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Dramatic Axat

If you like your piece of France to have a little drama, then take a look at Axat. Otherwise an unassuming little village, set in the foothills of the Pyrénées in the south of France, Axat is blessed with some of the most awe inspiring scenery in the country. The Gorge de St Georges cuts a mighty swathe through the mountain just above the village, and the rushing waters of the Aude storm down through Axat, carrying crowds of brightly clad adventure sports enthusiasts in canoes, kayaks and rafts.

The roundabout with bears...

You know you have reached Axat when you come upon a roundabout decorated with statues of bears. French villages in these parts have a fondness for decorating their roundabouts with figures that symbolise the area, and yes, there are bears in the Pyrénées... though not many of them come into Axat! To even get this far, however, you will drive along some roads that can only be described by the average British driver as "crazy"!

Roads around Axat

After leaving Quillan the roads narrow and the rocky cliff sides climb dizzily up to the skies, which begin to seem impossibly high and blue as you proceed. To the other side of your car you will find the road drops alarmingly away down to the river, and as you get nearer to Axat, if you look down (dare you?) you may catch sight of a colourful raft full of life jacketed... and probably terrified... holidaymakers shooting scarily past.

Shopping and dining

Axat is a small town, but with a surprising number of amenities. It has an excellent general store (or small supermarket) and a superb boulangerie that is an experience in itself, cut into the rock face as it is... part boulangerie, part cave! There is also a really good bar and restaurant called Café Central (currently only open for lunch), with a lovely outside eating area overlooking the river, and from this vantage point you can see the fear on the faces of the rafters as they are swirled past. Atmospheric, friendly service and good food too? what more could you want? In addition to this there is another restaurant, and many more shops and services to boot. These include a tobbaconist/newsagent which also has a general store, two butchers, a health centre, pharmacy, post office, doctor, hotel (with a restaurant open all week serving local fare), B&B, petrol station and a large tourist office. A dentist is also due to start soon. Oh... and in season, there is usually a chap selling wonderful fresh apricots and cherries from a van parked near the bridge... it doesn't get better than this.

Sports and leisure

Axat really is the capital of adventure sports. There are several small companies who organise these activities based in or very close to Axat, and you can see the advertising boards at regular intervals along the roadside and riverside. They are all good, with experienced guides and instructors, but it is advisable to book in advance rather than just turn up when you want to go. Be honest about your experience and fitness levels too... it's in your interest! Sports on offer include rafting, hot dogging, kayaking, canoeing, aqua gliding, canyoning, rock climbing and acrobranche courses.

Out and about

The sports are not the only great thing about Axat... the sheer jaw dropping splendour of the gorges and the mountain scenery is worth the effort of getting there any time. The road from Axat to Perpignan, as it twists and turns and at time runs through caves that stretch right over the road, takes you close to the beautiful Gorges de Galamus. Here not only can you see the lonely hermitage, perched halfway down the steep gorge sides (you can climb down to it and ring the bell if the fancy takes you), but it is the ideal place for a first experience of the amazing sport of "canyoning".

Canyoning

This entails following the river bed, sometimes swimming, sometimes wading, sometimes climbing, sometimes jumping from high rocks into deep pools or sliding down waterfalls. Do go with a guide, it can be dangerous if you don't have the right equipment and local knowledge. As you make your way along the river here, in a fairly deep part where you are swimming, you may become aware of a submerged car... no, two submerged cars. And if you look upwards, miles high to the road above, a shudder will surely run down your spine. When you drive home, you will be extra careful, I guarantee!

Gorges de St Georges and Plateau de Sault

The other road, leading up the mountain from Axat passes the equally spectacular Gorge de St Georges, then forks giving you the choice of continuing on to the ski resorts of Les Angles, Puyvalador and Formigueres, or up the hair-raising corkscrew mountain roads to the delightful Plateau de Sault, where the sheer mountain sides with their forbidding dark pine forests suddenly give way to perfect sunlit green meadows and scenes that seem to come straight from "Heidi". Up here there are several small towns and villages, some of which have a sweet café or a good hotel restaurant for refreshment.

How to get there

Carcassonne (Ryanair) and Perpignan (Ryanair, bmibaby, flybe) airports are both useful for those wishing to reach Axat from the UK. After arriving here, however, you will need access to a car in order to get to Axat and to explore the fabulous area around the village. Driving from Carcassonne, take the D118 heading for Limoux and Quillan, then turn to the D117 for Axat. Driving from Perpignan, just follow the D117.

Property prices availability in and around Axat

Axat is out of the way, and it takes a little while to reach even Quillan, which is the nearest town of any size, so this tends to keep prices down. It's a great place though, for those who love dramatic views and outdoor sports, and it is possible to pick up a decent property for very reasonable money. There isn't a lot to Axat in town terms, but should you find a property there it is bound to be interesting. Axat just doesn't "do" ordinary... one look at its location will tell you that.

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Axat AT A GLANCE

WHERE IS Axat?

Axat is set in the south of France, in the foothills of the Pyrenean Mountains. It lies in the south-west of the Aude department.

Axat Property Map

IN THE REGION OF LANGUEDOC-ROUSSILLON

Languedoc-Roussillon Guide

Languedoc-Roussillon Property Map

IN THE DEPARTMENT OF AUDE

Aude Guide

  Aude Map


Population: 928


Access: By air: Fly to Carcassonne or Perpignan. By road: Axat is accessed from Carcassonne via the D118, turning onto the D117 at Quillan for Axat, or from Perpignan, just follow the D117.


Economy: The economy, once typically rural, is now boosted considerably by adventure sports enterprises. Hydro electrical power is also generated here.


Interesting fact: The roads around Axat are some of the most dramatic in France, with the sheer rocky cliffs towering above the narrow, twisty roads, and the deep gorges dropping sharply down to the other side.


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