Ax 3 Domaines in the French Pyrenees is not terribly well known on the British market, but it’s very popular with residents of Toulouse, just 90 minutes away, and Toulouse is an easy place to get to from British airports (Zenith Holidays and Ski Weekends also offer holidays here). Comprising the base town of Ax-les-Thermes at 720m and the three connected ski areas above the town, Bonascre – the ski area base at 1400m, Saquet (1,800–2,300m) and Campels (1,700–2,400m), the resort is about to benefit from a €25 million investment in upgrades.
Hit The Spa
Ax-les-Thermes is the source of the warmest thermal water in the Pyrenees at 77° and has a long history associated with the discovery of this warm water, so after a long day on the slopes, relax in the 3,000m2 thermal spa, Les Bains du Couloubret. Drawing the local thermal waters of which the town is named, this is the place to soak your weary body. If you arrive in the spa rush hour and find the queue for the recreational spa is a bit long, simply deboot and soak your feet in the new open-air foot spa at the base of the main access ski gondola – a great après-ski social as the sun sets.
On The Slopes
Head for the “chalets” drag-lift area and discover, tucked away in the woods, the restaurant Le Louzat. Sitting at 2,020m it offers some staple mountain lunch fare, such as burgers, lasagne and fries, but go “off piste” and try the camembert fondant or the saucisse de Toulouse and end with a Myrtle tart, crème brûlée or crêpe with Chantilly. Get there early for a table on the terrace with great views!
For A Laugh
The cross-country skiing at Col de Chioula is a fantastic set-up not to be missed. For a small fee, you can rent all the equipment and spend the day getting to grips with the skinny skis and soft cross-country shoes which clip in at the toes. Work up from the gentle green routes, which circle up and back through, and along tree-lined paths, to steeper blue and red tracks – pit stop at the Chioula Refuge – which will test your stamina and your ability to stay upright on the longer downhill sections.
Just 20 minutes from Ax-les-Thermes is the small ski area of Ascou. With only five lifts you’d be forgiven for thinking it isn’t worth the effort, but once there (take the local ski bus or self-drive the short distance) these lifts, which span the side of one mountain, open up some long cruisers, some easy-to-access off-piste and a great fun park. Locals love it on a bad weather day as the tree-lined runs and mostly button lifts stay fairly well protected from the wind and rarely close. Great value from €20.70 per day. Just one base area cafe serves the whole place; menu choice is limited but the coffee is excellent!
Go Spa Hunting
If you have a bad weather day, hit the GR10 at nearby Mérens-les-Vals and search out the three natural thermal hot spring pools which can be found after a 15-minute hike to the left of the well-known cross-Pyreneees GR10 trail. You can smell the sulphurous pools before you see them – take a mountainside dip.