France Off the Beaten Path: Coquenard, Andillac en route to Les Pyrénées – Part 4

Off the beaten path - Seix river view

Seix river view – France

The path less travelled in France produced stunning rural vistas, friendly locals, and a vibrant food and wine culture, far beyond our expectations.

Heidi and I hired an electric car at CDG airport in early spring 2022 and drove a six thousand kilometre “figure of eight” around France. Despite moderate fitness levels we hiked and cycled many remote picturesque places. We also found rural and remote areas of France have much to offer serious foodies.

Off the Beaten Path: Nothing ‘ordinary’ to be found

Determined to take the path less travelled we discover stunning rural vistas, super friendly locals, and a vibrant food and wine culture in France, way beyond our expectations.

This is part 4 of a 12-part mini-series which follows our recent 12-week trip.

I invite you to join us and make some delightful discoveries.

Part 4 – Coquenard, Andillac en route to Les Pyrénées

 The town of Coquenard is in the Andillac commune and Part of the Tarn department; an unvisited part of south-west France. It was halfway between our stop at Le pont de Montvert in Les Cévennes and our destination, Seix in Les Pyrénées. Seix is in the foothills of the central Pyrénées and, although very remote, is an important destination for serious kayakers and mountain trail walkers.

Highlights and Hidden Gems

We’d booked an overnight stay at a restored three-hundred-year-old watermill near Coquenard and were greeted by our vivacious, whirlwind host, Maïté. Within minutes we’d been promised a tour of the historic mill and she gave us directions to the only store in town to stock up for our upcoming week in the mountains.

The côte à côte market turned out to be a most amazing one-stop for fresh food. It equaled anything we’d experienced in France.

  • The butcher supplied an excellent Côte de Boeuf and
  • the ‘sommelier’ recommended a Mas d’Aurel gaillac rouge made with the Braucol grape variety (allegedly introduced by the Romans).
  • Incredibly, the boulanger baked us two fresh spelt sourdough loaves while we had a coffee nearby.
  • Later, in Seix,  we sat on our balcony viewing the river and snow-capped mountains.
  • The char-grill sizzled with beef which we paired with the gaillac rouge.
  • Truly exquisite!
Off the beaten path - our cottage near Seix

Our cottage near Seix

En route to Les Pyrénées – Walking, Cycling, Touring

 This hike was the most ambitious, memorable, and spectacular of the entire trip. Twenty kilometres from Seix is the tiny mountain spa town of Aulus Les-Bain. At the entrance to the trail, just above this town, an information board offered most of the standard disclaimers including how to deal with wild bears!  We headed skyward for the first few hours along a wide forestry trail and passed a couple of ancient stone homes, apparently still inhabited.

The hike then morphed into a single rocky and winding track through dense high mountain forest. A thick blanket of mist developed and reduced visibility to around ten metres. After an hour we met a French-speaking couple in very serious hiking gear on their descent. We managed to discern from them that we still had an hour to go on a very steep and difficult ascent. Also, they said the mist precluded any vision of the falls, which are known as one of the very best in the Pyrénées.

Over a packed lunch we debated the need to venture further. Then we pressed on and the path became very treacherous, running beside a rushing mountain stream. An hour later we heard the symphony of crashing waterfalls but alas still no vision. We sat to catch our breath and calm our disappointment, and then the mist miraculously lifted. Within minutes the full panorama of a vast multi-level waterfall the Cascade D’Ars revealed itself.

Twenty minutes into our descent we met a large group of primary school-aged students heading up, who we’d earlier passed at the top of the forest trail. We warned them how difficult the last section would be for the group but they were undaunted, pas de problem!

Off the beaten path Cascade D'Ars

Cascade D’Ars, France

Food and Wine

Tired from some days of hiking, we decided to visit the capital of the Ariège department, Foix, home to some 40,000 people and an hour’s drive from Seix.  The town parking lots were full. Fortunately, the EV charging station at the town entrance was available so we plugged in and headed for the weekly farmers market. It was small but bustling with people and full of fresh local produce. Our shopping complete, we set off and discovered a majestic, hilltop fortified castle, now a museum.

We then fell upon a large, beautifully preserved medieval old town. It was equal to many of the famous medieval old towns we have visited in Europe and we were the only tourists to be seen. At the tourist information office, we bought bottles of local wine from Le Domaine du Sabarthès and some craft beers. A supper of local cheeses and charcuterie on our balcony was complemented by these excellent beverages.

en route to Les Pyrénées - Off the beaten path - Foix

Foix and castle

En route to Les Pyrénées – Insights

It was a revelation to find a well-preserved ancient town like Foix not teeming with tourists. It was as compelling and interesting as towns such as Colmar in Alsace or Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Bavaria. We virtually had the castle and the old town to ourselves. That’s not to say it was a dead town, the locals were definitely out and about and enjoying this special place. It’s definitely worth taking the road less travelled.


When you travel do you plan to the nth degree or let it flow? Do you like to discover the path less travelled? Please share below in the comments section – we look forward to hearing your preferences.

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Images credits:
All images copyright Craig Healey.

About the Contributor

Craig Healey

I’m a not-quite-retired business & technology consultant with a passion for the great outdoors and an even greater passion for the wonderful food and wine of France. Each region has a rich gastronomic culture which is always a delight to discover and never fails to tantalise your taste buds.

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