Pamiers has been among the very first towns to create a canteen for school children providing organic and local food exclusively. Launched on January 4, 2000, the Las Parets canteen now receives more than 1,000 pupils who are treated to healthy and tasty food products.
A decade after the start of the experience, dining halls and kitchens have been created in every school so that the children no longer have to go to Las Parets as meals can now be prepared in the original canteen and cooked on the school premises. Only fresh products are being used while frozen goods or industrial products are banned. Local farmers provide season vegetables and meat bred on grain while a local laboratory checks the quality of the food.
The son of a Pamiers schoolteacher, Gabriel Fauré became the most famous composer of his time but never forgot where he came from. It is in Foix, in which his father was named director of the Ecole Normale that the young Gabriel revealed exceptional skills for the piano and harmonium. He was only nine when his father accepted to send him as a pupil to the Niedemeyer school for sacred music in Paris. Gabriel learnt his art with Camille St Saens as his teacher before being named organist at La Madeleine church and director of the Paris conservatory of music. Maurice Ravel or Nadia Boulanger were among his pupils. Fauré often returned to Ariege, always glad to be reunited with his cousins in Pamiers and he stayed in town for the last time in 1921, three years before his death. His harmonic sense and the perfect balance of his compositions made him the master of French melody. A plaque reminds his birthplace at number 17, rue Gabriel Peri.
Every summer in June then in September, the Music in Fauré’s land festival turns Pamiers into a haven of classical music. In 2010, the great opera singer Mady Mesplé was the guest of honour and invited her many friends for a concert.
The Tour de France loves Ariege, having stopped in nine towns in the department. But whereas Ax-les-Thermes or St Girons have been visited regularly, Pamiers had not been so lucky so far. The anomaly is now rectified for the biggest town in Ariege, with a population of 17,000.
Cycling is not unheard of in Gabriel Fauré’s hometown as it hosted the Route du Sud three times in the 1980s. in 1986, in a stage from Tarbes, the podium had been a prestigious one with Bernard Hinault the winner ahead of Charly Mottet and Ronan Pensec. Yet the five times Tour champion, runner-up to the race instigator Jacques Esclassan in the first edition in 1977, never won the final standings. Other stage winners in Pamiers were Steve Bauer in 1985 and Henri Abadie in 1989.
Further back in time, it is worth mentioning Jacque Dupont, the kilometre Olympic champion in London in 1948 and French road champion in 1954, who also won Paris-Tours twice. Dupont was born in the village of Lezat-sur-Leze, near Pamiers, and rode three Tours in the early 50s.
|5TH century||Visigoth king Theodoric 1 gave his son Frederic a land by river Ariege.|
|507||Martyrdom of Antonin, Frederic’s son, who converted to Christianity. Creation of the St Antonin abbey, first mentioned in 961.|
|11th century||The creation of canals boosts the town development .|
|1111||A deal is passed between St Antonin’s abbot and the Count of Foix which gives the name of Apamea to the castle built on the Castella hill.|
|1295||Faithful to the Church against the Cathar heresy, Pamiers becomes a bishop see thanks to pope Boniface VII.|
|1790||Foix is chosen instead of Pamiers as the Ariege prefecture.|
|1817||Construction of the metal works which will bring Pamiers most of its wealth.|
Prefecture : Foix
Population : 148,600
Web site : www.cg09.fr
Nestled in the heart of the Pyrenees, its back to Spain and Andorra, Ariege is an area of mountains, valleys and lakes, which has been inhabited forever. Twelve painted caves are invaluable testimonies of our far past while the Middle Ages have left a treasure of castles and roman churches in the former land of the Cathars. Water, sun, snow and fresh air: everything is combined to make Ariege the ideal place for nature lovers. Food is as tasty and copious as it used to be while catering has kept its authenticity.
The building of a new motorway, the A66, has made Ariege much more accessible while the department keeps true to Napoleon’s saying which went: “Ariege produces men and iron”.
Le Mas d’Azil is a world famous prehistoric town in which the Azilian age (9,500 years BC) was defined and studied. Its Prehistoric Museum hosts the famous “Faon aux oiseaux” (fawn with birds). The cave, one of the most interesting curiosities in Ariege, was dug by the River Arize beneath the Plantaurel hills. It is a natural tunnel, 420 metres long and 50 metres wide, rich of historic memories. It served as a refuge for the first Christians, then for the Cathars and the Huguenots. Fortified in 1303 by the Counts of Foix, it sheltered the Huguenots who fought to the bitter end and forced the Catholics out.
St Girons started out as a suburb of St Lizier known as Bourg de Vic but it gradually took over when Bernard de Comminges ravaged the main locality in 1130. The important burg of Villefrance, on the left bank of the Salat, was an independent town from 1300 to the Revolution, when it was included into St Girons. The capital of Couserans has grown around a pretty old town at the confluence of the Salt, Lez and Baup rivers. The castle of the viscounts of Couserans stands by the river. The church was rebuilt in 1857. St Girons was the start of a Tour stage four times in the past.
The village took part in a local 19th century revolt known as “la guerre des demoiselles” (the young ladies war). While its parochial church is the 13th century St Martin, the Notre-Dame de Tramesaygues church is the one worth a visit. Built and improved from the 13th to the 16 th century, it is a World Heritage site thanks to its campanile, its medieval frescos and its painted porch. A pilgrimage existed as early as 1139 and the original chapel was extended gradually to hold the pilgrims. The pilgrimage gained momentum when a congregation settled in the chapel in 1315.
Prefecture : Toulouse
Population : 1,203,000
Web site : www.haute-garonne.fr
With Toulouse as its prefecture, the Haute-Garonne department is by far the biggest in the Midi-Pyrenees region with 1.13 million inhabitants. The Garonne rivers runs through it over 200 kilometres. Urban in Toulouse, authentic in the surrounding countryside, it is also a mountainous department with four ski resorts (Luchon-Superbagneres, Peyragudes, le Mourtis and Bourg d’Oueil) and high summits at the Spanish border. This explains why tourism is such an important activity, employing more than 10,000 people. Foie gras, magret and of course cassoulet, with its Toulouse sausage, are the best known local specialities. The air and space industry is the department’s main employer.
The memorial to Fabio Casartelli can be found shortly after the pass on which he met his death in 1995. The 1992 Olympic champion crashed heavily in the descent. The marble monument, sculpted by Bruno Luzzani, was inaugurated in October 1995. It represents a wheel gradually changing into an Olympic flag. Casartelli’s bicycle when he crashed can be seen in the Madonna del Gisallo chapel on top of the eponymous mountain pass in Italy.
The Col du Porte d’Aspet is a classic climb on the Tour and the last rider to reach the top in the front was Frenchman Laurent Lefevre in 2007.
Prefecture : Tarbes
Population : 235,000
Site web : www.cg65.fr/
Hautes Pyrenees has a population of 220,000, split between the three distinct sectors which form the department, mountains, valleys and plains. In the south, the Pyrenees are a high barrier marking the Spanish border – 35 peaks reach 3,000 metres or more. Tourism is the main activity, especially thanks to Lourdes, the world’s second pilgrimage centre, and the Gavarnie Circus, a World Heritage site. Another important site is the Pic du Midi, which can be reached by a lift leading to the 600 m2 panoramic terraces revealing a breathtaking view on the summits. Ski resorts are plenty – 12 in all including Luz-Ardiden, Hautacam and St Lary, familiar to Tour aficionados. Hydrotherapy is also a tradition in Argeles-Gazost, Bareges-Barzun or Beaucens. An ideal Pyrenean meal always starts with a garbure, a soup made of beans, ham bone, bits of duck and goose confit, cabbage, carrots, turnip, onion and garlic.
The former capital of the Barousse valley became a barony under Bernard of Mauleon-Soule in 1120.
Mauleon’s Old Castle was at first a simple wood tower surrounded by a ditch but King of England Edward I, which was then also Viscount of Soule, ordered its reinforcement which was completed in 1374.
In the 15th century, Count Gaston IV of Foix-Bearn attempted to conquer back the Guyenne province from the English and on his death on the battleground in 1512, the castle was handed back to France.
History was merciless to the Old Castle, which was damaged during the Religion Wars, destroyed in 1642 on royal order, partially restored before being used as a jail during the French Revolution. It has been owned by the town since 1870.
Every year in February, television and broadcasting professionals meet in Luchon to celebrate their profession and deliver awards to the best productions. The Golden Pyrenees is the most prestigious award handed to the programme chosen by a jury of professionals. Awards also go for the best acting performance, for revelations, best script and best series. The festival, created in 1999 and whose jury was chaired last year by film director Claude Chabrol also introduces the best of the production to come. The festival is headed by respected director and journalist Serge Moati. Being in Luchon, the festival never neglects the arts of the table and many a contract have been signed or discussed on a ski slope. Every year, the focus is put on the television of a foreign country.
Pyreneism was launched in the late 19th century by Pyrenees enthusiasts, who saw it as the local equivalent of alpinism. Their idea was not only to climb, explore and conquer new summits but also to celebrate the romanticism of their mountains. The word Pyreneist first appeared in 1898 in the writings of Henri Beraldi at the times when celebrities of arts and literature like Lamartine, Heredia or Maupassant flocked in Luchon and other spas in the Pyrenees. Beradli spent a lot of time in Luchon and was a seasoned trekker who said he had climbed up the Port de Venasque several times. His masterpiece, 100 years in the Pyrenees, comprising seven volumes, collected all the texts written about the Pyrenees up to his time. Before Beraldi, others like Ramond de Carbonnieres were probably pyreneists even if they did not use the word. Closer to Bagneres de Bigorre than to Luchon, Ramond was the first to reach the top of the Mont Perdu and named several Pyrenean summits. His most famous emulators were Emilien Frossard, Charles Packe or Henry Russell, who also inaugurated several mountains. Octave Lapize, the first to reach the top of the Tourmalet on a bike in 1911 was a pyreneist of sorts.
A look at the roll of honour of Luchon stage finishes implies that it is always good to win here: Octave Lapize, Firmin Lambot, Ottavio Bottecchia, Nicolas Frantz, Antonin Magne, Sylvere Maes, Jean Robic, Hugo Koblet, Federico Bahamontes, Eddy Merckx and Luis Ocana all won in Luchon before winning the Tour.
Yet there were exceptions. In 1983, thanks to his exceptional performance in the Pyrenees, Frenchman Pascal Simon was convinced he had seen the worst. “I’ve made a big step towards final victory,” he said in Luchon.
Famous last words… The next day, the 1982 Tour de l’Avenir winner crashed near Lannemezan. His collarbone broken, Simon spent five days in hell, the yellow jersey on his back. It hurt so much that the Frenchman suffered intense pain when putting the leader’s jersey on while his team-mate Frederic Brun was in charge of feeding him during stages. Pascal Simon went as far as he could but was forced to call it quits in the stage leading to L’Alpe d’Huez. He never had a second chance. His 7th place in1984 was his best in 11 participations.
Since the first Tour stay in the Pyrenees in 1910, Luchon has been on the road-book 50 times, serving as a base-camp before tackling the Peyresourde pass on one hand or the Portillon on the other. The last stage winner here was Italian Rodolfo Massi in 1998. For the last quarter of a century, Luchon has mostly held stage starts – five times out of six since 1986. This stage is the 7th Luchon – Pau since WW2 and the classic course has seen victories by Jean Robic, Federico Bahamontes or Bernard Hinault.
|Roman period||A legionnaire from the Pompey army discovered the virtues of Luchon’s water. In 25 BC, Emperor Tiberius Claudius developed the baths, which were deemed the best in the world after Naples.|
|Middle Ages||A border town, remote from the world’s quarrels, Luchon lived on a local form of Christianity that never ruled out good food or womanising.|
|1200||Knights Templar established a house in Luchon to host pilgrims on this alternative St James Way.|
|1759||The intendent of Gascony, Baron Antoine Megret d’Etigny reorganised Luchon and developed the spa.|
|1763||The Duke of Richelieu came to Luchon to take waters. He returned a year after with most of the Royal Court. The Luchon Thermal Baths were on their way to success.|
|1854||Empress Eugenie launched the trend for hydrotherapy. The jet set of the time rushed to Luchon.|
|1880||Building of the casino.|
|1911||The Super-Bagneres ski resort is created.|