A wooden sign on the green plateau with mountains in the distance

A Walk to the Refuge du Chioula

Ever since we moved to this stunningly beautiful part of the world, I’ve been hankering for some walks higher into the mountains; however, it turns out isn’t so easy with young children.

Last year, when we visited Orlu, I discovered there are these wonderful mountain refuges tucked away in remote places high up in the mountains, but unfortunately, many of those are also beyond our current capabilities. Then there’s the Refuge du Chioula.

Luckily for us, this particular refuge is only a short drive from our home, at just over 30 minutes. It starts high and ends higher, meaning you can get a good high-altitude feel with minimal effort and safety-wise it’s about as good as it gets, as the track up to the refuge is a wide car track: no navigation needed.

By some miracle, we managed to be ready and in the car for 10h30. We’d been labouring under the oppressive heat of the heatwave (la canicule) for two weeks previously so had jumped at the chance to get out presented by the forecast of a cooler day. At last, we could move about again! The downside of all the heat being we’d lost any sense of dressing appropriately for the weather. It was with a certain amount of trepidation (that I tried not to let on) as we climbed up through Belcaire and Camurac and on to the Plateau de Chioula in the cloud and 10-degree temperature, with a car full of people dressed only in shorts and t-shirts. What’s the worst that could happen?

My concerns about the misreading the weather were compounded on reaching the car park, where other more organised families prepared for their walks complete in water or windproof jackets and long trousers. However, having been told it was an easy walk and knowing we could always turn tail if anyone got cold, I kept my mouth shut, put the extra layer that I had been organised enough to bring onto the two smalls, and we set off.

The Path

As far as paths go, the walk up to the refuge couldn’t be simpler: it’s basically a track suitable for cars and 4x4s. It’s uphill, of course, but it’s not steep or difficult to walk. The views along the way are stunning and it’s not long before the roof of the refuge comes into sight. The walk for us did seem long but that was largely due to the whinging coming from the larger of the two, who was not much in the mood for a walk, apparently.

The easy walk up to the Refuge du Chioula

The Refuge

I’d spent more than a small amount of time looking at the refuge website on many occasions and was really excited about finally making it there. Evidently, the guy running the cafe didn’t share my enthusiasm, and so it was we had a lacklustre welcome, which amounted to no welcome at all. Imagine walking past someone when there’s no-one else around and not even a nod in our direction! Unfortunately, that set the tone. Though the cafe is a nice space, I can imagine it’s a very welcome refuge on a cold or wet day, it was lacking in the soul – thanks entirely to the grumpy git serving there.

Yay, we made it!

We ordered coffee and hot chocolates. I doubt we’d have made it to the top with DD if it weren’t for the promise of a choc-choc! The coffee was suitably unimpressive and les petite chocolate chaud turned out to be super-heated and ginormous; perfect for two small children (that’s sarcasm, by the way.)

James, underwhelmed by both the service and the quality of the coffee

Luckily we had a picnic lunch with us, so after our drinks (not cheap!), we moved outside to the tables. By this time the sun had decided to come out, so the clouds were clearing and we were starting to get a good look at the view. We sat munching our food, listening to the sound of cowbells, and watching the surrounding peaks come into view one-by-one as the clouds rolled back.

A nice spot for lunch

The Descent

By the time we were ready to start our descent the day had changed completely. The sun was shining, which meant that the air was filled with butterflies and bugs. This made the walk back to the car much more enjoyable. DS and DD both trotted happily for much of the way down. Then DS climbed onto James’s back in the sling while DD and I followed behind. We ended up quite a way behind because there were so many bugs, butterflies and flowers to see – not to mention the views!

Look, bugs!

As a family walk, it was just about right. Not too long, not so short, not stressful (discounting the nuclear-hot chocolate) with awesome views. It was perfect with children this age because it had a good start, middle and end and is also a good one to do with the not-so-active visitor or anyone who might struggle with narrow paths. You get to go up in the mountains without risking life and limb – and there’s hot food and drink at the top. Brilliant!

All that’s left is to start researching more difficult walks (planning ahead) – and of course, the mountain bike routes.

The Route

According to the plots on GPSies, the walk is 1.4 miles (2.5 km) each way, which tallies more or less with my Strava track.

Ascent-wise, the total climb is 574 feet (to the refuge). The descent, along the same track, is easy and not tough at all on the knees.

The very determined could do this with a decent offroad buggy but it’s perfect for a sling another type of carrier.

To download the GPX file, view the track and full info on GPSies.

Are you looking for information about family walks in the Aude and Ariege? We love to walk – and are gradually adding walk details to this blog. We have small children, which means most of the walks we do will be short and suitable for families. Here are some posts of our most recent walks.

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