« Take good shoes, a picnic and join me! I'll take you to the Couserans », it is with this message to Roxane, my hiking buddy, that this Sunday at the beginning of July began.
I particularly like Couserans, the westernmost part of the department! So as soon as I have a little time (it's not nearby, count about 1 hour from Foix to Seix!), I'm going to explore this very special territory!
the program in brief
– Walk to discover the Granges de Cominac
– Visit of the Le Rogallais cheese dairy? in Seix
– Picnic at the edge of the Salat
– Visit of the Colporteurs shop in Soueix-Rogalle
⏰ 8:00 a.m.: we leave Foix towards St Girons then we go deeper into the mountains to get to the small village of Cominac. From up there, the view is just amazing! You can see Valier very well, the emblematic summit of Couserans and the Pyrenees. It is very easily recognizable: its top is (almost) flat!
tame the indomitable…?
Cominac is known for Bear showmen (or oursaliers). You read correctly ! In the 19 and early 20th Century, the practice was common in Cominac and in this part of Ariège.
The oursaliers went into the Couseran mountains in search of bear cubs, which they captured and brought back to the village. Once trained, the bear cubs were exhibited around the world through acts through which the bear cubs hoped to make a fortune. The Garbet and Alet valleys had nearly 200 bear breeders around 1880. In the municipality of Ercé alone, around fifty of these bear breeders were counted in 1890. There were still around twenty in 1909.
If you've ever seen old postcards showing bearsailers with their bears, then you know the church of Cominac. They say it was guarded by bears.
The story begins in 1905. During the separation between the state and the church, a great inventory is made throughout the country! But in Cominac, we don't want to see the church built by the parishioners themselves, on their own land, confiscated.
Here is an extract from the newspaper "La Semaine Catholique" of Toulouse, March 11, 1906:
Mr. Peytou, collector of Oust went to Cominac on Monday March 5 to carry out the inventory of the church. And was getting ready to do his job, when suddenly he saw four disproportionate bears, looking fierce, tied to the door of the church. In front of this guard of new kind he judged good not to insist and withdrew at once. The idea of defending the church with bears obtained, in Saint-Girons, an enormous success. A statement made by the inhabitants of Cominac is circulated: “Our bears built our church, they are the ones who will defend it. ".
COMINAC, OR THE CRAZY CHARM OF COUSERANS ♥️
We park near the famous church and start our walk. So here we go for a little less than an hour and a half of walking. We first follow the road then we discover the first typical barns of Cominac, called " at a bird's pace ". Previously, the roofs were covered with thatch, directly from the cereals grown around the villages.
Did you know
The walls are made of large granite stones while the slabs are made of schist. These are called " peyrous in the dialect of Couserans and were used to:
– protect gable walls
– give a stop to the stubble and protect it so that it does not rot too quickly and becomes easy prey for the gales
- provide access to the ridge but that role was only secondary.
We stroll between these barns and the landscape which is, without any exaggeration, breathtaking!
Then, go through a part of the woods before coming out in broad daylight and taking a short stretch of road to the Cominac viewpoint. Photography enthusiasts, you've come to the right place! You will have the Valier AND the typical barns in the same photo, what else? The small benches available allow you to take a panoramic and comfortable break 🙂
Rather judge for yourself?
Finally, we begin to descend slowly. Before finding our way back into the woods, we cross an alley of beech trees. This place is truly enchanting: between the beautiful trees covered with their bright green foliage, the sublime view of Mont Valier and the small barns, would not have discovered a corner of paradise?
It feels like a movie, it's a timeless place. It's not hard to imagine the bear tamers strolling with their beasts through the barns with the Pyrenees in the background… a real leap into the past!
Picnic between emerald waters and mountains
As we know that Couserans is a major place for the production of cheeses including the famous Bethmale and Rogallais, we say to ourselves that we could have a little to enhance the picnic! Yum ! Head to the cheese factory The Rogallais, accessible in a few minutes on foot from the village of Seix.
We first discover with curiosity a cheese distributor. There, we have clearly arrived in paradise! Haha
Then we enter the shop and Mathieu welcomes us to introduce us to the different cheeses: cow, sheep, goat, mixed, there is something for everyone. The hardest part of all this? Choose and avoid leaving with kilos of each cheese! For the rest of the picnic, we stopped at the Seix market on the way down from Cominac. For those with a sweet tooth, it takes place every Sunday morning 😍
Once all the ingredients for the feast have been gathered, we head to the banks of the Salat and its emerald waters. It looks like glacier meltwater, it is so light blue, even transparent! It's impressive, it reminds me a bit of the rivers of New Zealand.
Back to the past
In the afternoon, direction Soueix-Rogalle (only 7 minutes by car from Seix) for the visit of the peddlers shop.
In the sublime Souquet house, we discover the life of these men and women who traveled the world (yes, the world!) to sell objects from Couserans! The house is split in two: the museum space dedicated to Colporteurs and the shop (groceries, hardware, haberdashery, jewelry and religious objects) wonderfully well stocked by Maurice Souquet, a kind of business man before his time.
The hawkers came there to stock up before setting off on the roads to sell the merchandise. When they reached the end of their stock, they placed an order with Mr Souquet who sent them additional goods (smart, isn't it?). Thanks to the perfectly preserved archives, you can see the various orders made to Mr Souquet, from all over France and from abroad too! Simply PAS-SIO-NANT!
What's great about the shop part is that it has been kept as it was in 1900. This is how we discover hundreds of everyday objects, each as beautiful as the next: small matchboxes, truly original horn cufflinks, boxes of cakes and other sweets...
The advertising posters are those that we find today in “vintage” stores, it’s funny. I feel like I'm hearing my grandmother tell me about her childhood and her days in the family bakery. This visit is a moving journey to the land of true commercial adventurers. Roxane and I were so caught up in our discoveries that we didn't see the time, the museum is about to close!
you will have understood, we fell in love!
We take the road to Foix, our heads filled with beautiful images and having learned a lot about this part of Ariège. There is really something different in these Couseran valleys. We have the impression that time stops and at the same time, we feel that this territory is in constant evolution thanks to an ultra vitaminized DNA! In short, it's a joyful mix of eras, tradition & innovation, gastronomy and history ♥️