The River Aude which flows from the High Pyrenees to join the Canal du Midi before reaching the Mediterranean sea near Narbonne, can vary from quiet flows ideal for family canoeing and kayaking to the rushing waters in the spectacular Gorge de Pierre Lys between Quillan and Axat, perfect for extreme watersports enthusiasts, where kayaking can be demanding.
You can find skilled instruction in white water rafting, hydrospeed and canyoning with companies at Axat like Rocaqua or Sud Rafting, tel: (00 33) 4 68 20 53 72, and canoe and kayak hire is available from Limoux to Axat at places such as Alet-les-Bains, Cuiza and Quillan.
The Aude is a category 1 trout fishing river with advice, permits and equipment available at places like Limoux. You can also fish for pike and river salmon. Buy daily and weekly licences at local newsagents to fish between 1 June and 30 September. For more detailed information, contact Federation de l’Aude pour la Peche, tel: (00 33) 4 68 66 88 38.
This huge drive-through park next to Peyriac-sur-Mer on the banks of the Bages-Sigean Lagoon covers almost 300 hectares of ‘natural’ habitats created for over 150 species of animals from Africa and other places out of lagoons, wood and scrubland. See bears and giraffes, elephants and alligators, on a tour part by coach and part on foot high above the enclosures.
Open daily 0900 - 1830 in summer and 0900 - 1600 in winter. Tel: (00 33) 4 68 48 20 20.
Visitors to Aude have their own ski station at Camurac. This charming Cathar mountain village is family-friendly with 14 pistes, ski lifts and ski school. Slopes are less busy and prices reasonable compared to the more well known ski areas.
There are also opportunities for snowshoe hiking and cross country skiing, a snow play school and ski school for children and reduced family tariffs for 2 adults and 2 children (6 - 20 years). Tel: ticket offices on (00 33) 4 68 20 32 27 or (00 33) 4 68 20 32 11 for information and reservations.
The best ski slopes of the department of Ariege are close by, just across Aude’s south west border, namely the 3 domains of Ax-les-Thermes (20km) and Les Monts d’Olmes and Mijanes-Donezan ski stations.
Musee de la Chapellerie beside the Canal du Midi at Somail is a hat-lovers paradise. This unique museum houses a collection of over 6,500 hats from 1850 to the present day, including traditional, ecclesiastical and military.
See JR’s hat from Dallas plus displays of hat making equipment. Open 1 June - 30 Sept 09.00-12.00 and 14.00-19000 and afternoons on Sundays and 1 Oct- 31 Mar. Tel: (00 33) 4 68 46 19 26 for more details.
Visit this working olive press and mill in the twelfth century fortified village of L’Oulibo. Buy olives from the co-operative shop including crescent-shaped Lucques. A speciality of Aude and Herault, these are green, crunchy and sweet, tasting of butter and hazelnuts. Open daily in summer with free guided visits. Tel: (00 33) 4 68 41 88 88.
Visit the City of Vine and Wine in Gruissan to discover how wine is made today and what is planned for the future. The visit is free and on-site oenologists (wine experts) will be on hand to answer questions as you sample wines and juices of the future. Gruissan Tourist Office has more details, tel: (00 33) 4 67 07 03 33.
Created around the Millennium and housing about 900 varieties of cactus, this 1 hectare botanical garden in a Mediterranean setting has a greenhouse for the more fragile specimens and shop for plant sales and garden layout advice. Open daily except Mondays but see www.cactuseraie.com for up to date opening times or tel: (00 33) 4 68 24 86 59.