When in the south of France, one of the things that I was told I “must-do” is to visit the Pyrénées, the 300-mile-long mountain range that separates France from Spain. Toulouse is a mere hour and a half by train from the mountains, making it even more of a crime that I lived there for five months before I finally made my way that far south.
The beautiful town of Ax-les-Thermes is nestled between Pyrénéen peaks and between the Ariège, the Oriège, and the Lauze rivers. Because of its optimal location next to the Ax 3 Domaines ski resort and its two-hour distance from Toulouse, this town is the perfect train destination for those looking for winter sports, especially if they don’t have cars!
I especially loved seeing the typically small, winding French streets and patisseries populated by people in ski boots and holding snowboards. Anybody not wearing snow pants (population: me) looked significantly out of place.
The Ax-3-domaines is accessed by télécabines (chairlifts with enclosed cabines, apparently called gondolas in English. I even learn English words while travelling in France!), since there was not yet snow down in Ax-les-Thermes. At the ski resort, I was able to rent skis and figure out how to put on ski boots, which I haven’t done in nearly a decade. Then, it was time to hit the ski slopes – at least for the first couple runs!
Heading off of the groomed trails (map of the trails here), we frequented the powder and forest trails, going where “no man had gone before” (at least that day) and seeing breathtaking views. As I alternated skiing and falling down the mountain (while I’m a fairly strong skier, I hadn’t skied for eight years. So, I went for the more cautious option of tumbling whenever I felt the pull of gravity…), I wanted to take pictures at every angle, but my stronger desire to keep skiing limited the number.
Ax-les-Thermes is so named for its hot springs and the architecture of the baths is loosely based on that of Romans. There are pools found outside all over the town at 77 – 102 °F (with warnings about risks of burning) but the Bains de Couloubret range in temperature from 90 – 101°F… the perfect temperature to soothe very sore muscles. Thankfully, I was warned to bring a swimsuit and could enjoy the final hour during which the baths were open, which is probably the only reason why I was able to walk the following day!
Dinner on the train was Moulis cheese and pain de campagne. A friend wisely notated that all the repas was missing was an excellent wine.
The next day, I landed in Boston for my first trip back the United States since August and I’m writing this post from southern Maine. I still can’t quite believe that, only 3 days ago, I was flying down the side of a mountain in the Pyrénées of beautiful southern France.