It occurred to me that I have frequently written about and included many images of the view from our future home at Mireval but have not so far provided any information about the indisputable star feature: Lac Montbel. The view is undeniably surprenant and when I sat on the wrecked window sill at second floor level of the gite and looked left towards the west I could clearly see the chateau at Léran. Looking straight ahead I could see Belloc and make out the tour at St. Quentin. The village of Montbel lies almost due north across the lake and is also visible from our property, but for me it is Lac Montbel itself which continually draws my gaze.
Looking down the fields over our barns towards Lac Montbel
Lac Montbel is, in fact, a man-made reservoir with a surface area of 550 hectares and a maximum capacity of 60 million cubic metres of water. It's primary purpose is for irrigation and the stored water, which is mainly collected in winter and spring from melting snow, is used for the irrigation of the Lauragais and the plain of Ariège. It also maintains the summer water levels of the Hers-Vif river. Additionally it provides irrigation for 28,000 hectares beyond the Ariège and the Garonne. The construction of the dam (digue de Montbel) was mooted as early as 1970 but work did not commence until 1982 following a lengthy period of drought. The dam was completed in 1985 at a cost 22 million francs (about 3.4 million euros). The project was jointly funded by Ariège, Aude and Haute Garonne and the dam is managed by IIABM (Institution Interdépartementale de l'Aménagement du Barrage de Montbel).
An amendment to the Mountain Law prohibited any construction within 300 metres of the lake shoreline. It is possible to walk around the entire lake (about 15 km) and the clear waters and woodlands are a haven for birds and wild flowers.
Lac Montbel is a popular spot for many sports including sailing, horse riding, cycling, walking and fishing. There are many species of fish in the waters including giant carp and, for any fishing enthusiasts reading this, the lake is apparently a category 2 water and one of the few in the area where night fishing is allowed. For the twitchers amongst you an easily-accessible observatory was built by the Association of Naturalists Ariège on the lake shore to better understand and observe the many birds that live on this site. For the more leisurely inclined, the facilities at La Régate have been improved over recent years and now boast a 3 star camp site, a restaurant, a beach and swimming area which are manned by a lifeguard during July and August and a small marina. The less well-known, and therefore less crowded, watering hole at La Guinguette is conveniently located for us at the bottom of the road up to Mireval. It has a small convivial buvette and shaded picnic area.
As the water level drops tree stumps, paths and even a stone bridge are exposed. The sticky clay soil gives the water a distinctive turquoise appearance in sunny weather conditions. On more overcast days the lake is a deep blue.