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BEST TILL LAST IN AX-3-DOMAINES - Ian Anderson, Ax Les Thermes
Sunday April 14, 2019 - Email this article to a friend

As a first time visitor to the area of Ax Les Thermes in the French Pyrenees, Ian Anderson came away impressed.





The skiing is all over for another season in this lovely corner of the French Pyrenees.

But not for the first time in this region the best was saved till last.

Make no mistake, this is a gem of a resort.

There's a good mix of blue, red and black runs, but the emphasis is mainly on the blue - perfect for someone like me - a confirmed intermediate.

Ax-3-Domaines - French PyreneesAx-3-Domaines - French Pyrenees
















Ax-3-Domaines - French PyreneesAx-3-Domaines - French Pyrenees
















The top station at 2,300m offers spectacular views of the surrounding Pyrenean peaks.

From here you can enjoy wide undulating runs back down, but you won't want to hurry as the snowscape up here is so beautiful.

Ax-3-Domaines - French PyreneesAx-3-Domaines - French Pyrenees
















Ax-3-Domaines - French PyreneesAx-3-Domaines - French Pyrenees
















See here for more about the French Pyrenees.

If skiing among snow-laden trees floats your boat, there's plenty of that too lower down, on wide even pistes.

Giving you plenty of space and confidence to work on technique, and a bit of extra speed.

Ax-3-Domaines - French PyreneesAx-3-Domaines - French Pyrenees
















Ax-3-Domaines - French PyreneesAx-3-Domaines - French Pyrenees
















There are 37 pistes in all, with 80 km of runs.

If absolute convenience is your thing, stay in the purpose built village of Bonascre at 1400m just above Ax.

Otherwise, leave your skis in the hire shop at the end of the day and take the telecabin down to the town.

Then stay in one of the many hotels or apartments within a short walk, even in ski boots.

There's also plenty of cross-country skiing, snow shoeing and even dog sledding available at the Ski Nordique centre at Plateau de Beille, 30 kms away.

Outdoor thermal spring - Ax Les ThermesOutdoor thermal spring - Ax Les Thermes
















There can't be many resorts where you can plunge your tired feet (for free) into 70ºC of spa water at the end of each day.

But you certainly can in Ax.

There are a special series of pools has been built just off the town square.

They are fed by one of the many thermal springs which are dotted around the town and, in the 19th Century, made the place famous.

Ax Les ThermesAx Les Thermes
















From there it's a short walk to a good range of bars and restaurants, along generally traffic free cobbled streets.

Ax Les ThermesAx Les Thermes




















If the weather closes in, or you just want a day off skiing, you can take advantage of the town's thermal baths, Les Bains du Coloubret.

Or go exploring further afield in an area of France more steeped in history than most.

This is Cathar country, and one of the most famous castles from the era, Montsegur, is a short drive.

There are others too, and in fact there's a Cathar walking trail you can follow from the city of Foix, the departmental capital of the Ariège.

Old town of Foix - French PyreneesOld town of Foix - French Pyrenees




















The castle here makes a truly magnificent sight - three towers on a rock promontory guarding the routes into the surrounding valleys.

Simon de Montfort, who made it his bloody and brutal business to wipe out the Cathars, besieged Foix on several occasions.

It held out, and when you see the vertiginous walls rising above the town, you can see why.

Of equal interest to the day visitor will be the wonderful choice of reasonably priced restaurants along the Rue de Faurie, one of the narrow old streets below the castle walls.

There's a range of independent shops to make most English towns blush.

One of the other delights of Ax, if time allows, is discovering the side valleys out of the town, such as the Vallee d'Orlu.

Vallée D'Orlu - French PyreneesVallée D'Orlu - French Pyrenees
















Vallée D'Orlu - French PyreneesVallée D'Orlu - French Pyrenees
















Here you can find the famous Merens black horses cantering in fields next to the Oriege river.

Plus a whole world of GR walking trails, served by refuge huts and gite d'etapes.

That's really best left until the summer season however, but I strongly suggest you don't miss out on any of these Pyrenean delights for too long.

Getting there: Ax-les-Thermes may be in the heart of the Ariège but it is surprisingly accessible.

From the UK, Ax is most easily reached by flying to Toulouse, the home of Airbus.

There are lots of very reasonably priced flights.

From there it's either an hour and a half in a hire car or, from Toulouse station, an hour and fifty minutes on a smart looking French train.

This is the same line that, not long after Ax, takes you right up to the Spanish border at Latour-de-Carol, where a change of trains can get you to Barcelona.

Take the train from Toulouse to Ax Les Thermes, then it goes on to BarcelonaTake the train from Toulouse to Ax Les Thermes, then it goes on to Barcelona
















This part of the world is a favourite with PlanetSKI.

Our reporter, Iain Martin, visited Ax and Les Angles earlier this season:

And our editor James Cove and Senior News Reporter Katie Bamber headed there by train from London last season:

For the Spirit of the Mountains - PlanetSKI: Number One for ski news

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