By Katherine Weadley
Redstone Review News Editor
LYONS – The French countryside sounds relaxing, and I’m sure for some people it can be. The air is gentle, fields of lavender dot the landscape, and cars are few and far between. In St. Antonin du Noble Val (St. Anthony’s Noble Valley) just an hour north of Toulouse in the midi-Pyrenees, life is charming and there is something for everyone.
This valley, surrounded by limestone cliffs called Roc d’Anglars with the Aveyron river running though it, offers a vacation suited to any age and ability. As a rock-climbing guide for ABC Kids
Climbing, based in Boulder, our outfit took a group of Boulder area kids and their families on an “Introduction to Rock Climbing” vacation. We climbed outside on a variety of routes with sweeping views of the valley and the river as a backdrop.
Far off the tourist map after five days we only ran into one other group of climbers. We also rappelled off a 165-foot cliff, and went into a giant cave and explored until the cave framed the valley views for us. We went into the medieval town of St. Antonin for ice cream and sometimes a beer (without the kids).
Meanwhile many parents rented mountain bikes and took advantage of the hundreds of biking trails. Excellent terrain and superb scenery are standard. The trails are maintained by the government and are well marked. These routes are everywhere in St. Antonin and driving is not necessary to pick up a trail.
For those who prefer road biking (or like to do both) there is also excellent road biking in the area. The Tour de France goes through the Pyrenees every year, and according to many Tour de France enthusiasts, it is the Pyrenees that often make or break the leader of the Tour de France.
The French have great love for cyclists of every sort. This is seen in the great respect that is provided for all people using the road. The moms and dads that spent time on bikes in St. Antonin said that they rarely saw any other riders and cars were courteous. In order to reproduce an actual Tour de France course a two-hour drive from St. Antonin is probably required, however there is plenty of difficult road biking nearby.
Kayaking on the Aveyron is an adventure as well. While it doesn’t provide the rapids of the St. Vrain River in Lyons it is fun and a kayaking company sets you off and then picks you up about four hours down the river. About half way down the river there is a watering hole with a giant rock (about 30 feet in height) that can be climbed and jumped off of. While many kids and parents were catching their thrills jumping off the rock, several of the group snuck up to the bar on the river’s bank and had a Leffe Belgium beer and watched the more adventurous.
There are four campsites and many small hotels in St. Antonin du Noble Val. However, the best way to stay is to rent a French gîte. It’s basically a house that has quality standards maintained by the French government. Many gîte in France are old but updated stone farmhouses with modern kitchens. They are required by law to fit in with their natural surroundings. You won’t find a super modern Gîte de France in the French countryside, at least not on the outside. Many have unused but attached barns and all are large, cool and comfortable. They rent by the week only and are about the same cost as staying in a hotel, but with all the conveniences of a house.
St. Antonin, a medieval town dating back to the eighth century, is also a market town. This means that every Sunday the entire town is full of farmers, crafters, people who make foie gras and everything you can think of is sold and traded. Farm-to-table isn’t a fad but a way of life for the residents of St. Antonin. The cherries were red, the garlic was large and purple and the food was fresh, natural and the people selling it were the people that grew it or raised it. Everyone was friendly and it was a lively experience. Many people buy everything they need each week at the market, which is just as well as there is not a King Soopers or Super Target as such for a long way.
Within an hour of St. Antonin lie many small medieval or nearly medieval towns full of friendly French people. Yes, I said friendly French people. Because St. Antonin is not as well known American tourists are more of a rarity than a nuisance. Most tourists are other French people. More often than not the people of these villages listen courteously as you stumble through your college French and then they reply in perfect English when you have humiliated yourself enough. However, they seem happy to have you there.
It doesn’t matter if you enjoy eating, drinking, mountain biking, climbing, painting, road biking, swimming, running, kayaking or shopping because St. Antonin is a place for all ages and all interests and abilities. So whether you want to travel with your buddies, your gal pals, on your honeymoon or with the kids, St. Antonin is a great place to be.
Although I enjoyed guiding the kids (and their siblings and parents) my tour group next year will focus on participation in Ariégeoise Cyclosportive race in the Pyrenees. It is one of the six International Cycling Union (UCI) Golden Bike events worldwide. It will offer some of the rides of the Tour de France in the Pyrenees. Although next year’s dates have yet to be announced our plans are already underway to see that Americans have an opportunity to enjoy one of several of the races (semi-hard, hard, and beyond hard) that the UCI tour has to offer in the Pyrenees. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to be apprised of how this will all unfold.
Katherine Weadley is a freelance writer and a librarian. She worked as a reporter for the Daily Camera in Boulder. She lives in Lyons with her family and two dogs Wolfie and Winter.Back to Top