Lac de Bethmale: An emerald gem in Occitanie, France


The first time I heard the name ‘Bethmale,’ was at a fromagerie, or cheese shop. It’s a variety of cheese hailing from the Bethmale region of Ariège district in the Occitanie, south of France. Bethmale cheese is made from cow’s milk. It tastes mild. with a slightly pungent aroma in its aftertaste. It’s earthy and creamy, with a rounded flavour that would be pleasant to most palates. Well, I am certainly a fan and I’m glad to say I’ve been eating a lot of it ever since I started living between Toulouse and Paris!

Bethmale valley is part of the Ariège Pyrenees Regional Natural Park. It’s rich in nature, and local legends. It also has a tiny village named after it, with less than a 100 inhabitants today. The name Bethmale comes from the Gascon words beth, which means beautiful, and malh, which means rocky mountain.

In case you are wondering, Gascons were the people who inhabited Aquitaine, Midi-Pyrénées and Catalonia, speaking their own distinct language and with their own culture and legends. Today however, you would be hard-pressed to find people from the younger generation who can still speak Gascon language.

When the prospect of visiting Lac de Bethmale came about on a drive back from the historic city of Saint-Lizier, I had no hesitation. Though I did not have any expectations from the visit, I was certainly not prepared for what lay ahead. If there is one place in the world where fairies and fishes might live together, this would be it. Okay, forgive me for the hyperbole. But this lake with almost-transparent waters is, simply put, other-worldly.

The emerald green water of Lac de Bethmale
The transparent green-blue waters of Lake Bethmale. Photo by Pronoti

Lac de Bethmale: What to expect

Narrow pathways lead up from the parking lot to the lake. As you walk through well-tread trails, the mountains around you open up in a round-ish clearing. In the middle lies Lac de Bethmale, very often described as an ’emerald lake,’ and that is no exaggeration. The shockingly green-blue coloured waters are surrounded on all sides by dense forest. The light filters through the vegetation perfectly to make it appear as if the lake has been lit up from underneath. Its as if the waters illuminate everything else above, instead of the other way around.

Lac de Bethmale is not only one of the most beautiful lakes in France, it also has a lot of mystic legends related to it. When you witness it with it’s mystic beauty, it’s easy to understand why. One legend goes that there was once a witch that terrified the villagers of Bethmale. When she was chased and trapped by the angry villagers, she leapt into the waters of the lake. Apparently, its her blue dress lying at the bottom of the lake that gives it its shockingly clear emerald waters. However, it is actually a particular algae growing in the lake that gives it it’s blue-green colour.

People eating lunch at Lac de Bethmale
Lake Bethmale is a magnificent place to unwind amidst nature

Living amidst the humdrum of the city, it’s easy to forget the magic and whimsy of being immersed in forests. Coming to a place like Lac de Bethmale is also an invitation to forget the worries of the modern world in step into a parallel world of calmness and serenity. Another world where fairies probably still live among us. Where nature, and not capitalism, is the only God. One where all this magical, mystical energy that the green waters of Bethmale conveys, really does exist.

Things to do at Lac de Bethmale

Wishful thinking, I know! Okay, snapping back to reality, here are some activities you can do at the lake.


Lac de Bethmale is a very popular fishing spot. There’s plenty of trouts and salmon that live here on the lake. However, there are very clear fishing rules and guidelines that you must adhere to if you want to fish here.

For example, first of all, you need to have a fishing license. Then you are not allowed to catch more than 10 fishes per fishing day. Make sure you read all the rules and regulation on fishing in Lac de Bethmale before visiting.

Even if you are not into fishing, the waters of the lake are so clear that you can spend hours spotting fishes. That’s the only kind of ‘ fishing’ I do anyway.

Man fishing at Lac de Bethmale
Lac de Bethmale is actually a great destination for fishing while keeping sustainability in mind. Photo by Pronoti

Go for a hike in the surrounding forest

There are gorgeous walking and hiking trails all around this region of France. In the immediate vicinity of Lake Bethmale itself, there are several trails of different lengths and intensity you can choose from. If you are hiking, I would advise you to download a hiking app like All Trails, that come with clear directions and maps.

If you stick to the clearly-marked trails just around the lake, you can easily spend a couple of hours in the surrounding forest. Its a nice, shaded walk, with the path dotted with flowers. You might even spot cows grazing in the fields. Don’t forget to thank them for all the delicious Bethmale cheese.

Picnicking & day dreaming

My first visit to Lac de Bethmale, was in autumn, and the red and yellow colours of the autumn foliage added to the surreal aura of this hidden gem tenfold. Since then, I have returned here numerous times and every season and weather here. Seriously, if you want to witness the stark changes of season, Bethmale lake is an ideal place.

Bethmale Lake an ideal break away from the city. Pack a picnic, take a nap, or pack some really good books with you, and spend a lazy afternoon here.

A croissant and a thermos of coffee with a waterfall in the background
Delicious snacks and a thermos of coffee is mandatory for hikes. Photo by Pronoti

Things not to do at Lac de Bethmale

Lake Bethmale is an ecologically fragile area. Hence, all visitors are expected to respect the environment and adhere to lake regulations. This means that the following is not allowed here:

  • No swimming in the lake.
  • No one is allowed to enter the lake for any other kind of activity.
  • No camping or fire is allowed near the lake.
  • Respect the tranquility of your surroundings, which means no loud music or noises.

How to reach Lac de Bethmale

It is very easy to reach Lake Bethmale via car or even to bike there. If you happen to be around Toulouse, Pau or Albi, it is an ideal day-trip. There are roads all the way up to the lake area, until a couple hundred metres away from the lake. There is also a parking near the entrance, with toilet facilities.

The only downside to having a blissfully quiet place like this lake, is that it is difficult to access via public transport.

The short walk up to the lake from the parking is extremely idyllic. You walk in the literal foothills of the mountains around, crossing streams of emerald-coloured water, through carefully-made winding trails.

Two women sketching at Lac de Bethmale
People sketching at Lac de Bethmale. Photo by Pronoti

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