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Foix wasn’t even supposed to be part of the trip we’d planned from Toulouse down the length of the Canal de Midi towards the Mediterranean, but as I thumbed through books and maps, the lumpy Pyrenees caught my attention again and again. Running the numbers, I calculated it would be possible. Little did I suspect it would be one of the highlights of our trip, and the glimmer of a forthcoming trip we will plan for another day.

The Pyrenees are an easy train ride from Toulouse, rising slowly through farmland and thistle until the pines begin to close in and the air cools. We stepped out of the station house and heard it: l’Ariège, a cold mountain river somewhere above us. It had rained the night we slept in Toulouse, and the Ariege was running bank full and opaque, carrying leaves from the mountains above us. The sound of the water in the gorge was impressive, and the air was clean and cool: a nice welcome to the mountains for a family that has spent many years at sea level in the tropics.

Foix’s centerpiece is the Chateau de Foix, a tenth century structure perched on a nipple of basalt around which the village clusters by riverside. It was an easy climb up stairs well-worn by the boots of visiting tourists, but it was a hike to even get to the stairs, up through the narrowly winding cobbled city streets and then up the grassy lane that led to the castle’s gate. Looking out over the crenelations at the green valley to our west, the kids mused on princesses and dragons. I saw only the foothills of a tremendous mountain range I long to explore, lost in the view of a valley where the ancient Cathars probably saw danger and aggression, but I saw endless rows of trees, and the cleanest air I’d breathed in ages.

We’ll go back, of course, with boots and backpacks. And we’ll eat trout and steak in mushroom sauce, and wash it down with red wine in the shadow of mountain peaks that have loomed since time immemorial. That means they’ll still be there by the time I get organized to return.


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