In a way the two week holiday/research trip to the Ariege couldn’t have gone any better. We were tested by the weather. Grey, cold, a bit miserable and wet. The clouds hid the stunning mountain views. We spent a day in bed with sunstroke after a day in the high 20s without sun hats, shade or enough water to drink. Our spirit was tested by the relatively dark isolated valley we called Mordor that we had to ‘escape’ every day. Tested by the endless driving back and forth. Tested by the kids frustration at being strapped in the car for hours on end. Tested by my morning sickness/travel sickness combo. We were tested by the white knuckle cliffside roads around the mountainsides. By Ben insisting on admiring the view for a heartbeat skipping second too long for our liking. We were tested by opening times. By realising that we had a four hour wait for a shop to reopen and no food in the fridge. By never seeming to buy enough food. By always seeming to be hungry. By cheese and bread overload. By disappointing foie gras. By upset stomachs. By the price of food. By the poor selection in food shops. We were tested by small hard beds, heavy blankets that slid off, hard floors the kids heads were constantly drawn to, and a sofa zed bed for a sofa you couldn’t get comfy on. We were tested by boredom in the house and village. The lack of indoor activities in poor weather.
However, we return to the UK sad and home sick for the new home we feel we have found. We can honestly say we have fallen in love with our chosen Ariege. Fallen in love with the people. Every single local we passed, met, spoke to, said hello, smiled, was completely welcoming and patient and kind. We fell in love with those white knuckle roads. The valleys, the views, the thrill of it, feeling alive. The blue on blue horizon, the snow caps fading into cloud. The pure clear water everywhere, everywhere you turn. The life blood of the area. The beautiful cows tended like family. The vibrancy of the smallest village, out of season, so often we have seen a ghost town, not here. Caravans were parked up, cyclists were out on the roads, restaurants were open. Banners advertising May fetes adorned roundabouts. Grass was being cut everywhere. Our Ariege is a special place, you feel the change when you drive beyond the parc boundary. Unspoilt by tourism and modern pressures. A happy place, that makes you feel at ease and relaxed. There’s no hurry. There’s nothing to worry about, apart from the bears. Old fashioned friendliness and manners reign. The people and the landscape both gentile, reflections of each other as the water to the sky.
So it’s not the food or the wine or the weather we’re going for. And that’s probably why it’s going to work out so well for us. We’re going for a deeper connection we knew we would have, with the people, with our kith. It’s the right place for us. There’s no doubt in our hearts or minds.