Valle dOrlu

You can happily spend a whole day exploring and enjoying the three activities on offer at the head of the short Vallée d'Orlu. From the N20, it's a pretty 7.5km drive along the D22, following the Oriège river to road's end, where once there was an old forge.

At the Maison des Loups ( % 05 61 64 02 66; www .maisondesloups.com in French; adult/4-12yr/under 4yr €6.50/4.20/free; S 10am-5.30pm Apr-Jun, to 7pm Jul & Aug, 11am-5pm Sep & Oct), begin by watching the DVD, very visual and not too language-bound, with its twin themes of wolves around the world and the animals and plants of the Pyrenees. Then, take your time walking the 1km observation trail (or take the shorter option of about 500m). En route are seven observation towers. Try to coincide with feeding time (at noon, 3pm and 5pm in July and August; at 3.30pm only during other months). Along the sentier traces, children can enjoy guessing what the 15 footprints, all of Pyrenean animals and birds, belong to, then check each animal's call in the auditorium.

The highly recommended Observatoire de la Montagne ( % 05 61 03 06 06; www.observatoire -montagne.com in French; adult/6-11yr/12-18yr/under 11yr €6.80/4.20/5.20/free; S 10am-7pm Jul & Aug, 10am or 11am-6pm Tue-Sun or Wed-Sun Apr-Jun, Sep & Oct), right beside the Maison des Loups and the initiative of the local mayor, is a wonderful introduction to the natural life of the Pyrenees. Each of the small galleries represents one of the five zones, from valley farmland, through deciduous forest, evergreens and upper grasslands to the sparsely vegetated summits. And each explores the impact of the five main 'players': minerals, climate, water, vegetation and humankind. There are plenty of knobs and buttons that bring up short video clips and plenty of things to touch and sniff. The natural materials - cross-sections of trees, dried grasses and compositions of stones and pebbles - are also aesthetically pleasing. It's gently didactic, pushing a firm ecological message, but it's also lots of fun. It's just a pity for non-Francophone visitors that, at least for the moment, such a resource is exclusively in French.

For something more vigorous, sign on for a three-hour session (all ages are catered for) at the Akro Branch d'Orlu (% 05 61 05 97 33; www .acrobranche-ariege.com in French; according to age €10-20; h 10am-7pm Jul & Aug, 10am-6pm or 1-6pm Sat & Sun May, Sep & Oct, 1-6pm Mon-Fri, 10am-6pm Sat & Sun Jun) adventure playground and assault course in the woods.

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