The town of Foix (about 1h30 from Arinsal):
A stroll through the old streets of the town is nice and the visit of the impregnable castle interesting indeed.  Home of the former French co-princes of Andorra and of Henri IV king of France.  If you are looking for French cuisine, a good restaurant is the "Phoebus" which right on the edge of the river and offers a beautiful view of the château.  Another restaurant is the "Sainte Marthe", at the foot of the chateau, known to serve the best "cassoulet" in the region!.

The castle at Foix
Birds of prey at Luzenac (between Ax les Thermes and Tarascon, about 1h15 from Arinsal,sign posted)
At the chateau "Lordat" (856m),  you can see a wonderful demonstration of buzzards, owls, eagles, falcons and vultures in free flight!  These majestic birds will give you a show you will not forget.  Open every day from April to September from 10:30 to 12:30 and from 14:00 to 18:00.  Length of the presentation: about 45 minutes.

Château de Lordac

The Cathars
Catharism enjoyed the support of the great lords of the southwest, including the Count of Foix, whose castle remains intact and dominates the town and which is worth visiting.  The occitan region endured sieges, massacres and the Inquisition during the bloody Albigensian crusade in the 12th and 13th centuries and Ariège was spared little of it. The spiritual movement called catharism developed in reaction to the corruption and disarray of the Church at that time. In stark contrast to the worldly, dissolute clergy of the era, the Cathars followed a rigorous interpretation of the gospels, with the most pious of the believers, called "Perfects", taking vows of poverty and celibacy and refusing to eat meat. It was their belief in dualism, however, that outraged the Church: according to the cathars, Satan had created the material world, with its pestilence, violence and hate, not God. Paradise could be gained after death only by rejecting worldly attachments during one's life.

The castle of Montségur (about 2h30 from Arinsal, sign posted).
The last Cathar stronghold until 1244 when the forces of the Pope and French monarchy eventually crushed the Cathars with the siege of the fortress castle at Montségur, where 205 Perfects chose to be burned to death rather than renounce their faith. Take the 30 minute hike up from the base of the "pog" to see the ruins of the chateau and the spectacular view..  A must for all those that are interested in Catharism.  The ruins of several other castles associated to varying degrees with catharism dot the eastern half of Ariège, including Roquefixade from where you can clearly see Montségur on its lonely hilltop.



The wolf park in Ax-Les-Thermes (about 1h from Arinsal, sign posted "Maison des Loups"):
See wolfs from different parts of the world living in semi-liberty!  Something your children will talk about for years.  The enclosures have watch towers from where you can see these beautiful beasts roaming around.  There is a good French restaurant in Ax-Les-Thermes called "Le chalet", located opposite the thermal baths.  Don't be put off by the "décor" of the dining room nor from the look of the place from the outside. 

"I dare you to climb over that fence"
The Lombrives cave (between Tarascon and Foix, about 1h15 by car from Arinsal, sign posted):
The largest cave in Europe according to the Guiness Book of Records.  Enter a grand, fascinating and beautiful subterranean universe described as the fifth wonder of the world by the famous traveler Jacques Baurès.  Dive in the heart of the wild and strange nature (the mammoth, the witch, Pyrène's grave, the Empire of Satan......)  in complete safety. Year-round temperature inside the cave: 13°C. Good shoes are advised. 

Conducted tours lasting  1h30, 3h or 5h depending on the circuit.  Daily visits every 15 mn from July to August from 10:00 until 19:00. Personalized visits on request. During the summery season there are concerts and light shows..

The Niaux cave (near Foix, sign posted): The visits to this famous cave are strictly regulated in order to maintain an even temperature of 12 degrees C and thus preserve the wall drawings of bison, horses and ibex. July through September there are 11 visits per day of up to 20 people with 45 minutes between each group, including a tour in English at 1pm. Three visits per day the rest of the year (no English tours). A reservation must be made by phoning or faxing (33) 05 61 05 88 37, though outside the summer months you can take your chances and just show up an hour before the scheduled tour. 

The Bedeilhac cave (near Foix, sign posted):  is considered a perfect example of a large Pyrenean cave. Prehistoric drawings, paintings and clay moldings of bison, horses, reindeer and ibex were first discovered there in 1906, the first in Ariège. In July and August the cave is open everyday without interruption from 10 am to 5:30 pm with a guided tour in English at 1pm. Open mainly in the afternoon during other times of the year.

The Vache cave (near Foix, sign posted): at Alliat, near the Niaux cave but lower down in the valley, is the smallest of the caves open to the public. It was long the site of encampments and thousands of man-made artifacts were discovered there. In July and August the cave can be visited everyday between 10 am and 5:30 pm with a guided tour in English at 1pm. Visits at 3:00 and 4:30 in April, May, June and September. By appointment only in winter.

The subterranean river at Labouiche (between Foix and the Bastide de Sérou, about 2h from Arinsal, sign posted) is the longest navigable underground river in Europe. From April to mid November you can take a 75 min. guided boat ride along it.

The "Mammoth" at Lombrives

The river at Labouiche

Painting in the Niaux cave

The Parc Pyrénéen de l'Art Préhistorique at Tarascon (about 1h45 from Arinsal, sign posted).  Open from April through October. Features reproductions of sanctuaries and paintings from other caves in the Pyrenees which are inaccessible or closed to the public. The drawings in the Salon Noir in the Niaux cave are reproduced in their
entirety. Outside, there are examples of the types of shelters constructed by Magdalenien people and demonstrations of flint sharpening, fire building and spear throwing.  The Prehistoric Art Park's outdoor installations also show and explain how caves are formed by water flowing over rock.

A visit to the prehistoric park at Tarascon

Mirepoix (about 2h15 from Arinsal):
Ever wondered where Mirepoix sauce comes from?  Well now you can go there!  Mirepoix is a wonderfully preserved medieval village between Foix and Carcassonne.  The main square has many shops, cafés and bars and the cathedral is breathtaking.  If you would like to go a little further, we definitely recommend going there.

The arcades in Mirepoix

Picture taken from the main square

Ok, ok, here then is the recipe for the Mirepoix sauce.  We thought we'd put this on the web site before you asked us for it:
Ingredients: Bacon, onions, carrots, ham, a bunch of herbs, parsley, mushrooms, cloves, peppercorns, stock, Chablis.

Put the following ingredients into a stew pan: Some bits of bacon and lean ham, a carrot, all cut into dice, half an onion, a bunch of herbs, a few mushroom cuttings, two cloves, and four peppercorns. To this add one and a quarter pint of good stock and a glass of Chablis, boil rapidly for ten minutes then simmer till it is reduced to a third. Pass through a sieve and use for masking meat, fowl, fish, etc.

Ariège, France

Now that you have seen all that there is to do near Arinsal, are you sure one week is enough?


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