What makes Ariège such a rich region for wildlife is its range of altitudes: from agricultural plains at around 300m to the south of the Garonne, to the Plantaurel (an east/west range of limestone hills around 500m) to the Pyreneen foothills (800m) rising to the peaks of over 3000m on the Spanish borders.
In addition, there are the important differences in the three main areas defined by their different histories and patterns of river systems.
Les Abères is in the Couserans region: the drainage basin of the River Salat and its tributaries covering the west of Ariège with St Girons as its main town. This area was ruled by the English Plantagenet Kings before becoming part of France. It was a Catholic region which also sheltered Huguenot protestants in some parts. It has a moister climate than the east and the forests are dominated by beech and oak as in southern England
The valley of the Ariège river, with Foix as the departement's capital, was an independent state (ruled by the Counts of Foix) in the middle ages. It has a drier, more Mediterranean, climate and vegetation. It is here that the Cathar religion flourished until destroyed by Simon de Mountfort's crusade in the Middle Ages.
In the extreme east is the Donezan (centred on Querigut) with rivers that drain to the Mediterranean via the Aude. The Violet Copper (Lycaena helle) is a good example of the many species restricted in Ariège to the Donezan.
Caves & cave art
Much of Ariège is limestone and there are large numbers of caves, potholes and underground rivers. Some of these are managed as sites for torist visits: including the famous Niaux cave which has the best examples of prehistoric cave art which can still be visted by the public
For furher guidance on Ariège and its attractions see the independent site www.ariege.com which is in both English and French