Just a short train ride south of the Southern French city of Toulouse, sits a charming town nestled in the Pyrénées arriègeoises whose main attractions are its ski resort and natural sulphuric hot springs! During the first day of my weekend trip here, I snowshoed for the first time and enjoyed the majesty of these southern French mountains. For part two of my trip I decided to try something else for the first time: going to a spa!
The Thermal Spa Experience
Throughout Ax-les-thermes, you can observe the traces of the hot springs from the little fountains on every other corner to the outdoor foot spa in the town center. If you really want the full spa experience, you will have to head to Les Bains du Couloubret. According to their website, these baths are filled with natural thermal water from 33 to 38°C (about 91-100° F). The main bath on the ground floor is a huge Roman style bath with little jets and waterfalls. Also in that area are the frigidarium (a cold 15°C/59°F bath), the caldarium (the hottest temperature bath), and le vaporarium (a steam room). To do as the Romans do, you should start in the warm bath, then the hot, and end in the coldest bath because it’s good for circulation. I thought I wouldn’t like going into a cold bath after relaxing in the heated pools, but it actually felt amazing! The secret is to go in and out quickly with out thinking about it. In addition to the Roman baths, the spa also had outside baths, an irlando-roman bath, as well as a hammam and sauna! I also thought I wouldn’t like the heated steam rooms because I am heat sensitive, but they were actually quite relaxing.
Is it worth it?
A two hour session in the spa is 18€50 for adults and 15€ for children. You can find the list of their other prices on their website. I hadn’t planned on going to the spa when I booked my trip so I didn’t have a bathing suit, but I was able to buy one there for 14€ and rent a towel for 5€50. It seemed like an expensive two hours, but I think it was worth it, plus I get to keep the bathing suit. Two hours was plenty of time to try out all of the baths and saunas and I din’t feel rushed trying to test them all. It’s not often that I treat myself to something fancy and I felt relaxed afterwards. Plus my skin and hair felt extra soft and smooth for the rest of the day. My favorite parts were the frigidarium for the cool shock, the irlando-roman bath for the relaxing jets, and the outdoor baths for the ambiance.
I didn’t take any photos in the spa, but feel free to take a look at the promotional video:
Fondue for Two
After visiting the spa, my travel partner and I decided to have lunch in Ax-les-thermes. We walked around the small streets of the town center before deciding on La Petite Fringale, which served traditional après-ski food. For about 20€ each, we shared a pot of melty, creamy, bubbly fondue made from a blend of cheeses from the Alps and the Pyrenees. I was also able to swap the charcuterie that came with the dish for extra veggies – even in 2020 sometimes it’s a struggle as a vegetarian in France because many traditional foods are meat-focused! I think I still prefer raclette, but there is something fun about dipping a crunchy morsel of baguette into a vat of melted cheese. A tasty lunch on a terrace was the perfect way to close out our time in Ax-les-thermes.
Before going home, we made one last stop on out Pyrenean adventure: the town of Foix. This small town’s main attraction is the château which dates back to around the year 1000 and is still in great condition today! Since we only had a couple of hours before our train, we did not get to spend time in the museum, so we just explored the castle grounds. Inside the castle rooms were replicas of medieval furniture and audio recordings that mimicked castle life played to help transport you in time. My favorite part though was climbing up the towers to look down at the little French down and the blue mountains in the distance.
Before leaving, we watched a demonstration of how catapults work! The guide even asked for some visitors to volunteer to help crank the wooden contraption. Nothing was actually catapulted from the castle grounds, but it was still fascinating to watch! France is filled with history and each town seems to have a grand cathedral or an impressive castle. The château de Foix, would definitely be one of my favorites however. When I originally moved to the Occitanie region, I was sad to leave bustling and beautiful Paris , but now I’m grateful because I probably would have never discovered what the Pyrenees have to offer!
Thank you so much for reading! Let me know in the comments what your favorite historical site you’ve been to is! Don’t forget to follow my blog or sign-up for email updates to read more about my adventures.
À la prochaine,
Missed part 1 of my Pyrenees adventure? Read about it here!
Watch ’till the end of my Pyrenees vlog to see the catapult in action:
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