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SKI, SPA & SUN IN AX - Katie Bamber, Senior News Reporter
Sunday March 11, 2018 - Email this article to a friend

In the rugged Pyrenees the French town of Ax-les-Thermes and the 3 Domaines ski area offer a charming alternative to the glitzier versions in the Alps.




Many people that I've mentioned Ax-les-Thermes to remember passing through en route to Andorra as the main road until recently ran through the centre of the small town.

But now the rustic charm of this village in the French Pyrenees is preserved as the bigger mountain pass circles above Ax, under the red gondola taking skiers from the town square to the slopes, and the tranquil, local mountain life goes on.

Ax 3 Domaines makes for some really interesting skiing and the views are impressive; It's the perfect spot for a weekend, as the French well know.

It's French that is heard - ah, refreshing! - on the slopes that twist and cover all facets of the mountains.

And there's sun, lots of it, with terraces at Plateau de Bonascres (at the top of the town-to-hill gondola) that look over the beginner zone and are ideally angled to soak it all up.

The town of Ax-les-Thermes has a completely different vibe to the French resorts of the Alps.

It's low key and a little old school, with a strong number of original 80s onesies.

The apres ski scene is best at a bar that's as packed in the morning with locals reading the newspaper and drinking coffee as in the afternoon with the winter sun setting at aperitif time.

The restaurants are charming, the few bars that there are, busy and everywhere the atmosphere is relaxed.

A Pyrenees lunch napA low down Pyrenees lunch nap


























Ax les ThermesPyrenees views



























As the name suggests, there are sulphurous hot springs in Ax.

The waters have for hundreds of years been used to treat rheumatism and skin diseases, among other ailments.

The springs in Ax were developed under Louis IX to treat soldiers with leprosy returning from the Crusades during the mid 13th century.

Le Bassin des Ladres - the Lepers' Bath - is next to the old Saint Louis hospital in town and is a stone pool with hot thermal water.

Bassin des LadresBassin des Ladres



















Bassin des LadresBassin des Ladres today





















From the 18th century it became a tourist destination for its spas and healing thermal water.

Now there are even more.

A new stone foot bath with steaming mineral water is at the base of the mountain to soothe weary ski feet as they come down for the day.

Foot thermal bath Ax-Les-ThermesFoot thermal bath Ax-Les-Thermes


























Ax-Les-ThermesPlanetSKI's pre ski soak, Ax-Les-Thermes


























Ax enjoying the foot baths  Apres time in Ax



























There's a Roman style spa, Les Bains du Couloubret, that was transformed and reopened in 2009.

The architechture, decoration and style of the baths call back to the Romans as it was they who discovered the mineral springs in the Pyrenees (as well as enjoying some good recreational bathing).

Les Bains du Couloubret is an impressive building on the main road through Ax, with its neo-Gothic facade preserved during the spa's restoration in '09.

It has indoor and outdoor bathing areas - idyllic on a snowy evening to spa outside under the flakes.

And there are still more smaller stone pools around the town to discover. 

Ax Les Thermes bathsAx-Les-Thermes baths
























spaThermal spa



















Ax Les ThermesThermales






















Before 2000 gambling laws in France outlined that only cities with thermal baths could house a casino.

A strange requirement, but as it was regulated it is thought to be because the older generation who would come for therapy and spend money after treating their bodies in the gambling establishments.

Just two hours from Toulouse it attracted, and still does, many city folk for weekend breaks.

Ax les ThermesAx les Thermes























My local guide described Ax-les-Thermes as having 'a bastard of architechture'.

The shuttered windows on home and shops look like many rural and farming towns in southwest France.

The small winding pedestrian streets have charming wine shops and boulangeries but as these streets widen the style of the buildings have a look of the Mediterranean, and the Basque country, with Catalan influence also, so close to the border.

Ax les ThermesAx-les-Thermes


























Ax from aboveAx from above
























The ski terrain is wilder, the potential for backcountry and adventuring vast, and by us Brits I'd say it's relatively undiscovered.

If you ski tour it would be a place to explore.

The mountains are rugged and beautiful, and skiing the area will be a good test to your sense of bearings as you wind and quickly travel the vert.

It's so much more affordable than other French resorts and if you haven't skied the Pyrenees then it'll be a wonderful adventure: The food, welcome, landscape and skiing all fresh.
Ax-Les-ThermesAir thermals



























UK ski operators with packages to Ax-les-Thermes include
Zenith Holidays

Follow the link to find out further details and prices. 

See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the mountains.

For the Spirit of the Mountains - PlanetSKI: No1 for ski news

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