When to Go
Climbing in the sun on a winter’s day in the South of France is always delightful, in fact many Brits may prefer to visit the south-facing cliffs in this book in the winter season. If you want to climb on the south-facing crags like Calamès or Sinsat, winter is definitely a good time for it always bearing in mind that this is a mountainous area and not one of the Costas. Other crags may be in poor condition at this time though.
For most of the crags spring and autumn are the best times when you can choose between optimum cool climbing conditions in the shade or relish the warmth of the sun. Summer is the time to visit the north-facing venues – the steep caves like Sabart with its micro-climate, or head into the hills. Alternatively, choose your venue and time of day so that you chase the shade – the cliffs around Niaux are ideal for this. Consider choosing somewhere close to one of the rivers where you can go for a swim to cool off after a hot day on the rock.
The number and variety of crags in the Ariège means there’s always somewhere to climb, no matter what time of year you choose to visit. Factor in the other activities on offer at different times of the year and summer or winter and you should never be short of something to do.
The average rainfall for the areas covered by in book is low but not as low as sun-seeking climbers might be used to in Spain and the Côte d’Azur. On a week trip you could well have a few days of rain to contend with which might mean a rest day, or a visit to a steeper crag for some ever-dry routes. After prolonged rain most of the steeper crags will suffer from some seepage.
The French autoroutes are fast and usually (national holidays excepted) uncrowded. If you’ve got a long drive it makes sense to break the journey, sleeping in rest areas is acceptable, but if you’re looking for a bed without spending too much, find a Formula 1 or, a bit nicer, an Ibis or Etap.
Check the AA or similar for the latest requirements when driving in France with regard to high visibility vests, SatNavs, breathalyzers, warning triangles, fire extinguishers and head lamps.
There are a number of airports in southern France served by budget airlines that are good for accessing the Ariège. Carcassonne and Toulouse are each about 1 hour 15 minutes away while Perpignon will take a little over 2 hours. From September to April, there are far fewer flights available. At these times Gerona and Barcelona are worth considering, leaving about a 3 hour drive from Spain. Expect to pay more at popular times like weekends, the busy summer months and school holidays.
You will need your driving licence and a credit-card. It is worth pointing out that car hire in Spain is roughly half the cost of in France, though some companies charge a daily premium for taking the vehicle across the border. The comparison site carrentals.co.uk is a useful resource for sorting through the maze of companies and offers.
Eurostar operates a direct service from London to Paris. Onward travel on the TGV will get you to Carcassonne or Toulouse. Luggage restrictions are far more generous than those imposed by budget airlines. There is also a direct (sometimes overnight) service from Paris to Toulouse on normal trains, from which a good rail service continues up the Ariège valley directly under some of the crags.
Getting Around (without a car)
Public transport in the area is pretty limited, though the train runs though the main valley. Some of the cliffs can be reached by cycling, or even walking if you are stopping in the right places. Use of a taxi is another option as is sticking your thumb out.